3 And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;
4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself.
5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:
6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak to the children of Israel. . . .
25 So Moses went down unto the people, and spake unto them.
1 And God spake all these words, saying,
2 I am the Lord thy God which have brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
(Exodus 19:3-6, 25–20:2)
This preamble to the Decalogue is, if noted at all today, generally treated perfunctorily and cast as a rhetorical pretext for abolitionism and liberationism. “Because God liberated Israel from Egyptian slavery, He has ostensibly condemned all forms of slavery, and mandated universal equality.” So runs the argument. And that in complete disregard of the fact that God’s law goes on to establish and regulate many forms of just slaveholding inside the Covenant.
But often, too, do moderns shuffle past this preface to the Law as if it were some sort of doxological formality rather than dare treat it for what it emphatically presents itself to be – an announcement of a distinctly familist/nationalist relation of God to men. As John Calvin says, “God neither forbids nor commands anything here, but only comes forth before them in His dignity, to devote the people to Himself. . . . [B]ut He adds, that He is the peculiar God of the Israelites.”1
This preface to the Law announcing the berith (covenant) has been identified by Kline with the ancient framework of a suzerain treaty – the contract between monarch and nation common to the near East. Whatever else Kline may extrapolate from that point, his observation thus far holds true, for the berith is presented by God in distinctly nationalist terms. For God covenanted with Israel as an ethnic group – the Hebrew lineage of Jacob – and dictated the terms of His covenant to them unmistakably in the context of that ethnicity. Or as Calvin elaborates, “He had said that by unusual favor this nation was taken from the midst of another; and he now adds that this was done on no other account but because God had embraced Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with His love, and persevered in the same love towards their posterity. . . [A]nd it is pretty plain from the context here, wherein he attributes the election of the people to the love with which God had honored their fathers.”2
Inasmuch as Israel was a peculiar nation to God, the footnotes of the Geneva Reformation Study Bible for Exodus 20:1-17 affirm the normativity of this relation of God to all nations under the aegis of Christ’s Kingdom: “The Commandments, or ‘Ten Words’ of the covenant. These expressions are the eternal law of God that transcend the Old and New Testaments. As God had created order in the heavens and earth with ten words (Gen. 1:3-29), so He creates order in society with ten words.”
Yes, the Covenant transcends the Old Testament and grants order in society now just as in the time of the Sinai Treaty. It is eternal. As such, it maintains its context as hallowing the distinct peoples to whom it is applied. This means that all nations encounter the law as the terms of God’s treaty of conquest and sovereignty over our respective nations, as nations: goyim in Old Testament Hebrew, as much as ethne in New Testament Greek – ethnicities.
Thus we find the Great Commission concluding the Gospel of Matthew (28:18-20) acts as a recapitulation of the berith – the national Covenant – and frames the character of Christian missions not as consonant with individualism or equalitarianism, but as an announcement of the national Covenant appropriated now to each converted people: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Of which Calvin says, “So that He is not now the God of one people only, but of all nations, whom He has called into His Church by general adoption.”3
The Westminster Larger Catechism confirms the same – “that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people.”4 Or as Rushdoony states it, God’s covenant with Israel announced that “God’s order is absolute and absolutely binding on men and nations.”5
All of which Calvin classically elaborated in his commentary on Genesis 35:11:
“I am God Almighty.” God here, as elsewhere, proclaims his own might, in order that Jacob may the more certainly rely on his faithfulness. He then promises that he will cause Jacob to increase and multiply, not only into one nation, but into a multitude of nations. When he speaks of “a nation,” he no doubt means that the offspring of Jacob should become sufficiently numerous to acquire the body and the name of one great people. But that follows concerning ‘nations’ may appear absurd; for if we wish it to refer to the nations which, by gratuitous adoption, are inserted into the race of Abraham, the form of expression is improper: but if it be understood of sons by natural descent, then it would be a curse rather than a blessing, that the Church, the safety of which depends on its unity, should be divided into many distinct nations. But to me it appears that the Lord, in these words, comprehended both these benefits; for when, under Joshua, the people was apportioned into tribes, as if the seed of Abraham was propagated into so many distinct nations; yet the body was not thereby divided; it is called an assembly of nations, for this reason, because in connection with that distinction a sacred unity yet flourished. The language also is not improperly extended to the Gentiles, who, having been before dispersed, are collected into one congregation by the bond of faith; and although they were not born of Jacob according to the flesh; yet, because faith was to them the commencement of a new birth, and the covenant of salvation, which is the seed of spiritual birth, flowed from Jacob, all believers are rightly reckoned among his sons, according to the declaration, “I have constituted thee a father of many nations.”6
Stephen C. Perks has well reprised this issue:
Due to the pietistic theological consensus that has come to dominate the Church’s understanding of the faith, it [the Great Commission] has been overwhelmingly taken to mean something else; namely, ‘make disciples from among the nations.’ This is a perfectly reasonable and correct understanding of the English, but it is an incorrect rendering of the Greek. The Greek says we are to ‘Go and disciple the nations,’ not make disciples of the nations, that is, from among the nations. . . . Many people misunderstand the Great Commission as a command to make disciples from among all the nations, but this is not what Jesus commanded us to do. Rather, He commanded us to disciple the nations as nations, to make Christian nations.7
But the Liberationist interpretation of the Exodus and the Sinai Covenant gives way at the slightest inquiry to a degree of greater radicalism still. If questioned, the Marxist anti-colonial narrative of the manumission of a slave race from bondage unto imperialism transitions (in complete self-contradiction) to the rhetoric of Boasian anthropology alleging that the Covenant with Israel of old had no inkling of ethnic identity in the first place. Set aside the fact that this secondary position undercuts the first; granting the secondary position that it wasn’t the people of Israel liberated from Egyptians, but generic people liberated from other people, it nullifies the Great Commission no less than the Sinai Covenant. Rather than Israel being delivered out of the Egyptians’ hands, the Alienist imposes upon the text an assumption fundamentally irreconcilable with the words themselves: rather than Israelites, those whom God delivered in the Exodus were but a menagerie of atomized individuals delivered not from Egyptians, but from a broader mass of distinctionless humanity. The egalitarian view then makes nonsense not only of the terms ‘Hebrews’ and ‘Egyptians,’ but also of the ‘mixed multitude’ mentioned as having been liberated alongside Israel. This Alienist eisegesis thereby forfeits God’s promise to Abraham that He would bless his physical descendants no less than His promise to make of him “many nations.” The Alienist interpretation would here preclude, then, all semblance of covenantalism.
That is if we may even call what Alienists do with the text here ‘interpretation,’ because interpretation actually requires interaction with the words of the text. That isn’t what they are doing. And there is no way to construe matters otherwise. They are simply imposing the zeitgeist upon the text. So too do they with every one of the commands which follow.
THE FIRST WORD
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
While this is a foundational command to monotheism, it also means more than this. More than a command to generic monotheism, in context of its preamble, it conclusively identifies the one true God. By the terms there used, it implies much about the definition of gods, generally. For the word appearing here as ‘gods’ is elohim, which means, in the general sense, ‘judges.’ Which is to say, then, that we shall brook no judicial systems contrary to the judgments of The Judge. And this was understood, because amongst the heathen of the ancient world, men of juridical-civil power were considered divinity. Even if secularism has lately studied to sterilize the language around politics of all religious overtones, the concept of divine right has resurged in entirely unattenuated form all across the Western world. Modern devotion to the arbitrary and ever more frequently lawless rule of ‘officials’ (in state, church, and academy) is the essence of Baalism and typified the god-states of the old Orient.
So we see the commandment precludes any claim to legitimate authority apart from obedience to the one true Judge, God Almighty. This, then, is a mandate of theonomy precluding even ecclesiocracy.
Question 104 of the Westminster Larger Catechism includes the following as a description of the duties required in this commandment: “yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man.” This would clearly include all social aspects of our existence, which is to say that the first commandment cannot be alienated from its context – national Covenant. Moreover, question 101 further states, “He is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom.” This is rightly understood as a deliverance not only from personal sin, but from the sin of false social orders. This is all the more confirmed by question 105, which enumerates things forbidden in the first commandment as “carnal security, tempting of God; using unlawful means,” etc.; and #106 charges us to do “as in his sight, whatever we do in his service.”
All taken into account, any social-civil orders not founded upon God’s law in the context of national covenant are but humanist fictions. Thus all the ‘judges’ propounding vanities such as political correctness, equality, civil rights, human rights, etc. – be they scientists, sociologists, psychologists, heads of state, or jurists – are the very ‘other gods before me’ denounced by the first Word. Aside from absolute theonomy for covenanted nations under the one ultimate Judge, all else violates His command. Propositional nation theory, known biblically as ’empire,’ comprised as it has ever been of statist and/or individualist utopian schemes, is strictly prohibited. Those claiming authority apart from, or contrary to, the one true God’s national covenant and law, are, irrespective even of professions of Christianity, ‘other gods,’ preaching a functional pantheism.
- Calvin’s commentary on Exodus 20:1-2 ↩
- Calvin’s commentary on Deuteronomy 4:32-40 ↩
- Calvin’s commentary on Exodus 20:1-2 ↩
- WLC, question 101 ↩
- R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 17, emphasis mine ↩
- Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 35:1-29, emphasis mine ↩
- “The Great Decommission,” audiobook by Stephen C. Perks, emphasis mine ↩