Last week we spent some time in the book of Exodus. We talked about the Israelites’ flight from Egypt and their wandering in the wilderness for a while. We talked about how God always hears the cry of the oppressed. And we talked about why God always answers that cry.
God is looking for a people. He told the children of Israel that if they kept his commandments he would make them a treasured possession among all peoples, that they would be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. We looked at a parallel passage in 1 Peter that said almost the exact same thing “you are a royal priesthood, a holy nation…that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
As God’s people, the Israelites had been called out of something, Egypt. They had been rescued from their oppressors and were being led to a land that would be their own. As followers of Christ, we have been called out of darkness, our sin, and into the marvelous light of Jesus’ resurrection. We’ve been called to live in the truth.
Now God didn’t call the Israelites out of Egypt because they were so cool and he didn’t call us out of our sin because we were especially neat people. Why, then?
Peter tells us plainly. We were called out of darkness into marvelous light so we might proclaim the excellencies of him who called us. That we might make HIM famous.
God did not extend to us grace because we were worthy of it, but because he is gracious. God did not look on us with mercy because we deserved it, but because he is merciful.
God told the Israelites that if they kept his commandments, he would make them a treasured possession. Since the fall of mankind, God had not walked on the earth and conversed with people. Yet he still had a longing for a relationship with them. He desired a way to explain to the world who he was. For that to happen he needed a group of people who would demonstrate that. The same call we have as Christians was the call he gave the Israelites. He told them “you shall be to me a kingdom of priests…” What do priests do? They mediate between God and man.
God was setting apart a kingdom of priests that they might mediate between God and the rest of the world. God chose the Israelites so they might be an example to the world of who God is and what he does.
This leads us into the scripture for today.
As we look at Exodus 20, the foundation of the law, I thought it would serve us to read what one King thought about the law. David writes in the 19th Psalm that the law of the Lord is perfect, that it revives the soul, makes wise the simple, causes rejoicing in the heart, and enlightens the eyes.
Today when we think about the law we think that it’s bad. We think that anything of the law was simply before grace. We feel sorry for the people of Israel because they had to follow this horrible, life-quenching law. But that’s not the way they felt about it.
David rejoiced in the law, calling perfect, saying that it was sweeter than honey. The law was life-giving, not life-quenching. Why would he say these things?
Remember the scriptures we just read from Exodus 19 and 1 Peter. God was looking for a people who would show the world who he was. God is righteous. God is holy. God is just. His people ought to personify these things.
Indeed, God often got angry at his people because they were not being righteous and just.
He goes on a tirade in Amos 5 because his people are praising him in their festivals but not in their lives.
Certainly God is merciful and gracious, but God is holy, righteous, and just. He wants his people to look like that too.
He has called us out of Egypt. He has called us out of darkness. He brought us into freedom so that we might proclaim how great and wonderful he is.
May we be cursed if we neglect that calling!
On the mountain, God met with Moses. He was calling his people to represent him to the rest of the world. They needed to know how to accomplish this. God told Moses what to write down.
God’s desire was for the nations to know who he was. Over and over in scripture we see the idea that God wants the world to know him, to understand who he is and what he is about. This is the first commandment. There is a need here for people to understand that there is one and only one God. Though there may be many gods that we serve, there is only one God. He is Elohim, the Creator and Judge. He is El Shaddai, the Almighty, all-sufficient one. He is YHWH, the I Am, the God who is.
The idea that there would be any god worthy of prominence before the only God is ludicrous. This wasn’t an exercise in vanity for God. He is not so caught up in being liked that he had to create a special commandment so that no one would go off chasing after other gods. Instead he is loving and kind. This is the first commandment because it sets the tone for the rest of the law. “I am the Lord your God” he starts verse 2 of chapter 20. Because of that, he warned them not to place any other god before him. He is God. To place anyone or anything higher than the one who is most high is to be divided in your mind.
God is a relational God. For us to be in good relationship with him, we must acknowledge that he is the one who created us, the one who sustains us. God wants his people to model for the rest of the world that there is only one God. In a world where people worship any- and everything, what could be more important, what could be more necessary? “You shall have no other gods before me.” YHWH is the only one who is.
2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image…you shall not bow down to them or serve them.
Why does this one even matter? It builds on the one previously mentioned. If there is only one God and we should not place any other gods before him, it stands to reason that creating an image and then bowing down to it is not in following with the first commandment. But there is something deeper, I believe, in this commandment.
Again, God is not being heavy-handed with this commandment because he wants to feel good about himself. I believe God is comfortable with his own supremacy. This is a practical principle for us to follow. To carve out an image and then prostrate ourselves in front of it in worship seems a bit foolish. It would be, for instance, like building a table and then thanking the table for allowing you to build it. Instead, we should focus on worshipping the only one worthy of worship. It seems like God is protecting us from our own idiocy sometimes.
But we do this every day. We probably don’t go around thanking our tables, but we worship things in other ways don’t we? We spend countless hours and dollars on things. We spend our lives accumulating stuff to make us more comfortable. While we may not prostrate ourselves, we devote our lives to the search for more and more. Is this not worship? Should we not forsake all of that and only seek after the one God who is? God’s people exist to display to the nations what he is like. He is real, not man-made.
Billy and Cindy Foote have a song called You Are God Alone (not a god). This is the idea we must display. God is real. He can be known. This is what we must tell others.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
This is a commandment I believe just about everyone has trouble with. We tend to think this commandment simply means “don’t use God’s name as a curse word.” I think it’s a lot deeper than this. While it’s true that Jesus said once we counted him as Lord, he considered us friends and while it’s also true that Paul says if we are in Christ we are co-heirs with him, there still is this idea that God is supreme and should be honored as such.
We have a hard time with royalty in America because legally there is no ruling class (practically that may be different, but that’s for a different time). Because of this, we have lack a sense of awe when it comes to authority. In a land where anyone can theoretically pull oneself up by one’s own bootstraps, there is little to be gained by being the man in charge. Someone else can just rise up and knock you down. In a culture with a King, however, one honored the king above all. To say anything negative or even flippant about the king was tantamount to treason.
We lack a sense of awe when it comes to the majesty of God. If we’re to be the ones who display the amazing glory of God to the nations, wouldn’t it behoove us to have a healthy respect of God? Should we not act like God really is as powerful and mighty as he it? You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Don’t be flippant with God. He is God.
The Jews were so afraid of misusing the name of God, they refused to say it. They used other words. Even today, if you go to a Jewish website, you won’t see the name God spelled out. Instead, you see the word G_d. They want so much to not get this wrong that they go to the extreme. Perhaps we should adopt some of that awe ourselves.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
I preached this text a year or so ago and I remember talking about the Ten Commandments as practical principles for peace. The premise of the sermon was that God is relational and all the commandments are actually very relational statements intended to help us be right with God and others.
This seems to be as practical a commandment as there is. The Sabbath is holy. There is something sacred about rest. The Psalmist even wrote “be still and know that I am God.” Be still. In a world that seems to get faster and faster every day, what better words could there be for us than to be still? But there’s more to this commandment. Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. God rested on the seventh day. Jesus withdrew by himself to rest. Perhaps there is a day set aside to remain holy so that we might forget everything else going on and focus on God. Remember to Sabbath. Rest in God.
5. Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land.
A couple of weeks ago Luke did a lesson on authority. One of the things he spoke specifically about what this commandment. Honor your father and mother. I find it interesting that this commandment in particular carries with it a promise. God said “honor your father and mother that your days may be long in the land.” Aside from the fact that God promises outright that you will live longer if you honor your parents, there is the fact that you will simply live longer if you honor your parents. They won’t kill you. If you do what your parents say, life is just so much easier. While parents will look at their children and mouth “I told you so” it’s necessary to note that God doesn’t stipulate a time period. He never says “honor your parents until you’re 21.”
Perhaps we have forgotten this somewhat. In the Hebrew culture, elders were revered. Families took care of each other. Children took care of their parents when they were unable to care for themselves. Even in the New Testament period, the church had a way to take care of those who were unable to take care of themselves. The church set up a system to provide for widows. What do we do today? At the first sign of senility we throw our parents into nursing homes. Now before you get too offended, I understand that there are times when assistance is necessary.
I also understand that in our world-wide culture where children might live half a continent or further from their parents, it’s sometimes practical to have assisted living. I’m not saying that I have the answers, but that maybe we need to at least address the question. The Bible says simply to honor our parents. It never says we should stop.
6. You shall not murder.
We’re reaching the point in the commandments where most people roll their eyes and say to themselves “I knew it was just a bunch of rules and regulations about what not to do.” I would ask back “are you really contemplating murder?”
If the first four commandments are about our relationship with God and the final six are about our relationship with other people, it seems reasonable to assume that we shouldn’t kill each other. That would definitely harm our relationship with others. If, however, we also include the idea that we’re to model who God is and what he’s about, it would be helpful to display grace instead of anger. Don’t kill people. We’re supposed to be leading people to God, giving them an opportunity to encounter him on their own. If we take that away, where is their hope of ever meeting Jesus? With all of the warring people that exist on the planet, wouldn’t it be nice if God’s people were a people of peace, not strife?
7. You shall not commit adultery.
God is a faithful God. He always does what he says he is going to do. His people should also be faithful. How can we model the faithfulness of God if we display infidelity? The marriage relationship is the one that most closely mirrors the relationship we are to have with God.
God himself used this relationship to model his own love for his people in the book of Hosea. In this story a righteous man named Hosea marries a prostitute. Over and over she leaves him to return to her former lifestyle. Time and again Hosea pursues her and brings her back home. While he was broken-hearted and angry, he continued to love her and bring her back. This is the faithfulness God wants to show the world.
Fidelity is so simple, yet so difficult, because it requires real commitment; it has nothing to do with emotion or feeling. It makes us examine what we believe love is. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, the most romantic day of the year.
Amanda and I were talking about this last night. I believe our culture has a skewed idea of love because we’ve been told that it’s all about romance and emotion and chocolate hearts. I don’t even blame Hollywood completely. I think we set ourselves up for failure in the way we approach relationships. We date one person for a few weeks or months and then we decide we don’t like them so we break up. By doing this we condition ourselves to believe that relationships are optional. If we don’t like the one we’re in we can just lose it at the first sign of hardship.
Love is a commitment. Fidelity is not an option in relationships; it is the very core of the relationship. Faithfulness is necessary. This commandment has very little to do with sex and everything to do with modeling faithfulness. God is looking for a faithful people, a people who will not desert him when things get hard, but will rejoice even in sorrow and pain.
8. You shall not steal.
Don’t take what isn’t yours. Didn’t God promise to provide everything you need? Do you believe that or don’t you? Trust that God will do what he said he would do. The Israelites had just been through the situation where they had to trust God to provide food every day. If they tried to keep any overnight, it would spoil and be inedible. Not only is this a practical commandment about having healthy relationships with those around you, it is a test to see if you believe that God is faithful. If we’re to model God’s goodness to the rest of the world, we should live lives that are above reproach.
9. You shall not bear false witness.
Have you ever told a lie? Perhaps the better question here is: Have you ever been caught in a lie? It’s a pretty stressful situation. You have to keep lying to make it seem like you weren’t lying in the first place. It rarely works out well for the liar. This is a little deeper than simply lying, however. We like to simplify things, so we say, “don’t lie.” It also makes it easier as parents and people in authority to make others feel guilty.
The commandment says not to bear false witness. This has something to do with defaming another’s character or name. It has to do with fidelity again. If you can defame someone that you can see, what’s to keep you from taking the name of the Lord in vain, who you can’t see?
You shall not bear false witness. You must be faithful. As God’s people, we must be above attacking others. It certainly means don’t lie, but we should be cautious about being false people in general. Be real. Be authentic. Be honest. Don’t set yourself up to be better than anyone else. Just be yourself.
10. You shall not covet.
Along with not stealing, this commandment has a lot to do with trusting in the faithfulness of God. God will provide all your needs. He is more than able to take care of every situation. Allow him to do so. Be satisfied with what God has given you. Everything you have is a tool for making his name known anyway, so be satisfied with that.
God is looking for a people who will make his name famous. Why? Peter tells us that God’s desire is for everyone to know him. Is everyone going to know him? Sadly, no. But many, many more can enter into a saving relationship with the Father if we would only model who he is to the nations.
God has called us out of Egypt, out of the darkness, into freedom and into light that we might make his name known. If we’re looking for how we’re supposed to live, this is a good start.
The Ten Commandments get a lot of play. Either people are adamant about their placement in public arenas or they are vehemently opposed to them in any fashion. People either plaster them on t-shirts and coffee mugs or they harp about the harshness of them.
Rarely are we exposed to a thoughtful, healthy dialog about the Ten Commandments, they always seem to evoke strong emotions. When read in context, however, it seems that there’s a simple explanation for what God was trying to accomplish.
The law of the Lord is perfect. It shows us how we’re supposed to behave in front of a watching world. Moses pled with God not to destroy the Israelites because it would show the world a vengeful, hateful God, not the God who hears the cry of the oppressed.
God does call us out of darkness and into marvelous light. Here is the model for how we’re to behave, with fidelity and steadfastness, with righteousness and justice, with grace and mercy.