“Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; . . .” (Exodus 20:1 – 2)
When we have been looking at the psalms passages, a common theme had been praising the Lord for what the Divine did for the Israelites when the Divine took them out of Egypt, saved from the Pharaoh’s army and provided for them in the desert. In return, the Divine had certain expectations and guidelines for them. We as modern Christians have taken them on as our guidelines.
“. . . you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Verses 3 – 4)
This, I think, was a consequence of the golden calf made by the Israelites when they desired something more tangible to focus worship on. It did not end well. In more modern times we have taken this as a warning not to make anything more important or more worthy of worship than the Lord God. Success at doing this, or not putting something in place of the Lord God, has had mixed success.
“You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.” (Verse 7)
Through the generations the Jews (or at least certain segments of Jews) have been very scrupulous about honoring the name of the Lord God. We modern believers have tried, in varying amounts of success, to keep the Lord God’s name holy.
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” (Verses 8 – 9)
There has been some discussion as to when the Sabbath falls – the first day of the week, Sunday, honoring the day when Jesus arose. Or the seventh day of the week, Saturday, that is incorporated into our week as the day when God would have rested from creation. Additionally, there is discussion and mixed opinion as to how the Sabbath is kept holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Verse 12)
Again, differences of opinion have made murky what this commandment would mean. And yes, beloved reader, it is a trend you are seeing. While Moses brought the commandments straight down from the mountain, they have been commented on, paraphrased, and re-worked to keep up with the current understandings. So for this commandment, the discussion has been how to honor your parents? What does than mean in pragmatic terms? And what if one’s parents are not people who are honorable?
“You shall not murder.” (Verse 13)
Then there are commandments that would seem to be very clear. And even then they are tweaked and refined to incorporate practices from one generation, civilization and nation to another.
“You shall not commit adultery.” (Verse 14)
Sometimes it seems that the very commandments that seem so clear and exact are the ones that are ignored by so many people.
To digress just a little – I was at the public library the other day, and a fellow patron spotted a DVD of the Ten Commandments a la Cecil B DeMille. She made a comment to a friend that she had never seen the movie. I wanted to tell her it is something that I think everyone should see just once. Especially I think as I write this, the scene where the commandments are set down in stone, and then brought down the mountain. That scene I think restores a lot of honor to commandments that seen to have gotten wishy-washy over the years.
“You shall not steal.” (Verse 15)
Where has the impetus gone in obeying these very clearly set out guidelines and directions. Whole civilizations have been founded on the premise that these rules are important, and have been incorporated into laws. And governing bodies have been set up to make sure the laws are followed, and those acting counter to the laws have been punished. Many historians (amongst others) believe that societies start to crumble and be dismantled with these laws are ignored.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Verse 16)
And yet people disobey theses rules and laws right and left, and come up with all kinds of reasons, excuses, and logical rationale that it is okay to disobey these rules.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Verse 17)
The thing is, Jesus made these rules even more binding than when Moses delivered them. The Israelites who became the Jews as the centuries passed found ways to get around the spirit and intent of the law. As did Christians. History is more rife with people who flouted the rules and laws than those who obeyed them. Admittedly, I am getting quite pessimistic about humanity’s success, or lack of success, in keeping these laws. The judgment as to what is and is not sin is largely based on these laws. We can say it is when the Lord God is disobeyed, but the disobedience in large part is measured by these laws. Paul had a great deal to say about “laws” and their effectiveness in governing behalf. However, we are not in the New Testament but in the Old.
“When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” (Verses 18 – 20)
The Israelites present at the bottom of the mountain where the laws were handed down had a pretty good view of the seriousness involved. Perhaps more so than any group of people since. They had a pretty good idea of what the basis was for establishing these rules. Perhaps their former life in Egypt had been in stark contrast to these rules. Maybe we also have known times and places where life has been lived out in stark contrast and defiance of these rules and laws.
As I have read through this passage again, and thought about how the ten commandments are perceived by us in our modern times, it occurs to me that we have much less fear than the Israelites did at the bottom of the mountain. And maybe that is a significant difference. We are not afraid. More the fools us!