Lectionary Text: Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Literary Unit: Exodus 20:1-17 and 20:18 -21:11
Sub Literary Units: 20:1-6, 7, 8,-11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18-21, 22-26; 21:1-6, 7-11
Central Message: Where the rubber meets the road/simple expectations.
The children of Israel have now been in the wilderness for some time. The congregation’s faith is a serious issue, but the Lord God decided to take the next major step with His children. Rules to live or die by? This is one of the many questions that could be asked about the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are often referred to as the Law of Moses. However, Moses was merely a reluctant prophet, a mouthpiece for God’s words. This law should really be considered the Law of God.
Verses 1-17 conform to the pattern of ancient Middle Eastern treaties between a king and his vassals or servants. The Great King (the Lord God) presented to His servants, the Israelites, the duties and obligations of the covenant God made with them. The writer of Exodus begins this book by identifying the speaker of the words found as the Lord God, “And God spoke all these words, saying” ( see verse 1). In verse 2, God begins by setting the context of what he is going to say, by reminding the children of Israel, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” First, the Great King identified Himself by speaking His name. Then God reminds the children of Israel that they have not progressed too where they are by accident, but by design, God’s design. God reminded the Israelites of His gracious actions on their behalf (see chapters 12-15). In ancient treaties, a king would describe the history of relations between his kingdom and the one being contracted. In this treaty between the Lord God and the Israelites, God described His gracious deliverance of the Israelites from cruel slavery.
In verse 3 comes a line that can be viewed as throwing down the gauntlet, “You shall have no other Gods before me.” God’s point here to the Israelites is clear and concise. God was not to be viewed by Israel as one God among many not as the best of the gods. God was and is the only living God. God and God alone were to be worshiped, obeyed, and adored by the Israelites. This was God’s message to God’s children then and this is still God’s expectation of his modern day children. Some biblical scholars believe that the concept of monotheism was introduced in this encounter between God and the nation of Israel. Although some critical scholars believe that is was not until the time of Amos (eighth century B.C.) that the true monotheism (the belief in one God) was achieved. But the witness of the Bible is very different than this critical approach. The biblical story has the belief in one God as the true faith from the beginning of Israel’s history as a nation.
Verse 4 is of critical importance because people in the ancient world produced many kinds of idols, images, and other substitutes for God. The Israelites were forbidden to do this from the beginning. They could not make anything that would detract from the exclusive worship of the living God. This of course was not a prohibition of fashioning images as an injunction against every kind of art.
Verse 7 (the third commandment) deals with the sanctity of God’s name. (see Ex. 3:14 & 15). The revelation of God’s name, Yahweh, entails some risk. It could not be broadcast among the people because there was the likelihood that people would not hold it in reverence. Use of God’s name was in vain (Heb. shaw’) involved three things: (1) trivializing God’s name by regarding it as insignificant; (2) trying to use it to advance evil purposes by coaxing God to violate God’s character and purposes; and even (3) using it in worship thoughtlessly.
Verse 8 through 9 (the fourth commandment), “remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy, was the special sign of the covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai (see Ex. 31:12-18). With this commandment, God set Israel apart from its neighbors. Other people had their own various patterns of work and rest, but the nation of Israel was to set aside one day in seven for rest. The word Sabbath means “Rest.” The day would be “holy” by ceasing all labor on that day. The Sabbath was specially the seventh day, Saturday (for modern day God’s people Sunday) unless you are part of the original heritage of the nation of Israel. Specifically on this day the children of Israel were to worship God and recalled God’s deliverance of them from slavery (see Deut. 5:15).
Verses 12-20 deal with commandments five through ten, before the discovery of ancient treaty patterns and their relation to the Ten Commandments, many people assumed that the two tablets of the Law &see Ex. 34:1) were divided on the basis of laws relating to God and those relating to other people. In this approach, the fifth in this verse would begin the second tablet. Following our understanding of ancient treaties it is probable that each of the tablets contained all Ten Commandments. The sixth to ninth commandments were designed to build a cohesive society in ancient Israel. The seventh commandment concerned adultery (see v15). The eighth commandment protected the sanctity of property by prohibiting theft. The ninth commandment prohibited bearing false witness (see v16).
Finally the tenth commandment governed internal matters: the sin of coveting occurred in the mind. This demonstrates that God intended the Israelites not only to avoid the nations named in the previous commands, but also to turn away from the evil thoughts that led to those actions. Chapter 20 of Exodus can best be described as where the rubber meets the road. The Lord God gave ten simple commandments for God’s nation to comply with and govern their everyday lives. The real problem was not the commandments or God’s expectation for the nation of Israel. Israel could not overcome their lack of faith and discipline to grow their relationship with the Lord God on High.
Resource(s): Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, General Editor- Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald B. Allen- Old Testament, H. Wayne House- New Testament, Thomas nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN., 1999, pp. 121-124.
Hymn(s): Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?; The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power; Old Ship of Zion; Standing on the Promises; Trust and Obey
Litany: O God, the Holy Spirit, come to us, and among us:
Come as the wind, and cleanse us;
Come as the fire, and burn;
Come as the dew, and refresh.
Convict, convert, and consecrate many hearts and lives
To our great good and your greater glory.