While reading in Deuteronomy, I noticed four words that seemed to be on repeat: commandments, statutes, rules, and laws. If I was having a casual conversation about the “do’s and dont’s” of today’s culture I could use these four words interchangeably and no one would think twice. However, verses such as Deuteronomy 6:1, and Deuteronomy 11:1 make me question if those words each had a separate meaning to the Hebrew culture.
“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules, that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, ” (Biblegateway.com). Deuteronomy 6:1
“You shall therefore love the Lord your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.” (Biblegateway.com). Deuteronomy 11:1
Coming from a book that is very accurately and literally interpreted my first guess is that each of these words has a different meaning.
In order to see if my instincts were correct, I went back to translations and started looking into the Hebrew meanings of each word. The first word I needed to figure out was Commandment. “The second significant noun here is the feminine plural of mitsevâh (îÄöåÈä) [pronounced mitse-AH], which means, commandment, prohibition, precept, that which is forbidden, constraint, proscription, countermand. This is nearly always translated Laws, Commandments, Ordinances and Statutes” (http://kukis.org/). The original 10 commandments is essentially a list telling people what is not allowed, what is forbidden. Therefore, this leads me to understand that when I read the word commandment in the Old Testament, I can be sure to understand that Moses is referencing the original 10. Although, there are the main ten commandments which were written on stone tablets, in reality there were 613 commandments of the Old Testament. (http://www.swartzentrover.com). So if “commandments” is referencing the first 10, what word refers to the other 613?
When researching the Hebrew meaning of the word statues I found that traditionally the word has another meaning. ” The masculine form of this word found more often in the Old Testament: chôq (çÉ÷) [pronounced khoke], and it means, decree, that which is decreed; statute; boundary, defined limit; an appointed portion of labor, a task. The key concept here is the setting of a boundary or a limit. Sometimes these kinds of words can have very different meanings and sometimes the shadings are lost to us” (http://kukis.org/). It is important here to understand that this word is referring to limitations. Where as commandments are more significant in way of living and honoring, statues are more important to the specificity of things.
This leads us to the difference of the 10 Commandments and the Law of Moses. There are the 10 original commandments that Yahweh gave his people. An original 10 to live by. If you look at the rest of the commandments of the Old testament you see that the rest of the commandments are a breakdown of the original 10. (answer.com). That falls perfectly into play the difference of actual meaning between the words. Since statues means specificity, it is logical that is refers to Mosaic Law which is the specifics of the 10 commandments.
Finally, we have the word Law. “The final word is þôwrah (èåÉøÇä or èÉøÇä) [pronounced TOH-rah], which means, instruction, doctrine;[human and divine] law, direction, regulations, protocol; custom; it is transliterated Torah. It is nearly always translated law, laws” (http://kukis.org/). This would mean that the word Law is referencing, Law of God written on the hearts of men; and this is the concept of right and wrong. (http://kukis.org/).
in playing devils advocate, the other argument is that all these words essentially mean the same thing. The main reason that they keep repeating is to place emphasis on the rules that Yahweh is setting. “All four of these Hebrew words are used throughout the writings of Moses to refer to commands from God to be obeyed by God’s people. Distinctions are sometimes made regarding one word from the other, yet the overall principle is one of obedience to all that the Lord commands, whether it’s a general command, a prescribed law, a legal verdict, or a religious festival or ritual.” (Gotquestions.org).
I think it is essential to understand the small differences like these to help understand what the original text meant. I find it fascinating that today we can use the same word for many different meanings but the Hebrew culture had such specifics and intent with each word they passed down.