The Ten Commandments have been God's great moral compass for believers, for thousands of years. The spirit of these ten divine commands has had a significant influence on the development of the morals and ethics of the Judeo-Christian world. Yet, atheists do not see in them any evidence of divine. One of their cherished views is that they are part of a, "deceitful plot" conceived by, "priests-magicians" so as to, "dominate and enslave the primitive people over whom they ruled. "1 Could that be the case? Are the Ten Commandments a human creation crafted by cunning humans so as to control and deceive the masses, or are they a supreme manifestation of God's love for humanity? History, psychology, and logic strongly support the view that the Ten Commandments were conceived by a divine, supreme, loving, all-wise Mind, and that they are strong proofs of God's existence.
"THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME"
In the sea of ancient polytheistic societies, it was totally counter trend to conceive of, and assert, a monotheistic religion. Culturally, and psychologically, it would have been much more logical, and prudent, for priests obsessed with power and influence, to go along with the trend of the times and the desire of the masses. History shows that the ancient peoples, be it Canaanites, Egyptians, Greeks, Babylonians or the Assyrians, felt perfectly comfortable with having many gods. Psychologically, it was much more reassuring to have several gods to turn to, and get help from, as opposed to just one.
The masses and the priestly classes' aversion to monotheism is clearly seen in Ancient Egypt where Pharaoh Akhenaton, for a brief while, tried to force monotheistic sun worship upon his people. History tells us that, within a short period of time, he was overthrown, and all his efforts at elevating monotheism were totally erased. 2 Therefore, given the fanatical attachment that ancient peoples had to their many gods, trying to elevate one god to the exclusion of all the others would have been nothing short of suicidal. Priests, at the most, might have attempted to elevate their favorite god above all others, but it is inconceivable that they would have attempted to abolish the worship of all other gods or that they would have succeeded.
Throughout the ages, humans have created a multitude of gods, and they would have been perfectly happy to continue creating some more. Israel was not an exception. In fact, for hundreds of years the chosen people consistently tried to adopt the polytheism of the surrounding nations, and, "it often claimed the mass of the people"3. The true God insisted that following illusions was not for them, and intervened firmly each time they went after other gods. Only the one true God could have persevered in asserting His primacy and sovereignty upon an unwilling and polytheism-bent nation. Only the one-and-only God could have asserted boldly and resolutely, "I am He, I am the first, I also am the last" (Isaiah 48:12).
Few people fully understand how revolutionary the introduction of this commandment truly was. Up to Moses, human beings, with the exception of the few that God had revealed Himself to, had been slaves to beliefs in horrific beings who had to be continually appeased in manifold ways, including child sacrifice. The manifestation of the One true God marked the beginning of the end of all the ancient gods. Joy davidman eloquently captures this dramatic overturn in her book Smoke on the Mountain.
Unlike the Pagan gods, the God of Israel was neither cruel nor immoral. He insisted on faithfulness to Him alone, but He also demanded righteousness and love toward one's neighbour.
The first commandment was, therefore, the grand opening to a brand-new era that was to last perennially, and that would bring about freedom from psychologically oppressive and socially destructive ideas that had enslaved humanity for generations. Seeing this awesome revelation as simply the conniving attempt by religious leaders to assert their brand of religion is both simplistic and illogical. Non-idolatrous monotheism was simply too grand in scope for humans to conceive, too revolutionary for the masses to accept and too dangerous for priests to implement. With the first commandment, the Almighty introduces Himself to all as the first step toward the healing of minds and human relations and, most of all, toward healing the breach between man and his Creator.
|"THOU SHALT NOT MAKE UNTO THEE ANY GRAVEN IMAGES"|
Images are tangible and, therefore, reassuring. Worshipping a spiritual, invisible Being would have been psychologically impossible to accept by a primitive, unsophisticated, idol-worshipping society -- if it was only asserted by a priestly class. The God of the Bible insisted that his people had to do the inconceivable: abandon the natural tendency to worship what can be seen and worship what cannot be seen.
To ancient peoples idols were, "an essential part of life, "6 because they, "regarded their idols as objects through which communication with the deities could take place."7Through them they also had a way of controlling the "unseen forces,"8 and, thus, felt a some control over their lives. Williams informs us that,
Given this reality, it it not surprising to read in the book of Exodus that, while in the wilderness, the Israelites, insisted that Aaron make them "visible" gods that they could relate to and be led by. The Bible tells us that, "The people gathered together to Aaron and said to them, Come make us gods that shall go before us." Aaron did not hesitate and quickly made them a golden calf as a tangible representation of the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt(Genesis 32: 1, 4). This was the entrenched way of thinking of ancient peoples, and it had become the way of thinking of the Israelites as well. Imagining, therefore, that a priestly class would deprive the masses of their tangible means of communication with their various gods is ludicrous and unthinkable.
Ancient priests knew the power of idol worship. All great temples of the past were showcases for attractive, impressive or intimidating statues. Idols were very powerful in reinforcing the power and influence of the priestly class. The idols in the temples were a reminder for the people that the gods had representatives who were to be feared, respected and supported, if they were to be blessed and protected. Why would priests ever think of getting rid of such a "proven" source of control for a cunningly contrived "false" god that people could not tangibly relate to?
Artisans favor idol worship because it is lucrative. Pilgrims and devout people gladly buy statuettes of their favorite god to bring home, and be blessed by. The abundance of this trend is supported everywhere in the Middle East, and elsewhere in the world, by archeologists who continually unearth small idols used by people to get protection and blessings from.
In the book of Acts, we see a dramatic example of the masses' fanatical attachment to idolatry, when Paul preached Christ and monotheism in Ephesus (Acts 19). Local artisans, who sold great numbers of idols to visitors, were incensed at the possibility that the new religious ideas would have brought about the demise of their profession. Religious leaders were, no doubt, angrier than artisans, at the thought that their supremacy could have been threatened. Both the priests and the masses had no intention of allowing foreign ideas to creep in and take the idolatrous Diana worship from them (V. 28).
What a noble idea it was to worship a Being that no sculpture or picture could ever represent. What a revolutionary concept it was to abandon the reassurance of tangible gods for One that is, yet cannot be seen. History, culture, psychological habits and needs, entrenched religious ideas and commerce, all cooperated against the rise and assertion of non-idolatrous monotheism. Yet, it emerged; yet it survived; yet it prevailed. The reason for this is simple: The invisible God is, and He prevailed over lies and deceit.
"THOU SHALT NOT TAKE GOD'S NAME IN VAIN"
The true God uses one more opportunity to assert Himself, by stressing the need to show respect for the One who created and sustains humans. God's name represents the Almighty. Lack of respect for His name will lead to lack of respect for Him and for His ways. This commandment is meant to elicit complete, and well-deserved, awe for the origin of life. If God exists, and if He were to manifest Himself to humans, would He not demand complete respect? He has the right to expect total reverence and submission. And so He did.
But there is more. God knew that people would have used His name to support false oaths and ideas. God demanded that His name never be used to support falsehood and deceit (Leviticus 19:12). "The Israelite who speaks the name of the Lord must act in truth, for the Lords name is truth."10 He also demanded that his name not be used to support the magical thinking of the time when the names of gods were thought to have magical powers.11 Thus, "The third commandment came crushing down on the heads of the black magicians. The Lord was a Lord of righteousness; He was not to be invoked for evil deeds."12
Jay Williams, in his book Ten Words of Freedom emphasizes another critical and enlightening dimension of this commandment: the cultic dimension.
Obviously the phrasing of the commandment reflects firm and high expectations on the part of religious leaders before all others. Why would conniving, deceitful, power-hungry priests ever place exceptionally high moral demands on themselves?
The source of this commandment is not human but divine. The God who enunciated it is a God of total righteousness who demands total righteousness from all his followers, especially those who represent him. Believing that humans concocted this commandment to control the masses is incongruous and illogical. Once again, this is also a strong proof of God's reality, His love for what is just and true, and his concern that righteousness prevail among His people.
|"REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY, TO KEEP IT HOLY"|
Before God thundered the Sabbath commandment, humans had no God-imposed, cyclical, weekly pause that would restore them spiritually, mentally and physically. No doubt, there were, "almost universal customs of keeping days of rest,"14 but it's difficult to know to what extent they were kept, or how they were kept. Some have speculated that the Sabbath finds its roots in the Babylonian "Dies Nefasti" that were kept on the seventh, fourteenth, twenty-first and twenty-eighth days of some months. This hypothesis is weakened by the fact that the Babylonians had "five-day" week cycles, and by the fact that Babylonian tablets indicate that work projects had no interruption on the seventh day.15 The Sabbath was a day of rest and joy,16 while the Babylonian "Dies Nefasti" were days of prohibitions, especially for kings17. Any supposed similarity with the Akkadian "shappatu/shapattu" holds little weight, as it was the fifteenth day of the month, the day of the full moon.18 This day is now believed to have been a propitious day in which the king sought to appease the gods, but there is no evidence that it was a day of cessation of work.19
Most probably, the presence of cyclical days of rest in Middle Eastern societies may have been what had survived of the original Sabbath keeping as commanded by God to Noah and his sons. Their descendents may have kept the Sabbath for generations until transformations in meaning and approach took place.
Several aspects make the Sabbath rise high above any other human-devised days. The Sabbath was to remind Israel that Yahweh, who created all things, and who had delivered them from Egypt, was their savior and God, and that they had to set aside sacred time to "reconnect" with Him weekly so as to maintain a strong spiritual relationship.
The keeping of the Sabbath was to be a day that celebrated the dignity of man, the epitome of Gods physical creation. Among all living beings, he was given the privilege of knowing God and of enjoying a special relationship with Him. This physical being also had the special opportunity to meet with His Creator weekly so as to be instructed in His ways and thus deepen his knowledge of Him.
The Sabbath was to be a day of joy, not a gloomy day of bad omen, as celebrated by the Babylonians. It was especially a day of joy for the weak and the oppressed, such as servants, slaves and animals (Exodus 20:10, Deuteronomy 5:14). God demanded that masters allow their servants and slaves to rest as well. This is not an, "only-if you see-fit" principle. It is a divine command from the highest power of all.
Can we see how benevolent and how divine that is? Forcing everyone to stop and rest; commanding families to rest together a full day a week and be recharged; stopping all trade and commerce so as to give everyone, rich and poor, master or slave, a chance to be refreshed, is both revolutionary and powerful in impact.
Author, Samuel H. Dresner effectively emphasizes the equalizing power of the Sabbath: "Although one Jew may have peddled onions and another may have owned great forests of lumber, on the Sabbath all were equal, all were kings, all basked in the glory of the seventh day. . . On the Sabbath there were neither banker nor clerk, neither farmer nor hired hand, neither rich nor poor. There were only Jews hallowing the Sabbath."20
Sabbath scholar, Samuele Bacchiocchi, captures the worth of the Sabbath eloquently in the following reflection: "The Sabbath (gives) a chance to our souls to catch up with our bodies to give a change to our souls, through worship and meditation, to be enriched with new moral and spiritual values. This spiritual renewal that comes to us on the Sabbath through worship and meditation enables us to turn a new page in our life, to start a new week with a fresh provision of divine wisdom and grace.21
The Sabbath is a gift to from God to all humans--no one excepted--to contribute to their mental, physical, and social well being. As Christ reminds us in the New Testament, "The Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). It was made for our benefit not as a limit to our potential. This is, undeniably, a manifestation of divine love.
Yet, though enormously beneficial, many people would have resented this imposition. How many greedy people would want to be told to limit their gains? How many masters would appreciate being told that their slaves had "rights"? How many would naturally go along with a concept that would take both power and riches from them? This commandment went against all human grain. A human origin of such an imposition would have been tenaciously challenged by the ruling classes and quickly defeated.
The strong aversion to anything that interferes with commerce can be seen today in capitalistic societies. Business wants money coming in continually, thus 24/7 is what they are pushing for, more and more, and, unfortunately, they are getting their way at the expense of people's mental, and physical health.
The true God conceived the Sabbath rest for the benefit of all of humanity. Its existence yells out that there is a Being who not only exists, but who also cares deeply for His creation.
|"HONOUR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER"|
Loving one's parents and respecting them should be natural. Most people in all societies do. Entrenching respect for one's parents in a code of conduct may not seem particularly divine at all. Yet, a close analysis reveals that a divine mind is clearly behind this commandment as well.
God demanded that parents be given the highest esteem, (Reverence). The punishment for not adhering to this commandment was stoning. Clearly, parents are very important in God's eyes. After a lifetime of suffering and sacrifices, God wanted parents to be treated with the highest dignity, as a reward for their efforts. This, unfortunately, is not what is happening in our society. An ever-increasing number of elderly people are being given over to old age homes to be looked after by strangers who do not always have their best interest at heart. It is also a very sad reality that the number of elderly who are being abused daily is scandalously high. Only in New York State, in the year 2000, the number of elderly who received assistance because of abuse was over 6000.22
God knew, all too well, that, though most people would have treated the elderly with dignity, some would not have done so. Thus, the imposistion of a commandment with strong consequences, if transgressed. The ones who feel that death is too harsh a punishment for parent abuse, might want to put themselves in the shoes of the elderly who are being beaten regularly by their own children, or those who are callously killed by their children who cannot wait for their inheritance. Perhaps, imagining this might help them see the need for a strong intervention and Gods wisdom in doing so.
Another aspect that shows God's authorship of this commandment is the fact that parents are mentioned as deserving of reverence "above" other authority figures.
If the Ten Commandments had been conceived by priests, they would have stressed "their" dignity above that of parents, so as to reinforce their power and control. A priest-conceived code would have, logically, stressed the primary importance of the priesthood. They would have received primary emphasis in place of, or at least together with, parents--but they did not. Neither priests, nor kings, found a place within the Ten Commandments, because to God they did not have the same importance as parents. Respect for kings and priests was emphasized in the book of the law, but not in the "Great Code." This commandment is clearly from God.
|"THOU SHALT NOT KILL"|
The ancient world was a fierce world. Self-control and rational thinking were not necessarily stressed or taught. Pride, instead, was taught and nurtured. Offended males would teach the offender a lesson by reacting violently and vengefully; escalation would, no doubt, regularly ensue, and death would have followed often. God said to Israel that the time had come for self-control and respect for for the lives of others. Killing another human being out of anger, pride, etc. would be no longer tolerated. Penalty: death.
As the other commandments, this one, too, went against the culture and the psychological mental sets of the times. Historians tell us that other major legal codes of the time did not regard murder as a crime of concern to the State. It is worth noting that, 'Neither the Code of hammurabi or the Middle Assirian Laws have any general provisions on murder... murder was not treated as a crime but as a matter for the relatives of the deceased." 23 Protecting the honor of the family was a duty of the family as was getting revenge for the murder of a family member.
Within Middle Eastern societies of the time, murder must have been very common. The wounding of the family's honor could not be by-passed and forgotten, if the respect of the community was to be retained. Alcohol abuse must have abounded as well as the mortal conflicts that often ensue from drunkenness. Knives and swords were not fobidden, and, therefore, their use must have been quite common.
If this were a man-invented principle, humans would have resisted it and, eventually, heavily modified or abolished it. If an all-powerful God stood behind it, it would have stood and become an authoritative, unchangeable commandment -- and it did.
"THOU SHALT NOT COMMIT ADULTERY"
Adultery abounds in our society, and it abounded in ancient societies as well. Men, in ancient times, had no compunction about lusting after married women, and they had no scruples about taking advantage of them, if possible. God, being a moral Being concerned with family unity, and with preventing psychological traumas in betrayed mates and children, commanded, "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
Objective and aware minds see the critical value of this commandment. The family unit is critical if a society is to remain healthy and strong. Strong, loving families make for healthy minds and have an anti-deviant effect on the minds of future adults. 24, 25 Psychologist, D. Myers, tells us that, "Compared with those who grew up in intact two-parent families, children of divorce grow up with a diminished feeling of well-being. As adults they are more likely to divorce and less likely to say they are very happy."26 God knew of the devastating impact that adultery, and ensuing divorce, would have on a society and on individuals and intervened to keep it from happening.
Sex-crazed societies of the past, where temple worship often entailed sexual relations with priestesses and temple prostitutes, would have had no respect for a human commandment that would forbid sexual freedom--if humans had concocted it, that is. No human in his right mind would interfere with the sexual freedom desired by the masses, especially in the Middle East where sexual perversions abounded (Deut. 18: 9-14). God intervened because He could see the agony that accompanies adultery, the problems that ensued illegitimate births
Since the Sixties the Western world has adopted a Laissez faire mentality toward sex and the results have been horrific. While before men were the ones that betrayed their wives, the trend now is for both to explore the excitement of having an affair. Such an irresponsible and hedonistic approach to marriage has made thousands susceptible to incurable venereal diseases that then bring devastating viruses to innocent and unknowing mates.
The scourge of AIDS is presently decimating Sub-Saharan Africa. Whole nations run the risk of disappearing within the next twenty years because of sexual irresponsibility and because marriage fidelity is next to nonexistent. The same scourge is spreading through the rest of the world and will continue to in spite of the superficial and ineffective safe sex campaigns.
The commandment forbidding adultery was meant to spare untold suffering for hundreds of millions who will die excruciating and needless deaths. It was also meant to spare hundreds of innocent children the agony of seeing their parents die and be left to fend for themselves in horrendous circumstances.
A Supreme Divine Mind who is concerned deeply about us all uttered this commandment.
|"THOU SHALT NOT STEAL"|
Humans have taken what is not theirs since time began. Most stealing is done secretly. A man can steal secretly, in great abundance, and for long periods of time, and yet retain a semblance of dignity and honesty. God speaks to these types, and to all of us, with total authority: No stealing is allowed, or one will have to answer to the "All-Seeing Ruler" (Ezekiel 22:29-31).
Why would dishonest, conniving priests ever be concerned with stopping this all-too-common human tendency, given their own uncrupulous , deceitful and greedy propensity ? Why conceive and impose a high standard of honesty they, themselves, would not abide by?
God conceived this command because He is a God of justice. God cares deeply for the innocent victims who often have their life savings snatched by arrogant, callous criminals. He is a Father who wants humans to show respect for one another and to treat others as they want to be treated. Such is undeniable evidence of divine love.
|"THOU SHALT NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS"|
We live in a world where one must continually watch one's back. Trusting anyone is a risky affair. All humans have known, or will know the disillusionment of believing in someone, and then finding out that he, or she, had been lying all along. Every year millions of mates find out that their "loving" husbands or wives had been cheating on them for a long periods of time, while feigning faithfulness. Seemingly trustworthy business people finally show their true colors, after having cheated people of their life savings.
Humans seem to look at lying as a mild transgression. It is an easy way to cover up inappropriate behavior while maintaining a semblance of integrity. The mind can easily rationalize lying. After all, some say, "It protects betrayed partners from being hurt;" "It insulates family, friends and relatives from disillusionment;" "It builds the egos of people who crave praise;" "It helps to steal from the undeserving rich and powerful," and, "It helps protect citizens from unfair tax laws."
A society where truth is not treasured is a society where anxiety abounds; it is also a society where suffering abounds as well. Recent events in the USA are proving this to be an undeniable reality. Leaders in top corporations have deceived millions of investors into thinking that all was well and encouraged the buying of new shares when the reality was the very opposite. The end result has been devastating losses that have shattered the dreams of a comfortable retirement for thousands of people.
God knew the horrible consequences of lying. He knew that a society that condones lying would, in time, become an unlivable society where the most cunning would rule. Thus, in His love for humans, and for the weak in particular, He asserted that lying was an extremely serious sin, that it was unacceptable, and that it would be punished severely.
Priests who wanted to endear themselves with the masses would never condemn a culturally common and seemingly harmless human tendency to such a high degree, as they would have been judged to be both unrealistic and ludicrous.
Humans would never elevate honesty to such a level of importance. Humans would never make lying an offence of the highest magnitude. God did, because He knows the devastating societal and psychological consequences of deceit. We have God to thank for this magnificent commandment, not man.
|"THOU SHALT NOT COVET"|
Sins start in the mind. Before adultery, stealing and some killing, comes lust. Lust is an illicit and obsessive desire for what is not ours. Before adultery comes an obsessive lustful desire for another man's wife. Before stealing comes the desire for another man's property. To take another woman or to steal another person's property, some people are willing to kill.
God, who created the human mind, knows its dynamics better than anyone else. He knows the steps to sin. Lust is step one before a multitude of sins (James 1:14-15). In His great wisdom, He concludes His Commandments with a preventative command: "Stop the thought and you'll stop the action. " Grand, indeed.
Believing that cunning priests would be at all concerned about human motives and the control of sinful thoughts is both inconceivable and absurd. Only a Divine Mind could have conceived the need to deal with causes rather than just effects. Only a divine mind could have had such a deep understanding of the human mind, and its deep and dark ways of operating. Only a Divine, and a Righteous Mind, could have put into effect such a brilliant, and effective preventative measure.
In this essay we have looked at some of the reasons that support the idea that the Ten Commandments are one of the greatest proofs of God's existence and that they are a powerful expression of divine love for humanity. They were conceived by the Creator to prevent humans from following false gods, and they are meant to prevent behaviors that, eventually, bring about havoc and turmoil in any society. A close analysis also reveals that they were meant to protect the weak, the powerless and the righteous from the abuse of those who have power, and those who are callous and insensitive toward the rights of others.
The atheists' assertion that the Ten Commandments are a part of a plot by conniving priests-magicians to deceive and control the masses is, therefore, baseless and blind. The time has come to, once again, re-assert the divinity, nobility, dignity, holiness and great benefits of these God-enunciated commandments and to combat the arrogant and dangerous efforts of people who want society to tumble evermore toward degradation and self-destruction.
1. Lewis, J. The Ten Commandments, New York: Freethought Press Association, 1946, P. 1 (First Commandment Section)
2. Encyclopedia Britannica, "Akhenaton," P. 188-189, Volume 1, 15th e Toronto: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1989.
3. Douglas, J.D. The New Bible Dictionary. Grand rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publ. Co. 1962, P. 551.
4. Davidman, Joy, Smoke on the Mountain. Philadelphia: The New Westminster Press, 1954, P. 22.
5. Ibid, P. 22.
6. Williams , Jay, Ten words of freedom. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971, P. 115.
7. Ibid, P. 115.
8. Ibid, P. 115.
9. Davidman, Joy, Smoke on the mountain. Philadelphia: The New Westminster Press, 1954, P. 43.
10. Williams , Jay, Ten words of freedom. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971, P. 136.
11. Ibid, P. 137.
12. Ibid, P. 137.
13. Ibid, P. 137.
14. Gehman, Henry (Editor), The New Westminster Dictionary of the Bible. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1970, P. 814.
15. Douglas, J. D. The New Bible Dictionary. Grand rapids, Michigan: W. W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1962, P. 1110.
16. Williams, Jay, Ten Words of Freedom. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971, P. 145.
17. Gehman, Henry, (Editor), The New Westminster Dictionary of the bible. Philadelphia: The New westminster Press, 1970, P. 814.
18. Philips, Anthony, Ancient Israel's Criminal Law. New York:Shocken Books, 1970, P. 65.
19. Ibid, P. 65.
20. Samuel H. Dresner, The sabbath. New York: 1970. P. 43.
21. Bacchiocchi, S. "Rediscovering the Sabbath." http://wwwsdanet.org/atissue/sabbath/bacchiocchi/htm.
22. Victims of Crime Act, Victim Assistance Grant Program 2000, New York State Wide Assistance Report. http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/fund/sbsmap/ovcpfny1.htm
23. Philips, Anthony, Ancient Israel's Criminal Law. New York, Shocken Books, 1970, P.86.
24. Hetherington, E. M. "Coping With Marital Transitions: A Family Systems Perspective." (1992) Monographs of the Society for research in Child Development, 52, 1242. (P. 95). Found in Myers, D. G. Exploring Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers, 1999.
25. Hetherington, E. M. , Stanley-Hagan, M., Handerson, E.R. (1989), "Marital Transitions : A Child's Perspective," American Psychologist, 44, 303-312. (P.95) Found in Myers, D.G., Exploring Psychology, New York: Worth Publishers, 1999.
26. Myers, D. G. Exploring Psychology, New York: Worth Publishers, 1999.
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