June 2, 2007

Ten Words

Category: Bible - OT - Genesis :: Permalink

I’ve fallen behind in blogging my sermons on Genesis, I see.  I may try to catch up sometime in the future, but … we’ll see.  I had originally intended to preach two or three sermons on Genesis 1 and then move on to Genesis 2.  Instead, I ended up preaching a sermon on each of the days of creation.  When you start looking at the symbolism and thinking about what the events on these days are intended to teach us, there’s a lot there!

Here’s one of the things I’ve been thinking about.  In Genesis 1, God speaks ten times (“And God said”: Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29).  In The Gospel in Genesis, Warren Gage links these ten speeches with the Ten Words.  We call them “the Ten Commandments,” but the Bible refers to them as the Ten Words.  We have ten words, ten statements, in Genesis 1 and in Exodus 20, God gives Israel ten words, ten statements including ten commandments.  Gage writes: “As God created the cosmic order with ten words, so he creates social order with ten commandments.”

Gage doesn’t elaborate, but what he says here is thought-provoking.  James Jordan and others have shown that the building of the tabernacle in Exodus involves seven speeches, the last of which is about Sabbath, and therefore the construction of the tabernacle is the construction of a new world.  The fact that God gives Israel ten words, as he spoke ten words in the beginning, may also suggest that God is building a new world at Mount Sinai.

I wonder, though, if there are correspondences between the ten words in Genesis 1 and the Ten Words in Exodus 20:

(1) Let there be light (Gen. 1:3) & You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:2-3).

Yahweh God is the only giver of light and you are not to seek light (and hence life) elsewhere.  Apart from him, there is only darkness.

(2) Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters (Gen. 1:6) & You shall not make for yourself a carved image … you shall not bow down to them nor serve them (Ex. 20:4-6).

The firmament is between the waters above and the waters below.  The firmament includes everything we call “outer space,” since the sun, moon, and stars will be placed in the firmament on Day 4.  The waters above the firmament reappear later in Scripture as the sea below God’s throne (e.g., Rev. 4:6).  Thus the firmament is the barrier and the mediator between heaven and earth.  It’s a veil, corresponding to the veil in the tabernacle.  The tearing of that veil represents the rending of the mediator (Heb. 10:20).

The second commandment has to do with bowing to images in order to worship Yahweh through them.  The images are false mediators.  So both the second word in Genesis 1 and the second word in Exodus 20 have to do with mediation in some way.

(3) Let the waters … be gathered together into one place and let the dry land appear (Gen. 1:9) & You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain (Ex. 20:7).

I’m not sure about this one.  The dry land emerging from the parted seas parallels Israel, as a new creation, emerging from the parted Red Sea, which is also a baptismal image.  Israel is the nation that bears God’s name, as the church now bears Christ’s name.  There may be some sort of connection along these lines, then, between the dry land emerging from the water and the bearing of God’s name.  But it isn’t obvious.

(4) Let the earth bring forth grass, etc. (Gen. 1:11) & Remember the Sabbath day, etc. (Ex. 20:8-11).

The Sabbath day is the time of rest and refreshment, though.  It’s a time for feasting.  The fourth word has to do with the growth of grain plants and fruit trees, from which we get bread and wine.

(5) Let there be lights, etc. (Gen. 1:14-15) & Honor your father and your mother (Ex. 20:12).

This one is fairly easy.  There is a connection between the heavenly lights and rulers.  The lights are said to rule the day and the night (Gen. 1:16) and when we hear about heavenly bodies later on in Scripture they often symbolize rulers (e.g., the passages where stars fall from the heavens).  The Fifth Word in Exodus also has to do with rulers, focusing in particular on rulers in the home.  Dad is the Sun.  Mom is the Moon.

(6) Let the waters swarm … and let birds fly above the earth (Gen. 1:20) & You shall not murder (Ex. 20:13).

The sixth word in Genesis 1 is the creation of life.  Plants were created on the third day, but plants in the Bible are not seen as being alive, the way animals and men are.  Plants grow up; they don’t run around.  Plants are machines that take the earth and convert it into glory and food.  But now, in this sixth word, God commands the waters to produce a swarm of swarming things (note the emphasis on motion) and he orders there to be birds flying (again: notice the motion) above the earth.  The Sixth Word in Exodus has to do with the unlawful taking of human life.

(7) Let the earth bring forth the living creature, etc. (Gen. 1:24) &  You shall not commit adultery (Ex. 20:14).

The land animals which were created by the seventh word in Genesis 1 are helpers for man.  Adam was to name them all, to see that they were paired up, male and female, and to recognize that he didn’t have a helper corresponding to him.  None of these animals was the helper that Adam needed.  Adam recognized, too, that he was similar to the animals.  He didn’t say, “Well, these animals have pairs and I don’t.  I guess that’s a difference between animals and humans.”  Rather, he would have recognized that if animals come in sexual pairs, so should humans.

Perhaps there’s some connection here between animals as helpers and a wife as a helper, between the proper pairing of animals and the need for men and women to be properly paired.  Or maybe that’s a stretch.

(8) Let us make man in our image (Gen. 1:26) & You shall not steal (Ex. 20:15).

I’m not sure about this one.  But I do note that man was created in God’s image, according to God’s likeness, but that man could also grow to be more and more like God.  After all, in Genesis 3, God says that now man has become “like one of us.”  That is, in some sense man has become more like the Triune God than he was before.  But that happened precisely as the result of theft: Adam stole what God had put off limits.  The true imaging of God and growth in the true likeness of God requires that we do not steal from God, that we do not grasp for that likeness but that we wait for God to give it to us.

(9) Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion, etc. (Gen. 1:28) & You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex. 20:16).

I’m not sure about this one.

(10) See, I have given you every herb … and every tree …, etc. (Gen. 1:29-30) & You shall not covet, etc. (Ex. 20:17).

Again, I’m not sure.  But here God gives Adam every tree for food (“to you it will be for food”).  That includes the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But not right away.  Adam has to wait.  The knowledge of good and evil is a good thing. It’s something that will make Adam more like God.  It’s something kings have later on in Scripture.  But for now Adam has to wait for God to give it to him in due time.  But patient waiting requires that Adam not covet.  Adam’s covetousness leads to Adam’s sin.

That’s as far as I can go right now.  Some of these connections seem to work, but others don’t or don’t work easily.  Still, enough do seem to work that I wonder if I’m just missing something with the others that don’t seem to.  If you have suggestions, I’d be glad to hear them.

Posted by John Barach @ 2:42 pm | Discuss (4)

4 Responses to “Ten Words”

  1. Gregory Soderberg Says:

    Interesting! I think you’re on to something.

    The connection between the 8th Word and not stealing may help explain why Paul lists “men-stealers” with other sins which dishonor the image of God in mankind (2 Tim. 1:9-10).

  2. The Bound Dragon » Blog Archive » The Number Ten Says:

    […] John Barach has written an interesting post regarding the number of commandments (10) and the number of commands in the creation (also 10).  You can read the whole post here.  He faltered on the ninth set and so I thought I’d throw out an observation. (9) Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion, etc. (Gen. 1: & You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex. 20:16). […]

  3. Chuck Hartman Says:

    Thanks, John! 3 thoughts: Some say that 10ness relates to space and 7ness to time, so both space and time are taken care of with 7 and 10. Secondly, Word 9 can work were one to say that bearing false witness is destruction of one’s neighbor, and that would not be being fruitful, but destroying ‘fruit’. Thirdly, you might go through JBJ’s exposition of the law of the covenant and/or Deuteronomy (as Moses’ application of the Ten Words) to see even more connections, for they ‘flesh out’ what the Ten Words mean.

    Thanks again!



  4. alastair.adversaria » Links Says:

    […] We might also find ourselves called to more concrete forms of discipleship and begin to move towards a gospel that is more firmly rooted in praxis. We might also discover that the message of the gospel is not just concerned with the overcoming of sin and death, but also is about bringing humanity to the maturity that God had always intended for it. We might also find ourselves moving towards a more sacramental gospel. ***John Barach ponders the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the ten statements of Genesis 1. ***David Jones at la nouvelle théologie gives a list of links to material relevant to the recent Wilson-Hitchens debate on Christianity and atheism. There is also an interesting article in the Daily Mail, in which Peter Hitchens reviews his brother’s book [HT: Dawn Eden]. ***Al Kimel’s blog, Pontifications, has a new home [HT: Michael Liccione]. The RSS feed also seems to be better on this one. ***June 2007 Wrightsaid list answers. ***As someone who believes that the inerrancy debates are largely unhelpful, I found this post by John H quite insightful. The Scriptures are exactly as God wanted us to have them and fulfil the purposes for which they were given. They are trustworthy. In the comments to the post, it is observed that the Church would have been far better off fighting for the ground of Scriptural efficacy, rather than Scriptural inerrancy. The Scriptures perfectly achieve the goals for which they were given. A position centred on Scriptural efficacy also serves to remind us that fundamentalism is itself a threat to a truly Christian doctrine of the Word of God, generally denying or downplaying the saving efficacy of God’s Word in preaching, the sacraments and the liturgy. Thinking in such terms might also help to move us away from the overly formal doctrine of Scripture generally adopted by conservative evangelicalism. ***Matthew gives some helpful clarifications in response to my comments on his recent post. ***The Baptized Body, Peter Leithart’s latest book is released today. Buy your copy now! ***David Peterson, from Oak Hill, gives an introduction to biblical theology in a series of audio lectures. I haven’t listened to these yet, but some of my readers might find them helpful. ***Ben Witherington on Billy Graham. ***R.P. Reeves on evangelicalism: With Hochshild’s case, I was surprised to learn how bare-bones Wheaton’s doctrinal statement is, but as I’ve tried to think through the history of evangelicalism in a more comprehensive manner, I’m no longer surprised; rather, it’s exactly what I expect from evangelicalism. One of the characteristics of evangelicalism that I am working on developing is that it is first and foremost a renewalist, rather than ecclesiastical, movement. In 16th century Protestantism, the doctrinal heritage of the church (notably the ecumenical creeds) was explicitly reaffirmed, precisely because the Reformation sought to reform the church. By contrast, Evangelicalism seeks to renew the individual (and then, once a sufficient mass of individuals a renewed, this will renew the church, or society, or the state, etc.). Mixed with a primitivist suspicion of creeds and traditions, it’s not surprising that a basic affirmation of biblical inerrancy was believed to be sufficient boundary for evangelical theologians, nor is it surprising that this thin plank is proving to be a shaky foundation. […]

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