Reader: “I am the Lord your God,”
Response: “You must not have any other god but me.”
Then God gave the people all these instructions:
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.
“You must not have any other god but me.
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. 5 You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
“You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.
“Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
“You must not murder.
“You must not commit adultery.
“You must not steal.
“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
“You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.”
Reader: “The written Word of the Lord in his own hand.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
With the backdrop of yesterday’s appearance of God on Mt. Sinai, we have today’s pericope. The Ten Commandments, or in Hebrew, the “ten words,” provide the only document we have in God’s own handwriting! These words are the beginnings of the
suzerain covenant God made with his people. It is laid out in the usual form of such a covenant. First, God names himself as the one offering the covenant (v.1). Second, the historical circumstances that led to the covenant are articulated (v.2). God is demonstrating he is intimately interested in his people and how they are to live in relation to himself. He is not a creator who abandoned his handiwork to let the people fend for themselves. Third, the stipulations of and terms of the covenant are delineated (v.3-17). These Commandments are unique in all the world. No god has ever interacted personally with people save YHWH. (In the world religions, there is nothing personal in relation to Allah, Buddah, Krishna, Vishnu, or Taoism.) The “Ten Words” give instructions on how to live in relation to the One making the covenant, but also, how to live in relation to other people.
Left to themselves, humans choose truth to be relative. In fact, our culture wants to make the rules and make up its own truth. Consider the current views of family, marriage, gender, sexuality, law, power, freedom, abortion . . . Can you doubt me? God gave the Israelites absolutes, timeless absolutes that apply not only to the Jews, but to all people of the world. One of the challenges facing not only the United States, but world-wide as well, is the abandonment of absolute truth as given by God. Like our first parents, our secular world doubts what God has said, even doubts that God exists. The serpent’s question to Eve was, “Did God say?” Our world has responded to that query with an “I’ll decide what God said or meant . . . or simply god who? I have put myself in God’s place and have become my own god.” One of my humanistic friends even makes reference to discovering the “god within you.” It is both interesting and sad to watch people throughout the world seek to discover meaning and a “homebase” during this global health problem. People are off center. The search includes everything and everywhere except God and redemption in Jesus Christ. Any absolute is off the table . . . and we see the mess we are in.
I would guess there are more Christians than we might imagine who could not recite the Ten Commandments. We seldom, if ever, recite them in worship. In fact, I would also not be surprised that another portion of the Christian population is uncertain if they still apply to today. Lent is a season of reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross, his great passion to bring redemption to a fallen world. The “Ten Words” stand against all of us in that we have broken every single one of the ten. There is One who has never broken a single one, yet he paid the penalty on behalf of all the “breakers” of the law. Praise to our living gracious Lord!
Music: “And Can It Be?” Brits hymn sing
Forgive them all, O Lord: our sins of omission and our sins of commission; the sins of our youth and the sins of our riper years; the sins of our souls and the sins of our bodies; our secret and our more open sins; our sins of ignorance and surprise, and our more deliberate and presumptuous sin; the sins we have done to please ourselves and the sins we have done to please others; the sins we know and remember, and the sins we have forgotten; the sins we have striven to hide from others and the sins by which we have made others offend; forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all for his sake, who died for our sins and rose for our justification, and now stands at thy right hand to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. ―John Wesley, The Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p.62