WE BELIEVE IN ONE GOD – What does it mean? –
The Ten Commandments – Exodus 20
Laws in the Old Testament are published in two different formats; many of them are in the form of stories. The Ten Commandments, however, are another style which is a listing of code of conduct item by item. Listing format in the Western legal tradition is first found as the Code of King Hammurabi of Mesopotamia (1554 B.C.) It predates Moses by about five hundred years and is a precursor of the Ten Commandments.
For many of us, the list format is easier to understand than stories because it is short, pointed, hence clear. Our laws are promulgated as itemised lists. The story format is ambiguous and is left to interpretation. However, it is debatable if list is more effective. In later years people like St. Paul questioned its efficacy. (Galatians Chapter 3) Be as it may, it is very important to recognize that the principle of the rule of law was introduced at the time the arbitrary power of the monarchs was on the rise. The Bible has always been sceptical about the power exercised by humans. Remember the story of the first King of Israel Saul? God was not sure if any human should have power over others. (I Samuel Chapter 8) Rule of Law rejects the notion of arbitrary power of human: no one should be above the law.
The Ten Commandments are actually amplification of two basic principles: The first principle is that there is only one God, or perfect truth. Secondly, the ethics of interpersonal relationship is based on respect. However in ancient days, numbers had meaning and ‘two’ had to be avoided, because it meant division. Laws must not contradict each other. Thus two fundamentals were expanded to make a list of ten rules. ‘Ten’ makes it the perfect law.
I. The first and second commandments – verses 3 – 5:
The verse 3 and the verses 4-6 are two sides of a coin. There is only one God and anything conjured up by human is an idol – false god. Because of this belief, Christians during the time of the early Church were persecuted and/or killed for not recognizing the divinity of the Roman emperor. They refused to pay tax because it was called an offering to a god. Likewise, twenty centuries later my father was detained from time to time during the Second World War for not publicly acknowledging the divinity of the Japanese emperor in his sermons; the act considered to be treasonous as was interpreted as a rejection of the authority of the military. The military were considered to be the instrument of a god the emperor.
Christians and Jews believed they had to refuse any recognition of human power to be divine and insist that anything human was temporary and could be wrong. That was the basis of the second commandment; prohibition of idol worship. (Verse 4 – 6) We must recognize that this is a refusal to accept any assumption, hypothesis, idea, image, and theology of God to be absolutely true. Many religions, though claim to be monotheistic, often appoint a certain human figure and/or institution such as church hierarchy, pope or prophet and bestow upon them the ultimate divine authority. We believe they are also idol worship. No human can be god and possess ultimate truth.
It is natural that we want to know perfect beauty, perfect goodness, and perfect everything; happiness, love, power, justice, peace, or pleasure. Because we don’t know or have never seen what that perfection is, humans decided to call it “god”: Plato called it “ideals.” Many people, except Christians, Jews, Muslims, called anything amazing, beautiful, big, merciful, or powerful ‘god.’ Today, many people believe money, profit, and wealth as such the most important therefore god-like. Therefore, there are many conflicts among gods. Though monotheism began as a tribal God of the Jews, rejection of idiolatry eventually led it universal monotheism. This is the meaning of rejecting idols: All things imagined or perceived by humans can not be perfect and ultimate. Therefore, search continues.
The belief in One God is the motive of all enquiries and never ending search for truth. It means no hypothesis nor imagination should be termed as complete and final. Hence monotheism is intrinsically doubt-driven; so the search for truth never ends. This is the reason why monotheism, the Jewish-Christian-Islamic tradition has always been the primary mover of scientific pursuits. All scientific conclusions are hypothesis and are discarded with a new discovery. Jewish Albert Einstein made Christian Isaac Newton redundant. Likewise all human search for the ultimate reality never ends.
Belief in one God means an unceasing search for absolute truth. It is why it is called “belief” or ‘faith” not knowledge, because no one possesses it. Jesus said, “Nobody has seen the wind, nobody knows where it comes from. We only know it is there because we feel it.” If you claim to know it, that is no longer belief or faith, it’s a knowledge. Once it is a knowledge it is no longer eternal, because it is limited to the capacity of a human brain. Faith is like rendez-vous; ‘waiting for a lover.’ You wait because you believe the love you are not yet 100% sure exists but continue to wait because you trust your lover. The great philosopher, Socrates, said, “One thing I know for sure is that I know little.” Here faith and science have a common ground. Since we know little, we keep looking for it. That is the life of a believer.
Faith is a journey, not ownership; nobody owns God.
The third and fourth commandments: (Verses 7 – 11)
The third commandment is not a mere prohibition to swear. It prohibits any action in the name of and/or on behalf of God. None of us has a complete knowledge of God therefore has no right to act in the name of God. We are seekers. Just like scientists never stop to seek secrets of the universe, and artists search for beauty, we seek the truth. And the search never ends. We can never assume that we possess answers. Life is a perpetual process of search. But alas, so many people claim they know God and speak for Him! They are all liars and idol worshippers.
The fourth commandment regarding Sabbath is often misunderstood. We must take note that the word Sabbath comes from a Hebrew word ‘shabbat’ which means ‘rest.’ The idea that Sabbath is the day of worship did not come from Ten Commandments. It comes from the synagogue and the church in their institutional need for the people’s support . It recognises an importance of rest – break from routine. It is ‘holy’; the word simply means ‘special’ or ‘different.’