Why Ten Commandments? Why not fifteen?

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Even if you are not a Christian, or a Jew or someone who has read the bible before, you would have certainly heard someone mention something related to The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are so well spread, that people have drawn links with it in casual conversations and have even found it to be linked with the law!  To give you a brief idea, The Ten Commandments were written in 1450 BC on a mountain located on the Sinai Peninsula by Moses. The mountain was called Mount Sinai and it is believed that the commandments were given unto Moses by God. Although there was no physical sign of God, Moses did everything according to what God’s voice told him to do. God inscribed all ten commandments on two stone tablets before giving them to  Moses. Moses then proclaimed what God had told him and passed the message on to the rest of the people. Although many historians contest the notion that the commandments fully emerged at the mountaintop, our focus here is not where or how the commandments were created but rather why they were established.

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One of the most popular reasons why people think the Ten Commandments were created is to maintain peace and order - somewhat similar to the law we have in the present. Just before the establishment of the commandments there seemed to be great tension amongst the Israelites and the Egyptians. The chapter of Exodus in the bible, explicitly mentions the enslavement of Israelites in Egypt. Soon the Israelites were granted freedom, and The Ten Commandments were established by their leader Moses. However at this point of time, the Israelites seemed to be lost and “wandering in wilderness”. Hence, the establishment of The Ten Commandments helped people keep everything in order.  Amongst the chaos and turmoil, people used The Ten Commandments as a guideline on “How to live” (a question that we often visit in class).  

If an individual performed an act that was against the Ten Commandments, he or she would be punished according to what is written in the holy scriptures.   Not abiding to some commandments such as “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not steal” could result in punishment under laws from the past and present.  However there are some commandments that do not go against the law but are still considered as ‘wrong’ such as “Thou shalt not worship other Gods or false idols”.

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This brings us to another possible reason why The Ten Commandments were created. That is to give an identity to people who were followers of God. As the Israelites believed that God saved them from their troubles they were regarded as the “holy nation”. They had to live in a certain way to be an example to the entire world. The Ten Commandments with its’ specific rules on what to do and not to do, had the ability to help people form a “family”, more specifically a family where everyone is clergy. Clergy refers to the church or an entire group of religious officials, from priests to pastors and beyond. People who belong to a clergy, live their life just to help others practice their faith. Similarly, the Israelites had to learn to make sacrifices, and live in a specific way in obedience to the commandments, so that, “...other less enlightened and obedient people will say to themselves, surely this great nation is a wise with understanding people” (Deuteronomy 4:6 RSV)

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Another reason why people believe The Ten Commandments were created is to “reveal sin”. Yes you read it right! More particularly to let people become conscious of their sins. Sin is an important aspect in many religious foundations, needless to say for the Israelites. Sin is regarded as an act of rebellion against God and most believers do their best to stay away from it. At the time period when the Israelites were just freed, and led by Moses, the Ten Commandments could have also played a more personal role. The holy commandments that Moses revealed to people was somewhat like an X-ray machine that we see in hospitals. People often visit the doctor and get their X-ray when they do not explicitly know what is wrong with their body.  Similarly, the purpose of the commandments was like the X-ray, to reveal the mistakes in people. People compare their conduct with the commandments and judge for themselves how far away they are from God in terms of their thoughts, words and deeds. Digging deeper, although the X-ray machine we utilise is successful in showing us what is wrong and right in our body, it cannot exactly cure us of anything. Similarly, the Ten Commandments in the eyes of people was seen as something that cannot immediately cure their heart and mistakes. Rather, they have to go back to the “Great Physician” , that is God to seek help instead.

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As we have seen, the Ten Commandments were a very helpful tool that enabled people to achieve many things. It created a particular law and order in society, helped people gain identity as followers of God and also helped people identify their own personal problems. It is difficult to point a finger to the most important impact of the establishment of the Ten Commandments. However it is good to note that the Ten Commandments provided great support to individuals back then, with not many moral support systems like we have today. The commandments makes it easier for us to understand the type of lives people were od to live in Israel. Even though these “rules” might be bizarre to many of us now, we have to agree that some of them still do exist today. How many of you can live without any trouble, after committing adultery, or killing someone? Many of us still set aside a particular day (commonly Sunday) to rest and pray don’t we?

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