Deuteronomy 5:1-21; 6:4-9
(watch here: https://youtu.be/67etwk85Yjc)
Moses convened all Israel, and said to them:
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. 2The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. 5(At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:6I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 7you shall have no other gods before me.
8You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 9You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, 10but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
11You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
12Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13For six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.
16Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
17You shall not murder.
18Neither shall you commit adultery.
19Neither shall you steal.
20Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.
21Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.
Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
4Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
This morning we again return to a reading on the Ten Commandments. It seems like just yesterday we were reflecting on Luther’s wisdom concerning them as we were celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Believe it or not, it’s already been a couple years since that last reflection! Luther taught us much about each of the commandments and instead of repeating what we learned I think we should take a different approach to them. Instead, let’s reflect on why we need God’s commandments and why we should obey them.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper reflection without a little something funny. The Commandments remind me of the one about a college dean who was addressing the students on the first day of the fall semester. Like Moses presenting the commandments to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai, the dean felt it was important to discuss some basic rules for healthy campus life. He said, “The female dormitory will be out-of-bounds for all male students, and the male dormitory to the female students. Anybody caught breaking this rule will be fined $20 the first time.” He continued, “Anybody caught breaking this rule the second time will be fined $60. Being caught a third time will incur a hefty fine of $180. Are there any questions?” At this point, a particularly bold male student in the crowd shouted out, “How much for a season pass?” Kinda makes you wonder if some bold Israelite shouted out something similarly snarky as Moses was presenting his “rules.” There’s always some smart aleck in the crowd…
Not that God’s commandments are as light-hearted as keeping college boys and girls apart. There are serious ramifications for disobeying God’s commands, all of them leading to some type of death. Whether it’s spiritual or bodily or mental or relational, there is always some type of death that happens when we break God’s commandments. Just look at his ten clearly stated commandments given Moses. Recall that the first three commandments were designed to keep us in right relationship with God while the remaining seven help us stay in right relationship with each other. Break any of these commandments and we potentially sever our relationships with God and/or each other. But is that the only death that can occur…relational death? For several of them, we can risk bodily death too. Steal from your neighbor and he or she might kill you! Sleep with someone outside of your marriage or someone else’s and you just might be killed by an angry spouse! Fail to honor a Sabbath and your body or mind or spirit might just wither away and die. You see, there are many ways to die besides relationally. But death is death. We are forever changed by it. We might survive it but we are not the same afterwards. There is new life, new hope, new identity. There is an absolute finality to death itself. Nothing stays the same, everything is changed by death, and God’s commandments keep us from death. They hold us in wholeness and health. God wants us to know wholeness and peace. God may have designed his creation to allow for death but He prefers to support and encourage life. His commandments reflect this. God is always leaning on the side of life in the great battle between life and death and there’s no greater proof of this than his commandments.
But keeping us from death is a fairly weak reason for needing God’s commandments. Sometimes relationships or minds or bodies or spirits become so sick with infection that there is little to no hope. In such instances, death may be an appropriate solution. So what, are we to then encourage disobeying God’s commandments as a way of bringing about the necessary death? Hardly! Everything living already has an innate fear of death. The unknown change that comes with death is frightening and trying to encourage death through disobeying God’s commandments only compounds that fear. To say we need God’s commandments to avoid death makes death seem like an awful solution and something to be feared. Perhaps we need to reframe our need for God’s commandments. Why do we need his commandments? To avoid death? Isn’t death sometimes a good thing? Rather than focusing on what his commandments lead us away from, we ought to reflect on what his commandments lead us to. And for that we need a little help from Scripture.
Recall that Moses gave these commandments to the Israelites as they were fleeing their Egyptian slavery and heading out into the wilderness. They needed some type of structure to govern their lives together and with God. Moses provided that structure in the form of the Ten Commandments. But the Commandments do more than keep us in right relationship with each other and with God. They actually provide hope to a hopeless people. The Israelites had been ground down for too many years, both bodily and spiritually. They needed hope again if they were to survive their wilderness wanderings after such a hopeless situation. Many times through the book of Deuteronomy we hear Moses encouraging the Israelites to remain faithful to the commandments: “Just stay faithful to God’s commandments!” It isn’t until later in the book that we begin to hear his reasons. In Deuteronomy 19:8-10, we hear Moses say to the crowd, “If the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he swore to your ancestors—and he will give you all the land that he promised your ancestors to give you, provided you diligently observe this entire commandment that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God and walking always in his ways—then you shall add three more cities to these three, so that the blood of an innocent person may not be shed in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, thereby bringing blood-guilt upon you.” We hear that keeping God’s commandments will result in receiving greater lands. A little later on in Deuteronomy, we hear, “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.” (30:16) So here we hear Moses say they people with live and thrive and multiply in their new lands. How about in the Psalms: “Love the Lord, all you his saints. The Lord preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.” (31:23) God not only rewards the faithful with greater lands and a multitude of family but He preserves the faithful and “abundantly” repays the unfaithful. These are three very hopeful benefits to keeping God’s commandments and staying faithful to him.
We need God’s commandments not only to keep us from death but also to instill hope. What good is life without hope? Death may have its purpose but clinging to hope is ultimately why we should obey his commandments. God promises both new and abundant life through his commandments. 1 John 2:5 says, “whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.” Who doesn’t want to be made perfect by his love? Keep his commandments! Let us give thanks for them and diligently work to keep them. Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit