THE COMMANDMENTS

Introduction

The circumstances in which the Decalogue was received are related in Exodus chapters 19, 20, and 24. More than fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ, after great miracles wrought by Moses in Egypt, Pharaoh was compelled to let the Hebrews go. Miraculously crossing the Red Sea, Moses proceeded south along the Sinai desert peninsula, making his way towards the Promised Land. On the fiftieth day after their exodus from Egypt, the Hebrews came to the foot of Mt. Sinai and set up camp. Moses ascended the mountain, and there the Lord spoke to him: Say to the Israelites: If ye will indeed hear my voice, and keep my covenant, you shall be to me a special people above all nations (Ex. 19:5). When Moses conveyed God's will to the Hebrews, they replied: All the words that the Lord has spoken, we will do and be obedient (Ex. 19:8). Then the Lord ordered Moses to prepare the people in three days to receive the Law, and with prayer and fasting the Hebrews began to prepare themselves. On the third day a thick cloud covered the summit of Mount Sinai. Lightning flashed, it thundered and the voice of a loud trumpet was heard. Smoke rolled from the mountain and it began to shudder. The people stood afar off and trembled for fear. On the mount the Lord delivered His law to Moses in the form of ten commandments, which he then conveyed to the people.

 

Receiving the laws, the Hebrews promised to keep them, and then a covenant was made between God and the Hebrews: the Lord promised the Hebrews His mercy and protection, and the Hebrews promised to live righteously. Again Moses ascended the mountain and remained there in prayer and fasting for forty days. At this time the Lord gave Moses other laws, both ecclesiastical and civil; He ordained that a tabernacle be constructed, a type of moveable tent, and He gave rules concerning the ministry of the priests and the offering of sacrifices. At the end of these forty days God inscribed His Ten Commandments, which He had earlier delivered orally, on two stone tablets and commanded that they be kept in the "Ark of the Covenant" (a box overlaid with gold, with images of cherubim on the lid) as a reminder of the covenant made between Him and the Israelites.

 

Over the course of the next forty years of wandering through the wilderness, Moses gradually wrote down much else that the Lord had revealed to him on Mount Sinai and in subsequent visions. From these writings were formed the biblical books of Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

 

The purpose of the laws which the prophet Moses delivered to the Hebrews was to regulate not only religious life but also their civil life. In New Testament times the majority of Old Testament rituals and civil laws lost their significance and were abrogated by the Apostles. However, the Ten Commandments and other commandments defining man's moral behavior, comprise together with New Testament teaching a single moral law. The Ten Commandments contain the very basis of morality; they lay down those fundamental principles without which no human society can exist. For this reason they may be regarded as a kind of "constitution" of mankind. It is probably because of their supreme importance and inviolability that the Ten Commandments, unlike all the other commandments, were written down not on paper or other corruptible material but on stone.

 

Most people know the Ten Commandments — or perhaps it is better to say that they think they know the Ten Commandments. The commandments are one of those cultural products that people imagine that they understand, but in reality, they frequently can't even name all of them, let alone explain them.

 

The Ten Commandments are a set of ten basic rules of behavior that appear in the ancient Hebrew scriptures and are directed at the Hebrews as God’s chosen people. Tradition holds that these rules were delivered to them by God via Moses, who climbed to the top of Mount Sinai during the Hebrews’ journey through the desert from Egypt to Canaan. They are, then, God’s requirements for how the Hebrews are supposed to behave.

It did not take long for the Israelites to break the commandments, they were soon worshiping a golden calf and coveting better things.

 

We are no different today, it is easy to fall short of these commandments. Our challenge is to be different, to commit to trying to live our lives within the framework.

 

Our inability to keep our part of the covenant with God, meant God needed to act. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our own sinful ways.

 

This offer demonstrates God's love for us, even when we fail to live up to the requirements of the commandments - He wants to forgive us and offer us a new start.

 

As Christians, we learn the ten commandments and use them as guides to help us in our relationships with our loved ones, our neighbors, and God. God gave the ten commandments to us because He only wants what's good for us.

 

The Ten Commandments are also called the Decalogue (Greek, meaning ten words). The commandments are not a list of "Do nots," but are in fact God's guide to the good life—a life full of blessings.

 

The use of the term “Catholic” Ten Commandments is meant loosely because both Catholics and Lutherans follow this particular listing which is based upon the version found in Deuteronomy. The Exodus text forms the basis for the “Protestant” version of the Ten Commandments.

 

The Catholic Ten Commandments are linked together to form a coherent whole. If you break one of them, you're guilty of breaking all of them (Catechism, #2069).

 

The Commandments express man's fundamental duties to God and neighbor. As such, they represent grave obligations. To violate them knowingly and willingly in a significant way is to commit mortal sin. (See Catechism, #2702-3)

 

The idea, however, that the Catholic Church in some way “omitted” Commandments is completely false. The Church did not “add” or “subtract” anything – again, it was the Catholic Church Fathers who wrote (through the inspiration of the Spirit) the Sacred Scriptures, and the Early Catholic Church (again, through the inspiration of the Spirit) that developed and solidified the canon of Scripture, everyone else used ours as the guide and the foundation of the Bible.

 

Whenever someone tries to have the Ten Commandments posted by the government on public property, it is almost inevitable that this Catholic version is not used. Instead, people chose the Protestant listing. The reason is likely the long-standing Protestant dominance in American public and civic life.

Exodus 20:2-17

Deuteronomy 5:6-21

A Traditional Catechetical Formula

2

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

 3

You shall have no other gods before Me.

 4

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

 5

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

 6

but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.


6

    'I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.


7

    You shall not have other gods besides me.


8

    You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth;

9

    1 you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishments for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation


10

    but bestowing mercy, down to the thousandth generation, on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

1. I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.

7

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

 

11

    'You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished him who takes his name in vain.

2. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

 

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 of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.

 11

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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.

12

    'Take care to keep holy the Sabbath day as the LORD, your God, commanded you.

13

    Six days you may labor and do all your work;

14

    but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then, whether by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or ass or any of your beasts, or the alien who lives with you. Your male and female slave should rest as you do.

15

    For remember that you too were once slaves in Egypt, and the LORD, your God, brought you from there with his strong hand and outstretched arm. That is why the LORD, your God, has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

3. Remember to keep holy the LORD'S Day.

12

Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.

16

    'Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD, your God, has commanded you, that you may have a long life and prosperity in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.

4. Honor your father and your mother.

13

You shall not murder.

17

    'You shall not kill.

5. You shall not kill.

14

You shall not commit adultery.

18

    'You shall not commit adultery.

6. You shall not commit adultery.

15

You shall not steal.

19

    'You shall not steal.

7. You shall not steal.

16

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

20

    'You shall not bear dishonest witness against your neighbor.

 

8. You shall not bear false witness

against your neighbor.

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 belongs to your neighbor."


21

    'You shall not covet your neighbor's wife.

 

'You shall not desire your neighbor's house or field, nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass, nor anything that belongs to him.'

9. You shall not covet

your neighbor's wife.

 

10. You shall not covet

your neighbor's goods.

The Ten Commandments are still considered essential in our century to any value system.

In many ways modern life is very different to that 3000 years ago, but there are still some similarities:

 

            We have relationships - family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.

            We have the same basic needs to survive: food and clean water.

            We need a sense of purpose.

            Our lives need structure.

            Many are searching to understand their spirituality.

 

The commandments are sometimes criticized for being negative - do not do this and do not do that. In studying them in detail we are able to see them as being a positive supporting structure; by specifying the exclusions it leaves a whole lot of "Dos" that we can choose from; but leaves us in no doubt where we have over stepped the mark.

 

By following the commandments we can still have our own identity, but we will be healthier more fulfilled people. Communities could be stronger as a result of more honest relationships, with God restored to a central place in our activities. The commandments offer a supporting structure that many millions of people throughout history have used as the moral standard for their lives.