1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not have any idol or image.
3. Do not carry my name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. Do not kill.
7. Do not commit adultery.
8. Do not steal.
9. Do not bear false witness.
10. Do not covet.
The “root” of all of these problems is the love of money. We could also call it covetousness, greed, or idolatry as Paul does in Ephesians 5:5. It is appropriate, then, that the last command sums up the previous 9:
Exodus 20:17 (NAS): “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Commandment one: In the ancient world, various gods were attributed to various blessings. As a society who practiced monolatry*, Israel would have been aware of the gods of other nations – especially those of Egypt. When Israel looked upon the prosperity of other nations, they would be tempted to lust after their status which would lead to their acceptance of foreign gods. The love of money is the root of all evil.
Commandment two: While Israel had the tabernacle with all of its beauty, they did not have images and idols like the other nations did. Again, wanting to be like the other nations, Israel’s constant temptation of idolatry really boils down to the root of all evil which is the love of money.
Commandment three: Invoking the name of God in order to swear falsely to gain someone’s trust was also condemned. Truly, covetousness is the root of all evil.
Commandment four: Amos 8:4–6 (NAS): “Hear this, you who trample the needy, to do away with the humble of the land,
“When will the new moon be over,
So that we may sell grain,
And the sabbath, that we may open the wheat market,
To make the bushel smaller and the shekel bigger,
And to cheat with dishonest scales,
6 So as to buy the helpless for money
And the needy for a pair of sandals,
And that we may sell the refuse of the wheat?”
During the Sabbath day, Israel was to abstain from work. Their desire to do away with these sabbaths, as seen above, comes down to the root of all evil. Notice how the love of money leads to the oppression of the needy and helpless. Sound familiar?
Commandment five: Mark 7:9–13 (NAS): “He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition.
10 “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’;
11 but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’
12 you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother;
13 thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” The love of money is the root of all evil!
Commandment six through nine are covered by Moses in verse ten, so hopefully you get the point: the love of money is the root of all evil. Tomorrow, we will explore this truth in the first twelve chapters of Genesis.
Notes: *monolatry is the belief in multiple gods but worshipping only one. The command “have not other gods before me” only makes sense if there were those among Israel who believed in other gods due to Egyptian influence. Interestingly enough, some saints at the church at Corinth also believed in multiple gods:
1 Corinthians 8:7 (NAS): “However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled.
The first commandment orients the following nine; the last commandment sums up the former nine. Covetousness leads to conflict as James observes, and conflict to killing, either with violence or calumny. So as Rene Girard understands the matter, the essence of human culture is an impulse to prevent the violence from destroying a society, and therefore to make a series of propitiatory sacrifices to what must feel like a divine but destroying force coursing through that society. Kill the victim, and social cohesion is (albeit briefly) restored.
The New Testament reveal a true divine force who submits to this violence in order to unmask its arbitrariness and end its rule over us. At the same moment he does this, Jesus offers himself as an eternal Sacrifice (to end all others) of divine love, to bring his followers into communion with God.