Chris' Original Blogbeque

A fresh, vinegar-based examination of life

SJ in the OT: The 10 Commandments

Posted by Chris on August 13, 2007


There is a natural division in the 10 commandments, between commandments 4 and 5. The first four are spiritual in nature and the latter six give moral directions. Similarly, when Jesus affirms the two most important commands (1. to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and 2. to love your neighbor as yourself, Mt 22:36-40), you can find the same division– four concern our relationship with God, and six our relationship with each other.

Social justice can be emphasized in the 10 commandments (The 10 C’s from here on out), despite its reputation as a code that is whipped out in order to condemn. Not that it does not condemn– it does a pretty good job, especially in light of the Sermon on the Mount (Jesus turns “Thou shall not murder” into “anyone who is angry with his brother is a murderer.”) To think about the 10 C’s through the social justice prism takes 2 things. First, time and creativity. Second, a suspension of disbelief/acceptance of certain beliefs about the nature of God. I’m going to take a stab at social justice-lizing the 10 C’s, one-by-one.
(Ex 20 you can find each in full)
1. You shall have no other Gods before me. All of these other blog posts point to a God that is passionate about equality, justice, generosity, caring for the poor, etc… ‘love’ and ‘good’ are defined by the actions of the Lord. Exalting other gods could only water down the message of social justice.
2. Do not make idols. One of the most popular applications I hear on the message of idolatry today is that of money. “You cannot serve both God and money” Jesus says (Mt 6:24) and “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim 6:10). Serving God includes working towards social justice; you cannot serve God and money; therefore, if you serve money you cannot work towards social justice. Folks, I believe we have a logical argument sighting.
3. You shall not use God’s name in vain. I assume that this extends beyond the literal curse word. Throughout history, oppressors have justified themselves by claiming the blessing of God in their acts. For example, African colonists who believed in the “Curse of Ham,” that God willed that they subject black-skinned humans, the descendants of Ham. Today: Christians that oppose interracial marriage for theological reasons (I’ll at least listen to practical reasons), other religions that institutionalize inequalities (I won’t name names, but think of the position of women).
4. Remember the Sabbath. See the posts on Sabbath and the Year of Jubilee.

Here is the natural divide.

5. Honor your mother and father. The first relationship anyone (should at least) has is with their parent(s). How that goes, what you learn there, will likely affect future relationships. There is a double-responsibility, moms and dads certainly have an effect. But in general, I would expect to see a correlation between the way someone treats their parents and the way they treat others. Generosity can be taught and nurtured first in this relationship.
6. Don’t murder. Besides the obvious, you can dig and see people who suffer violence, even death, from social injustices: dictators sending out death squads, corporations that have destroyed the homes of the poor who live in the wrong area, etc… Also, remember that Jesus called our anger murder. If you live with an attitude of anger towards a group of people, you cannot be reconciled with them, or help them, until that anger dissipates.
7. Do not commit adultery. In biblical times, adultery was usually the product of male behavior. A woman might commit adultery, but probably at advances begun by the male adulterer (David and Bathsheba). This highlights the unequal positions held by men and women in society, especially in the area of sex. This goes on today, not just with shamefully high rape statistics in the US, but even men raping their wives in other countries.
Another, more controversial pt: adultery, especially when defined as sex outside marriage, is what proliferates AIDS, for the most part. Many children die under 5 years of age without ever making the decision to have unsafe/unprotected sex. I’m not holding African adults to a higher standard than adults in the US, but unfortunately, other factors like malnutrition and the high levels of the disease make sex outside marriage an especially dangerous and potentially unjust practice for adults in AIDS-ridden areas.
8. Don’t steal. Probably the most applicable to the macro-causes of poverty, the social injustices cited by protestors: corporate greed; unfair trade practices; unequal schools; etc… I like to keep a certain distinction in mind, as a pro-capitalism, anti-rich/poor gap person: Wealth can be created, but money cannot. With technology, efficiency, business, we can create wealth on a macro-level. But a dollar bill cannot reproduce itself. If I have one dollar bill right now and want two, I must take it from someone else.
9. Do not bear false witness. Could’ve said lie, but it was put in courtroom terms. Makes me think of an unequal justice system (20 years in prison for armed robbery of a 7-11, fines for an executive who squanders the retirement of 10,000 people; the difference in prosecution of crack criminals vs. cocaine criminals).
Also brings to mind Jesus saying to remove the plank from your eye before removing the speck from your brother’s eye. Sure, a poor person might have some control over their position. But hey, who squanders more, them or the middle class family that buys a mountain house as soon as they finish paying off their own mortgage? A) save up for the luxuries, don’t get a loan. B) i’m not saying it’s wrong to have a mountain home, but i’m also not saying it’s wrong for a less affluent person to wear $100 sneakers. Seems about the same to me
10. Do not covet. Consumerism. Keeping up with the Joneses. The NY Times recently had an article on millionaires in Silicon Valley who feel impoverished. Mr Steger, who has a net worth of a mere $3.5 million, says “a few million doesn’t go as far as it used to…” Others add: “Here, the top 1 percent chases the top one-tenth of 1 percent, and the top one-tenth of 1 percent chases the top one-one-hundredth of 1 percent… You try not to get caught up in it, but it’s hard not to” and “We’re in such a rarefied environment, people here lose perspective on what the rest of the world looks like.” Do not make the mistake of thinking it is only millionaires that get caught up in this. I’ll look in the mirror for exhibit A.

When I first went to middle school I had some really dorky clothes. I got made fun of a bit. So I went out and got all new clothes. Over time, I developed an attitude that you had to be wearing name brand clothing or people would think less of you. It’s embarrasing to think I could ever be so stupid, vain or naive. But yea, that led to some not so positive thoughts about myself and others, some wasted money, and a refreshing rush of freedom when I finally broke out of that.

The Ten Commandments have impacted societal morality for over 3000 years. They are from a different historical context, and many do not share the same precepts. But let’s not throw them out completely. Or at all.


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