Still the Best Moral Code
The Ten Commandments: Introduction
Humanity has everything it needs to create a good world. We’ve had it for 3,000 years. It’s the Ten Commandments; ten basic, yet profound instructions for how to lead a moral life. If everyone followed the Ten Commandments, we would not need armies or police; marriages and families would be stronger; truth would be a paramount value. Dennis Prager explains how the Ten Commandments led to the creation of Western Civilization and why they remain relevant to your life today.
1. I Am the Lord Your God
Although the First Commandment (“I am the Lord your God”) appears simple at first glance, it actually set into motion the most revolutionary idea in human history — ethical monotheism, the belief that there is one God whose main wish is that people treat each other decently. Dennis Prager explains that without this commandment, the following nine mean little. With it, the Ten Commandments becomes world-changing.
2. No Other Gods
Today, the idea of idol worship feels ancient and remote to many people. Thus, the Second Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” doesn’t seem applicable in modern society. But the opposite is true. We have more false gods than ever — art, education, fame, money, to name just a few. Over the past century the worship of false gods has led to massive evil; Communism and Nazism are just two examples. On a personal level, the worship of false gods leads to unhappiness.
3. Do Not Misuse God’s Name
Not all sins are equal. Some are worse than others. The worst of one of all? Committing evil in the name of God. This commandment is often misunderstood because it’s mistranslated. It’s not concerned with saying God’s name “in vain” like “God, did I have a terrible day at the office.” It’s about using God’s name in the commission of evil. We see this today when Islamists invoke God’s name while they murder innocent people.
4. Remember the Sabbath
Setting aside a day of rest each week was a revolutionary concept when it was first introduced as the Fourth Commandment. But this Commandment does more: it extends that day of rest to slaves and animals and thus set in motion the slow process of ending slavery and the compassionate treatment of animals. As Dennis Prager explains, the power of the Fourth Commandment to change your life is no less real today than it was for our ancient ancestors. Just ask the spouse of a workaholic how she would feel if her husband took off a day each week to spend with family and friends.
5. Honor Your Father and Your Mother
Children owe their parents one thing. And no, it’s not love. The Fifth Commandment understands that sometimes it’s difficult or even impossible to love your parents. But it’s almost always possible to honor them. Dennis Prager explains what that means and why it’s so important. And consider this: if your children see you honoring your parents they are much more likely to honor you.
6. Do Not Murder
If asked to state this Commandment, most people would say “Do Not Kill.” This is understandable because the classic King James Bible translates it this way. But the English language has changed since 1610. Furthermore, Hebrew has two words for killing just as English does. The correct translation, as Dennis Prager explains, is “Do Not Murder.” Once you grasp this, the meaning of the commandment changes entirely.
7. Do Not Commit Adultery
Why do the Ten Commandments single out adultery as particularly harmful? Because adultery can destroy the foundational unit of a society — the family. If exposed, adultery leads to sense of betrayal. If hidden, it forces the offending spouse to lie. Children are often the unintended victims. This may be one of the most difficult Biblical laws to follow, but it’s also one of the most important.
8. Do Not Steal
There is one commandment that, if followed by all of humanity, would instantly create a peaceful world: Do not steal. The Eighth Commandment implicitly prohibits murder (stealing a life), slavery (stealing a person’s freedom), adultery (stealing a spouse), humiliation (stealing dignity), and so many other sins laid out in the Bible. If there is one Commandment that summarizes the other nine, this one is it.
9. Do Not Bear False Witness
The most important ingredient to building a moral society is truth, both inside and outside a courtroom. The prohibition against “bearing false witness” does not only demand that truth reigns supreme in a trial, but that it is a societal value throughout the culture. Bad things happen when people believe lies. With truth, we can build a decent society. Without it, even the other nine commandments won’t help.
10. Do Not Covet
There is only one Commandment that prohibits a thought, and it is this: “Do not covet.” Why does the Bible, which is preoccupied with behavior, legislate a thought? Because to covet, to want what belongs to someone else, is the root of the preceding four commandments and often leads to evil. Before someone murders, steals, lies, or commits adultery, the desire to take what is rightly someone else’s usually comes first.