Formations 02.21.2016: The Ten Excuses

Exodus 20:1-17

"Giving of the Ten Commandments" painting by Lette Valeska, 1948

“Giving of the Ten Commandments” painting by Lette Valeska, 1948

A few months ago, an employment website called Career Builder polled users to see how many employees had come up with an excuse to avoid going in to work in 2015. It turns out that 38% of polled employees admitted that they had called to skip work even though they were feeling well and had no legitimate reason not to go. In most of these cases, the employees also felt compelled to provide an excuse to stay home. While most employees claimed that they were sick, some came up with even more absurd reasons to avoid responsibilities or mandatory meetings.

Here are the top ten absurd excuses people gave for missing work:

1. Employee claimed his grandmother poisoned him with ham.
2. Employee was stuck under the bed.
3. Employee broke his arm reaching to grab a falling sandwich.
4. Employee said the universe was telling him to take a day off.
5. Employee’s wife found out he was cheating. He had to spend the day retrieving his belongings from the dumpster.
6. Employee poked herself in the eye while combing her hair.
7. Employee said his wife put all his underwear in the washer.
8. Employee said the meal he cooked for a department potluck didn’t turn out well.
9. Employee was going to the beach because the doctor said she needed more vitamin D.
10. Employee said her cat was stuck inside the dashboard of her car.

While most people would never use tricks like these to avoid important responsibilities, we are often prone to making excuses or ignoring our priorities. Sometimes a nap or a day at the beach just seems a lot easier than answering to your boss or dealing with a stressful deadline. People can be just as creative when trying to meet important expectations as when trying to avoid them entirely.

If people can come up with these kinds of excuses for avoiding the (usually) basic task of going to work, we can imagine the kinds of excuses people might make for falling short of God’s Ten Commandments. We might forget these commandments in lieu of all the pressing tasks we have to accomplish every day, or get caught up in the demands of others. As we review the Ten Commandments this week, we can think not only about the kinds of excuses we might be tempted to make, but also why the Commandments still have an important place in our lives.

“Top 10 Absurd Excuses for Missing Work”, 15 October 2015


• Which Commandments are easiest for you to remember? What do you think this says about your priorities?
• Which Commandments are hardest for you to follow? Why?
• What other priorities might take the place of the Commandments in your life?
• Have you ever made an excuse for not following a Commandment? What was it?

Reference Shelf

Ten Commandments Origin

The commandments are said to have been received directly from God by Moses. Their contents are not unique to Israel, although two of the commandments lack any clear parallel in the ancient world (the commandment against image making and the commandment to observe the Sabbath). But there is nothing closely akin to this collection as a collection, presented as absolute demand from the deity, and requiring unswerving obedience by every individual Israelite as well as by the community as a whole.

Nothing in the original short form of the commandments, which can be recovered with fair confidence, requires a date later than the time of Moses. But most scholars hold that the earliest likely date is the time of the organizing of the life of the tribes in Canaan under Joshua or his successors (1200-1100 B.C.E.). Many prefer a date at the time of the kingship over North Israel and Judah (tenth or ninth century B.C.E.).

Ten Commandments Influence

The Ten Commandments have had an enormous influence on Western societies, and indeed on virtually the whole of civilization. Other societies have equivalent summary codes of conduct, but this concise drawing together of commandments that tie together God’s exclusive claim upon the community and its individuals with God’s insistence that certain forms of conduct are ruled out in principle, not to be done under any circumstances, has a distinctive character. The commandments were surely developed for the life of the people of Israel, but there is nothing in them that restricts them to Israel alone.

The commandments also demand that the community define just what these prohibitions mean and aim at. What is justifiable homicide? When has the Sabbath been violated? When have aged parents been mistreated? The whole system of positive law and of the administration of justice has to be developed. But certain absolute demands are laid upon the community and not open to challenge. Not everything is permitted to human beings. Human freedom is defined for ancient Israel and for early Christianity, in part at least, in relation to these prohibitions given by God.

Walter Harrelson, “Ten Commandments,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 883, 885.

Michelle Meredith is a graduate of Mercer University, where she was the editor for literary and arts magazine The Dulcimer. She taught third and fourth grade in Mississippi for two years with Teach for America and became even more obsessed with live music and southern food (don’t even get her started on Delta tamales). She loves comedy, board games, roller derby, and hanging out with her dog. She is happy to be back in Macon, Georgia as the associate editor of Formations.


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