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May 22 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 20, 2018 – Exodus Chapter 20

Covenant Stipulations–The Basics

Then God gave the people all these instructions.
I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. Exodus 20:1-2

Intro: Last week, God revealed to Israel his intention for them

They would belong to him in a covenant relationship
– if ancient people wanted anything, it was to have the gods to be on their side
• for fertile soil, the right weather, healthy crops and livestock, and so on
• God promised, for his part that he would be their faithful God
◦ he would make them become a kingdom of priests, his holy nation
◦ the guarantee of their access to him and his favor toward them
– now he presents them with the other side of the covenant: their part
• the law wasn’t simply to teach them right from wrong
◦ but to mold them into the kind of people Yahweh desired
◦ God would make them a suitable partner
• these commandments, the Big Ten, assume a good understanding of human nature
◦ the various forces that drive us or tug at our hearts

1-2 Gateway to the Big Ten

What is the rationale behind the Ten commandments?
– first, their God is–I am Yahweh your God–and second, what he’s done–rescued you
• he doesn’t follow this with description of his nature or a list of his attributes
◦ the Christian church has constructed a super-rational theology
◦ by extracting concepts from scripture and arranging them in categories
• that is not how theology emerges in the Scriptures
– the Bible isn’t an encyclopedia–“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About God”
• nor does it concern itself with abstract concepts
◦ God’s self-revelations come through interactions with him

Going through life with God, Abraham learned Yahweh was El Shaddai (the Almighty God), El Elyon (God Most High), Jireh (Provider). These revelations came to him in the course of his life through both his circumstances and his personal encounters with Yahweh.

• God does not reveal his essence; that is, what he is in himself
◦ he reveals to us what we need to know about him, who he is to us

You must not have any other God but me. Exodus 20:3

The first commandment: The covenant relationship is exclusive

Our English language has a rare feature: “you” can be both singular and plural
– in Hebrew, the “you” in each commandment is singular
• in other words, the commandments are addressed to every individual
• reading this, I am meant to hear God talking to me
– “before my face,” or in his presence
• in prayer and worship the meaning is specific
◦ God’s presence is experienced
• however, in general their entire lived-experience was before him
◦ God wanted them to know he was always alert to this
◦ when anyone’s heart began to form other attachments

This command doesn’t affirm or deny existence of other gods
– I assume that the human author of Exodus was monotheistic
• however, he knew the reality of Israel’s history
• in no period were they free of other gods until the exile
– the fact is, there are other gods – not like the deities of the ancient world
• but there are passions, ambitions, even possessions
◦ that can draw from me a greater devotion than I give to God
• these other interest do not start out as gods,
◦ but given enough time and energy they become obsessions
◦ some are addictions are not even enjoyable, yet we make great sacrifices for them

You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected–even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love and obey my commands. Exodus 20:4-6

The second commandment is related to the first: No idols

You must not make for yourself
Idol-making is something we do for ourselves
– we make a god in our own image (cf. Ps. 115:4-8)
• isn’t it true that we want a physical, tangible god – a manageable god
• the idol we fabricate reflect our needs, desires, values
◦ God specifies that idols are not to be made of anything in the heavens, earth or seas
◦ these were the primary zones of Israel’s worldview
– the making of any image is qualified by verse 5

You must not bow down to them or worship them

• this should not be construed on a complete ban on sculptures, paintings, etc.
◦ nor does it leave no place for sacred art in Israel’s worship
• later on God will call for sacred art in his sanctuary
◦ both sculptures of angels above the ark of the covenant
◦ and images of cherubim woven into the tapestry (Ex. 25:17-19; 26:1, 31)

“. . . a jealous God” – here is an example of what I said earlier about God’s self-revelation
– he tells us something about himself, but in this specific context
• jealous is also “zealous” or I like to think of God as “passionate”
◦ he cares, deeply and intensely (cf. Hos. 11:8)
• that is why the actions of his people matter to him
◦ he doesn’t want their hearts going anywhere else
– it’s important to see how he frames the contrast of this warning

lays sins // on those who reject [hate] me // to third and fourth generation
lavish unfailing love [mercy] // on those who love me // for a thousand generations 
W. Janzen observes, “Such an extended family or ‘father’s house’ consists of several generations, living perhaps under the same tent roof in nomadic times, or in adjacent houses in settled times. It includes children, grandchildren, uncles and aunts, etc., almost like the group gathering for a Christmas reunion on the ‘home farm’ in rural North America.”

• the point is that the guilt of violating God’s love has a long shelf-life
• notice the stronger emphasis of the contrast
◦ it is on the goodness of God toward those who love him and stay true to him

You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. Exodus 20:7

The importance of revering God’s name

This has been stressed since the burning bush in chapter 3
– keep in mind that the name stood for the person
• it always represented that person when spoken
misuse of Yahweh’s name could include:
• using it in magic to cast spells or conjure spirits or gods
• using it to convince others you’re telling the truth when you’re not
◦ Jesus affirms the importance of this command in “Our Father”
◦ our the first request is that name will be revered as holy in all the earth

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the LORD your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath

Abraham Heschel asks, “. . . what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?
It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh [holy] is used for the first time . . . . How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: ‘And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.’”

– God claimed the day for himself – it was not not just so his people could have a day off
• this is a difficult idea for some people to grasp
◦ think of God being in a state of rest – it is divine rest – holy rest
◦ he invites his people to join him – to enter his restful state
• it was not because all their work for the week was done that they stopped to rest
◦ rather it was because God had already completed the most important work
◦ namely, his work of creation and salvation
– the Sabbath rest is first spiritual, then physiological and psychological
• the body’s organs need to rest to heal and rejuvenate
◦ our minds need to rest, otherwise they’ll keep body agitated
• I think we need this today for wholeness more than they did
◦ the Book of Hebrews stresses this sacred Sabbath rest
◦ it can, in fact, be enjoyed any time, anywhere and all the time everywhere

Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
You must not murder.
You must not commit adultery.
You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. 
Exodus 20:12-16

These commandments do not require much explanation

Some have made honor your father and mother a problem
“How can I respect someone who has done nothing to deserve respect?”
“How can I honor someone who abused me?”
– our fathers and mothers may have done a poor job at being parents
• but that doesn’t mean we have to do a poor job of being children
• I believe this is a maturity challenge for some of us
◦ we are moving toward wholeness when we get past our anger at our parents
◦ when we see them for who they are and expect no more from them than that
the LORD your God has appeared in the first commandments until now
• verse 12 marks a shift from spiritual rules relating to God to social rules
• murder, adultery, theft, false testimony (“perjury”)

You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:17

Another shift, this time from external actions to internal desires

God moves inside the hearts and minds of his people
– this may be a link to all the previous commandments
• where does the breach begin?

The chapter ends with two reminders

18-21 First, we are reminded of the phenomena reported in chapter 19
– the presence of God manifest in storm clouds, thunder, etc.
• the storyteller does not want us to lose the context in which the commandments were given
◦ the Ten Commandments are what they took away from this divine encounter
• they backed away from the mountain and stood at a distance

22-26 Second, although they weren’t allowed to make idols, they could build altars
– only their altar could not have any hint of idolatry or pagan cults
• if they built an altar of stones, the could not chisel or engrave it
◦ that would be too close to what was done to stone to make an idol
• nor could they rise exposing their bodies while approaching the altar
◦ nakedness (sexuality) was a feature of some Canaanite (fertility) rituals

Conclusion: Two observations and then homework

First observation: Several of these commandments supply a reason or motive for obeying them
– but nothing in these commandments or the rest of the law provide any help for living them
• Paul caught this weakness of the Law
• it cannot change us, it can just shows us our sin

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are. (Ro. 3:20)

Second observation: The law is Newtonian physics – cause and effect
– grace, however, is quantum physics – grace has its own way of behaving
• like quantum physics, grace is the deeper reality
• grace does supply the resources necessary to live with God in covenant
◦ grace works in mystery, its ways are unfathomable
◦ yet it works transformation in our lives

Homework: For next Sunday, read Exodus chapters 21-24
– that way we can move through those chapters quickly
– in the meantime, find five minutes a day for the next ten days to meditate
• each day take one of the ten commandments and meditate on it
• if examining, analyzing and reflecting on scripture doesn’t work well for you,
◦ then contemplate each commandment–i.e., just look at it, as if looking at a waterfall or sunset
◦ or write whatever thoughts come to you in a journal, or sketch a picture
– search each commandment to find God’s grace behind or beneath it

Hopefully we will find the grace that enables us to hold up our side of covenant

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