Monday, August 7, 2017

A Loving God's-Eye View of the Ten Commandments

One of the reasons God said, "Have no other gods
before me." Gods like Molech weren't very nice gods.
Too often we think of "commandments" as harsh and arbitrary orders. In all of history, the only time God has actually spoken to mankind was to deliver ten of those commandments to the children of Israel. These commandments have been recorded in Scripture and have heavily influenced jurisprudence throughout the Christian world.

And yet, in Scripture we find God portrayed as the very embodiment of love. So how do we reconcile a loving God who also barks commandments that brook no nonsense.  Thou shalt not steal, lie, murder or be greedy are pretty straightforward commands. There isn't a lot of wiggle room. They are so blunt, in fact, that some denominations of Christendom (who shall remain nameless) have had to revise the ten commandments by deleting one altogether and revising two others so that one doesn't say what it used to say and the other becomes two separate commandments to fill in the hole where they took out the one about graven images. Left as it is in the original Hebrew text, however, those church practices are clearly not permissible.

Let's take them one by one and examine how such a command might also be an expression of love by a God who wants only the best for his children.
  1. “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." -  Human beings are always searching for God whether they know it or not. Some have described it as having a "God-shaped hole" in our very being. We search for God in all the wrong places at first - in our selves, in powerful leaders, in science, and in nature, all with unsatisfying results. We search for God all our lives until we allow him to find us. The first commandment is just God encouraging us to skip all that fruitless searching and come straight to the only God who can fill that empty place in our hearts.
  2. "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." -  I've always believed that a human being is not really a complete human being until he or she has become a parent. When we were tossed from the Garden of Eden, God began immediately to teach us. Our first homework assignment was to "be fruitful and multiply." Remember, God was angry when He said it. I'm not sure you can fully understand why a loving God will be a jealous God unless you have experienced the terrors of being a parent. Who among us parents hasn't issued some form of this commandment to our own children. "If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you just jump right off with them?" God, like any good parent, doesn't want to see his children do that which is harmful and let me tell you, idolatry is almost inevitably vicious and cruel. That gentle Mother Goddess all the New-Agers maunder on about, wasn't so gentle back in the day. She demanded rivers of blood to make the crops grow or the rains to come. At the time the Israelites took over Canaan, some 23,000 children were placed in the fires as a sacrifice to Molech EVERY SINGLE YEAR. We tell our children not to play with fire lest they get burned. That's what the second commandment is all about. God doesn't want his children playing with stray dogs or the sadistic little boy who lives down the street and tortures squirrels for fun.
  3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name."  - As a parent have you ever told your child to "Watch your mouth when you speak to me!" Why do you as a loving parent demand that your child respect you?  It's because you know that if you do not require respect, your child will soon not listen to your teaching and follow after other teachers who probably won't have his best interests at heart. If you are a shepherd, you carry a staff and have a dog with you because unless the sheep respect your authority, they may wander off and get eaten by a bear. The third commandment is for our safety. 
  4. “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." - The Sabbath command basically says, take a day off every week and spend it with me. Do you have a family night with your children?  Why do you make them go through the torture of spending time with Mom and Dad? It's because you wish to maintain a lifelong relationship with your kids and to spend quality time with them when you are NOT punishing them for misbehavior, making them do their chores and getting ready to go to school. Well, God wants to spend quality time with His children and like many a human parent, he has to make it non-negotiable or the kids won't do it. And like many a parent, God has to 'splain why he chose the day and time he did or the kids start shifting family night around so nobody can schedule the rest of their week around family night and pretty soon everybody's off water-skiing or watching a football game or anything besides getting together with their parents. 
  5. “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." -  Remember that God told us to have children for a reason. Parents are a child's earliest peek at what the character of God is like. He wants us to respect our parents who created us in the same way He wants us all to respect He who created the world and all that is therein. In this way, all our lives we are taught to respect our creators, both human and divine. And the family unit is by far the most effective nurturing and training organization for children ever conceived. God wants you to go to a good school. Mom and Dad, however flawed they might be, are the best we've got.  
  6. “You shall not murder." - This one is kind of obvious. God does not give any man the arbitrary right to kill other people. Otherwise the world would descend to chaos. Even atheists recognize this rule as a good thing. It's not like God is trying to spoil your fun, although if you're Vlad the Impaler, you might see it that way. 
  7. “You shall not commit adultery." - Let's go back to God's first lesson study - "Be fruitful and multiply."  Adam and Eve blew the first educational opportunity they had so God set up an alternative educational system. It's said that if you really want to learn a subject, teach it. I can tell you that this is true. Our first parents likely learned a lot from their kids. They had successes and failures, tragedies and triumphs. The prohibition on adultery goes back to a reflection of the "Have no other gods before me." If the family unit was to follow the divine model, the faithfulness has to be a key element. If you begin to be unfaithful to your spouse, who is with you every day and whom you can see, then you are all the more likely to be unfaithful to your God, whom you cannot see either. God's not spoiling your fun. He's preserving your character and helping you understand the nature of the relationship you must have with God that Jesus later said, was the way to gain eternal life.
  8. “You shall not steal." - This one's easy to understand, especially if you've raised children. Stealing leads to chaos. Property rights are an essential key to a functioning society. Everywhere the Marxist idea of all property belonging to the workers has been tried, the infrastructure breaks down. If it belongs to everyone, nobody wants to bother to maintain it. Why mow your law if it's not your lawn and anybody who wants to can dig holes in it if they want to? We parents love our kids, but we don't let them steal from one another. 
  9. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." - As a parent, we have all admonished our children not to lie. And why not? Society would collapse if people weren't basically honest. We have plenty of trouble as it is with people lying, even in court. That's why we punish them for perjury. If we didn't society would soon become unmanageable. Besides it's not nice!
  10. “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.” - Here's another one where God assumes the parent role and has to explain just what he means. Don't be greedy isn't terribly specific and greedy people automatically begin looking for loopholes in any law, because greed is THE way to achieve power and control over others. And the lust for power my friends was the original sin - wanting to be gods ourselves; a job for which we are ill-suited. The tenth commandment is often the most overlooked and probably the most violated one, even more so than adultery, which sin also includes elements of both #7 and #10. One can almost see God standing there tapping his foot going, "No you can't covet his car. I know I said donkey, but the principle still applies. And no not his power tools either."  The point is God wants us to be satisfied with what we've got. He doesn't mind if we acquire things, just so those things aren't acquired at the expense of others. That includes our children and family too. We loving parents deny ourselves all sorts of thing in order to provide for our children. This is how God purges the tendency toward greed from us. Some of us, sadly, don't learn the lesson.
So God gave every single commandment out of love. Not one is from some egomaniacal demand by God that we bow down and worship and make sacrifices. God gets no pleasure from the blood of sacrifices or from our sore knees in church. While we might kneel or give generously to the church, but we do so because we recognize that we have a loving God and wish to be more like him. Our hearts are opened to the needs of others and like God, we desire to give to others, to relieve suffering and to bring comfort to those in pain or in want.

I just don't understand why people think that the application of Grace makes the ten commandments go away, as though Grace makes it okay to lie, cheat, steal, screw around and be greedy, or, more often, skip the Sabbath and use God's name as a curse word.  Grace gives us the will to do good. And what is good?  See the above commandments. That's what good looks like.

© 2017 by Tom King

No comments:

Post a Comment