The Ten Commandments:
Who Needs Them?

by Barbara Balkus  (6/27/10)


Barbara Balkus Have you ever taken a long trip with young children?

I remember when we were transferred back out here from the East Coast. Way too many days in the car with a three- and five-year-old and the continual barrage:

"I’m hungry." "He’s looking out my window." "Her hand is on my side of the seat." "He’s making faces at me." "Are we there yet?" "How much further?"

And to the latter Michael would patiently hold up his hand and say "This far."

With a little distraction of singing songs or playing car games we could peacefully go on for another hour or so and then it would start again. And each time we got to “how much further?” Michael would hold up his hand and say, "This far."

…and hear in response, "That’s how far it was last time.” To which he’d reply, “Different map.”

Life for the Israelites as slaves in Egypt was not ideal, but they did have roofs over their head and food to eat. They knew that tomorrow would be pretty much the same as today and, although that wasn’t great, it was a "known," whereas this place Moses was leading them to was unknown.

We are told they wandered 40 years in the desert, 40 years being a euphemism for a very long time. Feeling lost, tired and frustrated, I am sure the Israelites were not the best traveling companions.

I envision Moses wandering through the desert for a very long time with a whining, ungrateful, maybe even a bit scared group of people.

"My feet hurt." "I’m tired." "I’m hungry." (And God gives them Manna) "We ate that yesterday." "I think we’re lost." "Are we there yet?" "How much further?"

Probably out of exasperation, Moses seeks refuge and climbs the mountain. There he encounters God.

“Look God, I did what you told me. I led your people out of Egypt, I parted the Red Sea so they could escape their captors, and I am leading them to your promised land. They are whining and complaining. I’m not sure how much more I can take of this. I am not even sure where this promised land is. How much further is it? How will we know when we get there?”

And God responds by giving Moses a couple of tablets with a bunch of laws written on them. Yep, that will placate the Israelites!

It is my understanding that there are 613 commandments or mitzvot in the Jewish tradition, and what we know as the Ten Commandments are not included; they are more like subject headings in an outline. It is also my understanding that all 613 mitzvot are considered equal so when the Pharisees asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment; the expectation was probably that he would not have an answer.

Instead he replied straight from Deuteronomy and Leviticus “to love God with your heart soul and mind and the second is similar — to love your neighbor as yourself.”

If the Ten Commandments are subject headings in the outline, this makes the Great Commandment more of a thesis statement. If we love God with our whole heart soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves, then all the other commandments are merely descriptors of what that would look like.

The Great Commandment becomes a road map to what could be. And if the Great Commandment is a road map, then what is the point of the Ten Commandments?

Stepping back into the desert scene with Moses and God on the mountain, and the one-sided dialog of Moses suggested earlier:

“I am not even sure where this promised land is. How much further is it? How will we know when we get there?”

And God gives Moses a couple of tablets with a bunch of laws written on them.

What if the words on those tablets weren’t a bunch of laws? What if those tablets were in response to the query “how will we know when we get there” and are instead a photograph of sorts — THIS is what the promised land looks like.

If we live in Love, then we can only live the life as shown to Moses and the Israelites as they wandered in the desert.

From this perspective, what really is written on those tablets?

I am the Lord your God who has taken you out of the land of Egypt — I am your God who will free you from that which holds you in slavery — greed, addiction, insecurity

You shall have no other gods but me — Money, power, they will not support you nor satisfy your needs; only the God of Love can and will do that.

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain — I’ve always understood this to be about cussing and swearing but have come to realize that any action done in God’s name that is not based in love is not an act of or for God and therefore takes God’s name in vain; when a religion or a people marginalize another person or group based on gender, race, age or orientation they have misused the name of God.

You shall remember the Sabbath and keep it holy — God created the world in six God-days and then rested. Do you think you are better than God that you can work 24/7? Take a break, rest, relax, renew — love yourself.

Honor your mother and father — Not just your human parents , but the earth and sky from which you were born — honor them, care for them, respect them.

You shall not murder — Take no action or inaction to extinguish the Christly spark that glows in all of humankind and the rest of creation.

You shall not commit adultery — Enter all relationships, personal and business, with honesty and integrity and love.

You shall not steal — Do not take what doesn’t belong to you, and technically all of creation belongs to God. God provides for all your needs. What you over-use and abuse now, steals from future generations.

You shall not bear false witness — You have not walked in your neighbor’s shoes. You do not know what God has called them to be. Do not cast judgment on how they live their lives and how they celebrate their relationship with God.

You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor — There is no need to keep up with the Joneses. The God of Love provides everything you need. Be happy with yourself as you are. There is no satisfaction worshipping the god of materialism.

And so we journey looking for the Promised Land; the map is clearly defined, as are the markers so we will recognize it when we get there.

Are we there yet? No, I don’t think so.

How much further is it? This far.

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