What are the Ten Commandments? Why were they given?

Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, which describe the birth of the Israelite nation thousands of years ago.  Moses’ mission was to deliver this nation to become a light to surrounding nations.  Moses began by leading the Israelites (or Jews) out of slavery in Egypt with a rescue mission known as Passover – where God liberated the Israelites in a way that pointed to a future deliverance for all mankind.  But Moses’ mission was not only to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, but also to guide them to a new way of living. So fifty days after the Passover that rescued the Israelites, Moses led them to Mt. Sinai (or Mt. Horeb) where they received the Law.

So what commands did Moses get?  Though the complete Law was quite long, Moses first received a set of specific moral commands written by God on tablets of stone, known as the Ten Commandments (or Decalogue). These Ten formed the summary of the Law – the moral prerequisites before all the others – and they are now God’s active power to persuade us to repent.

The Ten Commandments

Here are the Ten Commandments as written by God on stone and then recorded by Moses in the Bible’s book of Exodus.

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  Exodus 20:1-18

The Standard of the Ten Commandments

Today we sometimes we forget that these are commands. They are not suggestions. Nor are they recommendations.  But to what extent are we to obey these commands? The following comes just before the giving of the Ten Commandments

Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “… Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. (Exodus19:3,5)

This was given just after the Ten Commandments

Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, “We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey.” (Exodus24:7)

Let’s think about this. Sometimes in my school exams, the teacher gave us multiple questions (for example 20) but then required only some of the questions to be answered. We could, for example, choose any 15 questions out of the 20 to answer. Each student would pick the 15 easiest questions for him/her to answer. In this way the teacher made the exam easier.

Many people treat the Ten Commandments in the same way. They think that God, after giving the Ten Commandments, meant, “Attempt any six of your choice from these Ten”.  We think this way because we instinctively imagine God balancing our ‘good deeds’ against our ‘bad deeds’.  If our Good Merits outweigh or cancel our Bad Imperfections then we hope that this is sufficient to earn God’s favor or get a pass to heaven.  For this same reason many of us try to earn religious merit by religious activities like going to church, mosque or temple, praying, fasting and giving money to the poor.  These acts hopefully balance out the times we disobey one of the Ten Commandments.

However, an honest reading of the Ten Commandments shows that this was not how it was given. People are to obey and keep ALL the commands – all the time.  The sheer difficulty of accomplishing this has made many rebel against the Ten Commandments.  The well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens attacked the Ten Commandments for this reason:

 “… then comes the four famous ‘shalt nots’ which flatly prohibit killing, adultery, theft, and false witness.  Finally there is a ban on covetousness, forbidding the desire for ‘thy neighbours’… chattel.  …  Instead of the condemnation of evil actions, there is an oddly phrased condemnation of impure thoughts….  It demands the impossible….  One may be forcibly restrained from wicked actions…, but to forbid people from contemplating them is too much…. If god really wanted people to be free of such thoughts, he should have taken more care to invent a different species”  Christopher Hitchens.  2007.  God is not great: How religion spoils everything.  P.99-100

Why did God give the Ten Commandments?

But to think either that God accepts a 50% plus effort, or that God made a mistake in demanding the impossible is to misunderstand the purpose of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were given to help us identify our problem.

Let’s illustrate with an example.  Suppose you had a hard fall onto the ground and your arm hurts badly – yet you are not sure of the internal damage.  Is the bone in your arm broken or not?  You are unsure if it will just get better, or if you need a cast on your arm.  So you take an X-ray of your arm and the X-ray image reveals that, yes indeed, the bone in your arm is broken.  Does the X-ray heal your arm?  Is your arm better because of the X-ray?  No, your arm is still broken, but now you know that it is broken, and that you need to put a cast on it to heal.  The X-ray did not solve the problem, but rather it exposed the problem so you would get proper treatment.

The Commands reveal Sin

In the same way the Ten Commandments were given so that a problem deep within us could be revealed – our sin.  Sin literally means ‘missing’ the target that God expects from us in how we treat others, ourselves and God.  The Bible says that

The Lord looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
All have turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one. (Psalm 14:2-3)

We all have this inner corrupting problem of sin.  This is serious enough that God says of our ‘good deeds’ (which we hope will cancel out our sins) that

All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away. (Isaiah 64:6)

Our righteous merit in religious observances or helping others are only ‘filthy rags’ when weighed against our sins.

But instead of recognizing our problem we tend either to compare ourselves with others (measuring ourselves against the wrong standard), strive harder to obtain religious merit, or give up and just live for pleasure.  Therefore God instituted the Ten Commandments so that:

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:20)

If we examine our lives against the standard of the Ten Commandments it is like looking at an X-ray that shows the internal problem.  The Ten Commandments do not ‘fix’ our problem, but reveals the problem clearly so we will accept the remedy that God has provided.  Instead of continuing in self-deception, the Law allows us to see ourselves accurately.

God’s Gift given in repentance

The remedy that God has provided is the gift of forgiveness of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  This Gift of life is simply given to us if we trust or have faith in His work.

know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)

As Abraham was justified before God we too can be given righteousness.  But it does require that we repent.  Repentance is often misunderstood, but repent simply means to ‘change our minds’ involving a turning away from sin and a turning towards God and the Gift He offers.  As the Bible explains:

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, (Acts 3:19)

The promise for you and me is that if we repent, turning to God, that our sins will not be counted against us and we will receive Life.

The Ten Commandments in the Calendar

Along with that first Passover and Abraham’s test which stamp God’s signature on this Plan so we can be assured it is really His, the specific day when the Ten Commandments were given to Moses also point to the coming of the Spirit of God.  The Jewish Feast of Weeks, or Shavuot, is timed to the giving of Ten Commandments,  which also coincides with the exact day of Acts 2 Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came.

Giving of Ten Commandments shown in relation to Feast of Weeks and coming of Holy Spirit on Pentecost
Giving of Ten Commandments shown in relation to Feast of Weeks and coming of Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Feast of Weeks, Ten Commandments and Coming of Spirit are all on the same calendar day.

That the day when the Spirit came to indwell repentant people comes on the same day commemorating the giving of the Ten Commandments is God’s answer to Christopher Hitchens’ complaint.  God is taking ‘care to invent a different species’ – one indwelt by His Spirit, so that we will have the ability to live differently.  The precision in their timing is, once again, His Signature written on the canvas of time so we can be assured that both the Law and the Spirit are really from God.

The Noah Controversy: Could that Flood have happened?

Russel Crowe starring in Noah
Russel Crowe starring in Noah

Today movie theaters worldwide open with one of the most anticipated blockbusters of 2014 – “Noah”.  Not only is there a lot of hype surrounding the movie but a lot of controversy as well.  Critics are questioning how faithfully the plotline follows the biblical account – with Russell Crowe (who stars as Noah) trying – and failing – to get the Pope’s personal stamp of approval for the film.  In the Islamic world several countries are banning the movie since it visually depicts a prophet – which is forbidden in most Islamic interpretations.  But all these hullabaloos are merely minor hiccups compared to a much deeper and longer-running controversy – did such a worldwide flood really happen?  That’s a question worth considering.

I have shown how multiple cultures around the world have a memory of a great flood leaving only a handful of survivors from which they descended.  There is anthropological and historical evidence for a ‘Noah’.  But are there any physical evidences of ‘his’ flood around in the world today?

The Power of Moving Flood Water seen in Tsunamis

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The Tsunami hits the coast of Japan in 2011

Let’s start by surmising what such a flood would have done to the earth.  For sure, a flood of that scope would involve unimaginable quantities of water moving at great speeds and depths over continental distances.  Large quantities of water moving at high speeds have a lot of kinetic energy (KE = ½ * mass * velocity2).   This is why floods are so destructive.  When we saw the pictures of the 2011 Tsunami that devastated Japan, we saw how kinetic water energy can cause extensive damage, easily picking up and moving large objects like cars, homes and boats – and crippling nuclear reactors in its path.

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That tsunami showed how the energy of a few ‘big’ waves could move and destroy almost everything in their path

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Floods and Sedimentary Rock

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A flooding river in Ecuador. The water is brown because the fast moving water is carrying a lot of dirt – sediment.

Thus, when water increases its speed it will start to pick up and transport sediment – particles of dirt, sand, rocks and boulders.

This is why swollen and flooding rivers are brown – they are loaded with sediment (soil and rock) that has been picked up from the surface over which the water is traveling.

Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments
Aerial view in New England showing brown flood water entering ocean. It is brown from the sediments
sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a 'dry' flow
sediment will sort into layers based on particle size even in a ‘dry’ flow

When water starts to slow down and loses its kinetic energy it then drops this sediment which is deposited in laminar layers resulting in a particular kind of rock.

Japan tsunami 2011. Sediment laid down during tsunami flooding.2011-tsunami-sediment
Sediments from the 2011 Japan Tsunami showing pancake-like layers – this is the signature for sedimentary rock – rock that was laid down by moving water. Taken from British Geological Survey website

This kind of rock is known as sedimentary rock and is easily recognized by its trademark pancake-like layers that are stacked upon one another.  The figure below shows sedimentary layers about 20 cm thick (from the measuring tape) that were deposited from the devastating 2011 tsunami in Japan.

Sedimentary rock from Tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD
Sedimentary rock from a tsunami that hit Japan in 859 AD. It also produced sedimentary rock about 20-30 cm thick. Taken from British Geological Survey website

 

 

 

 

 

Tsunamis and river floods leave their signatures behind in these sedimentary rocks long after the flood has receded and things have turned back to normal.

Sedimentary Strata around the World

So, do we find sedimentary rocks that are, in a similar way, signature markers for the Noahic deluge that the Bible claims happened?  When you ask that question and you start to look around you will see that our planet is literally covered in sedimentary rock.  You will notice this type of pancake-layer rock on highway cut-a-ways.  What is different about this sedimentary rock, when you compare it with the sedimentary strata that were produced by the devastating tsunami of Japan in 2011 is the sheer size – both laterally across the earth and in vertical thickness of sedimentary layers.  Below are some photos that I have taken of sedimentary rocks as I have traveled.

Mountains of Sedimentary rock in hinterlands of Morocco
Sedimentary formations in the hinterlands of Morocco that extend for many kilometers and are hundreds of meters thick vertically
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Sedimentary rock in Joggins, Nova Scotia. The layers are tilted about 30 degrees and are stacked vertically more than a kilometer deep.

 

The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick
The escarpment in Hamilton Ontario shows vertical sedimentary rock many meters thick. This is part of the Niagara escarpment which extends for hundreds of miles.

 

This escarpment extends for hundreds of miles. This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America
This sedimentary formation covers a good part of North America

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedimentary formations on a drive through US MidWest
Sedimentary formations on a drive through the US Midwest
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Note the cars (barely visible) for scale to compare with these sedimentary rocks.

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The sedimentary formations go on and on…

Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations
Bryce Canyon Sedimentary Formations in US Midwest

 

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Towering Sedimentary formations on drive through US Midwest

 

Continental extent of the sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and hundreds of miles wide
Continental extent of the Sedimentary strata in US Midwest. Miles thick and extending laterally for hundreds of miles. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

So if one tsunami which caused such devastation in Japan left sedimentary layers measured in centimeters and that extend inland a few kilometers, what mechanism explains the gigantic and continental-in-scope sedimentary formations found almost over the entire globe (including on the ocean bottom) that are measured vertically in hundreds of meters and are measured laterally in thousands of kilometers?  Could these sedimentary rocks be the signature of Noah’s flood?

Rapid Deposition of Sedimentary Formations

No one argues that the planet is not covered in sedimentary rock of unbelievably massive scope.  The question is whether these sedimentary rocks were laid down by one event (i.e. Noah’s flood), or whether these massive formations were built up over time through a series of smaller events (of the scope of the tsunami in Japan of 2011) that were separated by significant intervals of time. The figure below illustrates this other concept.

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed
Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed apart from Noah’s flood

As you can see, in this model of sedimentary formation (technically known as neo-catastrophism) a series of high impact sedimentary events are separated by large intervals of time.  These events add sedimentary layers onto the previous layers and so, over time, the huge formations that we see around the world today are built up sequentially.

Soil Formation and Sedimentary Strata

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Sedimentary rock in Prince Edward Island. We can see that a soil layer has formed on top of it so we know that some period of time has elapsed since these strata were laid down by flood water

Do we have any real-world data that can help us evaluate between these two models?  Actually, it is not that hard to spot.  On top of many of these sedimentary formations we see that soil layers have formed.  Thus a physical and observable indicator of time passage after a sedimentary event is soil formed on top of it.  Soil is characterized by horizons (called A horizon – often dark with organic material, the B horizon – with more minerals, etc.).

Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock that has been exposed for a time
Thin layer of soil (and trees) has formed over sedimentary rock in US Midwest showing that these sedimentary rocks were laid down some time ago.
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Soil layer clearly visible on top of sedimentary rock in US Midwest. These rocks were thus laid down sometime ago.

Sedimentary strata laid down to form a new ocean bottom will also soon be marked with life signs.  Wormholes, clam tunnels and other signs of life (known as bioturbation) provide tell-tale signs of life and of the passage of time since the strata were deposited on the sea floor.

bioturbation
Life on the bottom of shallow seas will, over a rather short interval of time, reveal its telltale markers. This is called bioturbation

 

Conceptual illustration of how large sedimentary formations could have formed
Testing the model of catastrophe sequences by looking for evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at the ‘Time passes’ planes

Armed with this insight we can see if we find evidence of soil formation or bioturbation at these ‘Time passes’ borders in the strata formation.  After all, this model is saying that at some point these ‘Time passes’ boundaries were exposed surfaces for significant periods of time either on land or under water.  In that case we should expect some of these surfaces to have developed soil or bioturbation indicators.  When these time boundary surfaces were buried by subsequent sedimentary events the soil or bioturbation would have likewise been buried.  Take a look again at the photos above and below.  Do we see any evidence of either soil formation or bioturbation?

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No evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in this sedimentary formation in US Midwest.

There is no evidence of soil layers or bioturbation in the above photo or the one below.  Look again at the Hamilton escarpment photo and you will see no evidence of any bioturbation or soil formation.  From that data the bottom of these formations were laid down almost equivalent in time from the top.  Yet these formations all extend vertically about 50-100 meters.

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Folding of Sedimentary Rocks

 

Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount St Helens had already become brittle by 1983
Sedimentary strata formed in 1980 from Mount Saint Helens had already become brittle by 1983. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

Sedimentary strata, when they are laid down in moving water are initially permeated with water and thus they bend very easily.  They are pliable.  But it only takes a few years for these sedimentary strata to dry out and harden and when that happens they become brittle as was learned from the events of Mount St Helens eruption in 1980 followed by a 1983 lake breach.

When brittle rock is bent it snaps. This principle is shown

rock-tension-cracks
Sedimentary rock gets brittle very quickly. When brittle it snaps when bent.

 

in the figure on the side.  We can see this sort of rock failure in the Niagara escarpment.  After these sediments were laid down they became brittle and when an upthrust then pushed up some of these sedimentary layers they snapped under the shear stress, forming the Niagara escarpment which runs for hundreds of miles.  From this evidence

Niagara escarpment
Niagara escarpment is Sedimentary Rock that broke under shear stress and was thrust up in a fault.
Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles
Niagara escarpment is an upthrust extending hundreds of miles

We know that the upthrust that produced the Niagara escarpment happened after these sedimentary strata became brittle so there was some time lapse between the deposition of these sedimentary strata and the upthrust which produced the escarpment.  There was at least enough time between these events for the strata to harden and become brittle – which does not take eons of time, but does take a couple of years at least.

The photo below shows large sedimentary formations that I photographed in Morocco.  You can see how the strata formation bends as a unit.  There is no evidence of the strata snapping either in tension (pulled apart) or in shear (sidewise stress).  This whole formation must have still been pliable when it was bent.  But if it takes only a couple of years for sedimentary rock to become brittle. This means that there can be no significant passage of time between the lower layers and the upper layers in this formation.  If there had been ‘time passage’ in these layers then the earlier layers would have become brittle and would have snapped rather than bent when the formation was contorted.

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Sedimentary formations in Morocco. The whole formation bends as a unit showing that it had still been supple (rather than dry and brittle) when it was bent. This indicates that there is no time passage from the bottom to the top of this formation.
Schematic of upthrust at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet - one mile
Schematic of monocline (bending upthrust) at Grand Canyon showing it was raised vertically about 5000 feet – one mile. Adapted from “The Young Earth” by Dr. John Morris

We can see the same type of bending in the Grand Canyon.  At some point in the past there was a bending upthrust (technically known as a monocline), similar to the Niagara escarpment, that raised one side of the strata one mile vertically up (this you see from the elevation difference of 7000 ft compared to 2000 ft on the opposing sides of the upthrust).  But here the strata did not snap (like the Niagara escarpment did).  Instead it bent at both the bottom and the top of the formation, indicating that it was still pliable throughout rather than brittle through the formation.

Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of Grand Canyon sedimentary formations
Bending that occurred at Tapeats, in the low layer of the Grand Canyon sedimentary formations. Taken from ‘Grand Canyon: Monument to Catastrophe’ by Dr. Steve Austin

This indicates that the time interval from the bottom to the top of these strata has an upper limit of a couple of years (the time it takes for sedimentary strata to become hard and brittle).

Noah’s Flood vs. Flood on Mars

The idea of Noah’s flood having actually happened is, of course, quite controversial and in this one article I cannot cover all the issues that it raises which I hope to do later.

Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?
Sedimentation and flooding on Mars?

Mars sediment 2 But at the very least, it is instructive to consider an irony in our modern day.  Because of the channeling and evidence of sedimentation that are visible on Mars, it is actively postulated that Mars was once inundated by a huge flood.  The big problem with this theory is that no water has ever been discovered on the Red Planet.  But for the Earth, though it is 2/3 covered by water – deep enough to cover our whole globe to a depth of one mile if the oceanic trenches were raised and the land mountains smoothed down so the world had less topographic variation – and though it is covered with continental sized sedimentary formations that by physical and observable evidence seem to have been deposited rapidly in a devastating cataclysm, it is almost considered heresy to postulate that any such flood has ever occurred on this planet.  Is that not a double standard?  Though we may look at this Russell Crowe Noah movie as only a reenactment of a myth written as a Hollywood script, perhaps we should look and consider whether the rocks themselves are crying out about this deluge story written on scripts of stone.

Christmas is Coming! But not in the way you are thinking…

Think beyond the annual cycle of Christmas preparations and associated hoopla.  This event was foreshadowed in history, even at the dawn of human history – but in ways you will miss if you dial in only on the frequency emitted by society.

You can see this fore-telling by looking in the (seemingly) most unlikely of places – the dialogue between Jesus and the devil in his wilderness temptation.  See how this starts us on a trail leading to the dawn of history, taking your Christmas to a whole new level.