Scripture: Exodus 20:1-17
I have always thought of the first three of the commandments as just variations on the idea that there is only one God and we are not to worship any other. So, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Number 1); “You shall not make a graven image or any likeness….”
(Number 2); “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain….” (Number 3) are variations on the same theme.
This I believe to be true. Many earlier cultures had named, as gods and goddesses, some of the aspects of the One God. But my God is incorporated in every aspect of nature and throughout the whole world, therefore, a goddess of the river, for example, is actually the
aspect of God found in the blessing of water.
I myself find God in the sun shining through a tree behind me, then seeping into my thoughts from there. It doesn’t mean that there is a Sun-God; it means that God is also in Sun and Tree, not as separate deities, but just One.
Number 4 “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy….”
The acknowledgement that all who labour need rest, particularly the nomadic peoples on the move through the desert as the Hebrews were doing at the time, but also all of us need time away from work for rest and contemplation. It’s a good rule, but, as Jesus taught us, not an absolute rule. We may do good deeds and helpful works for people on the Sabbath or any other day as needed. And certainly, where would our traditional Sunday Dinner be if someone didn’t cook?
Number 5 “Honour your father and your mother…”
This one is very specific in wording, but I wonder if it could mean to respect where you come from and honour the best aspects of your birth heritage. As we all know, some individuals who become parents are hard to honour if they have done things to harm their children, as in cases of abuse and neglect. So I like to think of it more broadly—as knowing and respecting one’s heritage.
Number 6 “You shall not kill.”
This one is very short and not too clear. Can we kill animals to eat? I think so. Can we kill for sport? Who knows. But I take this one very seriously as it applies to murder. I believe it means that we must never deliberately kill any human person—not babies in the womb, innocent children and civilians in war, old or sick people, hardened criminals, enemies, not even murderers. As I believe we are all God’s children and capable of coming to God at some time, so we should allow all people to live their full life and come to God in their own time.
Number 7 “You shall not commit adultery.”
Enough said! If your marriage is unhappy, there is counselling available and, at the extreme, divorce is allowed. So honour your marriage and deal with problems in a way that doesn’t degrade yourself or your spouse.
Number 8 “You shall not steal.”
Number 9 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
Number 10 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s…..”
Theft and coveting are closely related and, of course, very dangerous to a nomadic peoples trying to stay together as a community of believers. Even today, it is harmful to friendships and neighbours to constantly wish you could have what others have. It harms your own sense of self-worth, so don’t bother trying to keep up with the Joneses. Just be yourself.
These were the laws of an ancient people and pretty good laws at that. Just don’t try to decipher all of the regulations found in the following books of the Bible! Of course, all of them were developed for the health and benefit of a nomadic people. Some are less relevant for us today, although the broad concepts of the main Ten Commandments are solid long-term goals for all of us.
By Jean Reid
God of all peoples, we give thanks for the guidelines offered to us through The Ten
Commandments, a reflection of the complexity of human life and our efforts to live
together in loving communities of faith. AMEN