The Ten Commandments

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We previously discussed the Two Great Commandments, which are to Love God, and to Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.

Now, let’s consider the Ten Commandments. They are found in Exodus 20.

To preview what is happening, consider the history of this moment.

The people of Israel are descendants of Jacob (later named Israel by God), who is the son of Isaac, who is the son of Abraham, that great patriarch who walked and talked with God. Abraham was several generations removed from Noah through his son Shem. Noah was the patriarch who built the ark to survive the flood that wiped out the antediluvian (pre-flood) world.

Moses was called by God to lead Israel out of Egypt. This he did among marvelous miracles and wonders that ultimately crushed the Egyptian spirit and army. Now, traveling in the wilderness on the way to the land promised to Abraham by God, Moses is preparing the Israelites to live a life worthy of the descendants of Abraham.

This isn’t easy, of course. Idolatry, the literal worship of dumb and powerless idols, had become common among the people of Israel as they lived in Egypt for so long. Nevertheless, Moses was working diligently to bring the people to God.

One day, God commands Moses to have the people come meet Him, face-to-face, at Mount Sinai. The people wash themselves, abstain from activities that would dirty their souls, and meet Moses at the foot of the mountain.

There, the Lord God spoke to them from the mount. The Ten Commandments are what he said.

Exodus 20:2-17:

2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

The Ten Commandments should be viewed in three perspectives:

  1. Your relation to God.
  2. Your relation to yourself.
  3. Your relation to your neighbors.

These commandments are neatly summarized by the Two Great Commandments, but they explore in more detail, specific things we should and should not do to keep them.

What purpose do these have for our people today? After all, we are not Israelites (at least most of us), we are not traveling in the wilderness, and we are not going to inhabit some far-off divinely promised land.

These do, however, give us a basic law that is extremely just and easy to apply. These Ten Commandments are readily accessible to anyone, even entire societies, and have proven, through history, to be very good. What that means is when these Ten Commandments are kept, peace and prosperity follow. Then they are violated, peace and prosperity flee.

Tomorrow, we’ll explore the first commandment and its implications in our lives today.

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