Exodus 20=The Ten Words
Background: The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. God brought them out of Egypt. Now, they need to learn how to live as God’s people. Think of the Ten Commandments not mainly as a list of “do’s and don’ts” but as a gift God gives to shape our relationships with God and with others. Martin Luther in The Small Catechism clues us in to what the commandments do expect of us. For example, we’re not just to avoid murdering anyone; we are to be people who value and protect the lives of our neighbors.
Key verse “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.”
1. Notice how this key verse provides context: God is not just a rule-maker. God is first of all the one who has chosen and rescued the people. God is a God who first of all desires a relationship with us.
2. The key verse gives us the First Commandment: “No other gods”. It’s said: If you get this one right, the other commandments will flow from it. Talk about how putting God first helps keep our other priorities/commitments in their proper place.
3. Two verses in this reading can be a stumbling block of sorts: 20:5b-6 “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
This doesn’t seem fair! We do know that children often suffer for the sins or bad choices of their parents. Is God causing that trouble? Or is that just an uncomfortable reality of life and its consequences? Note for perspective: “third and fourth generations” compared to “the thousandth generation of those who love me.” God has a right to judge us. But God’s grace is so out of proportion to God’s judgement, it’s like comparing the number 1,000 to the numbers 3 or 4.
4. Which commandments are hardest for you to keep? Why?
5. Martin Luther, who was pretty blunt and honest, said something like “No one can keep even one of the commandments perfectly.” That doesn’t mean we quit trying. And it doesn’t mean we despair about what terrible people we are. It means that we always depend on Christ’s love and forgiveness, and we ask for the Spirit’s guidance daily to live as close as we can to the spirit of God’s Law.