“You shall have no other gods before me…” Exodus 20:3
“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 is your neighbor’s.” Exodus 20:17
God’s plan for growing a people dedicated to Him and blessed by Him has been consistent from the beginning. He created us for relationship with Him, but also for relationship with one another. This is even evident in His bedrock principles, the Ten Commandments. But it may be less evident to those of us whose first language is English than for most others.
English is a bit odd in many ways, with all it’s “rules” for grammar and then the thousands of exceptions to each of those rules. It makes it a difficult language to learn. One of those oddities is that our word, “you” is both singular and plural (The New York version of “Yous” and the Southern version of “Y’all” notwithstanding). So, when we read the Ten Commandments in our English bibles and we see “You shall…”, and we read the context of God speaking from a mountain to some 600,000 Hebrew men (and lots more women and children), it is easy for us to read it as a plural “you”. If there were a Texas version of the Bible, we might be inclined to translate it, “Y’all will have no other gods before me.” But that would be an incorrect translation.
You see, we English speakers are accustomed to living with this ambiguity between the plural you and the singular you…we’re accustomed to just kind of figuring it out in context, leaving much accuracy to be desired. But most other languages (including the original Hebrew language of the Old Testament) treat them very differently, and the original text of the Ten Commandments states very clearly the singular “you”. That, my friends, is a game-changer.
Imagine being one of the Hebrew people gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the voice of God begins to speak from the mountain and that voice uses the singular “you” when giving these commandments. God may as well have called “you” by name! Is it any wonder that the people became horrified and asked Moses to just speak with God on their behalf and outside their presence from then on? It is a scary thing when the sovereign God of creation speaks a personal word to you. And that is what the Ten Commandments were…an intensely personal word to each of its hearers. And so it is to us as well. God’s directives and instructions and expressions of His will for us are intensely personal.
However, these intensely personal instructions were given in an unmistakably communal environment…hundreds of thousands of people gathered together to hear them all at once. Moreover, only 4 of these 10 commandments had to do with my personal relationship to God…the other 6 of the 10 (that is 60% for those who are counting) have to do with my relationship with other people. You see, if these commandments are truly instructions about how to love God (“If you love me you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15), then 60% of loving God involves loving each other well. That makes the concept of community critical to genuine Christian growth.
So, our growth as followers of Jesus is, on the one hand, intensely personal, and at the same time, critically communal. It is complicated that way…and that simple.