OK. I don’t want to get sidetracked either, and I suspect that our perspectives will become clearer as we progress. But I do appreciate hearing what you had to say about the issues I raised.
Before taking up the first bit of text, though, let me remind our readers that our conversation is not meant to be scholarly or academic. We are two persons of faith sharing with one another, and with you by means of your comments, what meaning we find in the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. OK, let’s begin.
The Jewish numbering of the Ten Commandments differs from the Christian, though we ultimately deal with the entire text of Exodus 20:2-14. Whereas you begin with the command against idolatry, we begin with the affirmation of God that precedes it. So, if it is OK with you, let’s start with Exodus 20:2, and then move on to the issue of idolatry.
20:2 says, “I am HaShem, your God, Who has taken you out of Eretz Mitzrayim, from the house of slavery.” I left some of the text untranslated because these words are key to understanding the inner meaning of this commandment, and the conventional English translations don’t do them justice.
“HaShem,” The Name, is one of two standard euphemisms for the Four-Letter Name of God: Y-H-V-H. The other is “Adonai,” Lord. Most Bibles prefer Lord, but this is very misleading. Notions of God as King and Lord promote a patriarchal, hierarchical, and military bias that has more to do with the political structure of the time the text was written (or translated), than it does with the nature of God.
At the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14), when Moses asks God’s Name, which is to say when Moses asks God to reveal the true nature of divinity, God replies, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh,” mistakenly translated as “I am that I am.” “I am” implies that God is static, fixed, unchanging, whereas “Ehyeh,” which literally means “I will be” reveals God as dynamic, fluid, changing. God cannot be fixed in form or concept. In other words, whatever your theology, the only thing you can certain of is that God is not that.
The Hindus have a wonderful Sanskrit phrase for this: “Neti Neti; Not this, Not that.” Whatever you think God is— God isn’t. God cannot be reduced to ideas about God. Which of course leads us to the second commandment regarding idols. But let’s wait on that for a moment and continue with our current text.
In the first commandment God says, “I am the Unfixed, the Unconditioned, and the Unconditional. I am the Always Becoming; I am Change. I brought you out of Eretz Mitzrayim.” Eretz Mitzrayim, the Land of Egypt, is a pun in Hebrew that means “the narrow places.” God not only liberated us from Egypt in the past, God frees us from the narrow places of our lives in the present. God is the power that liberates us from the bondage of certainty, fixed forms, fixed ideas, etc., but only if we have enough faith in God not to define God. The First Commandment as I understand it is the challenge of Neti Neti: to free ourselves from all ideas about God that we might experience the liberating power of God.