Lectionary Year B
March 23, 2003
Exodus 20: 1-17

Step V: Distillation

A. Summary of Salient Features

(JFC) The theological "hub" of this pericope is the God who speaks and commands these ethical standards, who is identified initially and says, "I am the One and only God to be praised", who is admittedly "a jealous God" and who "shows steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love . . . and keep (these) . . . commandments". The negative declaratives following the focus on this God are of less importance than God.

B. Smoother Translation

(JFC) 1 And God spoke all these words saying, 2 "I am the Lord your God who brought you (singular) from the land of Egypt from the house of bondages/slaveries (plural). 3 Not shall there be for/to you any gods before Me. 4 Not shall you make for/to yourself any idol or any form/likeness which is in heaven, on earth beneath or in the waters beneath the earth. 5 Not shall you bow down to/before them and not shall you be led/enticed to serve them for I am the Lord your God a jealous God visiting/reckoning punishment upon fathers of children unto the third generation and unto the fourth generation of those hating Me. 6 But I will be showing loving kindness to thousands of generations of those loving Me and keeping My commandments. 7 Not shall you take the name of the Lord your God in vain for shall not be held innocent/left unpunished any/those who take My name in vain. 8 Remember the Sabbath Day to set it apart as sacred/consecrated/dedicated. 9 Six days you shall work/labor/serve and make all your living/public service. 10 And the seventh day (is) a Sabbath unto the Lord your God and you shall not (be at) your business, you, your son, your daughter, your male servant/slave, your maid servant, your cattle or any sojouner who is in your gate. 11 For in six days the Lord God made/fashioned the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that in them (is) and rested on the seventh day and He blessed that day and sanctified it. 12 Honor your father and your mother so that your days shall be prolonged/made long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. 13 Not shall you kill/murder/slay. 14 Not shall you commit adultery. 15 Not shall you steal. 16 Not shall you be occupied with your neighbor in a witness of deceit. 17 Not shall you desire/covet the house of your neighbor's, not shall you covet the wife of your neighbor's or his man-servant or his maid-servant or his ox/bull or his ass including all things that are your neighbor's.

C. Hermeneutical Bridge

(JFC) Richard Carlson's Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and it's all small stuff, has 100 brief chapters of which 3.67 are in negative imperatives, plus three others that might seem negative at first reading, "Stop Blaming Others", "Give Up on the Idea that 'More Is Better'," and "Mind Your Own Business". Nevertheless, the vast majority of Carlson's advice is in the positive mode. In fact, one of his chapters is about "Practice Ignoring Your Negative Thoughts"! He claims that more peace comes when we choose to do so. Is Exodus 20:1-17's formula positive or negative? Apparently, originally, they were couched in negative terms yet in declarative grammatical tenses. When we are told by someone whom we respect that we shall or shall not do something, what do we do with such data? Do we anticipate doing or avoiding doing the things described? When they are God's ideas, what?

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