The Finger Of God And The Forming Of A Nation -- By: David L. Baker

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 56:1 (NA 2005)
Article: The Finger Of God And The Forming Of A Nation
Author: David L. Baker

The Finger Of God
And The Forming Of A Nation

The Origin and Purpose of the Decalogue

David L. Baker


The problem of the origin of the Decalogue is often expressed in terms of whether or not it is Mosaic or developed from a form that originated in the Mosaic period. Many scholars have argued for one or other of these positions, though recently some have suggested that the Decalogue was formulated much later in Israel’s history, during or even after the Exile. However none of these views engages seriously with the claim of the biblical text that the Decalogue was spoken directly by God to the people of Israel at Sinai and written by ‘the finger of God’ on the two stone tablets. In this article I will endeavour to do that, before considering the audience to whom the Decalogue was addressed, what it was intended to be for them, and the motives and sanctions which were stated or implied. I shall argue that this document was instrumental in the forming of Israel as a nation, indeed as the people of God, and that it contains the essential principles which underlie the detailed laws in Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

1. Origin

1.1 Words of God

The starting-point for this article is an observation by Clines1 , that the biblical text claims that God spoke the words of the Decalogue

(Exod. 20:1; Deut. 5:22) but commentators do not take this claim seriously.2 Instead:

  • they say someone else spoke them, without acknowledging that this means God did not do so (e.g. Hyatt);
  • they change the subject and make the issue whether or not they were spoken by Moses (e.g. Charles);
  • they imply the text never intended to mean that God actually spoke the words (e.g. Barr);
  • they pretend God did actually speak the words, even though it is clear they do not believe it (e.g. Patrick).

Clines himself prefers to take what the text says seriously, and therefore rejects its claim because he doesn’t believe it to be true, arguing that it was formulated by people whose particular interests were served by its contents.

I also intend to take the biblical text – and context – seriously, and so will begin by clarifying exactly what claims are made, before considering whether or not these claims are credible. Both Exodus and Deuteronomy identify the Decalogue as words of God, spoken by him directly to the people of Israel (You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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