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This Study Series is being released according to the Torah Reading Schedule.

This week- Section 12
Name- ויחי Vayechi (He Lived)
Parashah/Parsha- B’resheet 47.28-50.26
Torah Portion: Genesis 47.28-50.26

Unless otherwise specified, all quotes are from the JPS edition of The Torah, The Five Books of Moses, A New Translation of The Holy Scriptures, according to the Masoretic Text, First Section. Copyright 1967 by the Jewish Publication Society of America, Second Edition.

This week I want to discuss Deuteronomy 5.7 and Exodus 20.3.

Deuteronomy 5.7 JPS
You shall have no other gods beside Me.

Exodus 20.3 JPS
You shall have no other gods beside Me.

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As I discussed in Essay 10, the Deuteronomy narrative of the Ten is from Moses’ perspective. In previous Essays, I have given substantial reasons explaining why. For this Essay, I am not going to restate or summarize any of those reasons. Instead, I assume my reader to have read those Essays.

In the previous Essay, I addressed Deuteronomy 5.6 and Exodus 20.3, stating that the contents of those verses reveal that Jehovah is introducing himself (regarding gender identity, see previous Essay) and that these verses do not contain an actual command, as such, these verses are not part of the Ten.

In this Essay, I want to discuss the first of the Ten.

Whether Deuteronomy 5.7 or Exodus 20.3, the first of the Ten reads the same: You shall have no other gods beside Me.

Many have come to interpret the first of the Ten as a declaration of monotheism. Such is historically and literarially impossible.

Historically, Israel had experienced the gods of the Egyptians, and Israel had witnessed the gods of those in the land they were to inhabit.

Historically, Abram (Abraham) and his household were surrounded by people who worshipped other gods, even within their homeland, which was in Mesopotamia.

Literarially, the first of the Ten does not exclude other gods.

Literarially, the first of the Ten permits Israel to potentially have gods in addition to, or in opposition to, Jehovah.

Therefore, the first of the Ten does not insinuate or in any way convey monotheism, where monotheism means that there is only one deity in existence.

Critically, if the first of the Ten conveyed monotheism, then there is essentially no need to present this as the first item, because if Israel could not actually serve another god or gods then Jehovah making this declaration is actually unneeded and reveals that Jehovah is expending time and energy in vain measures.

Therefore, the first of the Ten has to convey something that monotheistic interpreters miss or ignore altogether.

As such, what is Jehovah conveying with: You shall have no other gods beside Me.

As I expressed in the previous Essay, the narrative is a classic struggle between sovereign kings, king Pharaoh and king Jehovah, kings who provided for their people, because in ancient days kings considered themselves equivalent to deity, because a deity provides their people with what the people need.

Therefore, the first of the Ten is a declaration of commitment, Israel is to be committed to serving Jehovah, the one actual deity that heard their cries and came to their rescue.

That is crucial, because it means that none of the Egyptian gods heard and saved Israel, which means none of the Mesopotamian gods heard and saved Israel, which means none of the Canaanite gods heard and saved Israel, which means none of the gods of any place in the world heard and saved Israel.

That is crucial, because the only deity that heard and saved Israel was Jehovah.

In that sense, Jehovah is declaring that only Jehovah cared enough for Israel to not only hear their cries but also to save and deliver them from their oppression.

What does Jehovah want in return?

Allegiance. The exact same that any other king or sovereign or deity would want.

That is why Jehovah pronounced: You shall have no other gods beside Me. Not because Jehovah was declaring singular deistic status. But because Jehovah was establishing historical social fact: I delivered you, you will not show allegiance to another sovereign (deity).

Theologically, the difficult thing about the first of the Ten is that this allegiance is expected from Israel, but not the Gentiles, which means that for Israel, each Israelite and the nation of Israel is to have allegiance to a singular deity, but the Gentiles residing outside the land of Israel are not required to even think in these conceptual ways regarding deities.

In essence then, for the nation of Israel and for each Israelite, the first of the Ten is declaring deistic devotion to one particular deity, devotion to a deity that demonstrated supremacy against adversarial deities, whether they were in the form of man (Pharaoh) or in the form of spiritual or idol deities themselves.