The Ten Commandments We can see from what has already been read that most, if not all, of the Law preceded Moses. Adam and his sons knew about sacrifice. Noah was told of the capital punishment commanded for murder. Moses had already referred to the Sabbath in the gathering of the manna. So what is going on with the Ten Commandments? I have a suggestion. Look first at Isaiah 28:10-13 for it is: Do and do, do and do, Rule on rule, rule on rule; A little here, a little there.. Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people., To whom he said ‘This is the resting place, let the weary rest’; and ‘This is the place of repose’ but they would not listen. So the, the word of the Lord to them will become: Do and do, do and do, Rule on rule, rule on rule; A little here, a little there – So that they will go and fall backward, Be injured and snared and captured.. We see here what happens when man gets hold of a set of rules which seems too simple! I had an interesting experience watching my children, when they were younger, play a ball game called Four Square. When the basic rules did not seem enough, they kept adding rule on rule – and then trying to remember them all! It seems to be part of human nature to desire firm boundaries and make rules until everything seems set and prescribed. We seem to be essentially uncomfortable with the freedom God has to offer us! When Jesus was asked what the most important command was, He stated only two, which He said were similar and also the foundation for all the rest: love God with everything you have and love your neighbor as yourself. So simple. So difficult. So complete… We know the Code of Hammurabi predates the giving of the Ten Commandments to the people Israel. And the parts of the Code that we have show some of the basic Ten Commandments were already known. But, as is human nature, they are combined with laws about incredible minutiae. We know, in other words, that the Law was not foreign to these people. But God had to strip away the junk that man had spent time adding. And that is what He did. When He gave the Law through Moses to His people, He gave them the original basics, without all the junk. In later years, Jesus would be furious with the Pharisees and teachers of the law (see Matthew 23 etc.) for adding again to the law, but here, in Exodus 20, God gives the basic law to all humans through the Israelites. If we consider the giving of these Commandments in context, it is also interesting to note that they were given immediately after Moses’ father-in-law had advised him to use other counsellors for the smaller matters the people needed help with. Moses did as his father-in-law suggested, and when the encampment had moved to the base of Mt. Sinai, God gave the Law to Moses. Let’s look at the Basic Ten: 1. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. In giving this Commandment, God first identifies Himself as the One who rescued them from slavery. When one is rescued or bought out of slavery, one then has a new owner. In stating that He is the One who brought them out of slavery, God is establishing His ownership of this people. “Before me.” That is an important phrase here, because it has two meanings. It can mean “ahead in line or importance” or it can mean “in front of one’s face.” Both meanings are involved here. We all understand easily the first meaning. God is to be the most important Person in our lives – the center of our attention and focus. He is to be ahead of all else in our consideration. But the other meaning needs to be examined as well. Of all the other things we do pay attention to in our lives, is there anything offensive to God? Is there anything for Him to see in our lives that we pay attention to or time and money on which denies Him in any way at all? Both these meanings are important to consider when looking at the first commandment. 2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in for form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. The first thing to note here is that idols are made by men. They do not spring up by themselves! Thus, we have the direct opposition between the idea of God making man or man making a god. In commanding what He did in the first commandment, God is explicitly denying its opposite in this commandment. Then God says something that is confusing to many modern people: that He is a jealous God. But when one reads the entire Bible, one realizes that God is not jealous on His own behalf, but on ours. He desires us to be His and is jealous of that which would take us away from Him and also, by doing that, harm us. He is jealous for our wellbeing. Does God punish the children for the sins of the fathers? No, and this is one of the places where the New International Version has failed in translation badly. The old or new King James puts it much more accurately: …for I , the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth [generation] of those who hate me… The actual Hebrew meaning here is not punishment, but consequence, and that is a far different matter. A good example is a child born blind because the mother has syphilis. The child is innocent of the misdeeds which caused the syphilis, but nevertheless has suffered the consequences. The other way of putting it is with the popular line, “No man is an island.” We each affect others, and the lives of the fathers have enormous effects upon the lives of their children and even their grandchildren. God is warning about this; cautioning the fathers regarding their responsibilities. He is not threatening punishment. And then God immediately makes a promise which is good for everyone, including the children of all fathers everywhere – that He will show His love and mercy (different translations have different words here) to thousands who love and obey Him. This is exactly repeated by Christ with the words in the New Testament, “If you love Me, you will obey Me.” Love and obedience go hand in hand where God is concerned, and God will honor them with His love and mercy. 3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. or You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. It is important to see both translations here, because they explain one another well. One of the problems with translating is whether to go with the word itself or the understood meaning. Different translators make different choices. Often the idea of “taking the name of God in vain” was considered a reference to swearing. Actually, it has almost nothing to do with that, although that may certainly be included. Misusing God’s name is done a thousand ways. If one calls oneself a Christian and is not, one is misusing the name of Christ. If one claims a vision from God and it is not, one is misusing His name. It is also important to remember that “name” is synonymous with “character.” And this is vitally important in understanding the impact of this commandment. No man will be held guiltless by God who misrepresents His character. How often do we hear of God’s judgment without hearing also of His mercy? Or how often are we told to think of God as “super buddy” in the sky and the reality of His majesty and holiness are somehow swept aside? Nor is He the God who rewards those who love Him with health and wealth – this is heretical (consider, please, that Paul was afflicted with something God would not heal and Jesus did not even have a bed of his own in which to lay His head). God does what He does out of His own wisdom, and not ours. It is commanded here to recognize that. We must be very careful how we represent God in our lives and in our explanation of who He is to others. These first three commandments concern the Person and Character of God Himself. They are reflected in Jesus’ command to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength. The Fourth Commandment is a transition commandment: 4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them; but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. This commandment ties man with God. The commandments before it are about God. The commandments after it have to do with men’s relationships with one another. But this commandment is the bridge commandment. God Himself ties it back to creation and then extends it forward as a command to always be kept, partially in recollection of Creation (which this Commandment emphasizes was in six literal days) as well as for the explicitly stated reason of keeping one day a week holy to the Lord. In addition, this command is to be extended, as far as man is capable, to all of creation over which he has any control: his family, his servants, his animals. No other commandment is like this one. As such, it is emphasized repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. Interestingly, however, it is the only commandment altered in the New Testament! In the New Testament we read that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, that He Himself is our Sabbath rest, and Paul instructs us not to judge one another by the Sabbath day kept. It might be noted, then, that Jesus Himself is the bridge between God and man; the channel of forgiveness and atonement by which man can be restored to fellowship with God. As such, it might be noted that He IS the Fourth Commandment in the Person of God incarnate. 5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. The way this commandment is stated does give the impression that it was only for the children of Israel. But in the wider sense of “the land the Lord your God is giving you” it is clear that each of us is in the situation in life and the place in the world where God wants us. We are not accidents of birth, time, or place. In honouring our parents, then, we are also honouring God who gave them to us. It should be mentioned here that respect and honor are different. Respect is something which often has to be earned, or which can be lost by a parent. A father who is unfaithful, a mother who is a drug addict – there are many reasons one can lose respect for one’s parents. But that is a different matter. We are commanded to honor them. So what does that mean? It means not to act in a way embarrassing to them. It means not refusing to acknowledge them as your parents. It means they also are your neighbours to be loved! It means obedience insofar as it is ever possible. It means helping them if they need it. It means paying attention to them when they are older and feeble and making sure they are not abandon in any way. It means being involved and not forgetting where you come from. It means not slandering or insulting them to others. It means they are a burden God gave each of us, and we are commanded to carry that burden as a means of obedience to God. 6. You shall not murder. It is here that the King James translators failed badly. They decided on “Thou shalt not kill.” And then, in the chapters and books that follow, God commands killing of sacrifices and also commands capital punishment. But God does not contradict Himself. The word in the Hebrew in this commandment is not the generic verb ‘kill’, but is a verb indicating the killing of another human being with malice of forethought. So while ‘kill’ is technically acceptable, it gives the wrong impression. The meaning of this commandment is that no one human being has the authority to arbitrarily choose whether another should live or die. The death penalty is a matter of law, and we are told to obey the law of the land. The universal death penalty given by God after the Flood was given to Noah in Genesis 9:5-6, when God orders that any man who kills another man must also be killed. This, again, has nothing to do with legal justice or war, but with murder itself, or what would be considered in many legal systems “first degree murder.” It is in Genesis 9 that God gives the reason: because man is created in the image of God. Therefore to randomly kill another man – any other man – is to violate the image of God. (Note: check the studies on Genesis 4 and 9 previously done here for a more extensive discussion of this.) 7 . You shall not commit adultery. This includes fornication. This command covers every form of sex outside of the marriage bed. This is emphasized by the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 13:4 Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Bible explains Bible. Sex is to be reserved for husband and wife. No discussion. No exceptions. 8. You shall not steal. If it doesn’t belong to you, it doesn’t belong to you. This includes time, goods, money, people, writings, and anything else that is not yours which you nevertheless wish to have. God is sufficient for each of us who are His. To take what He has not allowed us without paying for it in one way or another which is also a way suitable to the previous owner, is to tell God He doesn’t know how to take care of you. To steal is to insult God. 9. You shall not bear false witness [or give false testimony] against your neighbor. The last six commandments deal explicitly with the relationships between people. This commandment forbids any kind of false witness or testimony, whether it be in a legal situation or across the backyard fence with another neighbor. We are to consider one another with honor and respect, understanding we can never know enough of the details of a person’s life to make the kind of judgments we humans are so prone to make. 10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. First of all, to ‘covet’ means to desire in such a way as to spend time and energy thinking about having something, and even imagining ways to get it. Paul tells us to ‘flee covetousness, which is idolatry.’ (Col. 3:5) Now, let’s take a look at that list: Your neighbor’s house: that five bedroom wonder with the immaculate yard…. Nope. It’s not yours. Get out your paintbrush and get your own in shape. Your neighbor’s wife: what – you forgot about the adultery part already? Or are you simply comparing your own wife with her? Take care of what God has given you. If your partner isn’t so great, maybe your partner is reflecting you… His manservant or maidservant: if he can afford these, he is in a higher tax bracket and has to pay the accountant, too. Be grateful for a simple life! His ox: his means of getting his work done. God gave you your means, too. It is what you need to get the work done that God wants you to do. Get to it. His donkey: translation for us today? His car. His means of transportation. This concept of glamour that is sold with the car has nothing to do with when its transmission will drop out anyway. God has given you what you need. Look to Him. See ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. And all these things will be added unto you. (Matt. 6:33) In short, here is what the commandments say: God is God and only God is God. Recognize that and live accordingly. He knows what He is doing with your life. Look to Him for your needs and even your wants. Anything else gets in the way of living the life He has given you.