The Old Testament: Exodus IV: The Ten Commandments and Other Rules to Live by

I live in a house that’s over a hundred years old.  Where I’m from (L.A.) this is impressive.  Where I live (Philadelphia), not so much. Some people flinch when they learn how old my house is because they have a sense of how old things tend to hold up (not too well) and, given how well modern houses can be built, why would you want to rely on old technology? We do it better now (don’t we?).

Well, there’s something to be said for character (which a lot of older homes have and new ones don’t).  Then there are things like closets—which older homes tend to have few of (or small ones).  In short, modern homes are tailored for modern people.  So the idea that modern people use older homes effectively is interesting (or in some cases, simply a necessity).

Since we are a culture that embraces new things and shuns old things, it’s always fascinating to note the things that have stood the test of time.  When one of those things happens to be the laws upon which our culture has been built, it’s more than interesting, it’s downright genius.

So arrives in Exodus the unveiling of the Ten Commandments and other rules put down by God. Aside from getting exhausted reading about Moses’s constant up and down Mount Sinai, I noted a lot of interesting content here.

You could argue that these rules are more or less common sense, but that’s probably because they have been with us for so long.  Yet some of these are pretty striking, especially given the era. God’s ideas on how to better protect property (you can kill the thief who enters your home, though only if it is dark out—perhaps the level at which you can see mattered) were apparently a shift away from vengeance and more focused on the restitution our society favors.  These laws likely shaped our own sense of dealing with criminals—they have to repay society for their crimes. Even if you’re not religious you have to see the wisdom in these ideas.

However, some were still strange and some betray blatant hypocrisy.

Again, being a woman during this time was hard. Virgins were, apparently, very expensive (22:16). And what is this point about offering the first born son after 8 days? This is probably a circumcision reference but it looks oddly like a sacrifice decree.  New rules for Hebrew servants also abound (they could be freed after the 7th year, but the wife and kids stayed with the master) and rules to follow for selling your daughter.  You can also beat the crap out of your slave, as long as you don’t, you know, kill him.

Furthermore, the people are commanded to be respectful to aliens (which is interesting, in light of the issues some states in the US are grappling with, regarding illegal immigrants).  Yet God lets the Israelites know that he is sending an angel ahead of the caravan in order to wipe out every town in their path. That’s respectful.

In addition, it seems troubling that a people recently released from bondage themselves would even CONSIDER having slaves.

I get that this era condoned this practice of slavery, but these commandments were charting a new course for society, setting laws and regulations down which hadn’t been articulated before.  So why wouldn’t they change everything while they were there? The fact that God would not consider these human beings when he decreed these laws is also strange. I also wondered, with all the talk of good Christian values stemming from the Bible, why these particular issues are not discussed more often. If you’re going to refer to one rule, should you not then be held to all of them?

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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