I don’t know exactly why there’s ten Commandments or why those ten are the ones. It seems to me there are some other things that ought to have been included, but I wasn’t there at the time, so I didn’t have a say. Anyway, I don’t know for sure, but I have an idea.
I also don’t know if they were handed to Moses by God the way the movie “The Ten Commandments” shows it, with the fiery finger of God writing on tablets of stone while Charlton Heston stands trembling nearby. Maybe Moses was inspired by the Spirit to carve them or maybe it’s just a great story about how the people received some really great sayings in a way that prompted them to consider them “cast in stone.” Like I said, I don’t know for sure, but I have an idea.
What’s most prompted my thinking this week isn’t even the perspective of what’s there. Rather, it’s what isn’t. Simply put, I have this question: why isn’t one of the original Ten Commandments “thou shalt not hate?” Seems to me we could use a little direction on that right now.
Thing is, what I do know is that’s exactly what the Hebrews were getting out there in the wilderness, a little direction. To Jews, they’re ten sayings or ten words. They weren’t called “commandments” until the Geneva Bible in the 16th century. Then the King James Version picked it up and it became, as it were, cast in stone and, since then, the common way to refer to them. But they’re not orders or regulations, they’re wise sayings that are about how to live well together. To be clear, they’re not about behaviour, but about living. As will be said many times later, what’s important is what’s at the heart of them.
Life. That’s what’s at the heart. And what gives life: love, grace, respect, kindness, honour, trust, justice. These are the things that give life. Hate is destructive. It breaks things. It breaks people and relationships. It breaks wonder and imagination, creativity and construction. It corrodes living things. So, again, why isn’t there a “thou shalt not hate?”
Well. There is. At the heart of things. Take away all the “thou shalt nots” (there’s a lot of those) and the “thou shalts” and at the heart of things is what gives life. From the very beginning, God gives life. However you know God - God is the name I’ll use - God is the source of life, the spirit of creation. God is the energy of being. God is love and all those other things that bring life. So, right from the start, these ten sayings begin with “there is God” and then speak of our relationship with God. There’s one God, don’t try and replace God with idols, be sure to take sabbath time to rest with God.
Then, what gives life to our relationships with each other and the world around us. Take “you shall not murder,” for example. We can parse that to death and argue about kill versus murder and what’s justifiable and all, but what’s the positive expression of that? It’s “love life, honour it and keep it safe.” That’s the heart of it.
The point of the ten sayings is to provide a framework for a lost and broken people to renew and rebuild themselves into a community, to give them a new life together in relationship with the source of life, with each other and with themselves. Love does that.