One of the qualifications of being member of the Society of Southern Gentlemen is that one must have a code of honor. What does that mean? To me it means having a set of guiding principles that one holds himself accountable to. A wonderful definition of honor is provided by the Oxford English Dictionary: “The quality of knowing and doing what is morally right”. Knowing what is right is easy, it’s the doing part that is difficulty. Having a code of honor requires practice, and we all fall short on occasion.
Do you have a code of honor? I’ve had to ask myself that same question, and my answer was “well, yes, but its not well defined.” We can understand what we need to do to be honorable, but it’s not a code if its not codified, is it?
As a Christian, I know that I am not bound by the Old Law, of sacrifices, ritual purity, celebration of certain holy days, and so fort that the Hebrews were bound to. We know from the Gospel of Mark there are two” commandments that sum up the entirety of the Old Law: “thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”. These two commands should be what we strive toward.
I’d like to step back from the concise summary that Jesus provided us and evaluate the Ten Commandments as an honor code. Doing so is not an attempt to bind the Old Law, but to provide context that the Jews of Jesus time understood when he scribes asked him what command was the greatest. Often, I’m afraid, we throw out the teaching of the Old Law without seeing their application to us today. Below, you will find how I apply the Ten Commandments as my honor code. I will using eBible.com for the text of my verses using the American Standard Version.
- Thou shalt have no other gods before me. YHWH is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, and there is no one or no thing more worthy of our attention. “gods” take on many forms. In the ancient world, a god may have been an ancestor, a dead (or living) king, an inanimate object, or a representation of a concept or force of nature. We have such gods today: the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, Mammon (money – on old favorite), the President, self, Gaia (nature, a favorite of environmentalists), College Football, the celebrity of the moment. Just because we don’t have a shrine full of idols in the corner of our house somewhere doesn’t mean we don’t have something we’ve put before YHWH.
- Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness [of any thing] that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. The context here is in the phrase that follows: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them“. This is a prohibition against idols, the graven images (פֶּסֶל – pecel, 6458 in Strong’s Concordance) one makes to focus his worship toward. We know from Exodus that even as these commands were being given to Moses on top of the mountain, the Hebrews had made an idol to focus their adoration toward1. This isn’t a general prohibition against statues, or art per se, but we must be careful not to direct our worship toward an object, not even a cross.
- Thou shalt not take the name of Jehovah thy God in vain; for Jehovah will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. This I fear, is one of this generation’s greatest transgressions. Even our children are guilty of breaking this commandment. I can find no references to the phrase “Oh my God” in the scriptures, although there are several uses of “Oh, my Lord”, and they are always when one is speaking directly to YHWH. The flippant use of “OMG” decries our lack of reverence.
- Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. The remainder of the command2 provides the context around the day of rest. Jesus expounded on the extremes that the Jews of His time had taken this command to when he reminded them, and us, that “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27, ASV). We also need to recognize when the sabbath was. It was from when the first stars of night were seen on what we consider Friday night to dusk on Saturday evening. While Christians are commanded to gather for worship on the first day of the week, this is not the Sabbath. We also must remember the lesson of 2 Corinthians 33, that the Old Law is no longer binding because we have a more prefect law. However, when we take our leisure on Saturdays, we should always remember the rest was instituted by YHWH in the beginning of time.
- Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee. This is another difficult concept for modern society, but I see its value as twofold. First, hopefully, we had parents who respected their parents and learned from them valuable lessons to impart on us. If they did, we can learn from them and know how to stay safe, be civil with others and so forth. This provides continuity for a civil society. Second, if we are to expect the same from our children, we must have provided them a suitable example. We also have to remember context. YHWH was giving the land of Canaan to the Israelites. If they wanted to stay there, they had to maintain a culture of honor, or they would lose the land. They disobeyed Him and were taken away in exile during the Babylonian captivity, and ultimately removed from the land in AD 70. I think this is an excellent lesson for America today. When we reject the traditions of our forebears, which were based on Biblical precepts, we run risk of losing the favor of YHWH, whose Providence sustains us.
- Thou shalt not kill. The Hebrew word here is ratsach (רָצַח) defined by Strong (7523) as “to dash in pieces, i.e. kill (a human being), especially to murder”. We know from the conquest of Canaan that this is not a prohibition against all killing, because YHWH commanded the Israelites to wipe out entire tribes of Canaanites because of their sins. We also know from reading the laws in the Torah that death was the penalty for some crimes. By application, for a soldier to kill an enemy in combat is not what is being referenced here, nor is the execution of one convicted of a heinous crime. There are actions that we take very lightly in modern society that fit this definition, and we must oppose them.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery. We struggle greatly with this one in modern society, especially given Jesus’ expanded definition: “Ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, that every one that looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28, ASV). We are inundated with the temptation to violate this command everywhere we turn.
- Thou shalt not steal. This command is fairly straightforward: do not take that which was not given to you freely or earned. It’s application is what hangs us up. Does the thing stolen have to be tangible? We understand theft of property, but what about things intangible. Can we steal a reputation? Yes, if it is obtained under false pretenses. Can we steal someone’s innocence? Yes, if we induce them to sin. Deceit is a form of theft. We cannot pretend to be something other than what we are for the purpose of enhancing status.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Continuing the thought of the previous command, we cannot lie against our neighbor to his detriment. Taken with the Christ’s second great commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, would we bear false witness (lie) against ourselves? No? Then we can’t lie about our neighbors. That means no gossip as well.
- Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses. Don’t be jealous because you think they’re better off than you are. For one, you don’t really know what’s going on in your neighbor’s house. We must only focus on bettering ourselves. Disobeying this command can lead to a domino effect that causes a violation of several of the others.
So can the Ten Commandments serve as an honor code to follow? I would contend that all other honor codes developed in western civilization are ultimately based on them, so my answer is yes.
- “And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received it at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, and made it a molten calf: and they said, These are thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt. And when Aaron saw [this], he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said, To-morrow shall be a feast to Jehovah. And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32:1-6, ASV)
- “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: [in it] thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Jehovah blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:9-11, ASV)
Are we beginning again to commend ourselves? or need we, as do some, epistles of commendation to you or from you? Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables [that are] hearts of flesh.
And such confidence have we through Christ to God-ward: not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to account anything as from ourselves; but our sufficiency is from God; who also made us sufficient as ministers of a new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
But if the ministration of death, written, [and] engraven on stones, came with glory, so that the children of Israel could not look stedfastly upon the face of Moses for the glory of his face; which [glory] was passing away: how shall not rather the ministration of the spirit be with glory? For if the ministration of condemnation hath glory, much rather doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For verily that which hath been made glorious hath not been made glorious in this respect, by reason of the glory that surpasseth. For if that which passeth away [was] with glory, much more that which remaineth [is] in glory.
Having therefore such a hope, we use great boldness of speech, and [are] not as Moses, [who] put a veil upon his face, that the children of Israel should not look stedfastly on the end of that which was passing away: but their minds were hardened: for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being revealed [to them] that it is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart. But whensoever it shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, [there] is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3, ASV)