The Eight Commandments for Good People

The ten commandments as given to the Israelites in the book of exodus are the floor of human behavior. Even wicked people know them and obey them within their own tribe. If too many tribe members don’t obey them the tribe is punished in the same way Israel was punished. The tribe gets conquered.

Jesus came to give a higher law. It is a law for good people. It is for people who have a very long time frame and a very large tribe. Jesus taught that the proper time frame is eternity and the proper tribe is everyone.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

As far as I know, this quote below is the only none biblical usage of the phrase “poor in spirit” that comes to us from antiquity.

for the interests of rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit and that there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants-learned by experience; for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had strength which undid their power.

Plato The Symposium through his character Pausanias thank you

Christian preachers tend to interpret poor in spirit to mean that people who don’t have enough of the Holy Spirit. It’s an honest mistake but one that we should not make any longer. Jesus is clearly talking about ordinary people here. The people whose lives are ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ as Hobbes described them. Jesus was talking to people who were conquered by a foreign power and whose own client king and religious leaders oppressed them too. They were poor in spirit. Jesus was saying that it was a blessing in disguise.

The advantage to being one of the poor in spirit is that it drives you to go deeper and find the true meaning of life. Plato/Pausanias puts ‘poor in spirit’ in the same sentence as ‘no strong bond of friendship’. The two are linked. When people are poor in spirit, that is, when they are poor and exploited, they are driven to find their meaning from the one avenue that is open to them. They form strong bonds of friendship. If you have good friends you will be less materially poor because you will help each other. You will also be less emotionally poor because you will have good friends.

The whole point of being powerful is so you can do harm. Being able to harm is how powerful people get their status. Evil dictators not only want their people to be poor but they want them to be poor in spirit too. To keep their people from forming strong bonds of friendship they set up networks of informers so that people can’t trust each other.

In the kingdom of heaven everyone will treat everyone like a friend. If you want to get a foretaste of heaven have some very good close friends.

Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.

This is why people like Jesus. He promises to comfort those who mourn. If you want to be a follower of Jesus then you will also comfort those who mourn. Following Jesus has it’s draw backs but this is not one of them. Comforting others is one of the best ways to take your mind off your own problems.

Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.

You may have heard by now that the word translated meek is the Greek praus. It is used of a warhorse that obeys orders. That meaning is more dignified than the English meek. The 1910 Louis Segond French translation used débonnaires to translate praus. It means what it looks like it means, someone of-good-air. It means someone who behaves well. The English debonair means the kind of guy who is so well mannered he kisses ladies hands. The French does not quite have that meaning.

It almost goes without saying that being self-controlled is a good thing. The problem with this verse is that it is also saying that those who are not self-controlled need to die. That is normally how people ‘inherit’. That’s something to think about.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.

Does this mean those who hunger and thirst to be righteous or those who wish that they lived in a world where everyone was righteous. It depends on who is preaching and on what life events shaped his personality. Both meanings are good. The Stoics say to only concern ourselves with things that are under our own control. That is good advice. A righteous heaven may come and I hope it does. Until then focus on being righteous. Being righteous is under your control.

Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.

There’s that dang rule of reciprocity again but with an eternal twist. No one has the right to expect other people to behave better than they themselves behave. There are people who are genuinely too clueless to understand this, but not many, and most of them are children.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.

A pure heart is a high bar. I don’t have one, so I’ve nothing to say. If you have any ideas put up a comment.

 Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.

This was said by the same guy who said:

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 

Jesus in Matthew 10:34

Jesus knew knew that trying to make peace brings out the swords of all the people who don’t want peace. That is why the Beatitude about persecution comes immediately after. The people who don’t like peace are the predators. They feel they have a right to there prey. Try to make peace between a predator and their prey and the predator will hate you. Their prey may hate you too. Prey feel the right to kill their predators. Make peace and you take away their right to get revenge. Peace makers make a lot of enemies.

This applies to ideologies, both religious and secular. Make peace between the various sects in an ideology and you take away the ability of the predators to hive off a little branch for themselves. Peace makers lower the status of all of the people who want to be the alpha of a little pack. The status seekers will attack the peace seekers.

All ideologies that I know of suffer from status seekers. There are people who want to raise their status by being a truer believer that other people in the same pack and there are people who exploit that desire to break off their own pack.

The Christian community suffers from this. It happens even though Jesus himself taught against status seeking. Jesus taught that people should be righteous but never for show.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Just because you don’t show off your righteousness doesn’t mean people will not know that you are righteous. Jesus says in verse 14 of this chapter “14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” Good people are always coming between predators and their prey. Sometimes they are the ones who are pointing out that predators are lying about their true intentions. Sometimes they are ameliorating the pain that predators are inflicting on their prey. Inflicting pain is the whole point of being a predator. Only people of high status can inflict pain. That is why people do it – to show their status. Sadly, sometimes people of low status inflict pain on good people because they know they can get away with it. In all cases bad people will persecute good people. Jesus says that to be persecuted for righteousness sake is to be blessed.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The last two Beatitudes are like the last two ‘thou shalt nots’ of the ten commandments. They belong together. Jesus is not above appealing to our own deep desire for status. He says here that if you are persecuted for righteousness’ sake your status is that of a prophet.

There is a lesson here for the Christian community. We need to make peace with out own human nature. One way or another our nature was given to us by God. We want sex and we want status and we want our lives to be comfortable. Rather than teaching that sex is evil and pride is evil and money is evil we need to recognize these desires as God givens. We need to teach people how to focus these desires in ways that are good for everyone. Sex is not evil if it is used to build family bonds. That was the intention and why it is so strong. God wants us to bond with another person. Money is not wrong if it is acquired honestly and by producing wealth. Pride is not evil if it is used to motivate us to be better people. Jesus uses it motivate his followers to seek the status of a prophet and later he uses it to motivate his own community to not hate their enemies. In verse 47 he says: 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Christians need to make peace with their nature.

In the spirit of using comparisons to motivate better behavior, allow me to say this. Even evil people need to gather together in groups for protection. Within their groups even evil people know to obey a gang version of the ten commandments. They do it because they don’t want to be killed and because they know they need a gang. Good people should be able to do better than evil people and also form groups for protection and mutual prosperity. That is why Jesus taught what he did.


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