Exodus is the book that tells of the formation of a national group from a collection of slave laborers in Egypt. Joseph led the children of Israel into Egypt to escape famine in Canaan. Moses led them out hundreds of years later to escape what had become bondage and abuse under the Pharaohs. A forty-year journey to the Promised Land included a stop at Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law: The Ten Commandments.
These Commandments came at a time when the Israelites were gelling as a people, which would represent God to the world. Hundreds of years in the polytheistic culture that was Egypt had no doubt dulled their sensitivity to the one true God: YHWH. As a tribe of nomads, living as one large community, they needed some basic rules of conduct and a belief in a higher power than Moses who would enforce them.
The Ten Commandments given to Moses are these: (abbreviated form)
Many Christians will say that the You shall nots are too negative and that we need to be more positive since the revelations and teachings of Jesus. These ten teachings are not the old clothes of Judaism, but have been relevant to human relationships throughout the ages.
1. The first Commandment forbids us to put anything before God. It applied to the Jewish people then as the gods of their neighbors often tempted them: The Baals and the Asherah poles. It applied to Germany sixty years ago where god was a god of racial purity. It can apply to us in our modern world where acquisition is the god of the day. God is demanding that first of all, we give Him prominence.
2. Commandment number two includes an explanation in the expanded version found in Exodus 20. It describes the types of images that might be made andyou shall not bow down to them nor serve them. No image of God will ever be found in a Synagogue and the Romans were astonished to find no statues in the Holy of Holies when they destroyed the temple in 70AD. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. The wholeness of God cannot be captured in a picture or statue. God will not tolerate images, which might replace Him as an object of worship.
3. What does it mean to take Gods name in vain? Its an attitude problem. Many use Gods name daily because they have a poor vocabulary. Gods concern here is with respect for the name. Gods very name represents who he is; His power, nature and character. It is a powerful name and should be spoken with respect. To take Gods name in vain is to discount His position and authority.
4. Some of the Commandments can be turned into positive statements: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. There are whole denominations that have been created over interpretations of this command. What is its purpose? In the circumstances where it was given, to a nomadic agricultural society, one could work every day. 24/7 is expected of the ambitious today. Maybe there is a natural rhythm to life where we need one day out of seven to recuperate and rest for the next six days. This commandment has protected workers from unscrupulous masters for centuries. The day of rest was originally Saturday. The early Christians decided to use Sunday. St. Paul said that we shouldnt judge each other over Sabbaths. We need to take one day off per week. Its good for us.
5. Honor your father and mother. This commandment has a promise attached. that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you. Family is important. If we continue honoring our parents through our life, our children will see us and hopefully get the message. It is one key to an orderly society.
6. Do not murder. Did God have to say it? Murder must refer to people taking the law into their own hands and killing. It cannot refer to war or capital punishment. These are dealt with elsewhere in the Bible. The Children of Israel waged great wars in Gods name. This commandment refers to our personal responsibility for the death of others. It is a rule for the individual.
7. What does adultery mean? It means what it always meant; cheating on your spouse. Jesus carried it one step further when commenting on this commandment. He said, whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt.5: 28) In our age of easy access to sex, the commandment applies to much that goes for entertainment in the year 2000.
8. Do not steal. We all know what that means and we dont rob the bank or the supermarket. Where most of us need help is in the gray areas like income tax returns, lotteries and expense accounts.
9. Perjury is usually translated as false witness. When were called to testify in court we are asked to swear on a Bible that we will be honest. What is the value when so many today do not even believe that the Bible is Gods word? To be caught lying in court is perjury. The ancient Hebrews answered to judges and I expect that this injunction meant more then and helped the judges to administer justice. Gossip and slander must fall under this heading.
10. Do not covet anything that is your neighbors. This is greed and envy, focusing on what others have and what we dont have. This is the one commandment that is hardest to obey. We see things every day that we want. Its the basis of our commercial society. Create a need then fill it. is the lesson taught to new salespeople.
Jesus was called on by the Scribes to answer Which is the first commandment of all? (Mk.12: 28) He replied The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mk.12: 29-31)
These words of Jesus do not cancel the commandments; they focus them and point to the purpose to which they all lead. The point of the Ten Commandments is this: I am God and these are the rules I want you to follow. They have not failed us in over 2,000 years.
Scripture verses from The New King James Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1982