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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Introduction to the 10 Commandments

Here is the shortened version of the 10 Commandments:

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

2. You shall not make for yourself an idol, nor bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God.

3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

4. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.

5. Honor your father and your mother.

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet.

The 10 commandments are found in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5. Each represents a telling of the story of Moses, who receives the commandments while on Mount Sinai in conversation with God. These laws were given to the people of Israel to guide them into a righteous relationship with the God who had just delivered them out of the hands of the Egyptians.

In preparation for this series on the 10 Commandments, I met with a couple of folks from the congregation to plan out this series. I really wanted to do something I’d never done before. I don’t ever recall preaching on the 10 Commandments, probably because I find these commandments to be a bit controversial. Let me explain.

These commandments represent the beginning of the journey of the people of Israel. They have not had a relationship with the God of Abraham as a whole people. In fact, if we attempt to read parts of Genesis and Exodus as historical in nature, God develops this relationship with Abraham, God calls Abraham away from his homeland to an unknown territory, God tells Abraham that he will possess the land if he adheres to the covenant sealed by circumcision, but in truth, Abraham never actually possesses the land.

According to Exodus 12, the Israelite people were in Egypt 430 years. In that time, they had forgotten the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Generation upon generation had passed. The covenant that God had made with Abram/Abraham was, in general, forgotten. Their journey into the desert was perhaps far more intentional than we might imagine. It does appear that God’s plan is less than well executed as God brings them into the Sinai Desert, but there are things that God must accomplish with the people before he can bring them into the promised land.

God uses this time to reestablish a relationship with the people. Even as I write that statement, it feels odd to think of the Israelite people as being distant from their God, but they are as human as we are today. Worship of the God of their ancestors fell by the wayside while they were in Egypt, mainly because they were enslaved, and enslaved people rarely have the freedom to worship freely.

When Moses returns to Egypt to seek their freedom, he starts by recounting the wonders of the God of their ancestors, as if to remind them of where they came from and to whom they belong. In this sense, we are kindred spirits in our ability to forget the centrality of God in our lives when we allow so many other things to fill those spaces in our heart. Moses captured their attention and proved to them that God really was on their side. Then, and only then, was he able to successfully lead the Israelite people out of the land of Egypt.

Once in the desert, they wandered for 40 years—two generations of people had to come and go—all to prepare the Israelite people for what was to come next.

Ultimately, the 10 Commandments are the initial blueprint given to the people on how to live in right relationship with God and with each other. Thankfully, the people of Israel continue to evolve and change over time, just as we do today. With each new generation, we see them continue to wrestle with who God is and how God is working in their world.

The people of Israel are not as unique as we’d like to make them out to be. They struggled, just as we do, to understand their ultimate purpose. They had a contentious relationship with the land given to them by God and were under constant threat from other nations. From the Babylonians to the Assyrians to the Roman Empire they had copious amounts of people who wanted the land that they now occupied. They somehow managed to live through captivity and the destruction of their temple in Jerusalem, not once, but twice, and still sought ways to make God their primary concern.

We have inherited this history through Jesus, the Christ, but we see another evolution in our relationship with God through the stories of Jesus. With this series on the 10 Commandments, we are going to look at how Jesus, born a Jew, wise in the law, gives the people of his day a whole new interpretation of the law that brings them one step closer to realizing their full potential as sons and daughters of the divine.

Jesus paves the way for us to continue the conversation and to explore for ourselves how God is still speaking to this generation. We are being called to deep dive into our responsibilities for living in this moment by continuing to bring God back to the center of our lives. When we do this, we will begin to understand our primary task here on earth is to learn to care for one another. Once again, we find ourselves having the conversation about how to be compassionate people.

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