THE 10 Commandments, also known as the Decalogue (Greek: δεκάλογος), are a set of biblical principles relating to ethics and worship, which play a fundamental role in Judaism and most forms of Christianity.
They contain various instructions which over the years, have been grouped and even interpreted differently by various faiths and denominations. For our purposes, we will use the grouping
commonly used by Catholics and Protestants. This grouping follows this order:
The 10 Commandments:
1. I am the Lord your God; You shall have no other gods before me and You shall not make for yourself an idol
2. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
3. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
4. Honour your father and mother
5. You shall not kill/murder
6. You shall not commit adultery
7. You shall not steal
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
9. You shall not covet your neighbour's wife
10. You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbourFirst recipients of the commandments:
The first people, on record (Bible), to receive The 10 Commandments were Jews. How the commandments ended up with the Jews is a long story, one which any avid Bible reader will find in the Bible.
But for those that missed it, no worries, for free we will recount it here. A long, long time ago, God came down and landed in Germany. Addressing the Germans he said:
"I have Commandments for you that will make your life better."
The Germans, who are a suspicious and very risk-averse lot, asked, "What are Commandments?"
And the Lord said, "Rules for living."
"Can you give us an example?" they demanded.
"Thou shalt not kill." God answered.
"Not kill?" the Germans cried, "We're not interested!"
So God moved on and went to the Nigerians. He said, "I have Commandments."
The Nigerians, renowned opportunists, requested for an example, and the Lord said, "Thou shalt not steal."
"Not steal? Then we're definitely not interested!"
He went to the French and said, "I have Commandments."
The French wanted an example and the Lord said, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife."
"Not covet my neighbour's wife? No we're not interested."
Then He went to the Jews and said, "I have Commandments."
"Commandments? How much do they cost?" asked the Jews.
"They're free." God replied.
"Good! We'll take 10!" said the Jews. And thus, the Jews became the first recipients of the commandments in their original form.
The Commandments, as a source of conflict: Since then, the commandments have been a source of happiness, holiness and curses depending on how one has received and applied them. Some historians argue that religion is to blame for most of the world’s wars, which could be construed to mean that the commandments are to blame. But is this really true?
We hereby submit that this is not only fundamentally wrong; but is yet another attempt by man to blame his failures on his Maker. Remember Adam's blame game after eating the forbidden fruit? Again, it arises out of man's tendency to try to bend the Truth to fit his whims – and this, to say the least, is responsible for many a conflict.
Commandment number three for instance, apart from causing a major rift between those that observe the Sabbath on Friday (Jews and Moslems); Saturday (Adventists), and those that worship on Sunday (Catholics and Protestants), perfectly fits the bill.
There is an old story of a newly married religious man. A keeper of the 10 Commandments from birth, he was at a loss as to whether having sex on the Sabbath is a sin because he wasn’t sure if sex is work or play.
So, he went and asked a priest for his opinion on this question. The priest, after consulting both the Bible and the Canon Law, said:
"My son, after an exhaustive search, I am positive sex is work and isn’t permitted on the Sabbath."
The man thought to himself: "What does a priest, a celibate, know about sex?" So, he went on to a protestant minister, a married man, therefore ‘experienced’, for the right answer. He received the same reply. Sex is work and not for the Sabbath! He went to Sheikh, and got the same answer: sex, on the Sabbath is total haram.
Not pleased with this, he flew to Israel to seek out the ultimate authority: a descendant of those that received the 10 Commandments first hand: a Rabbi. The Rabbi is said to have pondered the question as he walked up and down the River Jordan for solid three days. Got that? Not one, not two but three solid days!
On the third day, he called the young cleric and said,
"My son, sex is definitely play."
The man, astonished but nevertheless pleased, replied, "Rabbi, how can you be so sure when so many others tell me sex is work?"
The wise rabbi softly said thus: "If sex were work my son, our wives would have had the maids do it!"
All this shows that the problem isn’t with the commandments, but man himself.
The Commandments: Selective application
All the above is not to say that the commandments are too confusing therefore man should ignore him, no not at all. On the contrary, keeping or even merely remembering the commandments has saved a lot of people from trouble.
There once was a good Baptist Minister, who in order to make his family's budget go a little further, rode a bicycle to Church and to Church functions. One day his bike turned up missing. He searched everywhere, but could not find it.
Since it was a very small town he lived in, and most of the town was in his parish, he assumed that one of his flock had strayed and stolen his bicycle. He spoke with his Deacon about his quandary. The Deacon, a doyen, suggested that at the Sermon next Sunday, the minister should preach about the Ten Commandments.
And, when he got to the Commandment "Thou Shalt Not Steal", he should turn on the fire-and-brimstone-weeping-and-wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth stuff, like he had never done before. The guilty person would then feel such remorse for their wrongdoing that they would return the bike.
So Sunday came and the minister started his sermon. It was a very good sermon, but when he reached "Thou Shalt Not Steal", there was no fire-and-brimstone-weeping-and-wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth stuff!
The Deacon was, in no little way, puzzled and asked the Minister why he hadn't really soaked it to the thief.
"Well," said the Minister, "I was all set to deliver the fire-and-brimstone-weeping-and-wailing-and-gnashing-of-teeth like it has never been done before. That was to be the end to the mother of all sermons.
But when I got to the "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" part, I remembered where I suddenly had left my bicycle!"Food for thought:
On top of the New Testament, there are several illustrations, in and outside the Bible, that more than make the case for the observance of the commandments if one is to themselves a believer – regardless of denomination.
In fact, from the commandments` universal acceptance, save for the man-made complications and deviations, it is generally agreed that they are essential in the life of anyone who would want to please his Maker – the author of the Commandments.
The question is: why do we apply them selectively. Take for example in an office setting, where a messenger steals a packet of sugar; or an accounts clerk helps him or herself to petty cash. These two, will without a doubt be dismissed summarily and even be reported to police.
The same management that condemns these two could however be reaping millions from the same office by, say, awarding tenders and contracts to themselves or relatives or friends at the expense of the company. Unlike the poor messenger or accounts clerk, people will blind themselves to their indiscretions and continue holding them in high esteem.
Wouldn't this world be a better place, and Malawi a better country, if we were all assessed by the same measure and held to the same level of accountability, right here and now?
The beauty of it all is that somewhere there is a higher force, God, if you will, who sees and knows everything. And I dare say, brothers and sisters, that the Almighty will judge us all equally. In His court, we will all be equal before the Decalogue.
God bless, see you next week!
---©2012 The Maravi Post. Reproduction authorised, with usual acknowledgment