Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the LORD your God, who
brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of
slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship
them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children
for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of
those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth
generation of those who love me and keep my
commandments. 7 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. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days
you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a
sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your
son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or
the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made
heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the
seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and
12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long
in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13 You shall not
murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You
shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 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.
18 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, 19 and said to Moses, “You
speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or
we will die.” 20 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.”
After their exodus from Egyptian slavery,
the Israelites were a people
loosely held together by their lineage,
as well as their compliance to Moses’ leadership,
and their respect for the God of their ancestors.
Yet, they needed more to cement their identity
as a distinct people.
So God gave them 10 Commandments
to clarify God’s expectations,
establish community norms
and solidify their identity.
Unlike many in contemporary American society who view laws
as restricting individual rights,
the Israelites understood God’s Commandments
as laws fostering liberation and identity.
“You shall have no other gods before me”
is God claiming the Israelites as God’s own,
inferring that God will provide for God’s people.
“You shall not make for yourself any idol”
conveys that God is God.
The Israelites are not allowed to make God in their own image –
but rather, invited to experience God for who God actually is –
a compassionate provider who is Holy Other.
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”
means that the Israelites
have a relationship with God that is meaningful – they are not to
abuse the relationship
that is so vital to their existence.
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy”
frees the Israelites to care for their selves,
giving rest to all creation
while providing time for family and contemplation.
“Honor your Father and Mother”
allows the Israelites to look at age as irrelevant
to a person’s value,
as well as the significance of family
to their Hebrew tradition and perpetuation.
“You shall not kill, commit adultery,
steal, bear false witness,
or desire your neighbor’s possessions”
provides freedom from fear
establishing a community where individuals
can be vulnerable within community,
and so be focused and concerned
about other things
such as enjoying life and serving their God.
The Commandments liberate the Israelites,
emancipates them from unhealthy behaviors
and enables them to live within the care
of their God.
Yes, abuses of the Commandments happened, and they still
Bad choices are made that threaten community.
Even though most of us here
are not Israelites by ancestry,
we share a common heritage through Jesus.
Remembering, contemplating and engaging
God’s 10 Commandments given to the Israelites
is a healthy, spiritual practice
that can make positive differences in our lives.
God’s laws are never intended to be oppressive,
rather, guides to our liberation and identity.