Recently, a major news organization ran a series of reports on the 10 Commandments from the Old Testament asking if they are still relevant to us today. Although I did not get to see most of these reports, I was struck by the legitimacy of our society asking this question. After all, these are 10 rules given to a man who had been living in the desert for 40 years, then led a rebellion, and now is back out in the desert leading a large group of escaped slaves. They were not a civilized society and obviously were living without the scientific and technological advances that we do today. How, then, can the rules to govern their lives be relevant to us today? Are the 10 Commandments relevant to us today? I do think this is a good question and so I will be exploring it over the next few weeks.
In attempting to answer this question, I do feel it is necessary to give the background on what the ten commandments are. To be sure, most Americans are at least somewhat familiar with the they are. After all, they are regularly popping up in the news when there is a debate whether they can be on display in county court houses or on other public property. I don’t, however, think that most Americans know the story behind them. How were they given and why were they important? So in this introduction, I just want to make sure the story is known, and then over the next few weeks we will take them one at a time, and figure out if they are still important to us or not.
The story of the ten commandments, does not start at Mount Sinai with the Lord giving Moses the tablets of stone. It actually starts way prior to that with a man named Adam in the beginning of the book of Genesis. Adam was the first man that God created and lived with his wife Even in the Garden of Eden. God had given them one command to obey, but they failed to do so. The Bible teaches that through this man’s disobedience to that one command, sin and death entered the world.
According to the Bible, the story of humanity goes down hill from here. Everything gets worse until God decides to destroy mankind with a flood, only sparing one faithful family to repopulate the earth. This story, of course, is the story of Noah and the great flood.
The problem after the flood, though, was that through Noah, that original sin from Adam still lived on. Man still rebelled against God and wanted to only live for themselves. So finally, God comes to a man named Abraham and tells him that He is going to form a new nation from his children that would worship God, and God would bless them. This promise was fulfilled when God finally gave Abraham a son, named Isaac.
Isaac grew up with a troubled life do in part to his parents disbelief in God which led to a half brother named Ishmael. Later, God’s promise of the new nation was passed from Isaac to his son, Jacob. God, after wrestling with God and finding his own faith, God changed his name to Israel. From Israel would come this new nation which would bear his name.
Now, Israel had 11 sons, but only two from the wife he loved. The oldest of these two was named Joseph. Now, because Israel loved Joseph the most, the other brothers became jealous and decided to do away with him. Instead of killing him, however, they sold him into slavery instead. Joseph’s life was one blessed by God, even though those blessings were poured out in his life as a slave. Through his a sin of his master’s wife, however, Joseph was later thrown into prison. God still blessed Joseph in prison, though, and one day he was brought before the Pharaoh in Egypt to interpret a dream. Being the only one able to interpret the dream, Joseph was not only released from prison, but he was also made the manager over the Kingdom’s wealth.
Later, as the story unfolds, Joseph’s other brother’s we starving in a famine, and must go to Egypt to buy some food. After playing mind games with his brothers for a long time, he finally reveals his identity to them and the whole family moves to Egypt to prosper. Israel, also, adopts Joseph’s two sons as his own, and gives them each half of Joseph’s inheritance. The families of these son’s came to be known as the twelve tribes of Israel. This is how the book of Genesis in the Bible concludes.
When the next book, Exodus, opens, we find that we have missed about 400 years of history, and now, the families of Israel that had moved to Egypt to prosper, were now being worked as slaves to the kingdom. This is also where we are introduced to the man, Moses, whom God had chosen to set his people free from their bondage.
Moses, through a God-driven set of events, was an Israelite who had been raised as a prince by the Pharaoh’s daughter. Living in this environment, he is given all the privilege of royalty and is an educated man, but one day he is overtaken by passion when he sees a Egyptian beating one of the Israelite slaves. He quickly kills this Egyptian slave master. This, however, causes such a stir in the community that Moses flees from Egypt, out to the desert where he works as a sheep herder for the next 40 years. It is during this time that God speaks to Moses from a burning bush and tells him that his new mission is to set God’s people – the people descended from Abraham – free.
Through the miraculous story of God’s intervening in this mission, Pharaoh ends up very angry and runs God’s people out of Egypt. The people are led out into the wilderness to worship God at Mount Sinai, and it is at this place that God meets Moses on the mountain to give him the law – the ten commandments. This law would be the standard by which God would rule over His nation of people on earth.
These commandments have been traditionally broken down into two parts. The first four commandments are directed at how man should relate to God (although Jesus would say the fourth is for mans benefit):
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
The last six of the commandments are traditionally said to be directed at man’s relationship to man.
5. Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
My plan over the next couple of months is to look at each one of these commandments closely and show how they are , in fact, still relevant in the 21st century, how our sin fights against obedience to them, and how Jesus gives us the example of how to fulfill them all.