Hist. Bible I, 194-198.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
If ye know my commandments, happy are ye if ye do them. -- Jesus.
Wherewithal shall I come before Jehovah, and bow myself before the High God? . . . He hath showed thee, Oh man, what is good; and what doth Jehovah require of thee but to do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God? -- Micah 6:6, 8.
Most religions are meant to be straight lines connecting two points -- God and man. But Christianity has three points -- God, man, and his brother -- with two lines to make a right angle. -- Maltbie D. Babcock.
So many prayers, so many creeds,
THE HISTORY OF THE PROPHETIC DECALOGUE.
The decalogues of Exodus 20-23 clearly represent the earliest canon of the Old Testament. These are intended to define clearly the obligations of the nation to Jehovah, and to place these obligations before the people so definitely that they would be understood and met. As the term "decalogue," that is "ten words," indicates, the Biblical decalogue originally contained ten brief sententious commands, easily memorized even by children. Each of the decalogues is divided into two groups of five laws or pentads. This division of five and ten was without reasonable doubt intended to aid the memory by associating each law with a finger or thumb of the two hands. Exodus 20-23 and its parallels in Deuteronomy contain ten decalogues, that is a decalogue of decalogues, suggesting that originally a decalogue was associated with each of the fingers and thumbs of the two hands even as were the individual words or commands. This system of mnemonics was useful in teaching a child nation. It is still useful to-day. It is important to impress upon the child in this concrete way certain of the fundamental obligations to God and man. The form of the ten commandments in part explains the commanding place which they still hold in religious education throughout Christendom.
The Biblical accounts of the two decalogues in Exodus 20 and 34 vary in details. The early Judean prophetic narrative in Exodus 34 states that these commands were inscribed by Moses himself on two stone tablets. In the later versions of the story Jehovah inscribes them with his own fingers on the two tablets which he gave to Moses. That the older decalogue was written on two tablets and set up in the temple of Solomon is exceedingly probable, for by the days of the United Kingdom the Hebrews were beginning to become acquainted with the art of writing and therefore could read the laws in written form. The recently discovered code of Hammurabi, which comes from the twentieth century B.C., was inscribed in parallel columns on a stone monument. In the epilogue to this wonderful code the king states: "By the order of Shamash, the judge supreme of heaven and earth, that judgment may shine in the land, I set up a bas-relief to preserve my likeness in the great temple that I love, to commemorate my name forever in gratitude. The oppressed who has a suit to prosecute may come before my image, that of a righteous king, and read my inscription and understand my precious words and let my stele elucidate his case. Let him see the law he seeks, and may he draw in his breath and say: 'This Hammurabi was to his people like the father that begot them!'" Thus this devout king of ancient Babylonia graphically defines the motive which, at a later period, led Israel's spiritual leaders to set before the people those principles which made for the welfare both of the nation and of the individual. Each was keenly conscious that the laws which brought social and spiritual health to mankind emanated from the divine power that was guiding the destinies of men.
Hebrew tradition has described in a great variety of narratives the way in which God made known his will to the people. The scene in each case was Mount Sinai, which the ancient Hebrews as well as the Kenites regarded as Jehovah's abode. In the early Judean version, as some writers classify the accounts, Moses alone ascends the mountain, while the people are forbidden to approach. In the Northern Israelite version, the people approach, but being terrified by the thunder and lightnings they request Moses to receive for them the divine message. This later version implies that a raging thunder storm shrouded the sacred mountain, while the early Judean and late priestly narratives apparently suggest an active volcano.
The element common to all these accounts is that under the direction of their prophetic leader, Moses, a solemn covenant was established between the nation and Jehovah, and that the obligations of the people were defined in the decalogue with its ten short commands. The problem is, however, complicated by the presence of two decalogues, one now preserved in Exodus 34 and the other, the familiar ten commandments of Exodus 20. Both agree in emphasizing as primary the nation's obligation to be loyal to Jehovah. The decalogue in Exodus 34, however, goes on to describe in succeeding laws the ways in which the nation may show its loyalty. This was through the observation of certain ceremonial customs and especially the great annual feasts. Did most ancient peoples show their loyalty to the gods by their lives and deeds or by the ceremonies of the ritual and the offerings which they brought to the altars? The first great prophet Amos declared that Jehovah hated and despised feasts and ceremonies unless accompanied by deeds of justice and mercy.
The decalogue in Exodus 34 may well represent the original commands which Moses laid upon the nation, but the higher moral sense of later editors has truly recognized the superiority of the ethical commands of the familiar decalogue in Exodus 20 and given it the commanding place which it richly deserves. (For a probable literary history of this decalogue see Hist. Bible I, 194-5.) The two decalogues of Exodus 20 and 34 are not duplicates the one of the other, but rather supplement each other. The one defines the obligation of the nation, the other of the individual. The Hebrews long continued to retain in their homes the family images inherited from their Semitic ancestors. Not until the days of Amos and Isaiah did the prophets begin to protest against the calves or bulls and the cherubim in the sanctuaries of Northern Israel, and even in the temple at Jerusalem. Hence the second command, "Thou shalt not make for thyself any graven image," some believe comes from a period centuries later than Moses. Possibly, as in Exodus 34:17, it originally read "molten image" and referred to foreign idols. If so, it may come in this older form from Moses. The tenth command which places the emphasis on the motive rather than the act also suggests a maturer age; but with these possible exceptions there is good reason for believing that the spirit and teaching of Moses are embodied in this noble decalogue.
In what respects does the version in Deuteronomy 5 differ from that in Exodus 20? (Hist. Bible I, 195.) Which is probably the older version? What later explanations and exhortations have been added to the original ten words in Exodus 20? In Deuteronomy 5? What was the object of these additions? Are they of real value? Is it profitable to teach them to children to-day?
OBLIGATIONS OF THE INDIVIDUAL TO GOD.
Into what two groups do the ten words in Exodus 20 fall? And what is the theme of each? Is there a real difference between the command of Exodus 34, "Thou shalt worship no other gods" and that of Exodus 20, "Thou shall have no other gods before me"? Did the Hebrews as a matter of fact tolerate the worship of other gods in their midst centuries after the days of Moses? May the Hebrews have originally interpreted the command of Exodus 20 as a demand that Jehovah be given the first place in the worship and faith of Israel? How did later prophets like Elijah and Isaiah interpret it? (See I Kings 18:21 and Is.6:1-8; 8:13.) The older command in Exodus 34, "Thou shall make thee no molten gods," was probably intended to guard the Israelites from imitating the religious customs of their heathen neighbors, such as the Egyptians and the Moabites. The command to make no graven image was, it seems, directed not against the public idols but against the private images. These were usually made of wood and were cherished in many a Hebrew family, as for example, that of Jacob (cf. the story of his flight from Laban, Gen.31) or of David (I Sam.19). The spirit of the law is truly interpreted by the later priestly commentator who places completely under the ban all attempts visibly to represent the Deity. Is the spirit of this command disregarded by the modern Greek church? In certain parts of the Roman Catholic world? In any phases of Protestant worship?
How is the third command interpreted to-day? The exact meaning of the original Hebrew is not entirely clear. It may be interpreted literally: "Thou shall not invoke the name of Jehovah, thy God, in vain." The interpretation turns on the meaning of the phrase, in vain. This admits of four different translations: (1) Purposelessly, and therefore needlessly or irreverently; (2) for destruction, as when a man calls down a curse upon another; (3) for nothing, that is in swearing to what is not true; and (4) in the practice of sorcery or witchcraft, for this word was frequently used by the Hebrews as a scornful designation of heathen abominations. Is it possible that the original command was intended to guard against each of these evils? If so, it broadens and deepens its modern application. Its fundamental idea is evidently reverence and sincerity.
Why did the Hebrew law-givers place these three laws, which emphasize absolute loyalty to Jehovah, at the beginning of the decalogue? What do we mean to-day by loyalty to God? Loyalty to Jehovah was not only the corner stone of Israel's religion but also of the Hebrew state. During the wilderness period and far down into later periods it was the chief and at times practically the only bond that bound together the individual members of the tribe and nation. Disloyalty to Jehovah was treason, and even the mild code found in the book of Deuteronomy directs that apostasy be punished by public stoning. Loyalty to God or at least to the individual sense of right to-day as in the past is the first essential of effective citizenship. Which is the more essential for the welfare of the state, the manual, the mental or the religious training of its citizens? Where is the chief emphasis placed to-day? Is this right?
THE SOCIAL AND ETHICAL BASIS OF THE SABBATH LAW.
The institution of the Sabbath in different countries apparently has a long and complex history. Many explanations have been given of its origin, aside from the direct divine command. The simplest and most satisfactory is probably that it was originally connected with the worship of the moon. There are many indications in Hebrew history that the early ancestors of the Israelites were moon worshippers. To-day as in the distant past the inhabitants of the deserts from whence came the forefathers of the Hebrews make their journeys under the clear, cool light of the moon, avoiding the hot, piercing rays of the mid-day sun. The moon with its marvelous transformations is unquestionably the most striking and awe-inspiring object in the heavens. It is not strange, therefore, that many primitive peoples and especially the nomadic desert dwellers worshipped it as the supreme embodiment of beauty and power.
In China feast days once a month were doubtless connected with the phases of the moon. Among the American Indians time was reckoned by numbers of moons. The custom of observing as sacred the four days, which marked the transition from one quarter of the moon to another, was also widespread. In the Hebrew religion the feast of the New Moon was closely identified with that of the Sabbath. The Hebrew month was also the lunar month of approximately twenty-eight days. The new moon, therefore, marked the beginning of the month and each succeeding Sabbath a new phase of the moon. The fourth commandment seems, therefore, like the others to have a basis in nature, and also, as we shall note, a social reason. Would a commandment be truly divine if it did not have a natural and reasonable basis? By the ancients rest from labor was regarded as one of the essential elements in the sacred day. The prophet Amos denounced the merchants of Northern Israel because they were constantly saying,
When shall the new moon pass that we may sell grain, And the Sabbath that we may open the corn?
In its earlier ceremonial interpretation, to abstain from all labor on the Sabbath was clearly regarded as a primary obligation. Like fasting, it is probably regarded as an offering due to Jehovah. The word "holy" in the Hebrew means set apart, distinct. The Sabbath, therefore, was to differ from the other days of the week. The great ethical prophets of the Assyrian period were the first completely to divest this ancient institution of its heathen significance and give it a deeper religious, and therefore social and humanitarian interpretation. They gave it its true and eternal content, declaring that God decreed that all who labor should have their needed rest. The prophet who added the noble interpretation in Deuteronomy 5:14, 15, declares that it was not only that old and young, master and slave, might rest, but also that even the toiling ox and ass and the resident alien might have the relaxation which their tired bodies required. Thus these inspired prophets traced the ultimate basis of the institution of the Sabbath to God's providence for the innate needs of man. They recognized that it was essential for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the individual and, therefore, for the welfare of the State. That the Hebrews might not forget this obligation, the prophets appealed to the memory of the days when the Israelites themselves were slaves in the land of Egypt and the thought of how Jehovah delivered them from their slavery.
Tuan Fang, the great Manchu viceroy who only recently met martyrdom at the hands of his warring countrymen, said when visiting America a few years ago, "I think that when I return to China I will introduce Sunday in my province." When asked whether he would make it the seventh day, he replied, "Yes, for I think that the seventh day is far better than the tenth. Furthermore, for the convenience and economy of all, I will make it correspond to the Christian Sunday. From my study of the conditions in America and of the needs in China I am convinced that the Sabbath is a most valuable and essential institution."
Later Judaism revived the earlier heathen content of the Sabbath, and lost sight of its deeper political, social and humanitarian significance. Unfortunately the Christian church and above all our Puritan fathers followed the guidance of the later priests rather than of the early prophets. Jesus with his clear insight into human hearts and needs, and with his glowing love for men, repudiated the harsh, mechanical interpretation of the Sabbath current in his day and reasserted the teachings of the great prophets that preceded him; "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
Does the social and humanitarian interpretation of the Sabbath obscure or deepen its religious significance? Does the great body of the Christian church to-day accept the interpretation of the prophets and of Jesus, or that of early heathenism and later Judaism? Does the interpretation of the prophets and of Jesus furnish a basis on which all classes in the state can unite in appreciating and in jealously guarding the Sabbath? Does the acceptance of one or the other of these interpretations fundamentally affect our actual observance of the Sabbath? Our motives and our spirit? Our attitude toward our fellow men?
IMPORTANCE OF CHILDREN'S LOYALTY TO PARENTS
It is generally recognized by scientists that the place of animals in the scale of being is dependent upon the length of their period of infancy. The lower forms of animal life are mature almost as soon as they are born. Minnows never come under the care of their genitors, but are independent as soon as they are hatched. The young of the less developed quadrupeds are soon weaned and forgotten by their parents. The longer the young remain in the care of their parents the higher the form of the animal. The great difference between men and most of the higher animals is thought by many to be dependent upon the length of childhood, and the consequent care and attention given by the parents. Even among human beings it is scarcely too much to say that the longer the time of education and training under proper supervision lasts, the more successful finally at the end of life the man will be. When one considers that Aristotle, who is perhaps generally accepted as the world's greatest thinker, associated with his great teacher, Plato, twenty years, until he was thirty-eight years of age and produced nearly all his important works only after that time, we may see one example of the profound importance of training. The care of parents for their children throughout all of their early years would naturally imply loyalty of children to the parents as a mark of gratitude for the time and affection expended upon them.
In one of his characteristic poems, filled with wise suggestion, Lowell speaks of obedience as that "great tap root" of the state and civilization. The habit of obedience is one of the finest characteristics in family life, and obedience to parents normally becomes obedience to law in the citizen, one of the surest bonds of society and one of the most necessary conditions of social progress.
This fact was so fully recognized in the patriarchal stage of society that the head of the family within the tribe had the power even of life and death over the members of his household. In practically all early societies we find this authority of the parent and the obedience of the child insisted upon as fundamental. In the Orient, even to the present day, this respect of children for their parents is closely bound up with their religion and their civilization. The first wish of every man is that be may have a son to sacrifice to his memory after he has gone. And not only in China, but in many other states we find ancestral worship springing from this relation of father and son.
The primitive Hebrew laws (Ex.21:15, 17) made death the penalty for a child who struck or cursed his parents. In many countries parricide is considered the worse type of murder. The very old Sumerian law of ancient Babylon punished with slavery the son who repudiated his father. In the fifth commandment no penalty is named for disrespect toward one's parents. The religious sanction only is implied, though the penalty of death was inflicted by the law of the tribe.
In society to-day our aim in education is to develop individuality and for a country with a democratic form of government this type of education should be encouraged. Disobedience or disrespect ho parents has no longer a legal penalty, although the children may be compelled by law to support their parents. But gratitude toward parents and a normal affectionate family life are practically essential to social welfare. Aside from its civic aspect, there is nothing in society more beautiful than the right relationship between parents and children. Jesus, who represented the kingdom of God as a household, found that the best analogy for the relationship of men to God and the best descriptions of the divine nature are based upon this relationship.
PRIMARY OBLIGATIONS OF MAN TO MAN.
The second five commandments of the decalogue deal with the obligations of man to man. These commands still find a central place in modern society as the best guarantees of social stability, security and peace. All of the crimes with which they deal, except that of covetousness, were punished, in Hebrew custom and law, by definite penalties. In many instances these penalties were still more severe among other early peoples.
As soon as society emerges from the savage state, the crime of adultery is always forbidden. Nothing else stirs the worst of human passions as does sexual jealousy. Even to-day probably no other cause is more productive of murder and suicide. In early societies, like that of the Israelites, to this normal human feeling of personal wrong was added that of the loss of property, for wives or concubines were considered as property. Hence the penalty for adultery among the Hebrews, as with many ancient and many modern peoples, was death.
As soon as society develops from the savage into the pastoral stage, private property is recognized in the flocks and herds. In the development of society additional types of property rights appear under various forms of ownership, until it is not too much to say that modern society is based largely upon property rights. The evils associated with property are many, but as yet, at any rate, the rights of property are a benefit to the state, provided those rights are exercised under proper legal supervision. It should be recognized, however, that the command, "Thou shall not steal," may well have various meanings, dependent upon the laws of property. Our law restricts the right of legacy, the sale or even the possession of poisons and often of dangerous weapons. Similarly the degree of ownership of other goods is often limited.
The ninth command, not to bear false witness against one's neighbor, is often interpreted as simply a violation of one's oath in court, or when appended to formal legal papers. But in most modern countries the command is also interpreted so as to include lying. If this crime is defined in its broadest sense, as lack of truth and trustworthiness, it is in many ways the greatest sin man can commit against society. Practically all modern economic and social relations are based upon the security of contracts and upon the readiness of business men and citizens to keep their word. It may be well questioned whether the crime of murder is as dangerous to society as the habit of deception, for the temptation of murder is rare as compared with that of deception; while the evil is often less far-reaching in its consequence and less despicable.
In the last command, that directed against covetousness, the law-giver goes beyond the external act to the motive and spirit in the mind of the individual. If this command is kept in spirit, the others are practically unnecessary. This command is like in kind to that of Jesus in the New Testament, where all the commandments are summed up into one: "Love one another."
THE PRESENT-DAY AUTHORITY OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS.
The various books that make up our Bible were each written to meet the needs of the people of its day; but inasmuch as the prophets and law-givers from the days of Moses to those of Jesus touched upon the most vital questions of human life and society, these principles are most of them universal and applicable to all tribes and nations and races and peoples.
Necessarily there are many variations in the specific methods by which these commands are to be carried out. The honor and reverence due everywhere to mother and father may well have different applications, depending upon the type of civilization, the customs of living and the type of home life that exist in the different countries. The injunction to keep the Sabbath may well be carried out with the same spirit in various ways. What constitutes theft depends upon the law of the separate state and upon the rights of property granted by that law, but everywhere the primary obligations of the individual to God, to society and to his fellow men remain substantially the same. As he develops a more tender conscience, a more just and kindly attitude toward his fellows, a greater reverence toward his Creator, the spirit with which be keeps these commandments is becoming continually more urgent, whatever may be the specific way in which they may be carried out for the benefit of his fellow men and of society.
Questions for Further Consideration.
Does idol worship exist in any part of the civilized world to-day? If so, where and in what forms?
Are those addicted to profanity necessarily and intentionally irreverent? What is the origin of this habit? How may it be eradicated? What are some of the best methods by which children may be guarded against it?
Do you think it is right for the state to become responsible for the religious education of its citizens?
What is the fundamental difference between the so-called "Continental Sabbath" and that observed by Jesus?
In what way may Sunday be made a day of greater profit and significance to the working man?
What attitude should one take regarding so-called "white" or "society lies"? Under what circumstances, if any, is it right to lie?
Subjects for Further Study.
(1) The Decalogues in Exodus 20-23. Hist. Bible II, 209-24.
(2) Jesus' Version of the Ancient Prophetic Decalogue. See Matt.5:17, 18; 6:19-21; 12:1-12, 31, 32; 15:3-5; 22: 36-39.
(3) Compare the Moral Ideals of the Decalogue with those of the Present-Day Socialists. Cross, The Essentials of Socialism; Walling, Socialism as It Is; Spargo, Elements of Socialism.