The Ten Commandments

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Monday, October 8, 2018 2 comments

by Katie Erickson

The Ten Commandments, given by God through Moses to the people of Israel, are a foundational piece of the Old Testament and the history of Israel. Even though they were given a few thousand years ago, these laws that God wrote for His people are still very much applicable today. Over the next few months, I’ll be taking a look at each individual commandment, what it means, and why they are still important to followers of Jesus today.

To start this series, I’d like to give some background on the commandments. The commandments are found in the passage of Exodus 20:1-17:

And God spoke all these words:
“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.
You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

The commandments are also repeated nearly verbatim in Deuteronomy 5:1-21, with some additional intro text. If you’re curious on the differences between these two passages and other analysis of the commandments, I’d highly recommend you check out the book God’s Brushstrokes, written by my friend and a former student of mine, Preston Hunteman.

When I was growing up in the Lutheran tradition, I learned the commandments in this way:

  1. You shall have no other gods.
  2. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  3. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  4. Honor your father and your mother.
  5. You shall not murder.
  6. You shall not commit adultery.
  7. You shall not steal.
  8. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

It wasn’t until I was attending seminary about ten years ago that I learned how other Christian traditions number them differently. Some combine what I knew to be #9 and #10 together, while adding in a different #2: “You shall not make for yourselves any idols.” The same ideas are still present, as having no other gods implies not making any idols. At the time, I was surprised to see that traditions disagree on the numbering, but at the same time it’s also not a surprise given the variety of other disagreements between denominations and such. As I go through these, I’ll be using the order listed above.

When the Israelites received the commandments, they had already been wandering in the wilderness. They were camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, and Moses went up on the mountain to speak with God (Exodus 19). While Moses is relaying the commandments to the people in this passage, he’s sharing what God told him, so these commandments are from God.

In the Hebrew text, this passage is less than 200 words - pretty amazing when you consider that this is God’s foundational law that united a nation! Prior to this, they were related through family lines, but their nation didn’t have much unity. They had left Egypt as a freed people, but without any real structure to their nation. These commandments defined their morality, gave them unity, and provided a way of living that would help them live together as God’s people.

But what about us? Most of us reading this post today would not consider ourselves part of the nation of Israel, and our nations already have laws that govern what we should and should not do. You’ll notice, however, that many of our nation’s laws are based on these commandments from God. As followers of Jesus, we’re called to live at a higher standard than the world. While some of the laws overlap (to not murder, for example), others such as having no other gods call us to a higher standard of living. We are called to follow God first and foremost, and these commandments are great guidelines to follow in doing that.

The other important factor is that we are living under grace, not the law. The people of Israel were required to follow these laws, and their favor in God’s eyes was based on that to some extent. We, however, recognize that we will break these laws, and we have faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who died so that we can be forgiven when we mess up and are unable to follow all of God’s laws. Because we love God and desire to follow Him, we desire to follow these laws, but Jesus’ sacrifice has offered us forgiveness for when we can’t.

I’m looking forward to digging into these commandments with you in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!

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Charlie said...

Very interesting detail there, Katie. I never knew the Lutherans also labeled the Ten Commandments differently. I knew the RCC did, by removing the 2nd we all know (no idols) and expanding the coveting. I was always thrown off by "The Mask of Zorro" when Elena 'confessed' to breaking the 4th commandment by dishonoring her father, because that was the 5th commandment. Then it dawned on me much later that the Catholics have it different. It made sense why the RCC did it that way because in reality, even though they say otherwise, they practice idolatry (to venerate is the same thing). I wonder if the Lutherans simply retained the way the RCC had taught them because I know they don't practice idol worship. That's very interesting to see.

Katie said...

Thanks for the comment, Charlie! The type of Lutheran that I grew up in (Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) is very similar to the Roman Catholic Church in many of their traditions, plus Martin Luther came out of the RCC so that's how he numbered the commandments. I didn't do much research into figuring out why other denominations number them differently, and that's one of those things that isn't a significant issue for salvation, it's just interesting.