Summary: In Sunday school we get the condensed version of the Ten Commandments but they can be read expansively, so that you are challenged to consider how the commandment may apply to all sorts of real life situations.
The God Who Commands
October 5, 2014 Rev. David J. Clark
The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for a long time. They were learning what it means to really trust God but that trust was hard learned. There was a definite pattern: at the first hint of adversity they turned on each other, their leadership and God. Eventually Yahweh saved them and they trusted in God only until the next crisis. But instead of remembering that God had always been there for them, they just gave up again.
After a while, old Moses climbed the Mountain to receive further instructions from God about how to live in covenant. Yahweh reminds the people of God’s amazing deeds on their behalf. “I brought you out of Egypt; I heard your cries when you were slaves. I was the one who got you out even though you doubted me. I was the one who parted the sea for you to escape. I am the one who gave you food to eat and water to drink even though you all were just a bunch of doubting, whiny babies. Therefore you are going to do some things that are going to help you to remember always who to trust and how to get along with each other.”
It reminds me of my mother's litaniess when I'd get into mischief, “David, I didn’t raise you to be like that. I carried you in my womb for nine months, and then you thanked me by weighing 11 lbs when you were born. Then you had colic the first four months of life, screaming all night long every night. I changed your diapers, fed you, work two jobs to help provide for you but I didn’t go through all that just to have you turn out to act like that. We are going back to the manager and you are going to do the right thing.”
The Ten Commandments are like that. God’s bringing the people out of Egypt was like giving birth to an eleven hundred pound baby that had colic, and grew into a bunch of whiners. When you hear the commandments you can hear God warming up “I didn’t bring you out of Egypt to forget me and to treat each other like dirt. I saved you from oppression, and being mistreated, therefore I don’t want you to mistreat others. I keep coming to your rescue, even though you keep forgetting about me and doubting me. Therefore, I want to you build some things into your life that will help you remember who you are and how I expect you to behave as my children.
So, God came up with the list. Tradition tells us that the ten were written on two tablets. On the first tablet were four commandments that dealt with how you show love to God and the second tablet had six commandments that related to how you treat your neighbor. Jesus summarized the first tablet, Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; the second tablet he summarized as Love your neighbor as yourself.
Most people today say that they believe the world today would be better off if everyone just obeyed the Ten Commandments. In fact, a recent poll indicated that 85% of the people feel that way. But my question is, how many people really know the ten. This is a church, so our odds should be better than the general population. Raise your hand if you can name all ten in order.
Sometimes the Ten Commandments become something of a political football. Politicians insist on public displays of the commandments but often when pressed, they can’t correctly name more than three or four of them. It screams of hypocrisy and it’s no wonder that so many don’t give these commandments a second thought. I don’t know about public displays; what I do know is that people of faith ought to have these down and pass them on by living them.
I remember Vacation Bible School with some inner city kids who’d been learning about the Exodus story. I dressed up like Moses, and asked them if they knew the Ten Commandments. After an uncomfortable silence, one kid chirped up, “Don’t lie.” Then other kids chimed in: “Don’t drink and drive; don’t do crack; if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all; don’t run with scissors.”
It sounded better than trying to explain adultery, plus their list seemed more relevant to their lives right. These kids were expressing were things that someone who loves them told them to help them in their lives. They are things not given as arbitrary rules to make life miserable, but they were things that were to help them lead good and safe and joyous lives. So it is with God’s Ten Commandments. They are not about rules that squeeze all of the joy from your life. God wanted us to live with some boundaries that are good for us; so we will know where to turn in our lives everyday for life and to get along with our neighbor.