The Ten Through a Different Lens

There’s just something about lists that seem beneficial. Things like – The top ten hiking trails in Acadia National Park. Five top tips when starting a new job. Or Casey Kasem’s American Top Forty, which played through a given week’s most popular songs in my teen years.  Add to that are the to-do lists we’re likely to create for ourselves. Is it any wonder that several of the most meaningful verses of the Bible are lists? Psalms 23 lists the qualities of God as our good shepherd. 1 Corinthians 13 lists the qualities of love. Jesus’ list of “blessed are..” in the Sermon on the Mount still draws us in. And perhaps the granddaddy of all lists, The Ten Commandments.

For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at each of the entries in the Ten Commandments. But we’re going to do so with a different lens, a different way of seeing them. The common way of viewing the Ten Commandments is as a list of do’s and don’ts, which they are. But a little history is needed before we put on our new glasses.

The enslaved Hebrew people were freed from their captivity by God through Moses after a series of plagues. After escaping the pursuing army of Pharaoh by miraculously passing through the Red Sea, they soon camped at the foot of Mount Sinai. God called Moses up into the mountain, and according to accounts in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 4, God carved the commandments in stone and spoke them to the people. While Moses was up on the mountain, God also revealed the plans for a tabernacle, the priesthood, and the rest of the Law.

In the meantime, the Hebrew people got tired of waiting and proceeded to break most of the newly carved commandments. Moses, coming down from his mountaintop experience with God, saw the people partying with a new Golden Calf and threw down the tablets, thus breaking all Ten at one time. In short, the people repented, and God gave them a second chance with another copy of the original stone tablets.

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. “You must not have any other god but me. “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 me and obey my commands. “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name. “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. “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 steal. “You must not testify falsely against your neighbor. “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 20:1–17, NLT)

In the millenniums that followed, the Ten Commandments formed the basis of law for several societies. They were honored, revered, scorned, and torn down. In more recent centuries, the Ten were used to define holy living as a kind of checklist for things to avoid. If folks kept the Ten, or most of them, they figured they were alright with God.

For Christ-followers there’s a dynamic tension between the dictates of the Old Testament Law and the freedoms found in Christ. (See our recent study on Galatians: Which edicts of the Law are fulfilled in Christ, which are not? This tension is resolved in these words, “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36–40, NLT)

Instead of looking at the Ten Commandments through the lens of holy living or has the standard of righteousness, we’re going to examine each tenet through the lens of love, specifically asking, how are we to love God and how are we to love one another? And during this time, our focus will be on ourselves and not the failures of the world or other people. And, hopefully, we’ll discover how to improve, refine, and grow our love for Jesus and for the others in our life.

Dale Heinold
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