Exodus 19-21

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Hey! Back to a more decent hour of posting. What’s that bright thing outside the window. It’s the sun!

So, I’m taking a gander at Exodus 19-21

God meets Moses on the mountain. He commands that no one, nothing else, is to be on that mountain.

My guess is this rule didn’t apply to animals already present on the mountain, such as squirrels and mice and hyraxes and such likely weren’t evicted.

So, what is up with that? Why such strong rules, and strong barriers, and absolute insistence on a precise order?

What happened to the God who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve? What happened to the visits we see in Genesis?

It makes me consider the centuries between Joseph and this new work of God. It’s almost like God is reframing himself. Not changing but rather he put a huge distance between his foundational work of calling the Patriarchs and now this present work of building a people.

The task is different here, and now God is starting from a new beginning, which means first off creating a renewed perception of who he is. This is revelation in action. These people were called by God but they didn’t know God. They knew the gods of Egypt, who were of an entirely different sort and character. So God begins the lessons.

First lesson, on the mountain: God is great. Rather greater than great. Really, astoundingly great, beyond compare. Don’t mess with him. Don’t let your animals mess with him. Don’t think you have any rights whatsoever. Don’t be the least bit presumptuous. His greatness and his holiness go together. He is powerful. He is mighty. Next to him nothing has glory so don’t even think about trying to put other things in his category. He is his own category.

He is not tame.

This is a surprisingly hard lesson to learn. Takes a while to teach it. Much of the Old Testament, in fact. It’s important they learn it because they are a nation of priest. The whole bunch of them are representatives of God now, and how they act reflects back on the God they serve. Not only in their worship, but in every nook and cranny of all of life.

Which means there has to be some guidelines put in place. Those who are his representatives must live lives who fit within God’s revelation and identity.

How, though, does a person represent God to the world if they do not really know who God is? They can’t really. So God shows them how to start. He gives them the Law. These guidelines are not just random rules meant to restrict. They are laws which themselves speak of the God who gave them. Because the people don’t know him, they need a framework which illustrates God’s emphases and character, so that they can grow up into knowledge of Him. With the Law people can reflect God even if they don’t know him. It’s a starting point.

The starting point of the starting point is the Ten Commandments.

I first notice God’s self-identification. He does not define himself in the same terms we find in a systematic theology class. He doe not get into the philosophical “proofs”. He defines himself as the God who acts.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. He frames the whole giving of the Law, his expectations for his people, on the basis of his act of liberation and salvation. He choose Israel. He brought Israel out of Egypt. As Paul the Apostle will later say, “therefore…”

Therefore… have no other Gods. Therefore… don’t make an idol. Therefore… don’t use God’s name in vain.

Therefore… remember the sabbath.

Now this one catches me. The Ten Commandments are all the rage in conservative Christian circles. Post em in schools. Post em in courts. Post em in the city square and wherever there’s a spot. Post em all over the place.

How many people who want to post ’em really follow them all. Sure, the no idols one isn’t hard. Who, though, does absolutely no work whatsoever on a Saturday? That’s the sabbath after all. Sunday is a holy day because of the resurrection, which has a different symbolism. We can, and the early church did, work on Sundays. Saturday though is tied to creation. It is tied to God’s work, and he rested on the seventh day. So, do nothing on Saturdays. And by nothing, that means nothing (except healing maybe, as Jesus noted).

That is the teaching of the commandments. And if a person wants to post em all over the place they need to model them before they salute them.

Otherwise it’s religiousy and empty rhetoric which makes God into a figurehead for a vague morality rather than a specific God who acts in specific ways and gives specific ways of reflecting him.

Course, I do a bit of work on Saturdays. But I’m a firm believer in other kinds of divine reflections, namely the Spirit, who isn’t really as interested in posting signs, as much as my becoming a sign.

Though, it is curious that while most folks who demand courts have a ten commandments do work on Saturdays, most every court, even those without Ten Commandments, don’t work on Saturdays. I think there’s a parable in this.

Well, again, the Lord God brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, honor your mother and father. We can all agree to that. Though honor, as Jesus taught, isn’t blind subservience. Honoring God is at the beginning of this list, and so takes priority if there is a conflict.

Therefore, don’t murder. Alright.

Therefore, don’t commit adultery. Fine, fine.

Therefore, don’t steal. Okay.

The LORD your God brought you out of Egypt, therefore, don’t give false testimony. Even if it’s just business or for a perceived better good.

When I read this I can’t help but think about politics, and how much false testimony flies from both sides of the political aisle. This verse doesn’t say “false testimony in an official court of law.” It says don’t give false testimony. It’s a bridle for our tongues.

Therefore, don’t covet your neighbor’s house. Or wife. Or business. Or employees. Or education. Or salary. Or car. Or looks. Or sense of humor. Or his stereo. Or his suit. Or his friends. Or his power. Or his easy going lifestyle. Or his church. Or his vacations. Or his investment portfolio. Or his lawn. Or his non-receding hairline. Or his weekly tithes. Or his position on important committees. Or his influence in society. Or his intellect. Or his dog. Or his… well, nothing.

Therefore, don’t covet. Because God brought you out of Egypt. Funny, I do see a lot of coveting going on among most everyone I know, including myself. Might be a good thing to preach on someday. Maybe before the building committee meeting.

So, those are the Ten commandments. That’s the beginning of the beginning, not only of this particular method of God’s revelation. It’s also the beginning where reading the Bible in a Year encounters a bit of tediousness. It’s the Law. Oxes, and slaves, and pits, oh my!

So, a little suggestion for myself along the way. I think it’ll be good to not only look at what is given in the Law but to see how the Law reflects back onto the giver. I’m going to start asking how these laws seem to illustrate God. If they are meant as guidelines for his priests, so they will live in accordance with the God who has brought them out of Egypt, then these Laws aren’t just about things to do. They are about the God who is, sharing with us his values, and cares, and interests, and priorities.

With that in mind, it’s time to leap into the Law.

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