Picture this: you’ve been kept prisoner in a country far away; your children have been taken away from you; you’ve been enslaved and bullied and oppressed. But now you’re free! You’re on your way to your own country. And what do you get? Ten commandments! … Okay … So you’re free at last, and then someone comes up with: thou shalt not this and thou shalt not that. You were so not in the mood for that!
But seriously, just exactly how did you imagine your freedom? Freedom as such is nothing, it’s an empty shell. Freedom without a plan, without a purpose is like a dog let loose in a butcher shop. Maybe the only advantage of being enslaved could be this: that you don’t have to think about these matters yourself. The prison guard tells you what you can’t and can do. The dictator tells you what to think and to believe.
But when you’re free you have to figure that out for yourself. And it is not only your right but also your duty to organize your life. It’s your obligation, your own responsibility to determine your own values and goals in a way that it somehow all makes sense. Because otherwise there will be little meaning or fulfillment in the end. You will end up like that dog in the butcher shop, nauseated and pretty wasted. Freedom without structure or decent plan ends up in chaos.
The people that just got liberated and is now on the way home, however, is not in the mood at all for such planning and organizing. They just want to resume their life the way it was before they went to the land of Egypt.
But wait a sec, was that life really so great to begin with? Oh yes, some truly wonderful things happened, but there were also things one can hardly be proud of: one brother killing the other; the hubris of building that tower of Babel; Sodom en Gomorrah; Jacob with his whole schemes of betrayal; and then Jacob’s sons who sell off their youngest brother and then tell their father his beloved son is dead.
It’s a long, long list of lies and betrayal and envy and theft and shame… and that’s the life they want to go back to? I can’t with all my wits comprehend that God would have freed them from slavery for that!
When Moses receives the ten commandments on the mountain, it’s not just something that happens out of the blue. It’s the conclusion of a long and serious debate between Moses and God. Because they both worry about that people down in the valley. Both God and Moses know that this regained freedom needs to be structured, this people’s future needs to be planned and their society-to-be needs to be organized.
You don’t like being slandered or lied to? So then agree that no one will slander, lie or give false evidence. You don’t want other people stealing you’re partner away from you, or your child or animal or property? Then don’t steal yourself, respect other peoples family, respect their loved ones and their belongings.
Don’t work all the time. Take a break; take time to breathe and to rest, to enjoy and to celebrate, and grant your employees, your cattle and your land the time to rest and to recuperate. Let there be respect and trust and dignity between parents and children, only that will keep them together as a loving family for a lifetime.
That’s what these ten golden rules are meant for, not to confine us but to help us build a life that is truly worth living and to build up a world we might well call a land of milk and honey.