Don't Do, Don't Desire

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.