The Decalogue Forms the Basis of a Civilized Society
About the Hebrew
Why are the Ten Commandments referred to by scholars as the Decalogue—which means the Ten Words? Well, the Torah refers to the Ten Commandments as Aseret ha-D’varim, which literally means the Ten Words. The best translation might be the Ten Statements. In Jewish tradition, these statements do not count among the 613 commandments of the Torah; they are ten categories to which the 613 commandments may be assigned.
There are different ways of dividing into ten statements the sixteen verses of Exodus 20:2-17. I have done so according to ancient Jewish tradition; but the importance of these verses is in their establishment of the foundation for a free society.
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. [God is the source of freedom. He—not Moses—delivered Israel from slavery. God wants His children free. This statement validates ethical monotheism, the faith in one God as source of an objective moral code that transcends human behavior based on selfish feelings. We cannot be free if we fall victim to passions; we must behave ethically, according to God’s standards, to enjoy the freedom only self-control can bring.]
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. 4 You shall not make for yourself a graven 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or 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 the fourth generation of those who hate Me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. [Eliminating false gods is for the good. Only the Lord deserves worship: not celebrities or politicians. One Supreme Being means one human race sharing the same deity, all people equal as brothers and sisters. Moral standards apply across people and nations. Dennis Prager points out that love can be an idol, if divorced from ethical values; his famous moral question is this: If your beloved dog and an unfamiliar stranger were drowning, who would you rescue? Many choose their dogs. “What we have here,” writes Prager, “is the classic tension between feelings and values” (http://townhall.com/columnists/dennisprager/2013/08/20/dogs-strangers-and-god-n1668450/page/full). Idolatry-based feelings can place a canine higher than a person. People forget the stranger is in God’s image; the moral choice is to put God first, therefore a child of God first. If we embrace cultural relativity, that claims all life has equal worth, morality becomes subordinate to passion-driven decision-making that leads away from ethically-based objectivity. The evil that develops from this mindset eventually requires comprehensive rule-making by the state and loss of freedom.]
7 “You shall not carry the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who carries his name in vain. [In Hebrew, nasa means to carry, not to take. Carrying the Lord’s name in vain is committing evil in God’s name—the one unforgivable sin (http://www.shamar.org/articles/taking_gods_name_in_vain.php#.VKdOKivF81I). Saying, “Oh, God!” is not unpardonable; but murdering in God’s name is—for example: suicide bombers, Islamic terrorists, and jihadist mass-murderers. Evil done in God’s name damages His reputation. And without belief in divine morality, the reining in of passion becomes rare, freedom untenable.]
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the foreigner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. [The Jewish Sabbath (each Saturday), the Christian Sabbath (every Sunday), religious holidays, and other sacred times are to be free of work-related demands. We are created in God’s image, and, as God took the seventh day off, we do likewise. Nobody among us is to work, not even animals. Every child of God is to exercise some freedom. People who labor non-stop are slaves. This divinely-ordained freedom enhances relationships, strengthening civil society.]
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. [If people respect parents and authority figures, freedom will continue in perpetuity. Love is not required, but honoring authority is. Children who honor parents also learn to respect authority figures, as well as God. They fall less frequently into trouble. If parents are abusive to the point of alienating their children, the children still need to learn honor for parental figures, or guardians. Without learning to respect authority, a child risks developing unhealthy, freedom-compromising relationships.]
13 “You shall not murder. [The immoral or unlawful taking of a human life—murder—is the issue. (In King James’ day, kill was synonymous with murder—which is why “Thou shalt not kill” was once an appropriate rendering.) Taking a life in war or for capital punishment is not immoral. God does not condemn the death penalty or promote pacifism. Murder is the category of sin for which you cannot repent, since the person whose pardon you seek is no longer alive to pardon you. Murder is the ultimate theft of freedom.]
14 “You shall not commit adultery. [Having sex outside marriage threatens family stability. Spousal monogamy enforces emotional maturity and family commitment. This protects children from growing up without family stability. It also protects children from incest. Adulterous affairs also promote dishonesty. Adultery is not allowed, even if both partners agree, for it still poses a threat to the family. Morally responsible parental modeling is needed, if we are to maintain a free society.]
15 “You shall not steal. [This prohibition encompasses most sin. A biblical expert will point out that murder is stealing a life; adultery, stealing a spouse; perjury, stealing justice. Other things which can be stolen are these: a person’s reputation, through gossip; a person’s dignity, through humiliation; a person’s intellectual property, through plagiarism; a person’s freedom, by kidnapping; a person’s trust, by lying; or private property, through misappropriation. Slavery among the Israelistes in the Bible is debt slavery, or indentured servitude, not slavery by kidnapping, which is here prohibited. Private property rights are necessary to freedom. Stealing property destroys freedom. State appropriation, or control, of property means state dictation of property rules—thus no freedom of action.]
16 “You shall not give false witness against your neighbor. [A free society cannot suffer contempt for truth. There must be justice, based on rule-of-law, to maintain freedom. People must be able to act, free of false accusations. Holocaust denial, and other forms of lying, divide people on issues that would not exist, if truth were the basis for all information. Lying for a “good cause” is wrong, because misrepresenting a problem can cause a misapplication of limited resources, potentially harming taxpayers’ financial well-being—thus reducing their freedom.]
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” [This is the only statement that prohibits a thought. The reason is because of the incredible destruction wrought by coveting! The Hebrew lakhmohd means desiring to the point of actually planning to take away and own that which belongs to another. This thought process produces most of the sinning in the world. Avoidance of coveting begets the responsibility that supports a free society.]
Q.E.D. (Quod Erat Demonstrandum)
Moral rule-of-law and responsible self-control work together to enable a free society. The Decalogue lays the necessary foundation.
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