It’s great to have certainty in life.
There are so many times that things change on us that certainty helps us settle down. I think that that is the attraction that the 10 commandments hold to many people
In times of ethical uncertainty, there is something that is appealing about them
And there is probably quite a good chance that we know them
Let’s see how we go
1 You shall worship no other God
2 You shall make no molten images
3 You shall keep the feast of the unleavened bread
4 All first-born belong to the Lord
5 Work for 6 days but you must rest on the 7th
6 You must observe the fast of the weeks and the feast of ingathering
7 You shall not offer blood sacrifice with leavened bread
8 The fat of the feast must not remain until the morning
9 The first of the first fruits must be brought to the Lord’s house
10 You shall not boil a kid in its mothers milk
Exodus tells us that these are the commandments that Moses finally brought down the mountain. Whatever was written on the first lot got lost when Moses got annoyed and smashed them. So for certainty’s sake we should go with the ones from Exodus 34, right?
(Though I must admit, while I am pretty good at not boiling a kid in its mothers milk
and I don’t ever recall offering the blood sacrifice with leavened bread I cant say that I have always been so good at observing the feast of weeks or ingathering)
Though, if we decide that THAT version of the 10 commandments is there for a different purpose. We can go back to the one that is in Exodus 20 and Deut 5. Almost the same each time.
So, here’s a quick quiz for you – How many commandments are in the 10 commandments?
For those of you who said 10, you are only sort of correct.
We are told that they are 10, but if you count the number of statements that are like commands there are around 14 in both Exodus 20 and Deut 5
And what is counted as a commandment varies between Hebrews Catholics, Lutherans & Protestants
So the 7th commandment in one reading is about not stealing, but to someone else it is about adultery.
All this is fine detail just about the text isn’t it?
The better and more important certainty about the 10 commandments is what they mean Because we all at least know what they mean, even if the numbers or the precise wording change.
Or does that actually depend on who you are and whom you ask.
Ask a soldier in war about the 5th/6th commandment – “You must not kill”
They will probably tell you it means something different from a Pacifist.
And they could well both tell you it means something different from a Federal Court Judge in USA
And if you ask people about what it means to keep the Sabbath holy,
Asking an Orthodox Jew will lead you to something quite specific.
Should you work in retail. Should you buy things which means someone else has to
Should I even be preaching?
Then you can get into a discussion about what is the Sabbath.
Is it Saturday, Is it Sunday or does it mean some notional 7th day, which could be any day ….
The 10 Commandments are not a blanket certainty, as much as some part of us might like it. They are an expression of the covenant relationship between God & people.
They are setting out a way for people who sign on to an alternative existence in life.
They are framing something new. Something that doesn’t look like slavery and oppression
Something that says that the way we relate with and exercise power isn’t about objects and objectifying. They are about faithfulness to a relationship.
The early commandments are about the way that the people of God relate with God
God is not about a socio-economic, a political or a military project. There is a holiness. God is not there to be a utilitarian expression of convenience for the people.
The latter commandments are about the way that people are to relate with each other.
People are not there as a utilitarian expression of convenience for others.
There are limitations on the way that we live.
We are not to be trying to acquire all we can to survive.
Fellow human beings are to be respected, honoured, protected and treated with dignity.
A pretty important lesson for people coming out of generations of slavery and survival.
And sitting in between the early and the latter commandments is the one about the Sabbath. The centre of this new covenantal way of living is about stopping from work.
It is about drawing apart from the social aggressions in the market place.
This central command is about not being swallowed by the rat race – ancient or modern.
These are the values that we hear again by Jesus in the beatitudes and his teaching from the mountain. These are the values that when they are broken by the Israelites, broke God’s heart and had God start the whole thing again.
Their reminder to us is not to try and find certainty in rules and then define our lives by those rules.
But to find the relationship and the values that demonstrate the ways that we honour the God who is with us and providing for us and the people with whom we share our homes, our community and our world.