Ten Covenant Words
Lord God, I come before You today. I desire honesty and integrity that I may probe my actions and motivations. Lead me in Your way.
Read Deuteronomy 5:1-22
Scripture taken from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
“Keeping the commandments is an expression of gratitude for the things God has already done. It is grace and not our own good behavior that is the basis of our relationship with God. This principle runs throughout the biblical text” (Tremper Longman III).
“The Ten Commandments”–an often-heard phrase, even if people are unsure of their contents–are sometimes reduced to not murdering and stealing. Rarely is their context known or thought relevant. Our reading frames the commandments with strong reminders: “The Lord spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain” (2-5,22). In Hebrew the name is “Ten Words” (4:13; compare “Decalogue” from the Greek), hence verse 22, “these words the Lord spoke” (NRSV). Using “commandment” in English unfortunately encourages us to start recitation at verse 7, so bracketing out the opening verse 6. Unlike laws that are expressed in the third person, the “words” are addressed directly to people (“you”) who have been “brought. . . out of the land of slavery” (6) and they elaborate a “covenant” relationship (2). As universal morals imposed from without, independent of a relationship with the God who gave the Decalogue, these commandments lack spiritual value.
Central in position and most detailed is the Sabbath word (12-15). While Christians from the beginning have differed in their interpretation (Rom. 14:5-6; Col. 2:16-17), the goal of “rest” from tasks and slavery, enjoying the presence and providence of God with one another, runs throughout Scripture (Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 16:25-30; Mark 2:23-38; Heb. 4:1). Whereas Exodus 20:11 links the Sabbath with creation, Deuteronomy associates it with deliverance from oppression, ensuring that others share the rest. The Sabbath word brings together one’s relationship with God and with the wider community, whether family members, servants (employees), domestic animals or the “foreigner residing in your towns.” It is “a further bulwark against idolatry (relating to God) and exploitation of work (relating to humans)” (E. J. Woods; c.f.Amos 8:4-5). In societies where profitability and productivity determine work hours and days, and people are valued accordingly, observing the Sabbath highlights other priorities.
In what ways have you experienced God’s “Ten Words” to be a freeing gift of God, enhancing community life?
Lord, I live by Your providence and grace; I offer You my thanksgiving and praise.
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