May 24 2014
The Ten Commandments have held people in awe for a few thousand years. Even those who don’t believe in God quote commands like ‘Do not murder’ and ‘do not covet’ when they are trying to make a moral point. Intentionally or not the Ten Commandments have become a standard of morality for a lot of people. But what exactly are the Ten Commandments? Why were two tablets of commandments required? And what relevance do these commands have for us today?
First we need to say that the Ten Commandments were the beginning of Scripture. After God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses a body of Scripture began to form around them, and this developed until we had a complete Bible. So the Ten Commandments are foundational to Scripture.
Second we should note that the Ten Commandments are covenant requirements. They were the things that Israel needed to do (or not do) if they were to be a God’s people. ♦ A list of covenant requirements was not something new to people living in those times. If the people of a small town wanted the protection of a nearby city, they would approach the king of that city and make a covenant with him. The king would then tell the people of the town what he would require of them if he was to be their king. Two copies of the requirements would be drawn up. One would be put in the temple of the king’s god and the other would be put in the temple of that town’s god. This is the reason God told Moses to bring two tablets up the mountain. One was the Heavenly King’s copy and the other the peoples copy. But since Yahweh was both Israel’s God and King, both copies were kept in Yahweh’s temple.
So the Ten Commandments are really the covenant requirements of Israel’s Heavenly King.
Now, let’s take a brief look at each requirement:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
The God of the Bible claims to be the only God. To worship other gods is to worship what is false. Yahweh does not see other religions as another way to worship Him. He sees them as false religions.
2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything.
There are many reasons for this ban. First, Israel was not to worship anything created; they were to only worship Him who created all things. So an image of anything they could see in creation was out of the question. Second, making images was the practice of those who worshipped other gods and Yahweh was not to be considered just another god. Third, any attempt to make an image of Yahweh would be inaccurate, because He is infinite and unseen. Fourth, bowing before an image can give the wrong impression. When the church started bowing before images of Mary some non-Christians assumed she was the third member of the Trinity. One of those non-Christians was Mohammed, the prophet of Islam. He thought the Christian Trinity consisted of a divine Father and a divine Mother who produced a divine Son. His resulting rejection of the Trinity has had significant consequences.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
Your name is your identity, it says who you are. If you use a person’s name as a synonym for stupidity you declare that person to be stupid. If you use a person’s name as a swear word (a curse), you assign that person a status that is on the level of that swear word. So if someone says ‘Christ!’ instead of the ‘F’ word, they give Christ the same status as the ‘F’ word, which is blasphemous and a misuse of Christ’s name.
Saying ‘Oh my God!’ when we are not praying is similar. In fact the abbreviation OMG is now thrown about social media as a play thing. This casual use of the name ‘God’ is disrespectful (It is a name when there is only one God). Jews were so fearful of misusing the name Yahweh (I AM) that they stopped pronouncing it altogether. The Bible says the fear (or reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
The Sabbath was a day of rest to commemorate the fact that God rested on the 7th day after creation and to give all workers a much needed physical rest. It is therefore both religious and humanitarian.
In the New Testament the Sabbath day is described as a ‘shadow’ of the rest that we have in Christ. In other words it is a sign pointing to a greater rest that is found in Christ’s kingdom. Ultimately the ‘rest’ of God is the rule of God that brings complete order and peace to all things. Those who enter Christ’s kingdom are in his rest every day (Colossians 2:16-17, Hebrews 4:7). So we no longer observe a specific day to fulfil Sabbath obedience, we do it by living in Christ’s kingdom daily. But it still makes sense to give workers a weekly rest for humanitarian reasons. When Christ’s kingdom comes in all its fullness even our need for physical rest will be taken care of.
5. Honour your father and your mother.
Parents are co-creators with God when it comes to producing children. This job involves nurturing those children until they can fend for themselves. Thus parents are necessary authorities in any healthy society, and God wants us to respect them, assist them – and if you are not an adult – also obey them.
6. You shall not murder.
Humans are created in the image of God, and destroying God’s image is a serious thing. In ancient times a king would set up a statue of himself in the towns he ruled. There were serious consequences for anyone who destroyed the king’s image. So it is with the King of kings; murder is wilful and unauthorized destruction of God’s image.
It’s important to distinguish between murder and killing. These two words do not have the same meaning. God commanded Israel to kill on numerous occasions. In fact God’s law commanded that murderers be killed. Capital punishment was given to stop murder, but only governing authorities had the right to exercise it.
Both Jesus and Paul recognized that governments had authority to use capital punishment. And they saw that authority as being God given (Romans 13:4, John 19:10-11).
7. You shall not commit adultery.
Adultery does a lot of damage. It hurts people, causes families to disintegrate, and where multiple partners are involved it spreads many types of disease. Adultery is the opposite of faithfulness and does not encourage sacrificial love. It is therefore ungodly and banned from God’s kingdom.
8. You shall not steal.
Theft does not respect a person’s right to own things and does not value a person’s achievements. Christ said ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31). Do we really want others stealing our things? Can a healthy world operate that way?
It’s just as wrong to steal small things as it is to steal big things. In God’s eyes all theft is evil.
I recently read about a bank employee who was due for promotion. But one lunch time his boss noticed that he hid extra cubes of butter under his slices of bread as he went through a cafeteria till. His boss immediately decided against the promotion, and with good reason. If you can’t be trusted with small things, you can’t be trusted with big.
9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
This really applies to all falseness – lying and slander in public, or perjury in court. Truth cements both personal relationships and whole communities. Scripture says Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44) and his children take after him. But God’s children speak the truth.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house … wife … servant … donkey.
This is desiring what belongs to someone else. It’s an interesting final commandment because it focuses on inner desire rather than overt action. In a sense this command opens the door to Jesus’ teaching that lusting after another man’s wife with the eye is adultery of the heart, and hating someone is murder of the heart. Evil begins in the heart and purifying the heart before God in prayer on a daily basis is the best way to deal with personal sin.
The Ten Commandments are all about love.
When we see so many ‘You shall not’s’ we can fall into the trap of thinking God just wants to stop us having fun. But Jesus said all the Law hangs on two commandments: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37-40). Here we see just how positive God’s laws are. The ‘Shall not’s’ are all about love for God and our fellow human beings. The Ten Commandments enable us to enter into relationship with a loving but holy God who wants to bring moral health to a self-destructing society. This is also what Christ’s kingdom is all about. But it all started with two tablets and ten commandments.
Other Illustrations used: Song – I AM holding on to you | Cervical cancer via multiple partners | A robber’s moral code.
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