10 Commandments, 2 Tablets

Today’s reading: Exodus 20; Luke 23; Job 38; 2 Corinthians 8

March 9th, 2016

Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight. -Psalm 119:33-35

When God gave Moses the ten commandments on Mount Sinai why did He give them by way of two tablets instead one, or three? Why two? I mean Moses was not exactly a spring chicken at the time. I could see him saying, “God, how about we reduce the font size and put this on one piece of rock? It will be a little easier on my back as I hike down this mountain.”

Mount Sinai, 10 Commandments

I heard a sermon once that said these 10 commandments were designed to guide a people and how they relate to others. That communities and cities that live by these principles are wonderful places to live, but on the other hand those that do not are not. Rather, they are quite the opposite. That the 10 commandments actually come from 5 principles with two examples for each. The first tablet held instructions for how the principles apply to relating to those above us. The second, instructions for how the principles apply to relating to those alongside us. Here is how it was explained to me:

The first principle: Others have the right to exist.

first tablet: second tablet:
1. I am the Lord your God 6. Thou shalt not murder

I am not the center of the universe. There are others who exist. Their right to exist is real as mine.  I am the LORD your God, is where their right to exist comes from. In general, the source of the power of the second tablet’s strength lies in the truth of the first tablet.

The second principle: Certain relationships are sacred.

first tablet: second tablet:
2. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Throughout the old testament, when God’s chosen people worshiped false idols it was referred to, by Him, as prostitution. God wants us to have special relationships that are different from others and we are to uphold these relationships as sacred and special.

The third principle: Others, not you, have a right to their possessions.

first tablet: second tablet:
3. Thou shalt not take my name in vain 8. Thou shalt not steal

Property is a good thing. People own things that are theirs and you can not take them. God’s name is His just as your neighbor’s newspaper is theirs. Here we see the link between the two: “…or lest I be poor, and steal, And take the name of my God in vain.” – Proverbs 30:9

The fourth principle: Reputation is a form of property.

first tablet: second tablet:
4. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy 9. Thou shalt not bear false witness

Reputation made the top 5 list for how to get on with others in a productive society, it must be important. Just as we are called to uphold our peers reputation by not lying about them, God here calls His people to uphold His reputation as the Creator by keeping the Sabbath day. It does not say “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” It says “remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” The act of keeping the Sabbath is how we uphold God’s reputation as the Creator.

The fifth principle: Our rights have limits

first tablet: second tablet:
5. Honor your father and mother 10.  Thou shalt not covet

Covet seems to be ‘I want what I have not been given and I do not want you to have it.’ This seems to come from a feeling of “I do not want you to be better than me.”, but most, “I do not want you above me.” Coveting is stepping out of our place, it flies in the face of things like contentment and trust in God. Not honoring our parents is stepping out of the divine order with respect to those placed above us by God.

In closing here is some more scripture that points to the duel nature of the law pertaining to one’s relationship with those above us and their fellows:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. Matthew 22:36–40