Don’t Do, Don’t Desire

Don’t Do, Don’t Desire January 7, 2019

The Ten Words include twelve negative commands. Most of the verbs that are negated are unique:

1) Thou shalt not have (lo’ yihyeh-leka; literally, “there shalt not be to thee”) other gods.

2) Thou shalt not prostrate (lo’-tishtachweh) to them (i.e., images).

3) Thou shalt not serve them (lo’ ta’avdem; again, images).

4) Thou shalt not bear (lo’ tissa’) the name of Yahweh lightly.

5) Thou shalt not kill (lo’ tirtzach).

6) Thou shalt not commit adultery (lo’ tin’aph).

7) Thou shalt not steal (lo’ tignav).

8) Thou shalt not bear (lo’-ta’aneh) false witness.

Two of the negative verbs, though, are used twice:

9) Thous shalt not make (lo’ ta’aseh-leka) for yourself an image.

10) On the seventh day, thou shalt not do (lo’-ta’aseh) any work.

11) Thou shalt not covet (lo’ tachmod) the house of your neighbor.

12) Thou shalt not covet (lo’-tachmod) the wife of your neighbor.

This is interesting. Many of the prohibited actions are, we might say, obviously immoral (killing, adultery, stealing, lying). Others are clearly evil in the sight of the God of Israel (having other gods, prostrating to and serving images, bearing His name thoughtlessly).

The two verbs that are negative twice, though, are either typically positive or at least neutral. ‘asah – doing or making – is something Yahweh Himself does (cf. the Fourth Word, Exodus 20:11). chamad simply means “desire” (cf. Genesis 2:9; Psalm 19:10), and can describe right desires as well as sinful ones.

At least we can say this: What is most divine about man – our ability to make and do – is under the dominion of God. God intrudes even  on this Godlike power, telling us what we cannot make and when we cannot make it. And what is most intimate to us – the impulses and movements of our souls – are also under His authority. He tells us what we ought not desire, and what we ought.

For men and women, there is no region of autonomy, no God-free zone of absolute freedom. Inside and out, in doing and not-doing, we are His.

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  • Lark62

    That list of “don’t”s is very limited. Think of all the things left out. Rape, torture, owning slaves, beating children, mistreating animals, none of those things are mentioned or forbidden.

    Now compare that list of negatives to these 7 positive statements. Which is an objectively better guide to moral behavior?

    – One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
    – The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
    – One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
    – The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
    – Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
    – People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
    – Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

  • Dave Again

    Lark62 Citation not required. 😉