Many people wonder why there are Ten Commandments, no more and no less. God was not limited to only giving ten.
Moses did not drop a tablet of stone and thus lose five, as portrayed in the comedic film by Mel Brooks History of the World. There are ten because God gave Moses ten. The number ten is referred to in Hebrew scriptures as the ten words, Debarim or Devarim (from dabar in Hebrew meaning “word”). The ten words are what we now call the Ten Commandments.
Ancient Jewish mysticism taught that God created the world not just in six days, as is told in Genesis, but in six words as well. No one knows these words—just that the very act of God speaking them created the world and all that is in it. This concept is also seen in the Christian idea of the creative power of the Word of God, the spoken and written word, and most of all, the Word made flesh (Jesus).
Why did God give these ten words or Commandments to Moses? Didn’t people already know it was immoral to murder, to steal, to lie, and to commit adultery? What was the purpose? Every human being has a rational intellect, and therefore it is presumed that he or she is capable, regardless of their IQ or education, of knowing the fundamental basics of the Natural Moral Law, which is the system of ethical rules every sane person knows intuitively.
When Cain murdered his brother Abel in Genesis 4:1–17, he knew it was wrong before and after he committed the crime. He needed no Commandment to tell him so, otherwise, he would have been excused of all guilt and culpability since the Commandment “Thou shalt not kill” was not handed down to Moses until many centuries later.
If basic morality and ethics, like “do good and avoid evil,” are knowable to anyone with the use of reason, why reveal Ten Commandments?
The first three deal with our relationship with God; the last seven deal with our relationship with our neighbor. Anyone and everyone can know what is morally good and what is morally evil and sinful, but because of original sin, not everyone has the same intellectual abilities. Some people will know before others. Some need more time or assistance understanding.
The Commandments even the playing field. Since we all have different intellectual abilities, God provided help to ensure that everyone could and would know what is morally good and what is morally evil and sinful. The Commandments are like prescription directions on a pill bottle. They tell you what to do or not to do to stay alive and healthy.