What's God to Do? Become a Guide

Posted 3/4/2018

Scripture: Exodus 20:1-17

During Lent we are tracing the covenants God made in the Old Testament. We began by noting how God’s good creation had descended into a world filled with violence and evil by the time of Noah. In response to this massive distortion of God’s creation, God sent a flood. Yet in the covenant God makes with Noah we hear God’s promise that God’s grace and mercy, not God’s judgment, will always have the final word. 

Last week we noted how God began to fill out this covenant by choosing one man — Abraham — and all his descendants. God promised to be their God and that they would be his people — a promise that wasn’t based on them being “good,” but on God’s choice of them.

This week we see how God begins to guide and form this people he has chosen to be his own as we consider what is known as the Ten Commandments.

When we speak of the Ten Commandments today, we can’t ignore the fact that there is a lot of controversy in our society over the role these commandments should play in our culture. I mention this, because while the Ten Commandments contain many laws that are truly “generally accepted in all societies,” in the Bible these commandments are not meant for everyone everywhere. They are part of a covenant — God’s covenant — with his people Israel. 

Once again, our “story” begins before the lesson we have read for today. In Exodus 19 we read of the Israelites arriving at Mount Sinai. Moses goes up the mountain to God and God instructs Moses to speak to the Israelites instructing them “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples…. you shall be for me a priestly kingdom.” (Ex 19:5-6). 

It is after the people agree to do all the Lord says that God instructs Moses to come up on the mountain and gives him the Tablets of the Law. In other words, these Laws are the content of the covenant from Israel’s side. They spell out what Israel is to do in order to “keep the covenant.”

Here we see God guiding the people he has chosen so that they may truly be his people — the people God describes as his treasured possession who form a priestly kingdom.

And what kind of guidance does God give that Israel might be such a people? God gives guidance in two broad areas: 1) How they are to be in relationship with God and 2) How they are to be in relationship with one another. When we look at the Ten Commandments, they are not some series of “do’s and don’ts” but a description of a way of living They describe a covenantal way of living in relationship with God.

In this covenant God moves from simply choosing a people to forming a people — forming a people who will live in the kind of relationships he desires. Notice that this covenantal guide doesn’t simply talk about how to live in right relationship with God. God’s people are also instructed in how to live in relationship with one another. In God’s covenant we can’t live in right relationship if we aren’t living in right relationship with both God and others. 

In other words, the God who promises grace now makes that grace specific in becoming the one who guides those he has chosen to be his people in the right way of living — in how to be a covenant people. In how to live in the relationships that reflect that covenant. 

In those commandments that deal with our relationship with God we discover we are to not have anyone or anything as a rival loyalty (no other gods before me). God alone is to command our loyalty. Furthermore, this means we will have respect for God (not use God’s name wrongfully). Respecting who God is means we will not try to represent God in any fashion, for to do so is to misrepresent his completely-beyond-our-imagination being (no idols). Nothing in creation can adequately represent the Creator. Finally, as a part of maintaining our relationship with God, we are to set aside time from our daily labors in which we can concentrate on nurturing that relationship (remember the Sabbath day).

In those commandments that deal with our relationships with others we discover a list of the kinds of actions and attitudes that so easily disrupt human relationships - failure to respect authority (honor parents), murder, cheating (don’t commit adultery), stealing, lying (don’t bear false witness), and attitudes of jealousy and envy (don’t covet). All these actions and attitudes break the bonds of trust that are essential to human to human relationships.  

What’s God to do when his world goes haywire? As we’ve been seeing, the first thing God does is to become a protector — promising grace not judgment will be the last word. Then God becomes personal, choosing a people to be his own. Next he becomes a guide, giving that chosen people a “rule of life” to be a guide for their relationships with God and with one another.