Rabbi Rami Shapiro and I are collaborating on a book in progress exploring the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.Our blog, Mount and Mountain, recently passed the 100-post mark.
We have completed a first draft of our conversation about the Ten Commandments and are starting to deal with the Sermon on the Mount. At this point, both of us decided to offer our own interpretive recasting of the Ten Commandments.
Like Rami, I hesitated to offer my version. Our hesitation may say something about the degree to which we reverence the commandments, regardless of our individual perspectives on their origin.
I assume the commandments find their origin in God. They are not only good for us as individuals but also provide the basics of a healthy community. I regard the Commandments as the high bar set by God for all individuals and communities, goals that challenge us to become far better than we have been, yet goals that may ultimately drive us to rest in the grace of God and accept our legitimate limits, even as we go on trying.
That being said, my personal wording of the Ten Commandments would go as follows.
1. Dare to acknowledge a particular God as your Lord and God: the One Who brought Israel out of Egypt and slavery. Remember, He is about the business of bringing you out of the narrow places, so don’t be afraid to follow him into new insights, responsibilities and opportunities.
2. Never fall for the idea that you can capture God in a concept or an image–the moment you become aware you are doing so, stop it! Treat all concepts as partial and tentative, useful as tools but never settled or divine.
3. Never tie God’s name to ungodly actions. Do not invoke God’s name in the service of self-seeking, acquisition of power, feathering one’s own nest, violence or the other ills that plague humankind.
4. Observe the Sabbath, that you may learn to remember, know and rest in God.
5. Take care of your parents through acknowledgment, gentleness and self-sacrificial service.
6. Never murder. When in doubt about debated matters, refrain from taking a life.
7. Be true to your spouse. Be true in season and out, so that you may grow into the kind of person who loves steadfastly, even as does God.
8. Never steal. Start with particulars near to hand. Practice refraining from taking that which clearly belongs to your parents, siblings or friends. The practice will help to free you from the tyranny of things. Grow, so that in time you may learn to refrain from using more than your share of the community’s or the world’s resources.
9. Tell the truth. Do so humbly, knowing that your understanding of the truth may be flawed and need correction. Do so carefully, lest you hurt another needlessly. Tell yourself the truth about yourself, insofar as you can discern such truth, for that way lies freedom from lies and bondage. Listen to the truth about yourself, when another speaks it.
10. Turn aside the desire to possess stuff. Such desire poisons relationships, leads to over consumption, destroys the capacity to take joy in that which we are given, and leads to community-destroying violence.
To tell the truth, I would add an 11th commandment. It goes as follows: “Practice the Commandments before the Lord your God as a child might play and work before his loving, trusted Parent; do not be afraid to try and fail, for His love for you is a steadfast love.”
Mike Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn.