The Ten Commandments are framed mainly in the negative: “Thou shalt not.” But each negative also implies a positive, and each prohibition of vice enjoins a pleasure in virtue. So, here’s my attempt to re-frame the 10 commandments as 10 pleasures to pursue.

1. Enjoy the pleasure of knowing, worshipping and serving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

2. Enjoy the pleasure of worshipping God in ways that He approves, loves, rewards, and responds to.

3. Enjoy the pleasure of speaking and singing about God’s beautiful persons, names, attributes, and acts.

4. Enjoy the pleasure of six days working in God’s calling for you and then enjoy the freedom of one full day off work to worship God and rest.

5. Enjoy the pleasure of loving and following the leaders God has placed in your life for your temporal and eternal good.

6. Enjoy the pleasure of healthy attitudes and activities that will improve the quality and length of your life.

7. Enjoy every physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual pleasure with the wife/husband God has given you.

8. Enjoy the pleasure of growing wealth in order to provide for your family and to bless others with loving generosity.

9. Enjoy the pleasure of praising others and of promoting all that is true, beautiful, and good.

10. Enjoy the pleasure of being thankful and content with all that God has given you.

When understood in this way, Psalm 1 and others like it begin to make huge sense.

“Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97).

  • TestifyTruth

    But why re-frame it in the first place as 10 pleasures, is the original, negated framing by God less than perfect?

    • KeithCrosby

      That was my question. The inspired text has it in the inspired form.

  • Toni Saad

    The Decalogue, as a summary of the natural law, is stated negatively in order to fence human behaviour in a way which maximises human flourishing. And this sort of human flourishing cannot merely be equated with pleasure; there is much more to it than that. The prohibition against murder is not primarily or even secondarily a call to take pleasure in (one’s) life. I’m a bit uneasy with the suggestion that the 10 Commandments can be abstracted into themes which we take pleasure in. There is no need for this because if we properly understand the law in its covenantal and creational context, it is a delight in and of itself.

  • Mark Hanson

    One thing often overlooked about “negative law” is that it is based on the assumption of freedom: If you keep away from these few things, you are free to do everything else. Often when we try to cast them in positive terms we wind up significantly more restrictive. This is often seen in the Puritans, where they rightly spell out the prohibitions of a particular law, but then turn around and make it into a restrictive set of requirements.

    This, of course, is part of fallen nature, as is our tendency to chafe under even the smallest restriction on our freedom.

  • Ali

    I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)
    and that, only by the mercy and grace of God (Heb 10:14-17) is it so; and may He make it more so, day by day.

  • Chris Gatihi

    Thank you for taking the time to share this, David. I have a question along the same lines as TestifyTruth? What compels you to cast the 10 commandments as positives to complement the negative form of each commandment?

    Looking at the Scriptures, the very context of Exodus 20 of thunder, lightning, trumpets, smoking and darkness (Exodus 20:18-21) seems to highlight the very negativity of the commands. Paul confirms the negativity by referring to the covenant that these commandments embody as a ministry of death and condemnation (2 Corinthians 3:7,9). Similarly, in Galatians 3:19-26, Paul speaks of the law covenant as that which cannot give life and that which holds captive, seemingly negative terms.

    I believe John Owen and other theologians have suggested that law is to be understood in multiple senses in Scripture. One sense is the entirety of God’s revelation, which I imagine is what the psalmist is referring to in the verse you quote from Psalm 119. Another sense is the covenant administration as given through Moses.

    Delighting in law in the first sense makes sense to me, but delighting in law in the second sense not so much, considering the nature of the Mosaic covenant (that the commandments embody as a summary) as interpreted in the NT.

    What do you think?


  • David Murray

    This is not a critique of the inspired text of Scripture. It’s a logical implication of it. As I said in the post – the negative implies a positive. That’s pretty standard fare in all the ethical studies of the Ten Commandments that I’ve read and and in all conservative commentaries upon them.

    Chris, I disagree with your thesis that the context of the commandments is only negative. I would argue the opposite. The whole covenant law is introduced by God’s grace: And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine (Exodus 19:3-5). The order is Redemption, Relationship (brought you to myself), Rules (in that order). The same grace frames the summary of the moral law in Exodus 20: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” — Relationship and Redemption are first — and only then come the Rules: “You shall have no other gods before Me” etc. There are rewards and threats that follow to motivate obedience. Hope that helps to explain my understanding of the Scriptures – it certainly makes me read 2 Corinthians 3 and Galatians 3 in relative rather than absolute terms.

    • Chris Gatihi

      Thanks for taking the time to follow up, David. Appreciate it, brother.

      I probably wouldn’t say the commandments are *only* negative from my perspective. Yes, the law in the covenant administration sense of the term is holy and righteous and good (Romans 7:12). But I think the NT interpretation of the law (as covenant administration) leads me to see it as primarily negative in that it shows humanity’s inability to obey God and positive in the sense that it thus drives humanity to Jesus, the only One who can and does obey God on behalf of His saints. To put it another way, the law as a covenant administration, according to the NT, isn’t characterized by grace but it does serve a gracious purpose by revealing sin and driving to the Redeemer! Sounds like we differ in how 2 Cor. 3 and Galatians 3 shape our understanding of Exodus 20, but that’s OK. =)

      The Lord bless you and keep you, brother.

  • bondservant1

    The commandments are promises, even prophecies, that God proclaimed over His people and is working out in us. That’s good news!

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  • Jeremy Burch

    Just now saw this. Looking at the reciprocal of the commandments us helps to see what we are missing when we break them. I’ve been so helped by looking at the reciprocal of the the Beatitudes, the fruit of the Spirit and other Scriptures as well. Wonderful job, David!

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  • HTAE

    We have a list of the ten commandments at