Blessed to be a blessing. That’s how I would sum up God’s message to humanity. God blesses us so we, in turn, can be a blessing to others. Simplistic; yes. Simple; no.
In this three part series, we’re examining the role the Ten Commandments plays in a 21st century pluralistic society. The Big Ten introduced our topic and Blessed was a brief overview of the initial commands as foundational principles for a positive relationship with God. A god who was interested in a personal relationship with humanity and who encouraged humanity to actually care about others, especially others outside their tribe, was a radical concept in the ancient world.
If we were to keep track of how many commands deal with our relationship with God and how many deal with our relationships with people, we’d see the score being: God = 4, People = 6. Interesting. I wonder if it has anything do to with more challenges having relationships with people than having a relationship with God?
To see what we’re talking about, let’s look at the last six commands:
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor (Exodus 20:12-17).
Much ink has been spilled on defining the family, probably because some are trying so hard to find a definition that encompasses the Western notion of a nuclear family. Scripture, interestingly enough, has a very fluid definition of family. The Hebrew word in the Old testament for family blurs the distinction between family and tribe, and between tribe and nation. The true biblical definition keeps pushing out the boundaries of family.
Why is that so important? Because families were pivotal to Israelite society. Families were to be relationships of equality (God’s “chain of command” in marriage and families is not a biblical concept), solidarity, and liberty. These qualities of equality, solidarity, and liberty were to be displayed in the nation as a whole. As families partnered together, caring for one another, protecting their shared economic freedom, and acting as safety nets during times of famine and enslavement, other tribes and peoples would be brought into the fold as the family extended itself.
The command to honor both father and mother is interesting in and of itself. Parental authority wasn’t absolute, since children were expected to eventually separate from their parents. But children were to respect their parents and parents were expected to teach their children about spiritual and practical matters. The idea was that strong family relationships would lead to strong community relationships. These were units of solidarity.
The next commands bar taking precious elements from one’s neighbor. Starting with murder, the premeditated taking of life, the text moves on to the taking another’s spouse, the taking of someone’s property, and the taking of someone’s reputation or freedom. The premise is that God gives life, life partners, and labor and property. Certainly God gives each human dignity as well, so the unjust marring of someone’s reputation also violates the very fabric of creation. Each person in this covenant nation deserves to enjoy respect for his or her life, marital relationship, property, and name. These are sacred and violations are blunt rejections of the God who created them.
The final command denounces the specific attitude that leads to the breaking of all the commandments. The word covet means to earnestly desire the specific possessions on one’s neighbor. Those who covet don’t want a house or a spouse. They want their neighbor’s specific house or specific spouse. Thus is the desire is actually carried out, the offender is stealing or committing adultery. Similarly, rejecting the first four commandments, is coveting God’s authority. The whole point of the last commandment is to show that the commandments can’t be observed merely from an external or formal act.
The Ten Commandments have become a rallying cry and touchstone for ordering moral behavior by many who want to enforce their religious concepts on others. Unfortunately, by doing this, they completely miss the foundational concept of covenant relationship God makes with humanity (Blessed). They also completely dismiss the covenantal relationship humanity is to have with each other (to be a blessing).
It’s not a matter of checking off the righteous living box each day. It’s about having a friendship with God that takes precedence over every other relationship. In response to God’s blessings, it’s a matter of extending that blessing to the rest of humanity. We strain towards equality, solidarity, and liberty as a fundamentally sacred right for all.
Blessed to be a blessing.