I challenge you – 3 minutes to recall as many of the 10 commandments as you can…
I tried this experiment on people at the community breakfast in BV Hall. It should be easy, right? The Ten Commandments form the basis of Judeo-Christian law. It’s even claimed that they are the foundation of Western civilization. The architecture of the U.S. Supreme Court reflects this belief. The image of Moses holding the two tablets of the Ten Commandments is graven into the east portico, over the chair of the Chief Justice and on the bronze doors of the Supreme Court. Other world faiths have versions of this list. The Qur’an includes a version of the Ten Commandments in sura Al-An’am 6:151. So they are timeless, right? And it seems, forgettable.
Time’s up. How did you do? The average in the BV group, including people from all faiths and none…just 3 out of 10! [If you want to see how you did there’s a link to Old Testament passage here https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20&version=NIV]
We remembered ‘Thou shalt not kill’, most added ‘steal’ ‘adultery’ and the word ‘covet’ had stuck in some people’s minds but NONE of us could remember them all and no-one could remember the 1st command. Interesting! The 1st in the list is a command to honour God above all others, and it is prefaced by a reason – 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, You shall have no other gods before me.”
What do you make of this command? Is it a grand scale parenting strategy? Obedience is needed and there’s the deal-clincher ‘Because I’m in charge!’ I don’t read it this way. I see something beautiful in the 1st commandment. It starts with the precious Hebrew word Anochi. I am. An echo of the particular divine name given to Moses to explain to the Exodus slaves that God had heard their cry and acted to liberate them – a saving God with a plan for freedom. That’s a good reason to listen further. Ethics gets personal in this ancient list. A Personal God speaks to us personally and even emotively in places: ‘I’m jealous for you’ says this God; ‘I delivered you’. In the original Hebrew, the Ten Commandments are all addressed in the singular – to you and me as individuals. It starts with our relationship with God and then includes not only actions but feelings towards each other; prohibiting stealing and adultery but also coveting what is not ours. This makes sense. It protects others from our actions but also ourselves from internal dis-ease.
So why can’t we remember them!
Perhaps anticipating our cultural amnesia Jesus boiled the 10 commandments down to 2:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:36-40).
The Commandments ask us to consider what our moral codes are based on. Have you thought about where your morality rests? What rules would you put in a list of 10?