Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Exodus 20:1-21

1Then God instructed the people as follows:

2"I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from slavery in Egypt.

3"Do not worship any other gods besides me.

4"Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish. 5You must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other god! I do not leave unpunished the sins of those who hate me, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations. 6But I lavish my love on those who love me and obey my commands, even for a thousand generations.

7"Do not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.

8"Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9Six days a week are set apart for your daily duties and regular work, 10but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any kind of work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; then he rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

12"Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God will give you.

13"Do not murder.

14"Do not commit adultery.

15"Do not steal.

16"Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

17"Do not covet your neighbor's house. Do not covet your neighbor's wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else your neighbor owns."

18When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the horn, and when they saw the lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.

19And they said to Moses, "You tell us what God says, and we will listen. But don't let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die!"

20"Don't be afraid," Moses said, "for God has come in this way to show you his awesome power. From now on, let your fear of him keep you from sinning!"

21As the people stood in the distance, Moses entered into the deep darkness where God was.

Points of Interest:

· Then God instructed the people as follows’—what follows are the famous Ten Commandments. These commandments are not meant to be a set of random rules. Rather they are part of a covenant, or an agreement, between God and his people. God and the Israelites are essentially signing a contract with one another here. In yesterday’s passage, God mentions his part of the deal; he is going to make Israel his special treasure (he’ll go into more detail later). The Ten Commandments are Israel’s part.

The hero’s journey gives us another perspective on the Ten Commandments. Perhaps these commandments are the elixir; these laws are what the Israelites need in order to have a successful, happy life.

· Do not worship any other gods besides me’—this is actually the first time in the Bible in which the LORD makes it clear that he wishes to be worshipped exclusively. In his contest with Pharaoh, the LORD has clearly shown that he is a god with real power. Now, he reveals that he wants to be the God of the Israelites. This agreement is meant to be an exclusive contract. If they enter into a covenant with the LORD, they can’t make agreements with any other gods.

· Do not make idols of any kind’—the gods of Egypt and of any other surrounding culture were given physical representation in the form of idols. These idols were considered to be the actual presence (though not the only or exclusive presence) of the god. This commandment is in some ways a continuation of the one above. God is basically saying in a different, more specific way, ‘Don’t worship any other god.’ As well as saying something about who to worship, he’s also making a statement about how to worship. He is saying that he cannot be worshipped through an idol. Any idol is automatically considered a different god—not a representation of him. Perhaps God does not want to be limited to a static representation; he wants to be able to move as he wishes and to appear where, when, and how he wishes. It might also be the case that he wants to make clear that the Israelites cannot control him. There is some indication that the people of the ancient near east treated their idols somewhat like voodoo dolls. They believed they could use spells and charms cast on the idols to force actions on the god (Bible Background Commentary 95). God wants to make it clear that he cannot be bound in this way.

· but I punish the children for the sins of their parents’—this sounds a bit harsh and unfair, but perhaps it is simply a statement of the unavoidable truth that our sins always affect the people around us, and particularly our family. It’s a truth upon which much of modern psychology—at least the ‘nurture,’ rather than ‘nature’ end of things—is based. It’s also encouraging to see that God’s blessing on a family lasts a thousand generations. His blessing far outweighs his punishment. Three or four generations pass by quickly, but there probably still haven’t been a thousand generations since the time of Moses.

· Do not misuse the name of the LORD’—this commandment is often interpreted to be either a prohibition against using God’s name while swearing (e.g. ‘God damn it!’) or a warning against breaking promises. While doing either one of those things is probably not the best idea, this command most likely has something different in mind. Remember in chapter 3, when Moses asked for God’s name, and God revealed his name, the LORD (or I AM)? Moses thought of knowing God’s name as a key to success in his mission. There is real spiritual power that comes with invoking God’s name; it’s like using your father’s or your company’s charge card to pay for an expense. God is giving the Israelites authorization to use his name, but he’s warning them not to abuse it.

· the seventh day is a day of rest’—no surrounding nature had anything like the weekly day of rest in their religious practice (Bible Background Commentary 95).

· The Ten Commandments are often thought of in two parts. The first four commandments are about relationship with God. The other six are about relationships with other people. Jesus summarized it this way: love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (the first half); and love your neighbor as yourself (the second half). In God’s agreement with the Israelites, he is equally concerned with their relationships with other people as he is with their relationship with him.

· ‘But don't let God speak directly to us. If he does, we will die’—the people make the sad choice to reject direct communication with God. Moses has brought them to the place where he met God in order to offer them the same sort of relationship with God he enjoys. They appreciate Moses’ connection with God, but they are too frightened to make that same connection themselves. They’d rather communicate with God through Moses.

· ‘let your fear of him keep you from sinning’—they have no need to fear that God will destroy them if they deal faithfully with him.

Taking it home:

  • For you: What is the legacy you want to pass on to the next generation? God tells us that both our good choices and our bad choices have an effect on those who come after us. What are some gifts you would like to pass on to your children or other younger people you influence? Choose those things for yourself now. Ask God to grow them for a thousand generations, and spend some time imagining the impact those good choices will have.
  • For your six: God spends some time demonstrating to the Israelites his power and his willingness to rescue them, without any strings attached. Then, he says, ‘If you really want to get the benefits of worshipping me, you have to worship me only.’ Have any of your six seen, experienced, and noticed God’s power and goodness to them? Perhaps it is time for them to choose if he will be their one and only Lord. Pray that God would give them this invitation, and consider broaching the topic with them yourself.
  • For our church: New Haven is an extremely busy place, where rest is a rare commodity (As we heard this past Sunday in Matt’s sermon). Even God took a day off, but it’s easy for us New Havenites to fall into the assumption that either we ourselves or the world in general could not survive if we stopped. Ask God to give us the faith to rest, following God’s example and trusting that his good work on six days can bring us prosperously through the seventh.