Dennis Prager’s new video series on the Ten Commandments offers insight into the profound historical impact and continued relevance of the most important laws ever written. “No document in world history so changed the world for the better as did the Ten Commandments,” Prager says in the introduction to the video series. “Western civilization – the civilization that developed universal human rights, created women's equality, ended slavery, created parliamentary democracy among other unique achievements – would not have developed without them.”
The crucial premise of the Commandments, Prager states, is their source: “an Authority higher than any man, any king, or any government.” Moses did not give the law; the biblical text makes clear that “God spoke all these words.” In this way, the Commandments transcend the whims and inevitable tyranny of man, who will define morality in terms of what benefits him.
Prager uses murder as an example of a moral issue that man without God will redefine as right for his own gain. For those who would argue that man does not need God to determine that murder is wrong, he points to the recent past where Communists and Nazis at the behest of the state killed around one hundred million citizens in the absence of a Higher Authority.
It's all too easy to be swayed by a government or a demagogue or an ideology or to rationalize that the wrong you are doing isn't really wrong. And even if you do figure out what is right and wrong, God is still necessary. People who know the difference between right and wrong do the wrong thing all the time. You know why? Because they can. They can because they think no one is watching. But if you recognize that God is the source of moral law, you believe that He is always watching.
The transcendence of man-made systems of authority is crucial in the First Commandment (in the Jewish enumeration), when God chooses a profound way to describe himself:
"I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
Prager argues that understanding the significance of this statement is essential to understanding all other Commandments. First, God establishes himself as the source of morality, the foundation of “ethical monotheism,” an objective code of right and wrong emanating from God rather than man. In this way, no man-made political system can redefine morality. But another crucial aspect of the First Commandment is God’s emphasis on freedom:
Note that God is not saying in this introduction to the Ten Commandments that He created the world. It surely would have made a lot of sense for God to introduce the Ten Commandments with the statement, "I am the Lord your God who created the world." That is, after all, pretty impressive, and would make sense: "I created the world: You better listen to Me." But no, the one thing God declares is that He took the Children of Israel out of slavery and into freedom. That's how much God hates slavery and how important God considers freedom. The Founders of America based their entire view of America on this belief -- that God wants us to be free. That is why the most iconic symbol of the American Revolution, the Liberty Bell, has only one sentence inscribed on it -- a verse from the Hebrew Bible: "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."
See the complete video series here.