Although the code may seem to not be relevant for this modern era, research shows that it still stands the test of time today.
In an era where reason and science hold sway, especially with the dominance of principles of psychology and medicine, many people have lost touch with the scriptural bases of their beliefs and those of their parents and ancestors.
With the ascendance of the rule of law, many practices that dated back to when we were desert wanderers and nomads may seem to be of little or no relevance.
Take The 10 Commandments for example. The code, which the God of Israel revealed to Moses as a basis for the leadership of the then fledgling nation of Israel, was designed with many aspects more suited for the nomadic and desert-based lifestyle and culture that was prevalent in those times.
But many have deemed the Commandments (also known as The Decalogue) as being of little or no relevance in modern cosmopolitan Israel and the global situation that we are part of today.
Or is it? Dig a little deeper, and with a little introspection, you will realise that the 10 Commandments are as relevant and meaningful as they were when they were first formed those millennia ago.
Consider each commandment in turn:
Do not worship any other gods/Do not make any idols — Many followers of monotheistic religions have no issue with this aspect. But a deeper consideration is relevant. If a god is anything or anyone that commands our primary attention, would our conscience be completely clear in this regard?
How many of us claim to be followers of one God but willingly sacrifice to the altar of long work hours and other events that take precedence over the needs of our loved ones and families? Our most important ministry begins with the ones we love first, then to others. If our own house is not in order, how can we advise others to repair their own?
Do not misuse the name of God — While swear words that include the name of God are commonly said and heard to the extent that many of us think little of them, I believe that there is a deeper instruction here. Just as God is just and holy, so should we also be just and honourable in all our personal dealings.
One particular area of concern is in promises made and kept. If you promise something, keep it. Honour your word or do not make those promises in the first place.
An old family friend shared how in Singapore before World War 2, businessmen often did business solely on the bases of handshakes and spoken words. If a businessman (also called a towkay) told a customer that two sacks of rice would be delivered by Saturday, and handshakes were made, that was as good and binding as a contract. The sacks would be at the customer’s home on or by Saturday, without a doubt. Words were bonds, a custom that we would do well to learn from today in this era of contracts and acrimonious litigations.
Keep the Sabbath holy — This is more than a religious injunction but has definite health benefits. With increased connectivity and the easy availability of smartphones and tablets, everyone is easily connected and contactable.
But is that productive? Just as farmland needs to rest after constant use so as to replenish its natural soil nutrient layers, so human lives are not meant to be worked to the bone until we are utterly spent. The benefits of a day of rest and recreation are amply documented and largely undisputed. It need not be a weekend (as each of us has different work schedules) but a weekday can do just as well. A day to rest and recharge and focus on the Divine and Eternal would have nothing but benefits for individuals and families all around.
Honour your father and mother — In the Bible and Torah, this is the only commandment that is accompanied by a promise, namely that our days will be long on the earth, i.e. we are blessed with long and fruitful lives. No cultural or religious teachings exclude this major points, so its relevance is telling.
Honour does not equal blind obedience — we can honour our parents but are still expected to keep our moral and spiritual compass intact. If our parents command us to do something that is not in line with religious beliefs or the law of the land, we are to explain our stands with love and compassion and stick to our beliefs. This may be costly to you but you are still to accord your parents honour and respectful behaviour at all times.
Do not murder — It can be easy for many of us to effortlessly say that we have followed this commandment. But let us take it deeper — we may not have killed someone physically but what about emotionally or verbally?
Have we taken part in gossip or slander or character assassination? Have we failed to stand up for the mistreated or marginalised, thinking it was none of our concern? Christian liturgy accurately describes sin as ‘the evil we have done and the good we have not done’, so inaction is as wrong as ill-action.
Do not commit adultery — This may seem to be another clear ‘no-brainer’ but the number of cases reported in the media seems to suggest otherwise.
Even if we are innocent of the physical act, many of us cannot claim to be blameless in this regard. Does your partner highlight the inappropriate attention you may seem to spend with another friend, such as long talks or meetings without your partner being present? Or how about the text messages you have no problem sending to a friend of the opposite sex but you seem to be reticent to even say a simple “I love you” to your partner or spouse?
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Adultery begins when we take our eyes off the actual treasure we have to chase after another treasure that is not assured or necessarily better, but just seems to be more attractive.
Do not steal — Many of us would be the first to say that we have never taken part in theft or shoplifting. But do we ‘steal’ in other ways?
How about the long hours we spend at the company water cooler or coffee machine, way past our allocated rest time? Or do we innocently take a few pieces of corporate stationery or pens and pencils, thinking that a few small items will not be missed? What about the time spend in long phone chats with friends to the neglect of our household duties? If push came to shove, could we truthfully say that we did ‘an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’?
Do not lie — Perhaps we do not lie but what about being ‘economical with the truth’? Do we say just enough to get the necessary approval for our plans, without disclosing the catches or possible pitfalls? Or do we reason that ‘this little lie will not hurt anyone’?
Have we couched our comments in platitudes but neglected to say the necessary constructive criticism for fear that we will crush the other party’s spirit? We must tell the truth in love but withholding necessary critique helps nobody in the long run.
Do not covet — Ambition to better oneself is commendable but there can be a thin line between greed and ambition. To this I say that as long as we have tried our best to give of our best in every way possible, we can be content that we have lived well. Many people have ruined their health and wealth chasing after the gold bling of this world only to realise that they were only trinkets.
Covetousness is linked to the holes in our souls. If our souls are content and filled with the right things, we will be able to see our need and greed in perspective and act correctly. It is easier said than done but early practice is good in this regard.
It is my hope that these words will resonate in our hearts (mine included) to recognise that, far from being irrelevant and old-fashioned, The 10 Commandments are anything but. In fact, they are the supreme foundation of justice and humanity for us all.