Tuesday 1st September 2020
The 10 Commandments
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before[a] me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.’ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.’ Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
Surveys tell us that most people in the UK cannot name the Ten Commandments. The same surveys show that most UK Christians can’t either. So, if you can’t recall them today without peeking at Exodus 20, you’re in good company. Not to worry, though, because you can look them up any time.
But are they worth looking up? Many people think not. Some are put off by the number of ‘nots’ that are mentioned. Others note that these commandments come from a different time, place, and culture. In our time and place, fewer and fewer of us have livestock, and hopefully none of us own male or female slaves, never mind coveting those that belong to others.
Like all potentially life-giving rules, these commandments only come alive when they are interpreted. Simply reciting the words is of limited use. So, we need to ask questions. What is each commandment about? What does it forbid? Even if it contains the word, ‘not’, what does it encourage? How and where does it apply in my life and that of others?
What happens, for example, if we ponder God’s “word” (see 20:1) that ‘you shall not murder’? We might discover that, ‘God forbids anything that harms my neighbour unfairly. Murder or injury can be done not only by direct violence but also by an angry word or a clever plan, and not only by an individual but also by unjust social institutions. I should honour every human being, including my enemy, as a person made in God’s image.’*
Why not take some time to consider what one, some, or all of these commandments might be saying to you and to your situation today:
What is this commandment about?
What does it forbid?
What does it encourage?
Where might it be applied?
* Presbyterian Church (USA) The Study Catechism. Geneva Press, 1998.
O God, your word is our command.
Teach us how to live rightly with you and with others.
Guide us, so that we might avoid what’s wrong, do what’s right,
And live abundant lives. Amen.