Series: Becoming the People of God
Sermon: The Ten Commandments
By: Donnell Wyche
Promises and Provision
We left off in our story with Moses taking significant interpretative leaps on God’s provision (Exodus 16:6–8) of daily bread by extending this promise of provision to also include the glory of God and meat as well. Moses, knowing that this newly liberated people were bent on rebellion, needed more than just tests; they needed something to hold onto, something to grasp. God, overhearing Moses’ promises, agrees because God wanted to shape these former slaves into a new people (Exodus 16:11-15.)
Three months after leaving Egypt, the people finally arrive at the mountain of God. This is the place that God promised Moses in Exodus 3:11-12 that he would return to with the people to worship. The promise has been fulfilled. God has done what God promised to do. Along the way, God had had to overcome the complaints of the people, and here at the mountain of God, another promise is made — a covenant.
‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:4–6)
The people reply with optimism, faith, and one voice,
The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” (Exodus 19:8)
And from this point onward, the people fulfilled their promise by doing what the Lord had commanded.
The 10 Commandments
I love that the Lord, accepting this answer from the people, offers a way for this people to fulfill their promise. God says, I will show the way because “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” This is the first time that the entire community hears directly from the Lord instead of through Moses. The liberating God speaks directly to the liberated people. And what the Lord communicates is for the long-term vibrancy and heath of the entire community. God is shaping and forming this people into a new creation, a redeemed and liberated community of justice, of peace, of reconciliation, of care and provision. God is implanting a new identity and character into the people so they reflect and match the identity and character of God. These instructions are given to the whole because it is only from within community that there is any hope to fulfill them.
Honor God as the Creator.
Honor and worship God alone, avoid putting anything else in God’s role in your life.
Honor God’s name.
Stop and set aside a regular day each week for rest and worship of the Lord.
Honor your father and mother.
Do not murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not desire anything or anyone that does not belong to you. (Exodus 20:1-15)
The first three describe God’s identity and relationship with us and creation. The fourth instructs us to stop; the hinge on which the other six rest. We could make an argument that we are incapable of executing the following six, which have to do with our neighbor, unless we believe the first three and learn to take up the fourth instruction to stop and rest. Think of it this way, it is our inability to trust God’s provision and learn to rest and stop which gives way to our murder, lust, stealing, cheating, dishonoring, and lying.
Now, let me say that when we think of them only as commandments, we also subconsciously think of punishment. (Or at least I do.) Do what I say, or I will punish you.
But let’s collectively pause together.
Consider how you received the message that commandments and punishment go hand and hand. Pause. Consider what feelings that invokes within you. What feelings do you have when you consider commandments coupled with punishment?
Fear, not love.
Fear, not trust.
Fear, not loyalty.
When we only frame these instructions as commandments accompanied by punishment, all we get is fear. Don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t commit this, don’t commit that… this frames God as the eternally miserable one– unhappy and wretched. But here’s the thing. These instructions are offered without punishment. (It doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for our sins, but at this stage, these instructions are given for the well-being of the people.) God doesn’t say, do this, or I will do that. Instead God says, “It’s in your best interest to follow these instructions, to trust me, to learn to live in harmony with my good intentions for the creation and each other.”
Become the People of God
Consider how God frames these instructions. God starts by declaring who God is. “I am the God who rescued you.” Then God tells the people who they are, you are redeemed and freed.
Then God stakes God’s claim in the people and their story and says, “I am the Lord, your God.” This is a declaration.
You belong to me.
You are mine.
I want to shape and form you.
I’m giving you a new identity.
As you follow these instructions, you will be transformed from your former selves as slaves, subject to the whims of an anxious ruler, into people who belong to the God of creation, promise, provision, and rest. The God who invites you to freedom, regeneration, and peace is the God who liberated you. Unlike Pharaoh, I am not anxious or afraid. I don’t operate with or under a worldview of scarcity.
Love like me.
Live like me.
Reflect who I am to the entire world — the God of love and mercy, not the God of arbitrary might and power. I got you out of Egypt; and these instructions are designed to get Egypt (and empire) out of you.
This is why these ten sayings shouldn’t be considered a set of isolated moral sayings or instructions for personal piety to be used as a way to win God’s approval. Instead these are instructions given to a people already redeemed, not so that they may be redeemed. Keep these instructions because they make sense for you, they demonstrate and reflect the God who who gave them to you, the God of love and mercy. “I love you. I love you unconditionally. I’ve demonstrated my love for you. I will continue to demonstrate my love for you.” I rescued you when you were completely and utterly unable to give me anything. And guess what? I still don’t need anything from you. I am the God who provides–who provides for your needs.” I am offering you freedom, a new beginning, a new hope, a new way to live life. So, trust me.
Let’s remember that these instructions were never intended to be an exhaustive list of rules and regulations that would be capable of guiding the people safely through every ethical decision they would ever face. Instead they are offered as a set of principles and values designed to nudge, guide, and govern community’s life together. They are offered to prevent a breakdown in relationship between the people on the one hand, and between God and the people on the other hand. If these instructions are put into practice and are lived out, we are transformed as we transform those and the world around us.
This may seem to be too pie-in-the-sky, but honestly that’s my outlook. Given that God is the speaker here in Exodus offering these instructions directly to the people, God is inviting this people and us today to take up this vocation — further the cause of justice and good in the world. Become the people of God. Be God’s light in the midst of this world. Help God renew and transform the world. How do you this? I’m glad you asked, God says,
“Make sure everyone gets one day off each week, take care of the elderly, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t have sex with someone else’s partner or spouse, don’t hurt your neighbor with your words, don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff.”
As you love God, depend on God, and trust God, allow this relationship that you have with God to inform how you see and love your neighbor. Match God’s single-minded devotion to the world with your actions, with your trust, match God’s character as you love your neighbors as yourself.
This is what you were made for. You were not made to wander, to be afraid, to hunger and thirst, or to be lost. You were made to live in the love and devotion that God has for you, to live in this community of justice, in a right relationship with your God, acting as image-bearers, helping God transform and renew the world.
I have a few prayer senses from our prayer ministry team for you to consider:
There is grace for freedom from fear.
There is grace for freedom from having to earn love, acceptance.
There is grace for those who are having trouble making decisions.
“A young man who is plagued with self doubt, constantly feeling he’s not good enough—in all aspects of life. God wants to free you from that burden.”