Today is the 17th Sabbath of the annual Torah cycle: parashah (Torah portion) Yitro / Jethro, Exo 18:1-20:26. Read Exodus 18:1-20:26 at Bible Gateway.
This week’s Torah portion forms a simple chaistic structure, but with many smaller and overlapping structures within it. I am posting the outline of the parashah first with the strong and weak paragraph divisions, and then the chiastic structure after it with the same paragraph divisions marked, so that it can be seen that the paragraph divisions help reveal the chiastic structure.
Exo 18:1-27 p YHVH is greater than all the gods (central axis of this paragraph)
Exo 19:1-20:7 Marriage covenant: how YHVH has loved us + how we love YHVH
Exo 19:1-25 s YHVH descended upon Mt Sinai in fire, to enact the marriage covenant with Israel
Exo 20:1 s And God spoke all these words, saying
Exo 20:2-6 s Israel shall have no gods before YHVH
Exo 20:7 p Israel shall not take the name of YHVH in vain
Exo 20:8-17 How we love our neighbor
Exo 20:8-11 s Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart
Exo 20:12 s Honor your father and mother
Exo 20:13 s You shall not murder
Exo 20:14 s You shall not commit adultery
Exo 20:15 s You shall not steal
Exo 20:16 s You shall not bear false witness
Exo 20:17a s You shall not covet your neighbor’s house
Exo 20:17b p You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s
Exo 20:18-26 The fear of God helps us to worship Him rightly
Exo 20:18-21 s The fear of God prevents us from sinning (breaking commandment)
Exo 20:22-26 p Sanctity of YHVH’s worship + sanctity of YHVH’s altar
1a) Exo 18:1-27 (p), YHVH is greater than all the gods;
1b) Exo 19:1-25 (s), Moses, the mediator of the marriage covenant between God and Israel;
central axis) Exo 20:1-17 (s+p), God spoke the Ten Commandments;
2b) Exo 20:18-21 (s), Moses, mediate between us and God lest we die;
2a) Exo 20:22-26 (p), Preserve the sanctity of YHVH’s worship and altar.
Every strong paragraph in this week’s parashah moreover forms their own chiastic structures, and some of the weak paragraphs do also. In addition, Exo 19 is a mass of smaller and overlapping structures. I have worked out five so far in that chapter alone, and I know I don’t have them all yet.
One of the smaller structures in Exo 19, I found particularly fascinating today, because it presented a puzzle:
1a) Exo 19:20b, And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up;
1b) Exo 19:21-22, Warn the people + priests lest they break through, lest the LORD break out against them;
central axis) Exo 19:23, But Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it;’”
2b) Exo 19:24, Away! Do not let the priests + people break through, lest He break out against them;
2a) Exo 19:25, So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.
Has anyone else wondered, along with Moses, why God repeated this instruction to have Moses go back down again, when Moses had already done it? There is not a single accidental letter in Torah, and this is here for a reason also!
It is possible that this is a matching element with a discussion the LORD has with Moses during the golden calf incident, when He uses similar language, telling Moses passionately to get himself down from the mountain. The matching elements help us to see that Exo 19 enacts the covenant, and Exo 32 (the golden calf) breaks the covenant. That is one possible explanation.
(Someday when I have time, I would love to work out the structure between these chapters. It is possible the entire book of Exodus forms a single chaistic structure from beginning to end. How does slavery in Egypt, the beginning of Exodus, form a matching element with building the tabernacle, the end of Exodus? I don’t know yet, that is the beauty of it! When Scripture sets up a puzzle, it is to draw our attention to it to invite us to solve it, because in the solving of it, the Spirit teaches His people something amazing and wonderful!)
But this is an unusual central axis. Why would God put neon flashing lights around Moses repeating the LORD’s instruction, which they had already done, that bounds were set around the mountain and the mountain consecrated?
Let’s think for a moment what Mount Sinai represents. The mountain symbolizes the Ten Commandments. If we refer to one, we automatically think of the other, because they are forever and indelibly linked in our minds. The way Torah relates this history, with its numerous repetitions, caused us to link them.
The Ten Commandments, moreover, represents the entire Torah. The Ten Commandments are the covenant (Deu 4:13) Israel was commanded to perform. The rest of the statutes and judgments of Torah, explain how to keep the Ten.
We are to set a boundary around Mount Sinai and consecrate it. We are to set a boundary around the Ten and consecrate them. We are to set a boundary around Torah and consecrate it. We are to not add to Torah or take away from it, but we are to sanctify God’s word in our hearts and keep it set apart, to observe it.
The Ten, and by extension, the entire Torah, is not obsolete, old- fashioned, or passed away. These things are not optional — they are important to God for our sakes, as His teaching tools emphasize!