10 Commandments or 14 Descriptions?
For centuries people have referred to the words of God given on Mt. Sinai as 'the Ten Commandments.' Yet nowhere in the Bible are they ever mentioned that way. Rather they were specifically referred to as 'the testimony.' They were likely the first physical form of a testimony of God, something we should take quite seriously. This testimony was later placed in the Ark and covered by the Mercy Seat which when assembled took on the name 'the Ark of the Testimony.'
You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you.
You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Exodus 25:16, 21-22)
When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God. (Exodus 31:18)
Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other. (Exodus 32:15) This potentially has an interesting inference with Revelation 5:1.
Interestingly in Hebrews this is termed the Ark of the Covenant.
having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron's rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; (Hebrews 9:4)
The testimony of God is the covenant of God with His people. Of course most Christians today assume that this was an Old Covenant that was done away with at the cross of Christ and so they no longer apply to us today. But that is a distortion of reality resulting from a serious misunderstanding of the real purpose of this testimony. It has also been the means by which Satan has been able to deceive and mislead millions into remaining comfortable in sin. But far from doing away with these words of God, Jesus actually affirmed them in His life and death and teachings, all vindicating God's reputation that culminated in His resurrection.
A compelling side note related to this testimony of God is the transformation that took place on Moses' face after spending time with God receiving them on the mountain.
It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him. (Exodus 34:29)
This same glory reappeared again in the last manifestation of God's testimony given in His Son.
For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Regarding the layout of this first testimony, a fascinating insight was discovered by professor Jean Sheldon. She realized that there were not just ten things listed but rather fourteen and that they can be arranged as parallels of seven. In addition, it has come to me recently that possibly this list may also reflect something of a progression, both a progression of degeneracy caused by sin but also a progressive revelation of righteousness.
This so-called law is not along the order of artificial laws like we are used to that require artificial punishments in order to make them effective. God's laws are better described as principles that operate on the order of natural cause and effect, needing no outside intervention to enforce them. That is why the composition of these words of God are actually descriptions rather than proscriptions, for there are no attached penalties associated with them. They are simply a description of what the life of one will look like as they live in the identity we were designed to have as reflectors of the image of God.
God's 14 Descriptions of Wholeness
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before Me.
Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be
prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you.
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.
You shall not murder.
You shall not bow down to (worship) them.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not 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, but
showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep
You shall not steal.
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.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall
labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of
the LORD your God.
You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
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. 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.
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.
As can be seen here, this is a list of parallels – seven that concern our relationship to God in whose image we were created, and a corresponding seven regarding our relationship to fellow humans also created in God's image. It might be possible to view this list of parallels like a staircase between heaven and hell or between life and death. Conversely this parallel list provides insights and warnings at each step along a progression into evil that if heeded would point us back toward living in freedom again.
This list describes living in freedom and joy contrasted with slavery and selfishness. Slavery is not just a condition forced upon someone but rather is often something we choose for ourselves in various ways. The parallels described here are ways in which we choose either to avoid slavery by obedience or the means by which we allow ourselves to be enslaved and progressively lose our freedoms.
Sin itself is really abuse and exploitation resulting in slavery. When we choose the ways of sin we choose a life of selfish indulgence, we end up exploiting others in attempts to extort life and pleasure from others for ourselves at their expense. This is done through violating other's freedoms and exploiting their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Violating these moral principles can give us the illusion of entering a greater state of freedom, but in reality the head rush that sin may provide is only an anesthetic that masks for a time the severe damage it is causing deep inside where the image of God is being destroyed. Sin acts like a cancer deep inside eating away at our souls until the damage becomes so great that it becomes impossible to respond to God's love any longer. This will be the tragic condition of all those who will be lost in the end.
The progression of losing our freedom and sinking deeper into slavery also involves what we call the abuse cycle. The deeper one sinks into sin the more they view God as the ultimate abuser which drives them to seek to escape from Him. Not until we begin to appreciate the truth about His perfect nature of love and what God is really like and how He feels toward lost sinners, can we begin to reverse the curse of sin in our hearts and heal the blindness that sin inflicts on our perceptions about reality.
Without the preamble to this list of parallel words of God regarding our relationship to Him and to those around us, the entire list can quickly become simply a checklist of things we think we have to do to be saved or to impress God or to be good. It is vital that we first see God as the one making all the promises inherent in each of these items instead of demands made for living up to an impossibly high standard of conduct.
God states from the very outset that the entire focus is on Himself, not our performance. The proper way to understand every item listed after this prologue is to refer each one back to it: because He is already our God; because He has already rescued us from our previous position and condition of enslavement, now we are free to look and act like He originally designed for us to live. This sets the context for understanding the true meaning and purpose of everything else in this testimony. We are no longer slaves so we should now stop thinking like slaves, especially in our relationship with God. He did not rescue us from slavery to disobedience and sin and other abusers only to make us slaves for Him. He rescued us from slavery for the express purpose of giving us total freedom both within and without so that we could again live in love and joy and peace in intimate fellowship with our Creator.
You shall have no other gods before Me
Honor your father and mother
The very highest priority of the entire list is right here. If these instructions were carefully and consistently followed the rest would not even be necessary. We were created originally to be reflectors of God which means as long as we keep Him as our focus and do not turn away from Him to anything or anyone else for our source, we can be safe as we reflect Him accurately. This is a description of living in real freedom and a condition resulting in true joy and peace.
God not only designed us as reflectors of Him by creating us in His image, He set up a unique system of reproduction on this planet whereby we could simulate that same process by procreating other humans in our own image that would in turn come to continue our reflection of God. At the same time they would also add to this reflection even greater diversity. This would result in a beautiful world reflecting God's great complexity while still all functioning in perfect harmony with all the principles underlying the way God created the universe to function based on freedom and love.
Our human parents are the first to stand as representatives of God to us when we are very young. God designed this as a way for parents to come into even greater intimacy with Himself as they experienced what it is like to nurture new creatures in ways similar to how God relates to us as our parents. Human parents are to learn from their own heavenly parents what it is like to grow and nurture little ones and assist them toward maturity to then replicate the same process over again with yet another generation.
Properly understood and appreciated, this identifies a system or network of gods designed by the one true God and Father of us all, a network that He intended to distribute His love and provisions effectively and efficiently to everyone. This is the matrix or circuit designed to facilitate circulating His blessings and provisions everywhere while at the same time deepening His children's bonds of affection with each other. This arrangement of lesser gods was in His original design, now imitated in our attempts to organize ourselves in corporate structures to accomplish things we cannot do alone.*
The family model was God's original design. Now we have other systems that are too often used for exploitation and abuse instead of loving service and providing for the needs of others. Thus our counterfeit systems create gods that are evil and that compete to replace God as our true Father.
To understand this concept it is helpful to be aware that there is a legitimate role for other gods mentioned in this first instruction. This parallel how we should appreciate how our parents really are our first gods and to honor them in that role. To properly honor and appreciate parents as our initial gods meant to lead us to God is to honor God Himself. (Of course our language introduces confusion here because God is neither male nor female but relates to us with all the attributes and personalities and uniquenesses that differentiate human genders.)
The question immediately arises as to how one could honor parents who are godless or who abuse their children. That is an important question but for the sake of space I will only say here that there is no exception here. To honor someone does not necessarily endorse or affirm their bad choices; it simply means to respect their God-appointed position and to love them as God loves us – unconditionally. Beyond that we must have the grace of God to contravene the damage caused by sin. A complementary verse may well apply here. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. (Ephesians 6:1)
Ladder of Life
This first parallel describes the top of the ladder of freedom and wholeness. At the end of each parallel I will mention how that stage relates to this ladder. For analogy it could be called Jacob's Ladder of Life. Any direction from this top step is a descent toward an end of abject slavery and leads toward death. It is something like taking a step in any direction while standing on the North Pole means to go South. To diverge in any way from this first parallel means to enter a path of deviation initiating a progression into slavery that each of the following items progressively describe.
You shall not make for yourself an idol
You shall not murder
We are made in the image of God. This truth is needed to better understand this parallel. Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Notice carefully that this never mentions ruling over other human beings, only lesser creation. The first time any notion of inequality or domination over other humans is mentioned is later when God describes the effects of sin after our first parents accepted Satan's lies. The result of believing lies about God resulted in embracing myriads of other lies including lies about their relationship with each other.
To look toward anything or anyone other than God to be our source of identity or to make us feel valuable is to make an inferior a god for us. God is a Spirit and cannot be seen, so anything that can be seen is inferior and too limiting as a design for what God wants us to become. This is one reason why it is so damaging to our perception of self-identity to make an image of anything at all and then view it as a god, for everything in creation is inferior to the Original in whose likeness we were designed and is also inferior to us. Thus, to worship (seek value and identity from through admiration) anything other than God who is the only one higher than us in creation is to thwart the desire of God to elevate us.
According to Jesus hatred is the same as murder in heaven's eyes. Why is this? For one thing, brain science has taught us that a person must first destroy or seriously damage their own internal identity and sense of self worth as a human before they can bring themselves to kill another human. As a result, murder is anything we do that diminishes the image of God in a human. This applies to ourselves as well. As we begin to murder the image of God within, it sets us up to begin attacking the image of God in others. Due to this principle, letting bitterness, resentment or lingering offenses cultivate hatred in our soul erodes the image of God within leading to devaluing and defacing the image of God in others.
Ladder of Life
The result of failure at this step by allowing such feelings to remain inside our own hearts is that we give up our freedom, for in harboring such attitudes and emotions we subjugate ourselves to the greatest abuser, Satan. This is one way we begin our descent into slavery under other abusers, by looking to anything other than God as our source of life and worth. The deeper we descend into the cycle of abuse ourselves the more enslaved we become to other abusers and become abusers ourselves.
You shall not bow down to them
You shall not commit adultery
Bowing involves submitting oneself to another. When we bow ourselves inappropriately we subjugate ourselves into slavery. By subjugating ourselves to inferior gods we deny the image of God we were designed to worship. When we subjugate ourselves to sexual perversions we deny God's design for our happiness and growth. Adultery distorts God's purpose for sex, which means adultery can happen even with a spouse.
Bowing is connected with acts of worship. As we come to appreciate what worship really is, it becomes easier to see how adultery actually is an act of worship. Adultery is the bowing of one's self to another, lowering self simply for the purpose of getting pleasure and fulfillment while ignoring God's design. Adultery includes any perversion of sex by making another person or even object a god for us from which we hope to gain fulfillment and satisfaction.
Ladder of Life
Bowing ourselves either to inferior gods or through sexual perversions continues the process of defacing the image of God within, damaging our capacity to experience pure love with God and with others. It continues a path similar to the previous on described that leads ever closer to the total destruction of our capacity to love and enjoy intimacy with God, our only true Source of Life.
You shall not serve them
You shall not steal
To serve lessor gods is to choose slavery. To steal means to take something that does not belong to you. To serve lessor gods as their slave is to give to others what does not rightfully belong to them. By enslaving ourselves to other lessor gods we rob God of the service and love He designed us to offer only to Him when He created us for love in His image. All that we have are gifts from God, so to misappropriate what has been entrusted to us or to take what belongs to others is to pervert God's order and short-circuit His network of provision for all.
Ladder of Life
This parallel continues the progression deeper into slavery as described in the previous parallels. This step describes choosing slavery outright rather than serving God who fiercely values our freedom.
You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain
You shall not bear false witness
In Scripture the idea of someone's name includes their character and reputation. The real issue at stake in the war that is racking the universe centers around God's name or reputation. The insinuations and accusations in this war are over the trustworthiness of God. God's reputation has been increasingly marred by an ever widening circle of lies and deceptions spread by His arch-enemy the great accuser. In essence, Lucifer-turned-Satan committed the first identity theft by leading many to believe that God has the character of Satan while Satan represents himself as a victim falsely accused by God.
Our part in this is to serve God as witnesses. God calls upon His children to testify the truth about God to help refute lies that inhibit His ability to govern and maintain the freedom of His universe. We are called to be character witnesses for God. In this context, bearing false witness involves participating in damaging allegations about what God is really like and how He relates to all of His children.
To bear false witness involves damaging someone's reputation. No one's reputation has been more slandered than God's. By embracing lies about God we have lost sight of His true identity that was to be reflected in our lives and so we have also lost awareness of our own true identity.
Ladder of Life
This set of parallels involves the subverting and destroying of identity. To distort, diminish or slander the glory of God's goodness and loving character is to also damage and destroy that same image in our own characters. When we misrepresent God to others it leads to also engaging in misrepresenting others as well. Our picture of God will be reflected in how truthful and kind we treat our neighbors, for by design we are created to reflect the kind of God we believe in and worship. We become what we worship.
Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
You shall not covet your neighbor's house
How can Sabbath have anything to do with a neighbor's house? Someone once said that the Sabbath is a cathedral in time. A house provides both protection from the elements as well as intruders. It provides a place where we can enjoy a sense of belonging with those who are a part of our family. So too the Sabbath provides a similar sense of belonging for all those who are part of the family of God.
To ignore, forget or distort the original purpose and function of the Sabbath of creation is to misappropriate the very space in time that God created to provide us a sense of protection and identity. It serves to protect us from being overwhelmed by the cares of this world as we refrain from excessive work that can lead to thinking it is all up to us to care for our own needs. It reminds us weekly that God is our loving Father and faithful provider and He can be trusted to care for all of our needs.
To covet someone else's house reveals that we feel dissatisfied with what we have and think that God is not faithful in providing for our own needs. Coveting a neighbor's house involves jealousy and could extend to jealousy of the happiness and peace we see our neighbors enjoying. All of this comes from discontent with God and unbelief that God cares for us as much as He does for others leading us to take things into our own hands.
When we come to understand the broad implications in the true purpose of the Sabbath, we can see that if it is celebrated and enjoyed the way God originally intended we would be safe-guarded against many other deceptions. The Sabbath properly understood and practiced will be like a strong fortress, a mansion even in which we can live emotionally safe to celebrate the goodness of our God. To covet another's mansion is to assume that God is not a good provider for us and does not have a heart of generosity and caring concern. Thus lies about God are also the root problem in this parallel.
Ladder of Life
Coveting is craving something that does not belong to you, whether time or place. The Sabbath is an anti-slavery law in contrast to coveting which is the ultimate form of slavery; slavery to sin and lust that controls all our life inside and out. As with all the other parallels, this is a description of another step on the ladder of freedom. We can either move up the ladder or sink deeper into abject slavery to our own perverted passions and lusts driven by our increasing sense of emptiness.
You shall not do any work, nor your family, servants, animals or strangers
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, servants, animals or anything belonging to them
Sabbath represents the epitome of living free of all slavery, both externally as well as freedom from the slavery of internal lust. The seventh-day Sabbath is a symbol of freedom for us, the sign that we are being restored to live once again within God's original design so we can thrive in love and selfless service to others, no longer trapped in bondage to abusers.
The Sabbath reestablishes human equality. The Sabbath reminds us of the original design in Eden before sin marred our relationships and our perceptions about God. The Sabbath is the sign that will be recovered both in the hearts and practice of all who are serious about allowing God to restore them fully to the perfect harmony, love and equality enjoyed in Eden. Those who embrace the truth inherent in the Sabbath will also experience the truth of the equality of all humans that was lost at the fall. Sabbath is the sign that we trust God as He restores all that was lost by our first parents.
The prohibition against coveting the relationships or the possessions of others reminds us of the importance of respect and appreciation for the value and dignity of others. When we come to view others as equal in importance and value to us and divest ourselves of the false ideas of hierarchy that has perverted our perceptions of every relationship, we can be restored to the freedom enjoyed by all that is found in the truth of the Sabbath.
Both sides of this parallel highlight the fact that the slavery of sin affects not only ourselves but our families and even our animals. When the liberating truth of Sabbath rest takes root in our souls, we will not only be free ourselves but will liberate all those around us to enjoy the same rest and peace that we have had restored to us.
The Sabbath is the recapturing of the rest and peace that was lost when the counterfeit government of Satan led us to believe we had to work incessantly for a demanding deity. Our perceptions of God were so distorted by sin that we have lived in fear of God because we lost sight of His true character. The Sabbath properly appreciated and embraced links together a fresh revelation of the truth about God with the rest and joy of freedom from the tyranny of lies that have oppressed us all our lives.
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10)
Ladder of Life
Internal slavery is the end result of the descent into degeneracy. This last parallel exposes that evil is really on the inside and outward behaviors are only the symptoms. It also reveals that the choices we make have ripple effects on everyone around us, even extending to the animal kingdom.
As pointed out in the introduction, these parallels are not commandments but rather the testimony of God. But there is an even clearer more explicit testimony from God, the testimony provided in His Son.
If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. (1 John 5:9)
If we [are willing to] accept the testimony of people about matters, [surely we ought to accept that] the testimony of God is more reliable; because the testimony of God is that He has presented [confirming] testimony concerning [the identity and mission of] His Son. (1 John 5:9 AUV)
The testimony of God delivered on stone from Mt. Sinai is not different from the testimony of God delivered in Jesus His Son. The only difference is the medium. The first was in writing and extremely condensed. It described concisely what a person would look like who is living as a reflection of God. The later testimony was a human being who acted out in real time and among real people, even living among depraved sinners, the very same principles that were outlined in the first testimony so that the universe could see the first description demonstrated in uncondensed form.
This is why Jesus explained that He came to fulfill the law, to fulfill all righteousness. The law is a description of righteousness that should be seen in the life of a human. Jesus demonstrated that same righteousness in a human life, not in order to eliminate the first but to illuminate it.
The first was an external description, the last is a complete demonstration of what it looks like to live from the heart in harmony with all of God's principles of freedom. Because Jesus lived a perfect life of freedom and never allowed anyone to steal His identity from Him, He paved the way whereby all may be restored to live in that same freedom, rest and joy in fellowship with the Father and the Son.
What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3)