There are 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible. Of those 613, the Judeo-Christian tradition has decided 10 of these are of greater merit and value. While the Bible doesn’t use the term “The Ten Commandments” their chronological prominence and content gives them pride of place in the history of law giving among God’s people. However, when push comes to shove, a Biblical law is a law when it is handed to man from God. One would think that all God’s directives carry the same weight, shouldn’t they? Just as I honor my mother and father and love my neighbor, I should stone adulterers and bar lepers from my village (or nearest equivalent in 2015)? Of course not. We pick and choose what to follow when it comes to the 10 commandments and the other out of date and out of place laws throughout the Bible. This is especially true for Christians who wrestle with an understanding of Jesus; a man who came to redefine the law in terms of love, compassion, and neighbor. The remaining 603 laws are up for debate if you follow the Messiah from Nazareth named Jesus. So are the silly and culturally irrelevant laws you want to forget you’ve ever read. Others, like the Ten Commandments linger in the background, demanding we come to terms with them.
To be honest, some of the 10 Commandments have never set well with me. I’m fully aware they carry a great deal of weight and tradition; if only for standards we usually fail to meet. The prohibitive commandments are not a problem. We are told not to steal or commit murder. A proscriptive commandment, such as the reminder to honor our mother and father, are simply sound ideas, regardless of their divine origin. What does bother me stems from Exodus 20: 5. In verse 5, we are told, “Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (CEB) He punishes children for their parent’s sin to the third and fourth generation. Are kidding me? Is that right, fair, or just? That makes me physically sick. I want no part of worshipping a God who punishes innocent children for things done three and four generation prior to their birth. It’s not only unfair, it is sadistic. If this is the God I am supposed to believe in, then I’m sorry, I want out. This is not the God I was raised to believe in. I didn’t sign up for the responsibility of asking people to believe in a deity who hates children he’s never met.
I’m also uncomfortable with the image of God in Exodus 20:7. The traditional interpretation is to “not take the Lord’s name in vain” or as the CEB says “Do not use the Lord’s name as if it were of no significance”. The Bible says the Lord will not forgive those who use his name that way. I’m sorry, I thought there was nothing the blood of Jesus couldn’t or wouldn’t forgive. Have I been lied to all these years? Have I been lying to my congregations for the past 16 years? Do these time-tested and well-worn elements of the 10 Commandments fly in the face of everything we know about Jesus Christ? Instead, do they point to a God who is already dead?