Exodus 20, the section of scripture containing The Ten Commandments, is one of those sections of scripture that everyone has heard of. Even those who have never been to church before have somehow heard of the Ten Commandments. They’ve been talked about in movies and the political sphere for decades. They’ve been placed before courthouses, taken down, and placed again so many times that we often grow weary of hearing the news reports about them. The Ten commandments get talked about so often that it becomes easy to disregard them in a “been there, done that” sort of attitude when reading through scripture. We know what they say so we don’t even have to consider their meaning…or do we.
The commandments begin with a very important statement, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” The whole basis of the Law is that God has already rescued them and redeemed them and saved them. God doesn’t give the Ten Commandments and say, “Do these things and I’ll be nice to you, don’t do them and I’ll hurt you.” No, God saves them long before he gives them a commandment. God rescues them long before he asks something in return. God saved them from Egyptian bondage and crushed Pharaoh and his army under the waters of the Red Sea without even a hint of wanting something in return. We need to reexamine our paradigm of what the Law is. The Law is not a way to earn God’s favor, the Law is a response to God’s favor. Obeying God does not produce salvation, obeying God is a response to the salvation we have already received. Israel had already been saved, now God was showing them a way to live in response to their salvation.
Then God gives the actual commands, and while there are ten separate commands they can basically be summarized in two sections. The first four commands are all about loving God, honoring God, keeping God as holy, placing God above every other thing in life. “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall make no idols and bow down to them. You shall honor my name and keep it holy.” All of these clearly focus on making sure that Yahweh God is supreme and first in our lives. No other god is as great, or powerful, or majestic, or worthy of praise as Jehovah God, Yahweh God…not even the god of self. Because honestly, that’s the god we normally put in front, the god of self. We want things our way, we want our dreams, we want our desires, we want to be happy, it’s all about us. And Yahweh God says, “no, it’s not about you, it’s about me. Keep me as holy and let me worry about taking care of everything you need. I’ve already proven I can save you so trust me.” The commandments help us put God where he deserves, in first place.
Even the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is about God. Remember the sabbath was a day of rest to remember God resting after creating. But it wasn’t that God took a nap, instead he rested with his creation, he enjoyed fellowship with his creation. If we are God’s image bearers then we have the responsibility to be like him and take some time to enjoy and fellowship with creation. To rejoice in what God has made. To take time to slow down and enjoy life. We honor God when we do that. The sabbath is also about trust. Do we trust God to make the plants grow if we aren’t in the field tending them? Do we trust God enough to take a day off work that he will take care of us? Do we trust God enough to not always be working every second of every day to raise our paycheck? Do we trust God enough to realize all that we have comes from him and he will provide? And while we may not follow the actual command to do no work on the Sabbath, the principles are still important to follow, to honor God in the way that we live and work and trust. To keep him holy even in our work week.
The last six commandments can be summarized as loving and honoring others. If we love our neighbor we won’t kill them. If we love our neighbor we won’t steal what they have, whether possessions or spouse. If we love our neighbor we will be honest with them and with others. If we love our neighbor we will honor those who raised us and took care of us when we couldn’t take care of ourselves. Far from being a list of rules of things one cannot do, the final six commandments form the framework of an understanding of how to live in community with others. They form a framework of a proper way of life and define some basic human rights that all humanity hold. And whether you are rich or poor, powerful or weak, these basic human rights should be honored at all times, no matter what. You don’t take what’s not yours just because you can. You don’t take advantage of cheap labor just because you can. You don’t force communities to leave their homes and move somewhere else just because you can. You treat all people with love and respect. This is how we live at peace with one another.
The Ten Commandments, overly summarized, overly simplified. We often try so hard to break down the Ten Commandments and what they mean that we forget it can be very simple. God has already proved he will rescue us, so live life the way he wants you to. Honor God above all other things and honor and respect your neighbors in order to have peace in the community. Maybe that’s why Jesus summarized the Ten Commandments in this way, “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. This sums up the Law and the Prophets.”