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Dictionaries :: Ten Commandments

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Smith's Bible Dictionary

Ten Commandments:

The popular name in this, as in so many instances, is not that of Scripture. There we have the "TEN WORDS," (Exodus 34:28; 4:13; 10:4) the "COVENANT," Ex., Deuteronomy 11; cc.; 1 Kings 8:21; 2 Chronicles 6:11, etc., or, very often as the solemn attestation of the divine will, the "TESTIMONY." (Exodus 25:16; 25:21; 31:18 etc.). SEE [COVENANT]. The circumstances in which the Ten great Words were first given to the people surrounded them with an awe which attached to no other precept. In the midst of the cloud and the darkness and the flashing lightning and the fiery smoke and the thunder like the voice of a trumpet, Moses was called to Mount Sinai to receive the law without which the people would cease to be a holy nation (Exodus 19:20). Here, as elsewhere, Scripture unites two facts which men separate. God, and not man was speaking to the Israelites in those terrors, and yet, in the language of later inspired teachers, other instrumentality was not excluded. No other words were proclaimed in like manner. And the record was as exceptional as the original revelation. Of no other words could it be said that they were written as these were written, engraved on the Tables of Stone, not as originating in man's contrivance or sagacity, but by the power of the Eternal Spirit, by the "finger of God." (Exodus 31:18; 32:16). The number Ten was, we can hardly doubt, itself significant to Moses and the Israelites. The received symbol, then and at all times, of completeness, it taught the people that the law of Jehovah was perfect (Psalm 19:7). The term "Commandments" had come into use in the time of Christ (Luke 18:20). Their division into two tables is not only expressly mentioned but the stress is upon the two leaves no doubt that the distinction was important, and that answered to that summary of the law which was made both by Moses and by Christ into two precepts; so that the first table contained Duties to God, and the second, Duties to our Neighbor. There are three principal divisions of the two tables:

(1.) That of the Roman Catholic Church, making the first table contain three commandments and the second the other seven.

(2.) The familiar division, referring the first four to our duty toward God and the six remaining to our duty toward man.

(3.) The division recognized by the old Jewish writers, Josephus and Philo, which places five commandments in each table. It has been maintained that the law of filial duty, being a close consequence of God's fatherly relation to us, maybe referred to the first table. But this is to place human parents on a level with God, and, by purity of reasoning the Sixth Commandment might be added to the first table, as murder is the destruction of God's image in man. Far more reasonable is the view which regards the authority of parents as heading the second table, as the earthly reflex of that authority of the Father of his people and of all men which heads the first, and as the first principle of the whole law of love to our neighbor; because we are all brethren and the family is, for good and ill the model of the state. "The Decalogue differs from all the other legislation of Moses:

(1). It was proclaimed by God himself in a most public and solemn manner.

(2). It was given under circumstances of most appalling majesty and sublimity.

(3). It was written by the finger of God on two tables of stone (Deuteronomy 5:22).

(4). It differed from any and all other laws given to Israel in that it was comprehensive and general rather than specific and particular.

(5). It was complete, being one finished whole to which nothing was to be added, from which nothing was ever taken away.

(6). The law of the Ten Commandments was honored by Jesus Christ as embodying the substance of the law of God enjoined upon man.

(7). It can scarcely be doubted that Jesus had his eye specially if not exclusively on this law (Deuteronomy 5:18) as one never to be repealed from which not one jot or tittle should ever pass away.

(8). It is marked by wonderful simplicity and brevity such a contrast to our human legislation, our British statute‐book for instance, which it would need an elephant to carry and an OEdipus to interpret."

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