Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reflections on the ACNA Catechism - Part 3

Part 3 - The First Commandment
Alice C. Linsley

What is the First Commandment?

The First Commandment is: “I am the Lord your God, You shall have no other gods before me.”

Comment: The first three words, Anochi Havayah Eloecha, mean “I am God your Ruler.” These are not originally Hebrew words. Anochi refers to the royal first person in Ancient Egyptian. The Rabbis speculated a length about the meaning of the word. In the Talmud (Shabbat 105a) they recognize that anochi is an unusual pronoun. It is is related to the word Anu, an Akkadian name for the High God. The appointed ruler who represents God on earth takes a deriviative name Anoch/Enoch, a royal title.

Neither is the word Ha-vayah of Hebrew origin. This is evident in that there is no V in the Hebrew alphabet. However, the V appears in many Nilotic words. In Luo, for example, V relates to separating, spreading out, or any valley between rivers. If the valley is circular it is called kikar (ring, disk, circle) as in "Kikkar ha-yarden" which is translated "all the valley of the Jordan" (Genesis 13:10).

We have a clue as to the origin of the word Havayah in Genesis 2:11 which speaks of a region called Ha-vilah. This refers to the V-shaped place between the two main tributaries of the Nile as shown in the map above. In Genesis 2:13, we are told that the Blue Nile was called the Gihon. This suggests that the White Nile was called the Pishon (Gen. 2:11) These rivers bound Eden on the west and the Tigris and Euphrates bound Eden on the east. Obviously, Eden was a vast and well-watered region.

The word El is a very ancient name for God. Variants are Al and Elohim. Eloecha, the third word in the opening of the First Commandment, likely is a corruption of El-echad. Echad is an adjective meaning "a compound unity" and some Bible commentators hold that the Shema (Deut. 6:4) means Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, The LORD is a compound unity. If this is correct, El-echad would be similar in meaning to another ancient reference to God: Baal-Shalisha, the Three God or the God associated with the number three. Abraham was visited by the Three Person God before the destruction of Sodom. The author of Genesis 18 struggles to describe this theophany, and presents the Lord appearing with two angelic beings. Baal Shalisha - usually rendered ‘God of three powers’ or ‘the third idol’ - is also inadequate. ‘Baal’ means Lord and ‘shalisha’ is the number three, so it is possible that the idea of a Triune God was already circulating before the time of Abraham. If this is the case, Christians cannot be accused of inventing the concept of the Trinity.

What does it mean to have no other gods?

It means that there should be nothing in my life more important than God and obeying his will. I should love, revere, trust, and worship him only. (Exodus 334:14; Deuteronomy 6:4, 10-15; 12:29-31; Jeremiah 0:6-10; Matthew 4:10; 28:8-20)

Comment: In the ancient world there were castes or clans of priests dedicated to different gods. Abraham's ruler-priest ancestors (the Horim or Horites) refused to acknowledge any god except the one who created all things. The Creator was known by different names including Ra, El, Al, Elohim and YHWH.

The Creator's emblem was the sun, an important symbol for the Horites. They oriented their shrines and temples toward the rising sun. In Canaan, their rulers were indicated by the solar cradle - Y - at the beginning of their names: Yaqtan, Yitzak, Yacob, Yisbak, etc. In very ancient scripts of Arabia, the sun symbol is a an orb - O. This appears in the older word for Hebrew was O-biru (O-piru), a reference to the sun temples.

Horite temples were open to the sunlight and had no statues of the Creator because he was represented by the sunlight. At the center of the temple there was an obelisk and an altar. The most most prestigious of the Horite temple was in Heliopolis (Biblical On). This shrine city was erected by Abraham's Anu (Ainu) ancestors. Joseph married one of the daughters of the High Priest of On. The pyramids of Giza, Zaqqara and Abusir were aligned to to the obelisk of Heliopolis.

In the ancient world the Horite priests were known to be especially fastidious in the practice of their religion and in their moral behavior. Plutarch wrote that the "priests of the Sun of Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly." The Horite priests were recognized for their devotion to the Creator, for their sobriety, and for their purity of life. Before their time of service in the temple they prayed, fasted, shaved their bodies, ritually bathed, abstained from sexual relations with their wives, and did not consume wine.

The oldest known Horite shrine city is Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) on the Nile, dating to about 4000 B.C. Here priests placed written invocations to the Creator and his son Horus in the summit wall as the sun rose. The son and the father were regarded are equal. Horus gave his name to the rulers of the Nile as he was the one to unite the peoples (Upper and Lower Nile) and therefore was crowned with two crowns (ataroth, cf. Zechariah 6:11). Messianic expectation appears to originate with the Horites who Jews call their "Horim."

Can you worship God perfectly?

No. Only our Lord Jesus Christ worshiped God perfectly. He leads the Church today to seek to do the same. (Matthew 4:1-11; 26:36-46; Revelation 4-5)

Comment: The Son alone is able by his virtue to exalt the Father. When we are baptized into Christ, when we "put on" Christ, we enter into a radical new existence in which the Holy Spirit working in us enables us to please God. This is a process called "sanctification" or "deification." It is a great challenge because sometimes we try to do the work by our own strength. There is also the reality of spiritual warfare. Dark forces constantly work to draw us away from God and to make us stumble. These forces are far greater and more subtle than we generally imagine. C.S. Lewis explores this reality in his Screwtape Letters.

How are you tempted to worship of gods?

I am tempted to trust in my self, possessions, relationships, and success, believing that they will give me happiness, security, and meaning. I am also tempted to believe superstitions and false religious claims, and to reject God's call to worship him alone. (Psalm 73:11-17; Romans 1:18-32)

Comment: I posed this question to my students, wondering what responses would I get from them. Judging from their insights, I am encouraged about the rising generation. Here are some of their answers to that question:

  • Human pride leads us to make our agendas more important than God's.
  • Utopian ideologies would have people believe that social and political systems can save us.
  • Social pressures distract me from God and can make me do the wrong thing.
  • The honor due to God is given instead to celebrities.
  • Sometimes I don't go to church. I spend Sunday on my personal device and play games with my friends. Sometimes I compete at online games with strangers.

How we spend our time says so much about what we value. To the world we seem a strange people because as Christians we prefer to spend our time together. We prefer to read and study the Bible, and to gather whenever possible to worship the Holy Trinity. The manner of our lives is distinct and peculiar because we love God above all else. The world hates that about us, but before God we are a heavenly fragrance rising to the Throne of Heaven.

Related reading: Horite temples; Why Nekhen is Anthropologically SignificantPart 1 Introduction to the New Anglican Catechism (The Ten Commandments); Part 2 The Law and Righteousness; Righteous Rulers and the Resurrection; Genesis in Anthropological Perspective

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