Deuteronomy 5:1-21 – Ten Basic Rules for Life

Invitation to the Decalogue by Romanian sculptor Liviu Mocan

Moses called out to all Israel, saying to them: “Israel! Listen to the regulations and the case laws that I’m recounting in your hearing right now. Learn them and carefully do them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Mount Horeb. The Lord didn’t make this covenant with our ancestors but with us—all of us who are here and alive right now. The Lord spoke with you face-to-face on the mountain from the very fire itself. At that time, I was standing between the Lord and you, declaring to you the Lord’s word, because you were terrified of the fire and didn’t go up on the mountain.”

The Lord said:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

You must have no other gods before me. Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or worship them because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins—even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.

Keep the Sabbath day and treat it as holy, exactly as the Lord your God commanded: Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Don’t do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your oxen or donkeys or any of your animals, or the immigrant who is living among you—so that your male and female servants can rest just like you. Remember that you were a slave in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out of there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. That’s why the Lord your God commands you to keep the Sabbath day.

Honor your father and your mother, exactly as the Lord your God requires, so that your life will be long and so that things will go well for you on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Do not kill.

Do not commit adultery.

Do not steal.

Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.

Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife.

Do not crave your neighbor’s house, field, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor. (CEB)

Whenever I take my wife’s pooch to our local spacious dog park, he knows he will need to stick to just a few of my basic rules. Although he doesn’t need the leash and is free to roam, he understands not to bark at people or approach them and other dogs without my permission. Those few simple rules are for both his well-being, and others.

We as people are free to live our lives as creatures in God’s image. The Lord has just a few basic rules for us to live by to honor both divinity and humanity, as well as to protect others and ourselves. Most folks know them as “The Ten Commandments.”

The Ten Commandments (The Decalogue or The Ten Words) were given to the ancient Israelites nearly 3,500 years ago. These words have stood the test of time and continue to be understood as a universal standard of morality and relational interactions.

There are hundreds of commands in Holy Scripture – approximately 613 in the Old Testament, and 437 in the New Testament – a whopping 1,050 total commands throughout the entirety of the Bible. So, what, then, makes these Ten so special?  Why do we stick to The Ten Words?

Moses and the Ten Commandments by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Macri (1913-1991)

The reason The Ten Commandments have endured and continue to be learned, spoken, and adhered is that they are foundational commands. Following the Ten Words in the Old Testament are a string of specific commands from God to Moses and then to the people (Exodus 21-23 and Deuteronomy 6-26). Those commands are all a fleshing-out of how to live the basic Decalogue in the Israelites’ context of entering and being in the Promised Land.

In short, every single command of Holy Scripture can be ethically and morally tied back to The Ten Commandments in some way. Whereas many Old Testament laws were given to the Israelites in their ancient Middle Eastern socio-economic culture, The Decalogue was designed to be universal and flexible for every culture and society everywhere, for any time, and every generation.

Therefore, we need to distinguish between The Law (capital “L”) and the law (little “l”). God’s fundamental and foundational ethical Law has always existed and continues to exist – and it is encapsulated in ten short and simple commands which everyone everywhere can obey, whether they are at their jobs, at home, church, or out having fun.

In fact, these ten basic commands are so important that Jesus restated them for us in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Christ got down to the heart of the commands and let everyone know what it truly means to hold, keep, and obey The Ten Words. For example, Jesus said concerning the seventh command:

“You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged.’ But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged. If you say bad things to a brother or sister, you will be judged by the council. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21-22, NCV).

It had become easy over the centuries for people to think everything was jim-dandy if they didn’t physically kill anyone. Yet, Jesus knew that well before any person is murdered by another that anger has been nursed through bitter grudges toward another. 

The Ten Words are the very heart of God’s desire for all humanity, and this is precisely why it is important to know and obey them in their full intent. They contain how to relate to God (Commands 1-4); and, how to relate to one another (Commands 5-10).  Jesus would later say, in response to what is the greatest command of all:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  All the law and the writings of the prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NCV)

Question and answer 115 of the Heidelberg Catechism, a Confession of Faith crafted by Protestant Reformers in the sixteenth century, addresses a significant issue:

Question: Since no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly, why does God want them preached so pointedly? 
Answer: First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.

Second, so that we may never stop striving, and never stop praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection.

When all is said and done, grace will have the last word. Yes, none of us will ever perfectly live-out and embody The Ten Words in their entirety all the time. Yet, the grace of God in Jesus Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves: deliver us from the realm of sin, death, and hell.

Stuff happens. We often fail to live-into the ways of God for our lives through The Decalogue. However, God, always the hound of heaven, will track us down and mercifully redeem us.

So, embrace The Ten Words. Know them, memorize them, and understand them. Post them on the wall of your office or in your house. Most of all, seek to practice them, obey them, and embody them so that you can enjoy all the freedom of God’s big world.

And you just gotta love it that Johnny Cash once sang about them…

Genesis 39:1-23 – Lead Us Not into Temptation

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife by Hermine F Schäfer 1964
Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Hermine F Schäfer, 1964

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there.

The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. So, Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”

But he refused. “With me in charge,” he told her, “my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even be with her.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So, the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. (NIV)

We learn a great about both God and Joseph in today’s Old Testament lesson: God is the supreme Sovereign over everything, and his providence is the force behind all of events; and, Joseph is morally conscious of his ethical accountability to the God who is always watching.

From a sheer worldly perspective, Joseph was a failure. Yet, from God’s vantage point Joseph was a resounding success because he was mindful of God despite his circumstances. Joseph was faithful in all his mundane workaday duties, which made him able to handle the advances and temptations of Potiphar’s wife.

The seductions of this life are legion. We are tempted at every turn to compromise our conscience or our convictions to either get ahead in life or avoid some difficulty. It would be easy to rationalize our actions, believing that a brief bedroom rodeo would not hurt anyone.  However, sexual infidelity is the opium of unfaithfulness to God. Cheating is cheating, whether we are caught, or not. Whitewashing the picket fence does not hide anything from God.

Seductions come in all sorts of forms: materialism and the allure of new stuff; preoccupation with comfort and painless experiences; shortcuts to job success and upward mobility; the hoarding and whoring of time; and, much more.

For me, an effective counter practice to the seductions of the world is to reclaim and redeem time through keeping the Daily Office (or the Divine Hours) – set times throughout the day in which I stop what I am doing and take a few minutes for Scripture and prayer. This practice reminds me that my life orbits God and centers in the Lord Jesus, and not the other way around.

Seven times a day I praise You, because of Your righteous judgments. (Psalm 119:164, NKJV)

We succumb to seduction whenever our lives are mismanaged, lacking boundaries, and without effective structure. Discovering a rhythm of daily life that works for you is vital to resisting temptation and realizing spiritual development.

God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. (James 1:12, NLT)

May you flourish and thrive with the ethical fruit of righteousness and experience the settled peace of a well-lived life.

Almighty God, blessed Father, Son, and Spirit do not lead us into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

The Morality of Caring

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Every individual person I meet is interesting.  Everyone has a story.  Each person has values which are important to them, and you can usually tell what a person treasures.  For example, my wife cares about kids.  Children are a high value to her.  You can tell immediately when meeting her that that’s true.  When engaging a family for the first time, she will inevitably talk to the child before addressing the parents.  Mary cares about any kind of issue in the world which has to do with children.  She has a strong sense of morality for all of them.  She loves kids.

Have you ever thought about what is of most importance to you?  What we care about most is where our sense of morality lies.  Jesus put it this way:

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Perhaps you have discovered, like I have, that everyone is moralistic.  That is, each one of us live by a certain code of ethics.  There are morals which we will live and die by.  These are values we esteem above all others.

Although there are hundreds of laws in the Bible, the highest standard of ethics and morality is contained in just a few chapters of Holy Scripture: The Ten Words (Commandments) found in the Old Testament chapter of Exodus 20; and, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament chapters of Matthew 5-7.  Furthermore, these few chapters can be distilled into a few short ethical phrases: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). In other words:

Every moral teaching found in Holy Scripture comes down to love (Mark 12:30-31)

Throughout the history of the church, the highest ethical values have always had to do with knowing and loving the Creator, Sovereign, triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – and the majesty of his creatures, humanity, created in his image and likeness.  The imprint of that image is deep within us, even if marred or forgotten.

The movement and trajectory of Holy Scripture is a good and benevolent God making and keeping promises to his creatures.  Even when they fall and try to create small petty worlds of their own, a gracious God is active, wooing lost people back to himself.

The Bible is an unfolding drama of redemption in which a loving God goes far out of his way to bring back straying, hurting, helpless people. (Luke 15)

prodigal son

Which is why, for me, attending to the inner person of the soul, teaching people the words and ways of Jesus, and providing spiritual care to others is a high value.  I love God, and I love people.  It’s easy to understand, then, why I: treasure times of retreat in which there is solitude and silence; connect with God daily in contemplative prayer and meditative Bible reading; pay attention to hurting people and seek to bring them grace, mercy, faith, hope, love, and gentleness; seek to act with civility and respect toward others I disagree with, or just don’t like very well; and, actively engage others who don’t share my values of faith in God, hope for healing and wholeness, and love for the common good of all people, no matter who they are.

I have a deep conviction that the care of the soul is just as important as the care of the body; that attention to exercising the mind with Holy Scripture is just as important to overall health and well-being as cardio workouts and sensible eating; and, that the ultimate hope of the world resides with knowing Jesus Christ, and not with a lesser hope that wishes things will work out in the end if I’m sincere to my personal ethical beliefs.

The rub to all of this is that I have my ideals and ethics, my morals and mores, my values and convictions, yet I don’t consistently live by them. *Sigh* I’m sure you relate.  The Apostle Paul certainly did:

“I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate…. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.  But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.” (Romans 7:15-20)

moralvalues

If honesty and being real is of high value to you, then you and I can admit that we blow it, a lot!  But we can come back to the love of God which is there waiting for us to confess our need and receive grace:

“I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me…. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body.  I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?

“Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-23)

It simply isn’t helpful to tell other people to “get over it.”  All people need deliverance from the power and presence of their inner (and outer) brokenness.  A person cannot remove destructive vice and heal their own soul any more than someone could remove their own cancerous tumor and heal themselves.  We all share the common human condition of needing the living healing water of Jesus Christ.

living-water

Which brings me back to God and the care of souls – being with Jesus has led me to grace and faith, hope and love, mercy and encouragement, forgiveness and reconciliation.  These are values for which I embrace and will not deviate from.  Even though I live them imperfectly, there is a perfect God who has my back.  He loves me, and He loves you.  I’m okay if that’s labeled as moralistic.

Psalm 101

            King David was one serious dude when it came to dealing with wickedness and injustice.  He had a zero tolerance policy toward people who were deceitful and proud.  “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy.  Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”  Those are some strong words.  But they arise from David’s own personal integrity and practice of being a king who seeks after what is right and just.
 
            David said, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:3 ESV).  When I was a kid, I watched hours of television every day.  Even today I still remember names of actors and all the theme songs of the shows.  Early in my Christian life, I wrote out this verse in large print and put it just below my TV set so that I would always see it.  Maybe we all need to think about putting up Scripture verses in appropriate places around our house, workplace, and car.  Maybe we would think twice about visiting certain websites if we prominently place beside our computer:  “I refuse to take a second look at corrupting people and degrading things” (The Message).
 
            Good intentions are just that.  Instead, we all need an unequivocal commitment to a zero tolerance policy toward evil.  It is simply unacceptable to flirt with it.  Whatever we must do to remind ourselves of righteousness and whatever boundaries we need to set in order to curb our wagging tongues and put spiritual blinders on our wandering eyes is most necessary because “no one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.”
            Holy God of justice, I will make a covenant with my eyes to set before my eys no vile thing.  Help me to be strong in your mighty power so that my daily walk of faith in Jesus is righteous, free of guilt, and simply enjoyable.  Amen.