Deuteronomy 5:7-10 – Total Commitment to God


Deuteronomy 5:7-10


The first word of the Ten Commandments for Catholics and Lutherans, the second word for Judaism, and the first (v. 7) and second (vv. 8-10) words in many (other) Protestant listings, deals with the exclusive rights of God and the prohibition of idolatry.


Ever since Augustine, the Catholic tradition has considered these four verses to be a unity for the purely grammatical reason that the plural “gods” (v. 7) is the logical referent for “them” (v. 9). Despite attempts to read a later belief that there is only one God into this passage, the text presents God’s demand of Israel’s complete allegiance in response to God’s saving activity on their behalf at the Red Sea. Even if there are other gods, God claims Israel’s loyalty for God alone. The marginal note in the NRSV (“besides”) indicates the ambiguity of the preposition “before me.” It is as if the text is unconcerned about the existence of other gods; what matters is Israel’s response to God’s deliverance. This means that it is fundamentally a description of relationship. This relational aspect of the Decalogue will continue to guide our understanding of these texts.

Creation of idols is forbidden in verses 8-10.  The production of images of living things is prohibited in verse 8, and then, separately, but relatedly, the worship of such images is prohibited in verse 9. The prohibition is grounded in God’s “jealousy” (qanna). The verse might better be translated, “For I…am an impassioned God” (NJPS), since God’s response includes both a limited retribution (“to the third and fourth generation,” v. 9) and an unlimited love (“to the thousandth generation,” v. 10). 

God’s self-revelation as a passionate and emotionally driven God is not to be overlooked or rationalized away. Throughout the biblical text – the Pentateuch, history, prophets and New Testament –  God’s rich emotional life is on prominent display. Later tendencies to be embarrassed by other-than-rational language for God’s behavior notwithstanding, God’s emotionality is a significant aspect of the divine character in Scripture.