Memorizing the Ten Commandments
Someone once asked me to name the fourth commandment. I stared blankly and realized, much to my chagrin, that I didn't know which one that was -- not that I didn't know the Ten Commandments, but I didn't know which of them was number four.
I determined at that moment to memorize the Ten Commandments. I thought it would be also be good for my children to memorize them as well.
Now my dad was always a stickler for memorization. He worked at the local newspaper, so whenever they'd run a story on improving memory he'd go out and buy the book or the kit. Then for weeks we'd listen to him as he recited the birthdays of various kids from the neighborhood, or some other obscure list of items.
We were duly impressed.
To this day, if he can't remember someone's name, he'll start with the letter "a" and proceed through the alphabet until he stumbles across the letter that reminds him of the name -- and it actually works. At least it does for my dad. If I can't remember someone's name I just say, "Hey, bro.," and hope they don't press me on the whole name thing.
But the most important thing that he did with these tools was to memorize the Bible.
I must admit that I learned a thing or two from dear old Dad, and when I was in school I put some of his devices to use. As I crammed for tests I would try to invent ways to remember the required answers. Dad's best trick was word association, which is connecting two things by a word that is common to both items. When I decided it was time to memorize the Ten Commandments, I used this trusty old method. It worked for me and my kids. Soon we were all reciting them without any hesitation. I was so pleased that we picked it up so easily.
Then one day I thought, "Hey, maybe there are other people out there in cyber-land who haven't taken the time to memorize the Ten Commandments. I could share our little secret with them."
Now, one thing that I must point out is that word association can sometimes sound silly -- but that's part of the fun, and it helps us to remember. If the memory aids that I list don't work for you, just change them to something that you can remember. The idea is to come up with a plan that will help you to recall the Ten Commandments in order.
O.K., here they are, for your memorization pleasure, from Exodus 20: 3-17 (NLT):
Number One: Do not worship any other gods besides me.
This one is pretty simple. God Almighty is number one -- and there are no gods before Him!
Number Two: Do not make idols of any kind
If God is number one, how can a graven image, or a copy, be number one? Inevitably it will be a "number two," because only God can be number one! So commandment number two is no idols.
Number Three: Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
The Bible tells us that God has revealed Himself as three in one; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We call this the Trinity. So it is easy to remember that God is "three" in one, and we know His "name" as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- Yahweh God. Therefore, commandment number three says don't take His "name" in vain.
Number Four: Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Jesus told his disciples, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." The Sabbath is a day set aside to worship God. It is a day of rest. In other words, worship and rest are what the Sabbath is there "for" -- so commandment number four is to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.
Number Five: Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God will give you.
This commandment is the only one with a corresponding promise -- that your days will be long on the earth. So, if you honor your father and mother you will live a long life. We remember it by saying, number five "keeps you alive!"
Number Six: Do not murder.
We've all heard the term "six feet under" referring to burying the dead. That's how to memorize commandment number six, do not murder, or don't put anyone "six feet under."
Number Seven: Do not commit adultery.
Lust is one of the "seven deadly sins" in the Roman Catholic catechism. So I remember commandment number seven -- adultery, which is a result of giving in to lust -- as one of the deadly sins that I should avoid.
Now that's a little hard to explain to the children, so I told them that commandment number seven is about being loyal, and avoiding "the seven deadly sins." I wasn't sure that they'd get it, but they took my word for it, and they still remember that commandment number seven is "be loyal" (some good advice for the adults, too).
Number Eight: Do not steal.
For this one I reminded my kids of the story of Aladdin, the thief of Baghdad. In the beginning of the story he steals a piece of bread and begins "eating" it. Suddenly, the police are upon him and he gets in trouble for what he "ate." So, the kids remember commandment number eight as, do not steal.
Number Nine: Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
Now this one is a bit of a stretch, I will admit, and it reveals a little bit of my rock-and-roll roots. Most people remember the big hoopla about back-masking on various recordings from 1960s, '70s, and '80s. One particularly memorable allegation was about a Beatles song called "Revolution Number Nine" (some of you know where I'm going with this). The rumor was that if you played this rather odd song backwards there was some sort of hidden message. The truth of the matter was that there wasn't really anything there other than Ringo Starr droning the words "number nine, number nine, number nine" in reverse. So the allegation about number nine was a "false witness" -- get it? Well, anyway, my kids got it and they remembered that commandment number nine is, don't bear false witness.
Number Ten: Do not covet your neighbor's house
We often say, "on a scale from one to ten, with one being the least attractive and ten being the most, how would you rate" whatever it may be. So something that is rated at ten is very nice. In our human nature we tend to covet what is very nice. So commandment number ten is, don't covet.
The Greatest Commandment
So there you have them. I hope this fun little tool will help you memorize the Ten Commandments and make them a central part of your life. If my suggestion doesn't work, make up a system that will work for you. Either way, take time to memorize these special verses of Scripture.
Jesus taught that these commandments can be summed up as, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27). Remember, that's what the Ten Commandments are all about.