In recent years the “Ten Commandments” have come under attack and in some instances have been removed from public locations. In Exodus 20:1-17 of the Holy Bible the Lord presented the core moral, behavioral, and attitudinal expectations of every person in His covenant. The Ten Commandments are the basic stipulations of the covenant. Through them humanity has been given essential truths of how to live with God and one another, based on who God is.
Three times “Ten Commandments” appear in English translations of the Bible, but the Hebrew for all three titles is actually “Ten Words” (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13, 10:4). However the context of the titles, and Exodus 24:12, show they were considered commandments. These commandments when viewed appropriately place no hardship on an individual and when followed allows for a healthy society.
Following is a review of the Ten Commandments in order along with some commentary on each;
- Put no other gods before God. Worship God exclusively.
- Do not worship idols. Idols are images made by human hands using material God created. Images meant to represent God could only represent Him less than He really is.
- Do not use God’s name in vain. Using a persons name was considered a way to control them, but God is not to be manipulated. In the Hebrew using God’s name in vain can refer to calling down curses on others in a way inconsistent with His plan and character. Misrepresenting the Lord in anything we say or do is another way of misusing God’s name.
- Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. “Sabbath” means a ceasing or resting from work, not necessarily an absence of activity. The rest can be recreational activity. One day in seven should be set apart from the focus on making a living and instead focus on God, family, and our faith community. New Covenant believers are not under the Sabbath law however the principles of the Sabbath continue for God’s people in all times.
- Honor your father and mother. Those who disrespect their parents will not respect and submit to other authority. Honoring our parents is a sign of respect to authority in general, which is foundational to a healthy society. It is expected that at some point in a persons life individuals are released from the authority of parents and make decisions that are best for their families. At no point should a person dishonor their parents, instead take care of the legitimate needs and consider seriously the wisdom of parental advice.
- Do not murder. This commandment involves the principle of respecting human life as made in the image of God. The Hebrew verb in this commandment is ratshach is used strictly for the taking of human life whether accidently or on purpose, and thus, without God’s authorization. Scriptures can be interpreted as teaching that God may authorize government agents, such as police and soldiers, to take life in executing justice or defending innocent people.
- Do not commit adultery. This prohibits violating the sanctity of marriage. The larger principle is respect for marriage between one man and one woman, inclusive is the respect for family which nourishes human life. Also included is the principle of the importance of fidelity and faithfulness to our commitments. Adultery is a sin against God and our bodies. Sexual immorality contributes significantly to the destruction of a nation and people’s relationship with God.
- Do not steal. This commandment teaches respect for private property. Most stealing, in Israel’s context at that time, would have been life threatening for the victim. For example moving a boundary stone would have lessened the amount of land another person would have for growing food. Stealing is a major demonstration of selfishness.
- Do not bear false witness. The ninth commandment prohibits lying in court against a fellow member of the community. Ruining a persons reputation could cost that person their livelihood. The subject of justice is God’s goal for the community. Lying to enemies in war is not prohibited here.
- Do not covet. Coveting is a strong desire to obtain something, no matter what is involved, especially something prohibited or that belongs to another. The object being coveted becomes more important than the effects it might have on others. It is more important than God’s will. ‘Lust’ and ‘coveting’ translate to the same Hebrew and Greek words. The connection is the selfishness that lets strong desire rule our lives.
Commandments 1-4 are about loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. Commandments 5-10 are about loving others as you love yourself and that brings us back to loving God. So the question I pose is are the ‘Ten Words’ offensive because of the struggle to love God or is it the struggle to love others? Imagine a society that basis it’s culture and laws on the principles found in the Ten Commandments.
Rev. Burt Schwab