The Ten Commandments
The eternal gospel principles known as the Ten Commandments were revealed by God to the prophet Moses on Mount Sinai as he was leading the ancient Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt.
When Moses proclaimed God’s revelation to his followers at the base of Mount Sinai, the prophet was met with an impatient and forgetful people. He had been communicating with God for 40 days, and before he came back down the mountain, the Israelites had already returned to their sinfulness and idolatry. Moses found them worshipping a golden calf representing their new chosen god, a graven image whom they now credited with their deliverance from the plagues and Pharaoh. This was the same people who had recently witnessed Moses miraculously parting the Red Sea as they began their exodus. They were quick to retreat from their covenants with God, and so the outraged prophet broke the original tablets on which “the finger of God” had carved the law (see Exodus 31:18).
How do we today compare to these escapees from slavery, having ourselves been the beneficiaries of the Ten Commandments for most of recorded history? We have scriptures documenting the words of God and His prophets, divine instruction that offers liberation from a bondage of our own making: sin. We have a living prophet who communes with God and who passionately praises the benefits of following the Ten Commandments even now. While it’s easy to recognize the foolishness of another people from a different era whose sins are far from the kind we might ourselves consider indulging in, we would do well to remember that we all have false gods—all things that draw our loyalty away from God. Following God’s commandments is the way we express our loyalty to Him.
The divine commandments revealed by Moses at Mount Sinai represent basic standards of behavior that can be divided into two groups: (1) how we treat God and (2) how we treat each other. God commanded us to worship no other gods, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and to abstain from blasphemy and idolatry. Then we are exhorted to honor our parents and not to steal, kill, lie, covet, or commit adultery. Part of the enduring usefulness of these fixed laws is that they apply across changing times and circumstances. There isn’t one occasion that would make these guiding principles obsolete. Among other things, this allows the Ten Commandments to represent a great unifying force among world religions even today because they are basic moral tenets nearly everyone can agree on.
References to the Ten Commandments appear in the Bible in Exodus and Deuteronomy of the Old Testament, Matthew and Romans of the New Testament, Mosiah of the Book of Mormon, and in passages throughout the Doctrine and Covenants. Obedience to these timeless standards of right and wrong prepares the faithful to adhere to other crucial gospel principles found in the scriptures. Regarding our relationship with God, the new, higher law for the commandment “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) includes doing “all things with an eye single to the glory of God” (D&C 82:19) and loving and serving God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength (see Deuteronomy 6:5; D&C 59:5). The commandment “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4) reminds us that God condemns the worship of idols of all kinds. While we’re no longer likely to bow down before a golden calf, we are still prone to replacing God with such idols as material possessions and prestige (see 2 Nephi 9:30). The Lord also commands, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). Beyond this basic law, we should actively revere God’s name and show appreciation for everything He does for us. We have many opportunities to worship and follow God, including respecting the Lord’s day of worship: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). This is not only a day of rest, but it is also a day of active worship. This weekly ritual among the faithful reminds us of who we are and gives us time to practice our faith as we worship together.
The same holds true for commandments regarding our relationships with each other. We are told, “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20:12). Here, we are counseled to honor our ancestral fathers and mothers as well as the parents who bore and raised us. Above all, we honor our Heavenly Parents, and we do so by keeping the commandments. God commands, “Thou shalt not kill” (verse 13) and “Thou shalt not commit adultery” (verse 14). These are eternal principles that govern how we should treat others. We’re also exhorted not to sin even with our thoughts or to commit any form of sexual sin (see D&C 42:22, 24; D&C 59:6). The commandment “Thou shalt not steal” is still as simple as that (see Exodus 20:15). We are taught, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” or commit any other dishonest act (see Exodus 20:16). And finally, “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17). Coveting is something of a “gateway sin” that invariably leads to, among other things, dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Because of God’s continued conversation with humankind, we have learned more about what He expects of His people, but the initial Ten Commandments remain constant and a good place to start when it comes to striving to be obedient to the Lord. Of course, it is not enough to be able to recite the Ten Commandments; rather, we are required to integrate them into our lives—to change our behavior and our hearts because of them. While it’s easy to find fault with Moses’s followers for their rejection of sacred covenants even in the face of miracles and divinely revealed commandments, the important thing is to look to our own lives and determine how well we ourselves have employed the divine instruction we’ve been given. Living these Ten Commandments will help us to find true peace and joy in this life as we learn to truly love others and draw closer to God.