The Ten Commandments.
It’s hard to even write those words without thinking of Cecil B. DeMille’s re-imagining of the timeless Biblical account. Even though it’s been nearly 60 years since its 1956 debut, DeMille’s interpretation of The Ten Commandments stubbornly holds its ground on our cultural radar. Are the special effects a little dated after six decades? Absolutely. Is the acting consistently over-the-top with a penchant for the dramatic? You bet. But the ABC network has been broadcasting the film during the Easter season every year since 1973, and this year the 5.87 million viewers didn’t seem to mind. Or the 5.9 million the year before that. Or the 6.9 million the year before that.
One of the many years before that, back in a decade when VCRs were still a thing, my family recorded one of those broadcasts on a VHS tape. (Remember when you could do that? You didn’t need TiVo or a DVR, just a blank tape and the manual dexterity to pause the recording during commercial breaks. And also maybe a safe house to hide when your mom wants to know why her recording of your sister’s first steps looks suspiciously like an episode of Batman: The Animated Series.)
Anyway, we had our bootleg copy of the movie, and I’m surprised the tape spools never caught on fire as many times as we rewound it. It was one of the only movies my sister and I were allowed to watch on the Sabbath, so it got a lot of mileage. Most of the movie’s scenes are permanently etched into my memory, which made life difficult once I discovered how many “creative liberties” DeMille had taken with the Bible story. Moses saving Yochabel. Moses discovering his Hebrew heritage. Moses and Nefretiri. Moses and Rameses. Joshua and Lilia. Dathan. Baka. The angel of death as a creepy green gas. The golden calf exploding. Basically 85% of the movie had no Biblical foundation and I had to unlearn a lot of things before I could understand who Moses really was and what he really did.
Even so, one scene that will always stand out to me in a movie filled to the brim with iconic scenes is the moment that gave the film its name—when Moses, atop Mt. Sinai, is given the Ten Commandments by God.
“I AM THE LORD THY GOD,” rumbled the voice from within the pillar of fire. “THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME.” A tongue of flame leapt out and carved the words into the mountain. Trumpets sounded after each commandment, issued with divine authority. Maybe it’s just childhood nostalgia, but even now I can watch the scene and still feel a sense of awe and wonder.
Still, there was something else I noticed about that scene, even as a kid: there were an awful lot of “Thou shalt nots.” Not that the passage in Exodus 20 had any less, but there was something different about hearing them thundered from the mountaintop—in the back of my mind was the feeling of, “Wow. These are mostly things God doesn’t want me doing.”
I think that’s how a lot of people look at the Ten Commandments—not the movie, the literal commandments themselves. At face value, it’s easy to see them as nothing more than a great big list of “don’ts.” Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t covet. Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t do the other thing. Don’t don’t don’t. Got it.
I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two since my time sitting cross-legged as a boy, watching Charlton Heston lead the Israelites out of Egypt—and one of those things is that God’s Ten Commandments are so much bigger than a list of don’ts. Taken individually, they’re each practical commands that a wise person is going to obey because, yes, murder is wrong, and yes, dishonesty is wrong, and so on. But when we look at each one in context of the whole, the depth and magnitude of each commandment becomes apparent.
But don’t take my word for it. It’s Jesus Christ who makes that point. When a scribe asked Him which commandment of God’s law was the most important, Jesus replied, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
All the Law and Prophets hang on these two sentences. Some people argue that Christ was replacing God’s law with these commands, but let’s take a step back. What are the first four of the Ten Commandments about? No other gods, no graven images, no profaning God’s name, honor the Sabbath day—these are instructions for how we should interact with God. And the last six commandments? Honor your parents, don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t covet—these are instructions for how we should interact with others. Christ wasn’t replacing the law; He was distilling it—boiling it down to its fundamental essence. And there, sitting at the very core of everything, are these two commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Ten Commandments aren’t just a big list of dos and don’ts. The Ten Commandments are invaluable instructions on how to interact with God and how to interact with man. The Ten Commandments are God’s guide to relationships.
The astute reader will likely have noticed by this point that, here we are, quite a ways into today’s Sabbath Thought without having closely looked at any of the commandments we’ve talked about closely looking at—but don’t worry, there’s a reason! This post is actually the introduction to a series—a little something new I’m taking for a test run. As we work our way through this series, we’re going to take a closer look at each of the Ten Commandments and how they point us to a deeper relationship with God and man. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the next ten posts are going to be part of this series, only that I plan on adding to it periodically. Like the #ScripturePicture page, though, this whole “series” thing is something of an experiment, so expect some fine-tuning as we go. I’m hoping to eventually add a separate page to the site in order to easily access all the Sabbath Thoughts in a series, but that’s a little further down the line.
For now, have a wonderful Sabbath, and let’s get back together next week!
Until next time,