The Seventh Commandment, Pt. 2

This is part 2 of the Seventh Commandment, which reads, “You shall not commit adultery.”  There is much more on each of these commandments in the book Ten Essential Words.


Adultery, along with all other sexual sins, begins in the heart and the mind.  The message of Jesus was not so much the avoidance of adultery as it was protection against lust.  When we are protecting our hearts from lust, the line of adultery is far from us.  So how can we practically go about protecting our hearts and minds?  While recognizing that it is an entire lifestyle Jesus is calling us to live, there is some practical advice Scripture gives us as a starting point.  This advice comes, fittingly enough, from a father to a son, as the son would soon be navigating the world and all its allures on his own.  The father begins:

My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.  Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.  (Proverbs 4:20-22)

 Notice this is not a lecture on what sins to avoid – what lines not to cross, but rather wisdom that is to be kept in the heart, and will bring life and health to the entire body – a way of life.  This way of life is referred to repeatedly as wisdom, or the path of righteousness.  As the father continues, he begins to unfold this path for his son.

Guard your heart

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  (Proverbs 4:23)

First, and foremost, be about protecting your heart!  We spoke of the heart previously, but to reiterate, when we are talking about the heart we are encountering the very center of who a person is.  The heart encompasses the will, the mind, the emotions, the soul, and the spirit, indeed, the very core of the person.  For this reason, Jesus spoke often of the importance of protecting our hearts and minds.  You may be familiar with the phrase, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  So it is with our hearts and minds. What we allow to enter our hearts will eventually surface in our words and our actions.

In our day and age, this may seem like attempting to stand firm against a tidal wave of sound-bites and images that inundates us on a daily basis.  From the internet to television to movies, no place seems free from imagery that damages the heart.  Aside from living in a cave, how do we navigate these messages that bombard us?  I recently ran across an old Buddhist story that I believe can speak to us today:

There were two monks crossing a river when they were accosted by a lady looking for help in crossing the swift flowing stream. The older monk readily carried the woman across the river, put her down, and went about his business. The younger monk, steeped in the tradition and mindful of the Buddhist code of ethics that there shall be no touching between a male and a female, was aghast at the perpetration of the older monk and could not resist confronting the older monk at the next stop on the latter’s impropriety. The older monk’s response? “Yes, I did carry the woman across the river, and have since put her down upon reaching the other side. But it seems you are still carrying her all this while.”

 As we sift through the images of our day, we would do well to realize that we may not have a choice about what enters the mind, but we do have a choice about what stays in the mind.  At times, we encounter images and temptations and simply set them down.  Other times, like the younger monk, we can find ourselves carrying them around for a while.  In most cases there is a moment of conscious choice – an act of volition – when we decide whether to let a thought or an image simply pass through our mind or whether we will keep it there and carry it around with us.  If we are protecting our hearts, we will be conscientious about what we allow to make its home in our heart and mind.

Written On The Human Heart

As the Ten Commandments move forward through history, one interesting assertion found throughout scripture is that just as the original law was written on stone, one day Yahweh will write them on human hearts.  Speaking of this new covenant, the prophet Jeremiah writes,

I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

This is an important image in scripture – the image of God writing the law not on stone, but on the human heart.  I summarize this in the introductory chapter of Ten Essential Words:

Stone tablets can break, ink smears and paper crumbles, hard drives can crash, and public displays can be outlawed.  But something written on the human heart has staying power.  That is because when it is written on your heart, it becomes a part of who you are.  The evidence is not so much in your words but in your actions  – in the way you live.  This is what God is getting at when he uses that phrase: that these commands penetrate all the way to the heart level.

As I mention in a previous post, I am reading a book entitled Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.  The author, John Walton, has many fascinating insights into the meanings behind the language of the Old Testament.  One of his comparative observations involves this image of something being written on the human heart and may shed more light on what the writers had in mind by employing this image.

We most often associate something being written on the heart with memorization.  If I memorize the Ten Commandments, I am writing them on my heart.  Walton points out several difficulties with this interpretation.

First, where this image is used in scripture, it is Yahweh who is doing the writing.  If memorization were the goal, we might expect the language to describe the action of the individual writing them on their own heart.  Next, the Hebrew word we translate as heart, is actually better translated in this context as the entrails or more specifically the liver.  This is a less than inspiring image for us moderns so we stick with the idea of the heart.  When taken together, along with some other grammatical issues, the image being conjured is that of divination, or the reading of entrails of a sacrificial animal.

Now divination is not looked favorably upon in scripture.  So why would the image of reading entrails be utilized here?  Why would this make sense?  Because it would have been a practice that the people were familiar with, being surrounded by cultures who engaged in such activity, as well as being tempted to dabble in such practices themselves.  Hence the need for Yahweh to prohibit it.

In essence, Yahweh is saying you need not engage in divination to understand the revelation of God.  You only need to read the signs that I have already made plain to those who have eyes to see.  In this case, it is not the memorization of Torah that is being emphasized, but the revelation of Torah.  If you want to understand the Ten Commandments, you need look no further than the people of God.  It should be written all over their lives!