Although the First Commandment ("I am the Lord your God") appears simple at first glance, it actually set into motion the most revolutionary idea in human history -- ethical monotheism, the belief that there is one God whose main wish is that people treat each other decently. Dennis Prager explains that without this commandment, the following nine mean little. With it, the Ten Commandments becomes world-changing.
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What is the first of the Ten Commandments?
It might seem like an odd question, but it's not. Jews and Christians give different answers. The reason is that what we know as "The Ten Commandments" is, in the original Hebrew, "The Ten Statements." And since the Hebrew is the original, we begin with the first statement, which all religions agree, is: "I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." This statement is so important that none of the other commandments make sense without it.
First, it asserts that God is giving these commandments. Not Moses and not any other human being. Second, God is the One who delivered you from slavery. Again, no human being did this, not even Moses. Therefore you have an obligation to me, God. And what is that obligation? That you live by the following nine commandments.
This is the beginning of what is known as ethical monotheism, the greatest world-changing innovation of the Hebrew Bible. It means two things. Ethical monotheism means that the one God -- that's monotheism -- is the source of ethics, of morality. Morality, an objective code of right and wrong, does not emanate from human opinion; it emanates from God, and therefore transcends human opinion. The other meaning of ethical monotheism is that what God most wants from us is that we treat other human beings morally. None of the Ten Commandments concern what humans must do "for" God; pre-Ten Commandments religions all believed that people must do a lot "for" their gods -- for example, feed them and even sacrifice people to them.
But now, thanks to the Ten Commandments, mankind learned that what God wants is that we be good to our fellow human beings. Even the commandments concerning not having false gods and not carrying God's name in vain are ultimately about morality. The thing we can do "for" God is to treat all his other children decently. Every parent can relate to this. Parents -- or at least healthy parents -- have indescribable joy when they see their children act lovingly toward one another and indescribable pain when they see their children hurt one another. So, too, God, who is likened to our father in heaven, cares most about how we treat other human beings, all of whom are His children.
The third critical teaching of the First Statement -- "I am the Lord your God who took you of Egypt, out of the House of bondage" -- is the importance, and the meaning, of freedom.
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