In the description of the revelation at Sinai in Deuteronomy 5:4, read this Sabbath in synagogues, Moses tells the Israelites, “Face to face God spoke with you at the mount, from amid the fire.” Joshua Berman observes a precedent for this phrase in ancient Egyptian iconography:
[A]ll over Egypt, you see images of the pharaoh staring at various gods, eye-level, face to face. The pharaoh is on equal footing with the god, because the pharaoh is beloved to the god, and divine powers are given over to him. . . . Why would the Torah appropriate a pagan Egyptian image to describe God’s encounter with Israel? In Egypt, the gods communicated face to face with the kings alone. In the Torah, God communicates that way with the entire people. The people are elevated to the status of kings.
It is in the five books of the Torah that we find the birthplace of egalitarian thought, where the common person is raised to the level of a king and kings are reduced to the level of the common person.
But the Torah’s transformation of the king into a commoner is no less striking. The Torah was determined that the king should be but a shadow of what a king was elsewhere. . . . [W]e are witness in the Torah to the transition from the law of rule to the rule of law. Elsewhere in the ancient world, the kings composed and promulgated law, but were above it, not subject to it (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). . . . All public institutions in the Torah—the judiciary, the priesthood, the monarchy, the institution of prophecy—are subordinated to the law.