Discover the Ten Commandments
What is the significance of the Ten Commandments?
I would love to tell you a silly tale about the first time I was taught the Ten Commandments; but I don't remember a first time. The Ten Commandments have always been something I was aware of, but failed to understand their significance. I remember being taught about the commandments once or twice and then left to interpret and internalize them in my five-year-old mind before I could even read them. (My parents and Sunday school teachers may beg to differ.) Beyond my parents' strict enforcement of don't "take the name of the Lord thy God in vain" (Ex 20:7), I didn't put a lot of thought into adultery, murder, etc. But I now possess a fear of soap and hot sauce.
My understanding of the Ten Commandments is a work in progress. In high school, I began to look at the Ten Commandments as possibly something more than just the ancient, out-of-date laws of a dead guy -- the dead guy being Moses. I stumbled upon a lesson that the adults in my life might have been trying to teach me many years before. I began to realize that when I was a child, my mom and dad primarily influenced my morals. As I began high school, my morals and ethics were more influenced by my peers. While it's common to be influenced by your peers, I gradually realized that my peers might not be the best role models; after all, they were being influenced by others just as I was.
I suddenly felt very vulnerable, like a grazing gazelle that just spotted a pride of hungry lions. I needed a model that I knew would instill in me good morals. With ears perked, eyes wide open, and a nose quivering in an effort to sniff out potential predators, I rushed to Blockbuster; unfortunately all the Harrison Ford movies were sold out. I decided to try God and take another look at the "ancient, out-of-date laws."
Basing my morals off the Ten Commandments turned out to be the best decision I had made in a long time. Suddenly, I became perfect, capable of any feat, and loved by all who came across me. Then I woke up from my dream. While the dream was nice, reality wasn't all that bad, either. Though I was far from perfect and far from loved by everyone, I soon realized that seeming popular and perfect to my peers wasn't truly important. The fact was that while my peers didn't always understand my refusal to consume alcohol, which went along with honoring my parents and God, or the importance I put on not stealing, even a ninety-nine cent bag of chips, I knew God did.
Perhaps the most important change that occurred as a result of my decision to base my morals on the Ten Commandments rather than my peers was moral liberation. Although it sounds weird, when we depend on our peers to tell us what's right and wrong, we stop thinking for ourselves. The Ten Commandments provide a guideline but leave much to interpretation, which worked in my favor, as it made me really think before taking action.
This thinking, which seems to be extremely uncommon in recent times, made me realize that my morals should be between God and myself, which excludes peer influence. I began to ignore the pressures of my friends completely in terms of doing things that made me uncomfortable. I finally felt comfortable in morally-challenging situations. I was able to trust myself to stick with the Ten Commandments and God and do the right thing. The change that came with this revelation was instantaneous and even affected my daily life. Making decisions on a day-to-day basis became easier than ever.
The Ten Commandments may not spell out the answer to every detail in every situation, but they make it a whole lot easier to realize the right thing to do. Doing my homework, not going to parties, and studying for tests all became easy choices to make, as they fit under the umbrella of the commandments. Making excuses or justifying an ill deed also became harder. Unfortunately, this also led to the inability to justify staying up the night before a test playing video games.
Why are the Ten Commandments significant? To answer that, in addition to looking at the impact they have on our own lives and what they can teach us, we must also consider the context in which they were provided. All we have to do to read them is open our Bibles to Exodus (and Deuteronomy). But Moses had to go up to the top of Mount Sinai -- twice.
Moses had recently led the Israelites out of Egypt and was on his way to the Promised Land. Unfortunately, while Moses' faith in God was stronger than ever -- especially after delivering the ultimatum, "Let my people go" or suffer the consequences (Ex 8:1); splitting the Red Sea; and freeing his people -- the rest of his group became less than excited as they trekked across the desert without food, shelter, or water (16:3).
Furthermore, the newly freed Israelites retained a zealous superstition that resulted in worshiping anything they thought might help, even a "golden calf"(32:4). To make matters worse for Moses, the people displayed a subjective and subservient attitude -- a relic from their slave past.
To help Moses lead his people and keep them on the holy path toward the Promised Land, God bestowed upon Moses the Ten Commandments. Then Moses broke them -- broke the tablets, that is -- so he had to go back up Mount Sinai and write them again.
The Ten Commandments unified this ragtag group of Israelites, providing a basis for harmonious and God-centered acting and living. They still unify Christians and Jews of all denominations today. On an individual level, the Ten Commandments act as a simple, but powerful, list of guidelines that, if followed, ensures that we demonstrate God's love to all. In the end, after all the "Golden Calves" have been melted down and the seven plagues have settled, the Ten Commandments act as a guide, leading us to the true Promised Land.