These are just some quick thoughts about the 10 Commandments
The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments are rules created by God and directly transferred by Him for the purpose of guiding His people, a society, to survive and thrive as most other societies, even larger and more powerful ones, faded into the History books. These laws are useful for guiding individual behavior, and even require it – but the purpose of them was not to create a great life for any individual, but for the race-the society-the people as a whole. Following these rules means restricting one’s own freedom of choice for the sake of the group. I believe that they can be applied to any group for good result, like a country, a city, a church, a youth group, or a family. Few people know them, less people understand them, and no one always follows them. However, if in general, a society obeys and cherishes them, they will probably thrive as a people, don’t you think? Keep in mind that we are not under the condemnation of this law if we are believers… we are free in the grace found in the work of Christ. At the same time, I think we can learn a great deal about God by studying these ten laws. Here is just a little bit of that from my perspective.
I. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The first part of this command is actually “I am the Lord your God.” Someone has to make the rules – it would not be fair or just for it to be another flawed human being who would certainly create rules to be in their own favor, or in such a way that would exempt them from obedience. So, to begin, this society must recognize and agree that God is God, that He is the top God, and is the only God (capital G). Since there are no other gods ahead of Him in authority, then no other god’s rules are above His either, and certainly no man’s. In other words, if another god shows up with ten rules, they are to be ignored next to His. To be successful, a society must decide its standard for deciding right from wrong – how does one make moral decisions? God starts out by telling us that the standard must be Himself, bc no one else is God and so no one else’s opinions matter.
II. Thou shalt have no idols.
This command is about confusing the Creator with the creation. We are part of that creation, as are the animals, the sun, the angels, etc. We should not worship anything that He created whether ourselves or anything that we adapt of His creations. We are special as God’s direct creation, but we are not equal with Him, nor is anything else. In other words, in Commandment I, God says “There is no one above me.” In Commandment II He says “There is no one and nothing equal with me either!” According to this commandment, we must be very careful not to give away that which is God’s. Since all glory and worship are God’s, He may get jealous if we give it to someone or something else; this has the feel of an unfaithful love affair.
Incidentally, 3-4 generations might have also been a reference to a “household” since that is generally lived in the typical Jewish household.
III. Do not Misuse God’s Name
Again, a reference to “Who” God is. He is special, He is different. Even His Name must be handled with respect and care. Even just His Name is so special and powerful that we, as mere humans, must not think that we can do whatever we want with it. This surely refers to “Oh My God” and “Jesus H Christ,” etc. God’s Name is more special than this. However, another possible application is the idea of wrong behavior in His Name – see Col 3:17. Do not misuse God’s Name… or even use it at all without reason. Look out for vanity, boredom, and poor habits as a vain or useless reason for using His Name.
Consider the habit of people who love to “swear to God” that something will happen. It is a common instruction from God that we avoid this! We find it over and over in the law, and even in Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:30-37). God’s name is not some simple word or concept – He is real, and taking His name is certainly no less serious than using our own names!
IV. Remember the Sabbath Day
Keep it “Holy.” – sanctified, different, set apart. The Sabbath should be different – God then commands specifically one way that it should be different: namely the increase of rest and the decrease of labor. Let yourself and your family and you servants and even your animals off the hook. Note, however, how the other 6 days are to be spent. This seems to be no less of a command – work six days – do your work then. Now, why? God does not always deem it necessary to give us a reason for His rules after #1 – bc if #1 is true, then there is no reason to explain the others. However, He does explain this one – Bc it follows the example God set and it reminds us every week who He is, and reminds us what He did and helps us to take time to focus on Him every week. If God thought rest was a good idea for Himself, then we probably should too. Think, though of the ramifications of this commandment in regards to God’s character! God has claimed one day as His own day – that we will set it apart and make it Holy. Does He tell us to kill His enemies on this day, or worship Him, or give Him all of our money we make working this day? NO – He tells us to rest. I have read recently that the God of the Old Testament asked “What can you do for Me?” but in the New Testament His question is :”What can I do for you?” This commandment seems to make this idea ludicrous. How does it serve God for us to have a day off? Realize that humans would never have invented the weekend, much less the vacation and jubilee – God did! In fact, the further a nation drifts from God, the less possible will vacations, weekends, etc. be, especially for those who need it most – the ones God is protecting with this law. What kind of God invents a weekend?
*Now we begin a whole new section of commandments – the first ones were about God. These next six are about us and how we treat one another. Obviously, it must be established first who God is in order to justify His giving laws to us. We now know the foundation for right and wrong – now He begins to tell us how to relate to one another in this society He is designing.
V. Honor your father and mother…
The command with a promise.
Five begins the section about horizontal relationships – from one human being to another. The first one is about the central unit of God’s culture – the family. As with the setup of God’s authority – God is in charge, so he makes the rules, God is setting up an order of authority in the family here – honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land. An important question is: whose days? Is this a promise for individual long life if you honor your parents? I think not. This is a society-wide promise – so that your people’s days in the land of promise will be long. Naturally, if everyone honors their parents than the important teachings, morals, and standards (like these 10 rules) will be successfully passed down from generation to generation – from honored parent to honoring child. If not, then the social structure will dissolve, God’s rule will be lost, and the people will not be long in the land. Note that in the bible, God does not re-reveal the 10 Commandments to each generation of Israelites. He expects them to be passed down to children and for children to listen and obey.
Honor is about motivation. “Do as they would do,” “hold to what they hold to,” “Do it as God commanded them to do.” Honor God by honoring them (and therefore honor them by honoring God.) Follow the Spirit of their right desires. We can obey and still dishonor. Of course, there is a reason that this is not the first commandment. Even parental authority comes from God and if a parent’s command would be in contrast with God’s, then the only honorable thing to do would be to disobey.
VI. You shall not murder.
All the other commands in regard to other men are based, by necessity, on this one. God begins these general, all people commands, with the most basic form of respect: to respect another’s life. Life is a precious commodity for any society. If life is taken, or can be taken unjustly, selfishly, or out of emotional outburst, the society will obviously begin to collapse. Fear, militant and survival mentalities would begin to the basis of life. as Maslow pointed out, if one’s life is in jeopardy, then service, love, work, worship, and other ideals that societies need, cease. Life is the first and most foundational right, or possession that must be respected in any society and by that society.
VII. No adultery.
There are a series of commands here that are short and simple with no room or apparent need for discussion from God. God seems to feel no compunction to explain Himself or give any reasons for these commands (and of course, He doesn’t have to). However, this commandment tells us about God’s character again. He apparently sees marriage vows as sacred as life itself. He also knows, b/c He created it, that sex is special to human beings – no matter what we try to convince ourselves. Rules about sex are necessary for our society to survive. By definition, adultery is sex between two people, at least one of whom is married to someone else.
It is interesting to me to note that these ten areas of life are important to God, and He believes they are important to us as well. There must be rules about family authority structures, about life, about sex and marriage, and about personal possessions. Although adultery is the only sexual sin expressly forbidden in the 10 Commandments, obviously the most damaging sexual sin to a society (sin, betrayal of more than a small number of people, breaking an oath made before men and God) However, it may be important to take a second and note other sexual sins found in scripture: Fornication – sex before marriage; immorality – any misuse of sex; impurity – a state of sexual rebellion or apathy; homosexuality – sexual behavior with a member of the same sex; and lust – wishing for an opportunity to be involved sexually with someone other than your mate, just to name a few. However, adultery is the one talked about here – adultery breaks down the foundational piece of God’s societal structure – the family.
Number VIII: No stealing.
Apparently, according to God, we have the right to personal property (or at least the Hebrews did). This may be a concession by God, but I don’t know why it would have to be. It seems rather obvious that it is vitally important for individuals to be able to keep what they have worked for – what is theirs to create or destroy , keep, sell, buy, or ignore. If individuals (as with life) feel that their property is threatened, how will they react? Locks, bars, guns, dogs, “the club,” removable stereo systems, alarm systems, and the list goes on. Paranoia, fear, mistrust, passwords, and encryption. Do I stop and help that person on the road? Maybe they are waiting to carjack me! How much time and money do we spend on locking and unlocking various aspects of our lives? How much of these precious resources could be used elsewhere to help others? Society fails in the face of this total disrespect of another’s property – rather it is music, software, taxes, money or jewelry. Society begins to thrive when all members can depend on one another to respect their right to their “stuff.” PS – it is an indictment on a society when a poor person needs to steal to get basic needs met.
Number IX: Do not bear a false witness.
In order to see the importance of this commandment for any society, ask yourself one question: How much faith do you have in the American legal system? How likely is true justice to be found there? How does it affect a culture for the people to undermine the legal process with false testimonies? Each person that does breaks a law that is vital. Without this simple truth, downtrodden people begin to be mistreated, only the majority can win, each person serves their best interest, and judges and juries have to sort through the question of who is telling the truth, not who is guilty in this situation. Also, bearing a false witness is about speaking something that you know not to be true regarding another person or event or item. This of course, disrupts a community’s sense of trust in one another and soon you have to take your car to 2 mechanics just to see if they are both telling the truth. Sadly, the price tags get reversed as the more trusting, honest, simple people and the pure of heart are the ones most often taken advantage of when false witness abounds. This must anger the heart of a just God.
Number X Do not covet…
Coveting – the only commandment that focuses only on your thoughts and feelings rather than your actions (aside from perhaps the first couple). Again, we have to examine this from a perspective of: what purpose does this serve in a community? How can my thoughts disrupt and ruin a society? According to the 10th commandment, we should not even basically desire the items of 6,7 and 8. This commandment is meant to stop the competitive me vs you mentality to prevalent today. This mindset of competition creates a gluttony based society that would not reflect God’s values. “Staying ahead of the Jones’s” is a dangerous mentality that creates a society of debt and mass spending. Especially when this desire for more leads one to seek another’s downfall, it is dangerous. the assumption is that if I get your wife, you lose her. If I get your ox, you lose it. Only one of us can have it and I want it; you are out of luck. God seems to desire harmony and love among His people; we can learn to be just as happy and pleased that another was blessed as if we had received the blessing ourselves. Perhaps we should rejoice that our neighbor has a great wife or an awesome car, uh, ox, or a great job or a larger church congregation. Perhaps this command is also about fighting the temptation at a place where, even if we do fail, we do not actually hurt our neighbor. If I struggle at the point of desiring his stuff, than I am less likely to be actually planning how to get my hands on it. We must learn to be content with that which God has seem fit to place in our hands and assume He knows what He is doing.