Quite possibly, one of the most known and respected passages in the Old Testament books comes from the book of Exodus 20:1-17; namely, the ten commandments. But as you read further, all the way through Exodus 31, you see the commandments, a precise and strict law structure set forth, precise plans for the first Temple and a government structure.
There are some concepts that I would like to share for your consideration. Please realize that these written statements are from a man who is always learning new and interesting concepts about the religion he professes. This does not mean that he is a teacher, theologian, scholar, or out to convert anyone. These are nothing but concepts to consider and banter about.
As stated previously, I noticed a pattern in the covenant God made with Moses and the Israelis at Mount Sinai. The first three of these commandments deal with how the Israelis were to respect, honor, and worship their God. The forth describes a day that man and God set aside to commune with one another. Commandments five through ten deal with how the Israelis should treat each other.
Please note: Yes, I know I separated commandment number one into two parts and combined nine and ten and this is not official Church teaching. However, the ninth commandment can easily be summarized while the first, I have always felt, should have been separated by the Church thusly:
1. You shall have no other god besides Me – The Israelis, who were led out of Egypt, came from a culture that worshiped several different pagan gods. While they believed in the God of Abraham, they also grew to believe in many a pagan god their Egyptian masters worshiped. This commandment established to the Israelis that there is ONE true God.
2. You shall not make idols or graven images to worship – In Exodus 20:22-26, God tells Moses that the Israelis must refrain from placing their faith in material objects such as graven images of pagan gods and “magical charms”. God makes clear, in these passages that He does not live in temples or statues built by men, rather, sacrifice and peace offerings were to occur in the places God chose to remember.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain – The word, vain, is defined as “having no real value: idle or worthless”. To this very day, people swear oaths, in the name of the God of Israel, that they have no intention of fulfilling. In this commandment, God expresses that if you swear falsely by Him, you will be punished by Him. One other interesting point about this commandment is that the God of Abraham introduced Himself as Yahweh, meaning “I AM”, but very rarely is, ever, He addressed in this way.
The Egyptians, as so many cultures that existed before them, created gods in the image of men. Pharaohs were believed to ascend to god status upon death and their posterity spent life times creating places for them to live and be worshiped. God, on the other hand, tells the Israelis that He is to remain nameless, faceless, and will not be confined to a place of worship made by the hands of men. In Exodus 20:25, God tells Moses that man’s attempt to make God’s perfect creation “even better” is insulting to Him.
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy – The Lord told Moses that it took Him six days to create the world and on the seventh, He rested. Therefore, God chose to bless this day as a holy day. Unlike any other commandment, this day is shared by both, God and man, as a day of rest and communion with one another. In many ways, this is the establishment of the “go to Church and worship God” day of the week.
These final six commandments were established to instruct Israelis on how to treat each other and those who they would come in contact with, as a society, later on. But, first, there are some things you should understand about the culture of the Israelis.
In regards to selling children into marriage: It was customary to offer the “master of the household” a price for the betrothal of his daughter. In most cases, this was simply a way of showing a father that you had ample means of taking care of his daughter and are not a deadbeat whose intention is to sponge off of the family. Young girls [still in their pre-teens] at times were betrothed, however, these children were not, normally, separated from their families and put into conjugal situations until they were of age to bear children.
In regards to the references of “slavery”: While Egyptians were not the first slave owners, the Israelis learned the practice all too well. However, the laws regarding slavery [Exodus 21] set down by God, turned this practice from “slavery” to “servitude” by defining that slaves, though bought and paid for, were people and should be treated with the same respect as any household family member. Once their, paid for servitude ended, they were free to leave with what they came with or swear an oath to be a part of the family and stay.
One final note on the “property of men”; if you consider your family as “personal possessions”, not only does human nature give them value to you, it furthers the teachings of Jesus Christ in Matthew 6:19-21 as He stated, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be”. If you perceive your only possessions to be material in nature, you will begin to love your material possessions. However, if you perceive “family” as a possession, you will begin to love your family. If children and families are “treasures”, then it is logical to reason that these “treasures” are the only “personal possessions” you will, eternally, retain.
The Church teaches that these final commandments are laws set down by God that specifically addressed the way men should treat one another. However, in studying each of these final commandments, you begin to realize that each one touches on the core of human nature. In other words, no matter who you are, opposing these final six commandments is like opposing human nature, itself. You can do it, but it is a “learned” process and does not come “naturally” to anyone of sound mind who is not “evil”.
5. Honor your father and your mother – Not only does God tell the Israelis that dishonoring your parents is against His law, but in Exodus 21, verses 15 and 17 states that anyone cursing or striking their parents shall be put to death. While this may seem harsh, without the parents who birthed you, you would not exist. Furthermore, in this type of society, dishonoring the people who control much of your fate is not wise.
6. You shall not kill – In order to properly describe this commandment in today’s language, it would be written “you shall not premeditate murder”. The death penalty was completely acceptable and righteous to God under certain conditions and Exodus 22:12-32 gives detailed description of things that were punishable by death in the eyes of God.
7. You shall not commit adultery – As described earlier, a father could promise his daughter to a suitor, at which point she was considered “betrothed”. Even through she might only be 13 years old and still several years off from conjugal visits or living with her suitor, she was considered “already betrothed”. In Exodus 22:15, God stated that fornication must wind up in marriage, if not, restitution must be made to the family.
8. You shall not steal – This commandment seems self explanatory, but many people miss a certain element that this particular commandment infers. By it’s very existence, it acknowledged that the Israelis has the right, by the commandment of God, to own property. You can not steal something that does not, first, belong to someone else. This commandment, also, deals with the very nature of humanity. When a person labors for something they should be entitled to do, with the fruits of their labors, as they please.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – As disputes would eventually occur over land, livestock, and a myriad of other things, God commanded the Israelis to be honest in all of their dealings with each other and foreigners. He told them to speak out against injustice, even though they may be the sole voice of truth. In Exodus 23:3, God specifically tells the Israelis to not allow a person’s economic condition to sway their opinion in lawsuits. But Exodus 23:6-9 describe God’s justice system to the Israelis best.
10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor – This commandment reminds me of “Veruca Salt”, in the book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; I want it all, I want it now! This is how the Israelis would have understood this commandment. God did not ask them to be “without desires”, He wanted them to keep their “desires” in perspective.
For me, the ten commandments are more than just Judea-Christian beliefs; they express certain qualities of human nature. History has shown that man is “swept up” by the idea of God, and science has shown us the “godhead” of the brain. This raises SERIOUS questions about why does man, and not ape or any other animal or creature on Earth, possess this area of the brain and what, exactly, in the evolutionary process took place to have “God” placed into an area of the human brain?
Further, the last six commandments show, a rather amazing, insight to human nature in regards to morality and justice. The both, mother and father, are essential in procreation and maintaining a family structure. Our parents, not only show us how to live [as children], but how to die as well. The premeditated murder of an individual does not come naturally to anyone. The ability to commit cold blooded murder is “acquired” or predicated by a mental instability. Another interesting characteristic touched upon is the nature of human beings to own the fruits of their own labors. Even a thief will not tolerate his own goods to be stolen. For all parties involved, adultery never turns out well. Beyond the fluids that are exchange during sexual encounters, there are chemical reactions that occur in brain that cause emotions more powerful and addicting than any drug. No one likes to be lied to or lied about. It is human nature to consider a person “untrustworthy” if they lie to you, or about you and many of these people are avoided, like the plague, in societies around the world. And finally, what of excessive greed? Does greed fill a man’s heart with joy, or leave it cold and empty continually desiring more and more to try and fill his heart with “joy”.
On a final note: The second part of this post will occur, probably around Easter time, as it will involve how Jesus Christ effected these laws and will be a suitable topic to get our minds away from the trivial political drivel in the media.
Feel free to comment on or question the sanity of my rambling and God bless.