The act of testing one’s moral aptitude is the most prominent motif associated with the Ten Commandments. In the story of the commandments, the Bible tells that Moses receives the tablets from God upon a mountain with the purpose of Moses sharing these laws with his people. Although people have and always will sin throughout their lives, the commandments are put in place as a way for God to test* people’s ability to resist temptations and follow him to glory as one nation.
While the Old Testament shows a strong sense of severe punishment, the New Testament displays the values of forgiveness and the opportunity to overcome one’s mistakes. Nathaniel Hawthorne properly utilizes this motif of testing in his novel, The Scarlet Letter, in order to create conflict and evoke sympathy for Hester Prynne. Hester is consistently seen as both providing and overcoming temptation. At the beginning of the novel, Hawthorne shows the punishment of Hester for cheating on her husband, Chillingsworth, and therefore breaking the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery.” Hawthorne portrays Hester on the scaffold as a sinner and by consequence she is treated as one.
*See also the story of Abraham:
A test of discipline can be seen in the story of Abraham where he is told by God to sacrifice his own son at the top of a mountain. It is important to note the reoccurring theme of the mountain but also that God eventually halts Abraham before killing his son and informs him that his command was merely a test.