July 17, 2006

Forgotten Commandments

I’ve been doing a fair amount of Biblical reading of late as part of a new plan I have constructed for myself. I just finished the first five books, which reminded me of a fact which has bothered me for years. Despite what I would consider to be a growing secular element within our culture, America generally views the Ten Commandments as words to live by in one form or another. Sure, lots of people might cheat on their spouses or disrespect their elders, but by and large those things are still collectively frowned upon by most. There are, however, two commandments, numbers three and four, that seem to have been all but entirely forgotten, even by many or if not most religious communities.

  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

Does this bother anyone else?

Posted by Andy at July 17, 2006 12:19 AM to the Faith category

It has always bothered me terribly to hear the cursing of God's name by people who just seem to think nothing about it. Even those of religious persuasion can swear one minute and pray the next. And remembering the sabbath has been on its way out for many years. I think that striking down the blue laws saome years back finished it off. How can we call ourselves Christians or Jews and ignore these and other commandments?

Posted by: Mom at July 17, 2006 08:50 PM

I personally have no problem with either. The sentiment of keeping the Sabbath day holy is meant for people of Christian based religions and America is made up of many faiths. That is the beauty of this country. All religions should either be acknowledged or ignored equally. From my understanding employers are required to give you off for your religious holiday but I doubt that is truly in practice.
As for using the lord's name in vain, I again have no issue with that. It is just a word. How I treat people is what matters not my use of speech that only some people think is profane. Also I believe that they are using the word "god" in vain which is a title. I almost never hear someone yell out Jehovah in a slanderous manner, which I believe according to the old-testament is the Christian gods name. I happen to know a person my age named Jehovah which again reinforces the "it’s only a name" theory. At least for me.

Posted by: TricMarcoon at July 17, 2006 11:46 PM

You're certainly correct that our nation harbors individuals of many faiths. I mainly am directing my comments to Christians and Jews, as I would not necessarily expect members of other faiths to adhere to these principles. Keep in mind that our nation still polls as something like 80% Christian.

Posted by: Andy at July 18, 2006 12:20 AM

I think the difference between these two commandments and say one like "Thou Shalt not Kill" is that we cannot see any harm done when we violate them. This is not to say there IS no harm done, but just that we do not immediately experience consequences. If you commit adultery, however pleasurable it may be at the moment, it generally results in misery for a number of people.

And things like murder and theft are pretty obvious as bad things to do; we don't really need the Bible telling us not to do them. I think even most stalwart atheists would agree that stealing and killing people is a bad thing. And again, they cause harm, we see the harm, the wrongdoers are punished.

If you work or even play on the Sabbath, no one bangs your door in and arrests you, no one feels hurt, no one dies, no one is heartbroken. If you say "God" when you don't mean it, you don't get struck by lightning.

Surely, many might be punished for violating these commandments in whatever they consider to be the afterlife or otherwise they weigh the soul down, but we human beings have a habit of falling back onto what affects us in the here-and-now, not in the hereafter. I think that's a big part of it.

There's also a matter of understanding why these things are important. Honestly, I'm not sure what "Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy" means. The general old-school interpretation is that it means "don't work on Sunday" (or Friday night through Saturday if you're a Jew or Muslim -- and that's a problem right there, that no one can agree on when the Sabbath actually is). But is that what it means? Does it just mean "go to church." Does it just literally mean what it says--acknowledge the end of the week as symbolic of the finishing of the creation of the world, and be thankful for it. If we pause for thought a moment in the day to be thankful, is that enough? What happens when we don't do it? There is a lot of modern secularism that makes observing the Sabbath in any long term way difficult too... if boss says, "You must work Sundays or be fired..." do you accept termination or work on Sunday? For many who don't work Sunday many see it as a time to spend time with friends and family they don't have the time to during the week... and is that wrong? Are we sinning if we cook a meal that day to feed our friends and family? (By strictest definition, we are.)

And I could never understand why "Lord's name in vain" was wrong except perhaps--perhaps the poster above unintentionally suggests--it renders God's name seemingly meaningless after awhile. But then technically, the other poster has a point that few of us actually do refer to God by name. And lots of Christians include saying "Jesus" is a bad thing to say outside of prayer, but since the commandments were written before Jesus--does that count?

Don't take this as "defending" these practices, but you asked why, and these are some of my thoughts. Being a rampant Sabbath forgetter and name-in-vain taker, though, I can't really cast stones at anyone else for doing it.

Posted by: DQ at July 18, 2006 02:01 PM

Good commentary.

I think it is extremely important to gain an understanding of the spirit of these rules as well as the context of the era in which they were written. For instance, we need to be mindful that remembering the Sabbath in that time meant something far more severe than it would now, as is the case with most if not all of the commandments. We certainly shouldn't be executing people for lighting fires on the Sabbath, for instance.

I think we can gain a great deal of context by recalling the message Jesus gave through the course of his life to the effect that the Sabbath is made for man, not God. We as people need to take a day even just to unwind, and we need to remember to focus on God in a time set aside as well. A lot of people still go to church, but then spend the day doing housework, yardwork, and otherwise working, which defeats the purpose to a large extent. Does that mean you can't lift a finger to cook? I think that's taking it to an extreme not necessary today. Is it hard to follow this commandment in our culture? Very. It's still not impossible. Look at the example Chick-Fil-A, a highly successful company, sets by closing its doors on Sundays. Is the day of the week necessarily relevant? Again, I don't see how the spirit of this law is broken if the Sabbath falls on Sunday, Saturday, or Thursday for that matter. The key is in the observance itself, not the specifics. For some that might even mean setting aside a little bit of regular time each day if work demands it. Too many have an all-work mentality, however, and that is not within the spirit of the law at all.

Taking the name of the Lord in vain also had something of a different connotation in Old Testament times, but that does not render the commandment invalid today. While I am not a Biblical expert, my understanding is that the original point was to keep people from involving God in "old school" curses and binding promises, particularly trivial or false ones. For instance, one might invoke the name of the Lord when swearing never to do X or Y.

Does that mean the commandment has no merit today? I don't think this is the case at all. Again, the spirit here is key, in this case "implicating" the Lord in trivialities or falsehoods. People generally don't go around leveling curses or making high handed covenants and promises as was the case 3000 years ago, but people still involve God in trivial ways.

Why does the specific name matter? Granted those who are not Jewish or Christian might not follow these rules, but many people of both faiths still take the name of the Lord in vain constantly and don't think twice about it. Keep in mind, God truly has no name. We just use names on account of our need for an identification through language. I don't buy that most Americans are referring to a non-Christian god in this context, because we use the name God within the context of faith. Jesus too, as well as a few others at times. The spirit is unchanged here.

I'm happy to entertain further commentary of course. DQ, you did not give the impression that you were defending anything. The topic warrants a view from many sides. Explaining a case in debate to me does not imply that you support it unless that support is made plain.

Posted by: Andy at July 20, 2006 12:44 AM

Re: your comments about needing to take a day of rest. One thing that makes things difficult in contemporary life versus the time the commandments were issued/written down was that to some extent, the yardwork, etc. WAS the person's work they did all week (and of course more--but people's trades and work tended to be closer to home). The problem is in our culture, we go work at least 40 hours a week and during the days we work we come home exhausted with not enough time/daylight/energy to do stuff like yard work and house cleaning. Those activities become weekend activities instead. I know I always think I'll clean my apartment on weeknights only to shrug it off because I'm too tired (or have errands I need to run or get home late etc etc). I think people are trying to honor their home and family doing work at home on Sundays--for some people, the only day they may be able to do it.

On the other hand of course, we--I think we Americans particularly--in this age are also just rather bad at time management.

But as you say, let's look at the spirit of this (because after all, the letter killeth...)... maybe, in spirit, the "honor the sabbath" commandment is telling us two things: 1. After working hard, take time out for yourself. As long as it's not excessive, taking time out is as important as working. Take care of the life that God gave you. 2. Be appreciative of the world around you and remember to thank God for it. And this doesn't mean just pausing to think about it for 10 seconds and then move on... but really taking the time to give the world its due. I think we agree that it matters less "when" the Sabbath is than understand the purpose.

Posted by: DQ at July 20, 2006 10:35 PM
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