26 April 2012

Exodus 20:1-21

"Them God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me." (vv. 1-2)

For Christians, the Ten Commandments have taken on something of the significance of the 'Shema' for devout Jews. Shema is the Hebrew for the first word of "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone" (Deuteronomy 6:4). These are the first words of one of the three passages of Scripture at the centre of Jewish morning and evening prayers. They are a declaration of faith in one God. So the Ten Commandments have decorated the walls of Christian churches, have been repeated regularly in worship, and taught to children. They too have affirmed faith in one God, and have been seen as providing a set of rules to guide the life of the believer. They have also provided the framework for secular law, and thus have been influential outside the world of the Church.

In recent years, the evangelist J John has toured the country with his Just Ten programme, interpreting the Commandments for today's world. Significantly, he has worked backwards through them, climaxing on the first one: "I am the Lord your God ... you shall have no other gods but me" (vv. 2-3). This recognition of one God set Israel apart from other nations. The sovereignty of God is paramount, and is authority for the commandments themselves.

They can be seen as negative - eight of them contain the word "not" and of the two remaining, the rule about the observance of the Sabbath (verses 10-11) could be seen as restrictive, but that does not take away the value of their guidance for life and faith. In Exodus 20, they are spoken directly to the people, rather than through Moses or some other human intermediary, which adds to their strength. They are thus sometimes known as the Ten Words of God (Decalogue).

Space does not permit an examination of each Commandment in turn. As J John attempts to interpret them for today, so at verse 22 begins a series of expansion and interpretation of the Commandments which extends to the end of chapter 23, and is known as the 'Book of the Covenant'.

To Ponder

Do you think that the Ten Commandments are sufficient guidance for life today? What would you add/subtract?

Which, for you, is the most important commandment? Why? How much does the keeping of rules influence your life of faith? Is this constricting or liberating?