The Ten Commandments are barely three hundred words long in English and form the foundation of the legal systems in the western world.
But are these ancient laws still of value today? What can the moral code of nomadic, late Bronze Age peasants teach is in our high tech, scientific and connected 21st century world?
Well, I would say they have much to teach us and are the basis on which we can find true contentment in our lives.
God has given us these commandments not to constrain us or judge us but because he loves us and wants our lives to be good and fulfilled.
When we keep God’s commandments, we are free to enjoy life and to connect wholeheartedly with others. When we break God’s commandments, we know we can seek and receive forgiveness through Christ and start again.
Where do I find the Ten Commandments in the Bible?
The Ten Commandments occur in two places in the Old Testament section of the Bible – Exodus 20 (which is an account of how they were given to Moses on Mount Sinai in approximately 1450BC) and Deuteronomy 5 (as an introduction to the laws of the Jewish people.)
This is the Exodus 20 version:
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
The Ten Commandments in a changing world
I believe the Ten Commandments are God-given and relevant for all races and for ever. Nevertheless, I believe that we need to think about how we apply them to the culture in which we live.
For example, the Tenth Commandment is about not coveting. And some examples are given in the Bible that speak to the context of the times eg not coveting a neighbour’s ox. The principle of not coveting is the thing that is enduring – but we can change the examples for our own times eg not coveting a neighbour’s Porsche.
If, on the other hand, we say the Ten Commandments are no longer relevant and jettison them, what do we fill the gap with?
Well, we can try to modify them – deleting some commandments and replacing others. But, if these modifications are purely human constructs, then we end up with something we might call the Ten Suggestions.
We might scrap the Ten Commandments entirely and try to create an alternative as A.C. Grayling does in The Good Book: A Secular Bible which read as follows:
1. Love well
2. Seek the good in all things
3. Harm no others
4. Think for yourself
5. Take responsibility
6. Respect nature
7. Do your utmost
8. Be informed
9. Be kind
10. Be courageous
And then Grayling adds what might be called an 11th commandment – ‘At least, sincerely try.’
The truth is that, while we may live in apartments and houses rather than tents, we may have a thousand Friends on Facebook, we may fly 100,000 miles a year, we may have modified our appearance – we are no different to those people who first heard Moses read out God’s Ten Commandments. We have the same vices as our ancestors. And we need the same rules.
The Ten Commandments were not made for any particular period in history. They were made for human nature.
Let’s re-engage with the Ten Commandments and find out how they can bring true contentment to our lives. Join us to find out more at St Michael's Elmwood Road on Sundays - services at 9.30, 11.00 and 6.00.