Third in series: The Book of Exodus
So, I had a friend that I knew when I was growing up.
He was someone who had an extremely chaotic childhood, and had a ton of uncontrolled anger which resulted in lots of outbursts of aggression,
And as he got older it didn’t really seem to get better.
He drank a lot, eventually becoming what he would self identify as an alcoholic,
He ended up working a series of jobs that didn’t really seem to be going anywhere.
His life was barely being held together.
And it was at this point that he decided to pursue the military, and (somehow) gets admitted into the Army.
It was this choice that seem to send his life on a different trajectory.
You see the military offered him exactly what he was needed in midst of his chaos. It offered him structure, order,
Everything from what he ate, to when he woke up in the morning, the rules he had to follow were dictated to him.
And in this environment everything changed - he thrived
He had always been a smart kid, but this structure allowed him use his intelligence to flourish.
He advances quickly in army,
he gets sober,
he goes back and reconciles with family and others that he had harmed when he was younger.
He goes from barely making it in life to being objectively successful.
And you know I think that his story is actually a pretty common one for people with chaotic backgrounds who end up in places like the military
The structure is just what they needed and it helps them thrive,
And as I think about my own life, this makes so much sense:
You know one thing most people don’t know about me is that I almost failed out of seventh grade,
My life felt really chaotic at that time, I was overwhelmed and I just went an entire year without doing homework.
And as a result my parents took action
After that, where I could go, what I was spending my time on, all of that was dictated to me,
And that structure helped me turn it all around, helped me flourish and make it through school and then college, and then grad school.
I don’t know if you have ever gone through a particularly chaotic period in your life. A time where everything feels up in the air, unpredictable. Perhaps it feels like there is almost nothing that you can rely on.
And maybe you found some of what I and my friend did, just how super helpful structure can be when life feels in chaos
I would love for you to keep that in mind as we return to our current series on the Old Testament book of Exodus - a series which we have titled Life is different when God feels reliable. If you weren’t with us the last two weeks I encourage you to check out the first two talks available on our website.
So, we have the Hebrew people who have been enslaved for centuries by the Egyptians.
And then God intervenes to free them, using the unlikely character of Moses to lead them
All along the way God taking it upon himself to show the Hebrew people that he is in fact reliable.
That he is a good and trustworthy God
So where we left off last week, the Hebrew people have escaped the Egyptians via the divided water of the Red Sea.
Now they are free.
But they are without much else beyond their freedom.
They are a people who now have no land, they have no systems, no structure, no ordered government
Imagine this, you have been enslaved for as many generations as you can remember.
They were enslaved longer than United States of America has even existed
And now they are meant to form a new society, a new nation.
They are coming out of more chaos and struggle than most of us can even imagine.
And now, they are left with the very logical question.
What are we doing from here.
How do we build, where do we go
You see, they are very much needing a reliable God, who can offer something to hold on to, Structure.
Just as my friend needed the some kind of structure to rebuild his life.
They need some kind of guidance, something to build their society, their culture on.
They need help building from scratch.
And in this place, God once again, as he does over and over in the story of Exodus, shows himself to be good and reliable.
It’s in this place that God delivers to Moses the 10 commandments. He offers them these ten principles in which they can build their way of life on.
He offers them structure and guidance exactly when they need it most.
And honestly I think these are like the best suggestions ever if you were building a society from scratch..
I couldn’t come up with anything better If you are trying to build something where people individually and corporately are able to flourish.
And you know, it really makes a difference reading the 10 commandment in this light!!!!
I think We can be prone to take something like this and turn it into a check-list
like God somewhat arbitrarily choose these 10 commandments.
Just because he wants to make sure you are following his rules, or that you can check off that you are a good person.
No, I think there are very good reasons that these are offered.
I think something Jesus said can help here. He called himself a good Doctor.
As if we would find his instruction and guidance in our life to be that of a sick person getting prescriptions from their doctor.
The idea being that as we take the prescriptions, follow the instructions we will become healthier. That everything is in the end going to be for our good.
A doctor sometimes might give us some advice that requires some effort on our part, right? A doctor might redirect us, right?
But, He is not asking me to stop eating cheeseburgers for arbitrary reasons… my doctor tells me to stop eating cheeseburgers because I will be healthier if I do.
So, as we go through this I want you to take notice at how awesome these commandments are for setting up an internal life, interpersonal relationships, and social structures that are flourishing
if you would like to read along you will find the passage in the program.
20 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
I think these first two highlight everything that we have been trying to communicate in this series.
That God is reliable and good.
We may not resonate with the polytheistic context of these commands, a culture that believes in many Gods, or literally worshiped idols of their Gods.
But I do think we can resonate with the many other things in life that seem to be vying for us to depend on, vying for us to put our hope in, our faith
Maybe it’s the narrative that Money and Success is what makes life good, what keeps you safe and cared for.
Or maybe it’s that a romantic partner is all you need in life to feel ok
Or it’s our image, it’s how the world sees us that makes the real difference in our life
Well, For these Hebrews it was literally other Gods, and most specifically the God’s of their oppressors, the Egyptians. They had been told for centuries that”you want to feel ok?” “You want to feel safe?” “You want to feel taken care of” then you should put your trust in the man-god, Pharoah, or the God’s of Egypt, that if you only worshiped these Gods everything would be better
In these first two commandments, God is saying that there is real fallout, even generational fallout, when we put our faith in untrustworthy things -money, fame, other gods’- but even more than that, in him we find something that is uniquely trustworthy, that putting our hope on him, will have a dramatic effect for the good.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.
So, contrary to popular belief, this is not saying that we shouldn’t say God's name when we swear, no, to use God’s name in vain is to manipulate or abuse others, to gain power for ourselves by misusing God's name, to dishonor his name
It is using God’s name in vain if we use his name to justify violence, justify hate, justify prejudice - things that should never be associated with a good God.
Our world’s history is full of stories of people using God’s name in vain in this way. The crusades are a good place to start.
It is using God’s name in vain when someone uses their religious standing as a pastor or leader to manipulate or abuse others.
It is using God’s name in vain when we shame or humiliate others and justify it as endorsed by God.
What is in view here is less when when your grandfather (Pardon my french as I say this to make the point) frustrating says “God Damn it” when jamms a finger.
What is in view is more like when Westboro Baptist church says they are acting on behalf of God when they hold up malicious and hate with filled signs at protests.
I mean, maybe we would be well-advised to stop swearing so much, or be more careful with our words, there are other areas in the Bible that might speak to that, but that's not what this commandment is about
So, yes, if I was to create a new society I too would say that we should not use God’s name in vain.
8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Holy crap the first Labor movement. The value of life balance. That we should make sure to take a day off, make sure to not just work work work.
Seems like a self-evidently great idea
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.
Particularly in the day of the original audience, the role of family was everything. They were your retirement, they were your educators, they were your job opportunities. They were the only place that women could be cared for.
So yes, maintaining that social fabric would high on my list
13 “You shall not murder.
Uhhhh, yeah, so it’s real hard to have a flourishing society when we murder each other.
We can laugh a bit from our perspective… but again, no societal or governmental structures whatsoever for these people, remember? So not necessarily a given!
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
This goes back to the family stuff. In a culture that has no governmental support, no women’s rights, no child’s rights. It is the family unit that stands in to support people. Particularly people who always living hand to mouth, as was the case for nearly everyone in that day. So the stakes here go beyond just betraying one’s spouse.
15 “You shall not steal.
Another thing that may feel like such a given to us, but actually does need to be laid out ahead of time… You’d be surprised how much of our culture is dependent on the respect of others possessions. A strong society depends on the protection of our property. Things like trade, economic growth, generosity, all of these things fall apart without it
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Very few things can erode collective confidence and social trust like dishonesty can.
So, yeah, this would be high on my list for a flourishing community.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
I think facebook shows us the value of this. We become less content, less happy, when we compare our lives to other people. The feeling of Ohh my life would be so much better if I had what they had, at least in me these seems to motivate so much destructive behavior. Coveting is just so taxing on a person and society.
You see, these 10 commandments are not just arbitrary rules or a check list that God wants us to follow to appease his ego. No, he gives these to the Hebrews in a time of great Chaos, he gives them exactly what they need, the structure, the guidance in how to build lives and build a culture that can flourish. These commandments are like a doctor’s prescription towards the Hebrew’s health.
You know, I am also super helped by how Jesus saw the 10 commandments.
Hundreds of years later, after these commandments have taken root and helped formed the Jewish people. He somewhat famously quotes a few of the commandments while addressing the pharisees, the Jewish religious elite of his day.
“You have heard ‘You must not Murder. But I tell you that whoever is angry with his brother will be guilty
Or “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery
I think Jesus helps us understand the role of the 10 commandments even better.
Interestingly, in this interaction between Jesus and the pharisees his use of the the 10 Commandments made it so that it would be nearly impossible for us to go through life and not violate a commandment.
Why would he do that?...............
Not to condemn us!
But rather to say, That we ought not to take the commandments as a checklist that we pass or fail. Are we good or bad. Going to heaven or going to hell?
This was the way the Pharisees, Jesus’ big antagonizers, saw the commandments
But Jesus saw them as a far more dynamic kind of guidance than a rule book can offer.
I may not murder, but the anger I hold in my heart can be very much destructive to me.
So it’s more than: let’s take a look at last week… hmm… let’s see... “I didn’t murder! Yes!
Have I slept with anyone else wife? No” Alright! Go me!
If that is how I take this, a semi-arbitrary checklist, It’s max potential is to maybe keep me out of Jail and help me further my ego’s idea that I am good person.
And what happens when the reliability of this list is challenged?
Like, what if my parents are kinda harmful to me?
or what if I am stealing to feed my family?
Or what if I am doing some kind of important and necessary work like a fire fighter?
Should I really not do that on the sabbath?
What do we do then?
Well I think we will find
To quote Jesus again that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.
That commandments were made for us, our good
In the end, Jesus shows us that the whole point is that God is communicating he is reliable to lead us into healthier and better lives.
Just as the Hebrews found the giving of the commandments to be the act of a good and trustworthy God.
I think that we will find God to be just as reliable for us today.
I think these commandments are super helpful, super meaningful. Extremely wise to follow.
But as Jesus showed us, it doesn’t stop there, God is offering living, dynamic and reliable guidance and redirection to us today.
And honestly we will most certainly need redirection, I know I will, but we can trust that his redirection will be for our own good, that of a good doctor giving us prescriptions for our health.
And so my take away for today I want to take a look at the 10 commandments and consider what they could offer us today in helping us find lives that are thriving.
What I am going to encourage all of us to do is take a moment, make a little space to see if any of these 10 stand out to us. That maybe the wisdom behind that commandment could have something to say us today.
Perhaps, the call to honesty stands out to us.
Or the notion that coveting, that wishing we had what other have is robbing us from life.
Or that we rely and look to things that will disappoint us, that we feel a longing to look to God as the one we rely on.
Or maybe it isn’t something explicitly on this list
that although we are not murderers, we have unresolved anger in our hearts that is robbing life from us.
Or maybe some other encouragement or redirection that God is highlighting in our heart, Something that is preventing us from a full, deep, and connected life.
And as we finish reflecting, I want to encourage you, if you are feeling connected to one of these 10 commandments, to make the commitment to take one tangible step forward toward it this week.
Maybe, this week I am going to try and forgive that person I am angry with
Maybe, this week I am going to ask a friend to check in on me about my honesty
Or Maybe this week each morning I am going to ask God for help relying on him
Or whatever it is, something you can commit to, maybe it is as simple as sharing this revelation with a friend.
Well, in moment I will pray, and we will enter into a time of singing and prayer. Something that spiritual communities have done for centuries. And I invite you to engage in that time in whatever way feels best to you. Maybe it is singing along and dancing. Maybe it is just sitting back and letting the music hit you. And, as we are doing that we will have a team of people in the back who would love to pray with you, It can be a really meaningful thing to have somebody else pray along with you. And I have found that God tends to show up in surprising and powerful ways when I have asked someone else to pray for me. It’s a safe and good group of people, no one is going to make you feel uncomfortable or give you unasked for advice.
So if you will stand with me