In the eighteenth century, the word endearment came to mean “an expression of love.” When we come to the Decalogue, we find primarily an expression of love. When we focus on God’s words as an expression of love rather than a series of obligations, our image of God goes from a wrathful deity waiting to strike hapless individuals to a Father showing His children how to live a full and abundant life, free of fear.
But in the seventeenth century, endearment had a different connotation. It meant “an obligation of gratitude.” The gift of love is received, and in response the recipient does something. That is endearment. The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber said that the Ten Commandments do not tell me what I must not do; they tell me what I will not do as a believer. Your obedience to the commandments is not the means to your salvation; it is a response to God’s grace and His love for you.
The reason I prefer the word endearment to the word commandment is because commands are often viewed as a form of oppression or military might. As a result, we tend to think of God demanding and booming a list of rules at Moses. This creates a wrong image of God. If we look at a parallel passage in Deuteronomy 6, God’s intention and words are made clear.
“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear [reverence] the Lord
our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day.”
If that is the case, what is the intent of these ten words of endearment? In Deuteronomy 6:24, Moses said God’s statutes are for our good. God has given us these words not because He is sitting up on the mountain saying, “I’m God, and just to remind you, I am giving you these commandments and you’d better not disobey Me—or else.”
In John 3:17, Jesus said He had not come to judge the world, but to save the world. Later He said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
When I look at the Decalogue, I understand what God is primarily saying to the people of Israel (and as an extension, to us): “I am giving you these words because they are the way of life. My intentions are good. If you will do these things, not only will your personal life be blessed, but society itself will be blessed.”
―from the first chapter of Words of Endearment: the Ten Commandments as a Revelation of God’s Love by William B. Coker, Sr.