The Ten Commandments – The World Behind the Text

rootedchristWe are going to be starting today with our deeper look at the Ten Commandments as found in Exodus 20: 1-17.  We’ll look at the world behind the text of this passage.  It’s almost hard to know where to start with the Ten Commandments and the Law.  This is one of the most defining chapters in all of scripture and as I said yesterday, in world history.  There are so many things that are important for us to understand, but let’s start here.

Who is the king of Israel?  Not who will be king?  Who is in charge of Israel?  Is it Moses?  Maybe, but that’s not right.  Who is it?  It is the Lord God.  God is the king of Israel. Why does it matter?  This system of government is not something we would think of in a western democratic system, it is what we would call a “theocracy.”  God is president, God is king, God is in charge.  Moses would be His prime minister if you will.  But God was king.

When we read the Ten Commandments, we often think of them as moral or ethical statements.  That simply was not the case for Israel. These were statements of law, the same as a 20 mile an hour speed limit in a school zone is law here in Mississippi.  This was the law that they lived by. The Sabbath was not something that was honored, if you felt like it, it was part of what you did within the community.  We really don’t have any modern, post-enlightenment understanding of what this would look like.  So for us today, the Ten Commandments are the moral underpinning of our laws, they are the ethical backbone of our concept of ethics. For the Jewish people, they were law.

These laws are God’s dictates for the people. And guess what? The people accepted them. Most of the rest of Law lays out the specifics of what this law looks like, but this law was something that the people of God agreed to live with and live under. This was not a “forced” thing by God, but an accepted thing by the people. I think that’s part of the problem with laws of morality today, people simply reject it.  You’ve heard the old saying, you can’t legislate morality. That’s why the people have to be willing to accept it. Thus the Commandments have gone from a system of government, not a moral commitment based off the rejection of the people.  We do not live in the same theocratic system as the Jewish people did at this point.

Systems of government such as this were common in the ancient world, but one of the things that we see here and we further see throughout the rest of the law is the concept of equipt and fairness.  We see for God the law is always more about the inner heart than the external action.  So even here in the Ten Commandments, the foundation of a nation is this, you shall not covet.  Coveting is not so much an action but an issue of the heart.  Even here we see as the heart goes, so goes the actions.

And always remember, as we read, that Jesus tells us that the greatest command is to love God and love neighbor as you love yourself.  We’ll see each of these commandments play out in regards to this.

Starting tomorrow we’ll take a command, look deeper at what it says, and then look at what that means for us in our current context.  Tomorrow we’ll start with the first command.

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