Words of God
Words of MenIt is interesting to note how God often spoke to the people in the wilderness. Moses met God at Mount Sinai (also called Mount Horeb), which was in the wilderness of Midian, in Exodus chapter 3. Galatians 4:25 tells us that Mount Sinai is in Arabia. Maps of biblical times show Midian in NW Arabia, bordered by the Red Sea. The traditional site for Mount Sinai is in the southern part of the Sinai Peninsula. However, Moses was pasturing the sheep of his father Jethro, a Midianite priest when he came to Mount Horeb. He certainly would not have taken the sheep on a long journey into the Sinai Peninsula to pasture the sheep. The Sinai is incredibly barren. It is counterintuitive to have Mount Sinai in Arabia, instead of Sinai. However, Rav Sha'ul, writing in Galatians 4:25, got it exactly right.

HaShem ordered Moses to go to Egypt to deliver the Israelites to freedom. Long story short, it took the Ten Plagues in Egypt to do it. But Moses finally succeeded in delivering the children of Israel out of Egypt. The two most advanced civilizations of the world were the Minoans and the Egyptians. The Minoan civilization was destroyed by what may have been the largest volcanic eruption in history on the island of Santorini, near Crete, where the Minoans were located. This eruption occurred in approximately 1500 BCE.[1] It threw 14 about cubic miles (60 km3) of earth, dust, and ash into the atmosphere, causing a cloud of dust and ash that circled the globe. It was far more devastating than the Krakatoa volcanic eruption of 1883 in Indonesia. The debris from that explosion caused the year of no summer throughout much of the world, including Rochester NY, where I live. There was a killing frost every month of the following year, including during the summer months.

However, when the vol-cano on Santorini exploded, it also caused a huge, devas-tating earthquake, which in turn caused a tsunami. The cloud of ash and dust covered the Minoans on the island of Crete, destroying agriculture. Then a giant tsunami covered most the island of Crete, far larger than any tsunamis of modern times, utterly destroying the Minoan civilization, leading Rav Sha'ul to say very unkind things about primitive Cretans in Titus 1:12. (The term "Cretan" is still an insult.)

The Ten Plagues that destroyed Egypt at about that same time had the similar effects. Egypt never fully recovered from the plagues, or the departure of the Israelite slaves. God promises to bless those who bless His people and curse those who curse them in Genesis 12:3; 26:4; Numbers 23:8; 24:9; Zechariah 2:8; Isaiah 54:15,17; Matthew 25:40-45; and many other places throughout Scripture. Every nation that has come against the Jewish people has suffered the consequences. The Jewish people have seen many civilizations come and then fade into history after they cursed the Jewish people. However, Israel has arisen from the ashes of history and, despite its small size, has outlasted them all.

God again met with Moses, as well as the Israelites, at that same mountain, Mount Sinai, in the wilderness. The Hebrew word for wilderness is מדבּר (midbar) which also means desert. Inside that same Hebrew word is the word דּבר (devar) which means word. It was in the desert (or wilderness) that YHWH gave forth the Eseret HaD'varim (lit., "Ten Words or Sayings"), which we know today at the Ten Commandments.

I believe that sometimes we need to get alone with God. Yochanan the Immerser[2] lived in the wilderness eating locusts[3] and honey. God obviously spoke to him. He was the forerunner of the Messiah. And after Yeshua was immersed, Yeshua went off into the wilderness where He was being prepared for his mission to Planet Earth. Many of us may not be able to escape to the wilderness to be alone with God. I see people walking about with their faces glued to the small screens in front of them, and groups of teenagers sitting together, all with their faces glued to their cellphones. We need more interpersonal communications, and we need more "alone" time with God. We occasionally need to turn off our electronic devices, TV, Facebook, and other distractions. Most of us spend too much time on devices.

The "Ten Commandments" were given in a form called the Suzerain/Vassal treaty, as described below:

"These Suzerain/Vassal treaties open with two sections: 1) The identification of the Suzerain by his name and title; 2) The historical survey of the Suzerain's dealings with the vassal. The purpose is to illustrate to the vassal (subservient) how much the Suzerain has done to protect and establish the vassal who therefore owes submission and allegiance to the Suzerain. These two sections are referred to as the 'Pre-amble.'

"The next section of these treaties list the 'stipulations.' What the vassal is required to do is spelled out in principal and detail. This section is often concluded with the requirement that the vassal deposit his copy of the treaty in his temple, where he is to occasionally read and study it to refresh his memory concerning his duties.

"The last section of these treaties contains the blessings and curses of the Suzerain. If the stipulations are met by the vassal, he will receive the Suzerain's blessings, which are listed. If the vassal fails to meet the stipulations, he will receive the Suzerain's curses, which are also listed.

"The Suzerain would keep one copy of the treaty and the vassal would keep one copy of the treaty. A number of ratifying ceremonies were used depending upon the era and culture. But the most widely used rite was that of cutting the bodies of animals in halves and placing them in two rows with enough space between for the two parties of the treaty to walk side by side. As they walked between the pieces, they were vowing to each other, "May what has happened to these animals, happen to me if I break this covenant with you."

A Covenant Document of the Bible

Patterned After Suzerain Treaties:

       Exodus 20:1-2: Yahweh is the Suzerain who delivered this Preamble to Moses, the vassal-lord who represents the people under the authority of the Suzerain.

       name and title: "I am the Lord, your God."

       historical prologue = "Who brought you out of Egypt..."

       (3-17) Stipulations with selected blessings and curses.

       stipulations = the 10 commandments;

       blessings and curses = (5b-6); (7b); (12b)." [4]

The First Commandment (or saying) in Judaism is Exodus 20:2, which says, "I am YHWH your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." In this case, the Suzerain (God) reminds the Israelites about what He has done for Israel. Although it is really a "saying," the Rabbis reinterpret this to mean a commandment, that we should believe in God.

The following verses (20:3-17) give us the instructions that the Suzerain (God) expects us to obey, as a response to what He has done for us. In Judaism, these represent the second through tenth commandments, whereas in Christianity they represent all Ten Commandments. In Judaism, Exodus 20:3-6 are combined into one commandment, whereas in Judaism, they are split into two commandments.

The commandments as given really are not too difficult to keep, as we see in Deuteronomy 30:11-14:

11 For this commandment which I command you this day, it is not hidden from you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it?" 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it?" 14 But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it.

This is very different from what is taught in most churches. They usually teach that the Law is designed by God to be so difficult that we can't possibly obey it. In desperation, we turn to Jesus. At that point, the Law is no longer valid, as Jesus is the end of the Law. Christians also divide the ages into the Dispensation of Law, and the Dispensation of Grace. Basically, they believe that the Dispensation of Grace "dispenses" with the Law, with some exceptions such as the commandment to tithe (to the church, of course) as well as commandments against theft, murder, etc.

Exodus 24:4 tells us: "And Moses wrote down all of the words of YHWH." The Rabbis teach that there were two Laws (or Torahs) given at Mount Sinai. There was the Written Law, which is the First Five books of the Bible, known to most as the Pentateuch. The Rabbis[5] also believe that an Oral Law was also given at Mount Sinai, which is basically instructions on how to keep the Written Law. Moses transmitted this Oral Law to the seventy elders. The seventy elders in turn passed it on orally throughout the generations until it was finally written down as Talmud. The Talmud is an immense commentary on the Written Torah, often encompassing about two dozen large volumes. These additional Rabbinic additions to the Written Torah can make Orthodox Judaism very difficult to observe. However, as we read in Exodus 24:4, Moses wrote down "all of the words" of the Lord. There was no Oral Law given at Mount Sinai.

The Talmud is composed of the Mishnah, which is the commentary on the Torah. It is written in what is called Mishnaic Hebrew. This was completed in about 200 CE.[6] In Hebrew, Mishnah means "Second Study."

Then work began on the Gemara, which is the commentary on the Mishnah. In Aramaic, Gemara means "tradition," whereas in Hebrew Gemara means "completion." The Jerusalem Gemara was completed in about 450 CE. Work continued on the Babylonian Gemara until about 600 CE. The Babylonian Talmud (containing the Babylonian Gemara) is considered the most authoritative. However, it is not Torah. Regretfully, most Orthodox yeshivas[7] spend far more time on Talmud than they do in actual study of the Torah.

In Deuteronomy 4:2, we read, "You shall not add to the word which I (YWHH) am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of YHWH your God which I command you."

Moses himself said to not add to the word. Regretfully, when well-meaning Jews teach that the Oral Law was also given at Mount Sinai, they are adding to the word, doing something totally contrary to what Moses taught and wrote. This does not mean that Talmud has no value. There are indeed some pearls of wisdom in its pages. However, it is extremely cumbersome, and often just plain boring. You have to read through huge amounts of Talmud to get these gems. It is much more effective to simply read the Torah, as well as the rest of the Bible.

Christians often do just the opposite. They take away from the words that Moses gave to us. It might be an exaggeration to say that Christians are totally anti-Torah. As I mentioned before, most Christians support laws against murder and theft. However, they also put themselves or their church as the final authority as to which laws are for today, and which belong to the "Dispensation of Law." They also decide which laws are "Jewish" laws, and do not pertain to Christians. Therefore, they "take away" from the word.

On the other hand, Christians also add to the word. Arnold Fruchtenbaum famously told of a church in which he was the guest speaker. As he spoke, he could see a giant sign on the back wall above the entrance. A large title announced "Twenty Things Christians Don't Do." What followed were commandments such as, "Christians don't drink alcohol," "Christians don't smoke," "Christians don't go to movie theaters," "Christians don't skip Sunday services," etc. After his teaching, one of the elders got all excited, ran up, and threw his arms around him, and announced, "Isn't it great, brother, to be no longer under the Law?" I'm not saying that all of the man-made laws are evil or wrong. However, I feel it is wrong to throw away the commandments that God gave to us, and replace them with a bunch of man-made commandments.

Many Christians will make a big deal about the awful bondage of having 613 commandments in the Older Testament. However, in Dake's Annotated Bible, Dake lists 1050 commands in the Newer Testament, on pages 313-316 in the NT portion of his Bible. In other words, there are 71% more commandments in the NT than in the OT, even though the NT is considerably shorter than the OT.

By the way, it should be noted that the word "Torah" actually means "Instruction." Our loving Heavenly Father has given us instructions on how to live a full and happy life. Also, the commandments are really suggestions. He doesn't force us to obey Him. However, as it says in the NT, in 1 John 2:3-5:

"And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But he who keeps His word, in him truly is the love of God perfected: hereby we know that we are in Him."

Here is the NT definition of sin: "Whoever commits sin transgresses also the Law, for sin is the transgression of the Law." 1 John 3:4.

[1] "Before Common Era," equivalent to B.C.

[2] "John the Baptist." (He was really a Jew, not a Baptist. Honest!)

[3] Yes, locusts are kosher! See Leviticus 11:22.

[4] Notes from lectures of Dr. Meredith Kline, presented at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California.

[5] "The Rabbis" is a term generally used for Orthodox Rabbis throughout the ages when there is common agreement. However, even Orthodox Judaism is not monolithic. There are often harsh disagreements even among Orthodox rabbis.

[6] "Common Era," equivalent to A.D.

[7] Jewish religious schools.