It isn’t unusual for my friend The Owl & I to engage in thoughtful & lengthy discussions about sociopolitical issues and/or religion. That’s just how we roll. Recently the subject matter was The Ten Commandments, and we were both dismayed when we could only come up with eight off the cuff. Like many others we fancy ourselves to be men of faith but too often come up short, falling prey to the frustrations & distractions of the world. However, unlike (sadly) too many we are unhappy with that inadequacy and seek a meaningful relationship with Jesus. It isn’t enough to pay lip service to The Almighty, lazily go thru the motions for a couple of hours on Sunday morning while sinning freely 6 ½ days/week, & use an old dusty Bible for a paper weight. So if we are going to try to emulate Christ and live the life God desires for us to live it would seem fairly essential to know what the His Word says. I understand that rote memorization of Scripture isn’t necessarily a hallmark of genuine faith, but shouldn’t broad familiarity/knowledge/awareness of what’s inside that dusty Bible be important not so that we can impress anyone with knowledge but rather so that we can have that aforementioned meaningful relationship?? Ponder your friends, family, and significant other. You know them, right?? You know what they think, believe, & deem important in life. You know their birthday, where they grew up, what colors they like, what they studied in school, which sports teams they root for, what their favorite foods are, & what kind of TV, books, movies, or music they enjoy. That’s all part of a relationship. If you want a relationship with God it might be a good idea to learn His ways. To that end let’s talk about those Ten Commandments.
First of all, it should be noted that these commandments (also called The Decalogue by some) can be found in two places in the Bible: Exodus 20:1–17 and Deuteronomy 5:4–21. They were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, inscribed on two stone tablets. When Moses came down from the mountain after 40 days & nights he saw his people partying like it was 1999 (BC obviously), so he got ticked off and broke the tablets. No worries though…God wrote him a new copy because God’s an awesome Dude.
Unlike the ceremonial and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament these commandments are still applicable. These commandments represent God’s eternal standard of right vs. wrong. They represent vital obligations to society. They represent behavioral benchmarks. We have volumes of verbose laws at all levels these days, governing everything from taxes to intake of food & beverages to how much noise we’re allowed to make in the neighborhood late at night, and I would never suggest that all of those laws are irrelevant. However I believe that many of the problems we face on a daily basis could be considerably minimized if we’d just adhere to the foundation laid out by God. What follows is by no means meant to be a comprehensive, in-depth examination of The Ten Commandments. It is simply a little reminder of what they are, what they mean, & why they’re so important. Let’s take a look:
1 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.
It’s all about priorities. God wants to be THE priority in our lives. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things…but…do we?? What are “other gods”?? Nothing in all of Creation should be held up as a god – not the stars, sun, moon, planets, anything in Nature, nor any other spirit, statues, bones, relics, money, fame, sex, or any intellectual or philosophical concepts. I don’t think there are very many people out there melting down gold and making it into idols that they worship or pray to, but I know there are lots & lots for whom God is way down on the ol’ priority list. Jobs, family, entertainment, alcohol & drugs…we have no shortage of options to distract us. I’m not suggesting that anyone should ignore their family or that it’s not okay to have some good clean fun on occasion, but God needs to come first.
2 You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them nor serve them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.
Remember those golden idols I referred to?? Well, people actually used to do that sort of thing. I don’t know…maybe there are places where they still do. However, idolatry is a big no-no. A graven image is an idol carved from stone or wood, a material effigy that is worshipped…but let’s dig deeper. An idol can be anything we depend upon to meet needs of the heart like love, security, worth, or significance. When we seek to find identity & security in something besides God we have made it an idol. What are you addicted to?? What do you need to get thru the day?? What pursuits do you enjoy and why?? It could be something as simple and seemingly harmless as shopping or eating…or much more sinister things like gambling or pornography. Yet anything that you become a servant to and that pushes God down further on that priority list could be a culprit.
3 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’s about respect. God’s name is holy. Using the power of His name without submitting to Him or having a trusting relationship with Him is wrong. We should never use God’s name to curse, deceive, or condemn anyone. Rather we should call upon Him in times trouble and use His holy name in prayer, praise, and giving thanks. Sadly…in large part due to flippant usage in modern entertainment…the perception of this particular commandment has become watered down and overlooked. I think there is an attitude of “If cussing is the worst thing a person does then they’re probably an okay person”. God just might disagree with that assessment.
4 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son or daughter, your servants, your cattle, nor any stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
One word comes to mind…worship. It is God who supplies our needs, and if God rested after His labors why do we think we can outdo God?? When I was a kid we had something called blue laws, which basically meant that almost all businesses were closed on Sunday. That all started to change during my formative years, and now blue laws are mostly viewed as a quaint artifact of the past…but is that okay?? It is important that we consciously set aside one day each week for worshipful rest to remind ourselves to whom our time…our life…belongs. And no…spending a day off from your job running around like a headless chicken doesn’t count. That kind of day isn’t about God…it’s about you, your wants, your desires, your interests, & your ego. Refer back to the first two commandments.
5 Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
I’ve always been taught & believed wholeheartedly that nothing on Earth is more important than family. We need to recognize that someone else gave us life and took care of us when weren’t capable of taking care of ourselves. Parents have been entrusted by God to be our guardians & teachers from the day we were born. We are to serve, love, & obey them and hold them in the highest esteem. I am well aware that some aren’t blessed with great parents and I’m not sure what to say about that except that it is likely that in that type of situation someone else…a grandparent, another relative, a neighbor, or some type of guardian…took care of you as a child. Honor that. The time comes for most of us when our parents are no longer around, and then there isn’t a day that goes by that they aren’t missed.
6 You shall not kill.
The Hebrew word ratsach means “to murder or slay”. It specifically refers to the premeditated murder of one person by another. Sadly we don’t seem to appreciate the sanctity of life as much these days as in previous generations. We are to cherish all life and recognize it as part of God’s Creation.
7 You shall not commit adultery.
There’s no way to have accurate statistics, but I’d be surprised if this isn’t the most broken commandment, the one that many people are far too willing to overlook & ignore. If it feels good do it, right?? We give lip service to the sanctity (aka holiness) of marriage, but genuine respect for that particular bond seems to be at an all-time low. Adultery is any sexual act committed by a married person outside of that marriage. We are not to do anything that would lead a person to break the sacred union of marriage, but unfortunately it is all too common. And I won’t even get started on fornication, which is a whole other ballgame.
8 You shall not steal.
Ownership is a sacred boundary. Stealing is dishonest & treacherous conduct that shows great disrespect and a lack of love toward fellow human beings. It disturbs societal stability and the results are feelings of fear, insecurity, & desire for revenge.
9 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Lying and dishonesty pervert & corrupt hearts and are abominations to a God of truth. He wants us to learn to hate lying & dishonesty and to love truth. We are not to deceitfully betray, slander, or defame our neighbors, but defend & speak well of them. A person’s reputation is an extension of themselves and we should not violate it for our own selfish gain. Integrity is not for oneself, but for the sake of others, so that they may live in security, knowing that we will treasure their reputation above our own.
10 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife, servants, ox, donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Covet means to long for something that belongs to another person. And yes, the word neighbor means everybody…not just the few people that may live beside of you or across the street. If we claim to be in relationship with God we must see people in the same way He does. Their lives are not ours to take for our purposes. In modern times we probably don’t covet anyone’s livestock, but we may be envious of their car, job, or general lifestyle. Yet the Bible emphasizes multiple times that we aren’t supposed to focus on worldly possessions. Look back up to those first couple of commandments. God wants to be the center of our lives, and if we’re too busy keeping up with the Joneses or loathing them because they have cool stuff that we can’t afford then we’re not living for Him.