There were three passages of scripture I knew at the age of 10, the year I accepted Jesus Christ as Lord of My Life and was baptized. The first: Psalm 121. “I lift my eyes unto the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of the heavens and the earth. The Second: Exodus Chapter 20, The Ten Commandments. They were easy to memorize because they were on the wall of my 4th, 5th & 6th grade classrooms in Public School until the early 80’s when they were removed. The Third passage was John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
As I’ve grown in my understanding and relationship with God, these passages of scripture have taken on new significance and a deeper, more abiding meaning.
In Exodus 19, verse 1, we find that the Israelites are 3 months into their journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan under the leadership of Moses. After escaping Egypt and crossing the Red Sea that God miraculously parted before their very eyes, they are camping out in the Desert of Sinai, at the foot of a mountain, and God calls out to Moses in verse 3 and says: "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to egypt, and how I carried you on eagles wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' "
God is saying "I want to move forward with my plan to get you back. I want to come down and dwell with you again. But in order to do that, there are a few things I want you to know about me and the realtionship I want to have with you.
This is a huge transition point in the scripture. God, who has been speaking with specific individuals will now begin to share life with all of his people just as He did in the garden of Eden. His physical presence will be with the people. But for God to do this, He asks the Israelites to make some serious commitments. Three things to be specific. God establishes guidelines for their relationshp with Him - we know them as the Ten Commandments. Second, He needs a place to dwell - What is called the Tabernacle, and third - the gap between their selfishness and God's Holiness has to be closed.
And so God invites Moses and Aaron to come up to Mount Sinai where in Exodus 20-24 he verbalizes what we know as "The 10 Commandments". And Moses comes down from the mountain and shares the commandments that God has said to both he and Aaron. And this huge gathering of Israelites say in one voice: Verse 7 of Exodus 24: "We will do everything The Lord has said." We want to be your people God! And they seal the covenant between them and God with blood.
And so what will happen next is God will write down the details of the covenant on stone tablets and Moses will meet with God again and return with these tablets in hand. The First 4 Commandments were given to safeguard and reflect the covenant relationship we have been granted with God. And the final Six commands will safeguard our relationship with others allowing God to be glorified so that others will come to relationship with Him.
God’s first statement in Exodus 20, verse 3: should come as no surprise: “You shall have no other gods before me.” God is saying "I want to be your One and Only." I want first place in your life. Before the first commandment was ever issued, God had established relationship with his people. In Genesis 12, God made a promise to Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. God miraculously gives him a son Isaac. Isaac has Jacob. Jacob has twelve sons one of which is Joseph. Through Joseph God spares this budding nation from a Famine as they move to Egypt. The nation continues to grow; only they become enslaved. God heard the cry of his people in Egypt, and he rescued them. God has kept every promise he made. Now he asks them to make a promise back. “I am The Lord Your God, There is to be no one, no other God before me.”
The second command expands our understanding of the first. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
In Exodus chapter 32, at the same time Moses was on the mountain receiving these commandments from God, you know what the people at the foot of the mountain were doing? They were making an idol, an image of a calf from gold. Verse 2 says to comfort them, to give them security because Moses had been gone up on the mountain too long.
Let me ask you something - "How long is too long?" For the Isrealites, Moses has been up on this mountain for 60 days. How long does it take you to lose focus, to find something or someone to comfort you, to give you security, other than God?
God says: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything….for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Notice the contrast God makes with the words Hate and Love.. Jesus said something similar when he said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must hate his father and mother, his brother and sister.” He wasn’t directing us to literally hate them. He was expressing the depth of love God desires from us. We are to Love him with such commitment, that all other love looks like hatred in comparison. And his Response to that Love? Blessing to the enth degree, favor and love to a thousand generations…God said. But give yourself over to idols – and you will see generations after you, your own children, suffer the consequences that you bring on yourself. And we see those consequences today in the brokenness of our own homes.
The Third command in verse 7: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God…” for he will not hold anyone who misuses his name guiltless.
I've only heard my wife's name used in a negative tone one time here at church 8 years ago when we addressed a personnel problem on staff. What was said was intended to hurt me, not her. But I can tell you, my wife's name will never be spoken again by that person, at least not to my hearing. And we should feel the same about God's name. His name is Holy, it is to be reveared. I also believe this command extends to us not using the name of the Lord to accomplish our own agenda. Throughout our history, people have used the name of God to serve their own agenda through Ethnic Cleansing, Abortion Clinic Bombings, Acts of Terrorism……… And on a more personal level, countless people can tell stories of how they were deeply wounded by a church or church leader who has done things in the name of the Lord when God had no part in the actions that were taken. And so God safeguards our relationship and the relationship of others with him, by saying, “don’t associate my name with anything other than what I have attached my name to.”
The fourth command in verse 8: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Many view this command to be a day of Rest for us. And while I agree that rest is a part of it, it’s the kind of rest that has to do with Trust, not sleeping in on Sunday morning or catching a ballgame on Saturday night and missing worship. Last week, chapter 4 of the story ended by telling us about the manna that fell from heaven as the Israelites traveled to feed them. Six days a week, the manna fell, enough for each day. On the sixth day, the Lord provided enough for two days so that they could keep the 7th day, the Sabbath, set apart completely for God. There was to be no work on the 7th day. The purpose – to remind us that all provision comes from him. He created us, he loves us, and he will care for our every need. We are to rest in his abiding Care first emotionally, and then physically.
Now, while the first 4 commandments reflect our relationship with God, the final 6 commands serve a very specific purpose as well. The final six commands safegaurd our relationship with other by preserving our freedom from the natural consequences of sin.
The list begins with a surprising commandment. Before prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing, lying and wanting what others have, God instructed his people in verse 12: “Honor your father and your mother.” And with this commandment he included this rationale: “so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you”.
What God was saying in effect was: “Your nation, your society, will never be stronger than your families. How you treat your father and mother will influence how you treat your fellow man, which will directly impact the future of this nation.” And we can certainly see today how the downward spiral of our country is directly related to the breakdown of our families.
Verse 13: We are to Honor other people’s bodies. “You shall not murder.”
Verse 14: We are to Honor other people’s marriages. “You shall not commit adultery.”
Verse 15: We are to honor others ownership of property and possessions. “You shall not steal.” Ever cheated just a little on your income taxes? Ever dented a car next to you in the parking lot and not left a note? Ever taken credit for something that wasn't yours to take? When we steal from others, it undermines our relationship with God and with the people around us on a bunch of different levels from Basic Trust to the Guilt that comes later.
Verse 16: We are to honor the reputation of others. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
And last, in verse 17: We are to not engage in Dishonorable Thinking. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor”. Coveting occurs when desire begins to undermine contentment or when we begin to resent someone else because of something he or she has. And when our contentment is eroded, our recognition of all that God has blessed us with is eroded too, beginning with the fact that he chose us and entered into relationship with us.
Remember how Jesus summed up the 10 commandments in the Gospel of Matthew: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself….” (Matthew 22:37-39)(NIV)
In addition to the 10 commandments, we read that God requires that two other things take place so that he can once again dwell with his people. One is The building of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 26, while Moses is on the mountain with God, God provides very specific details for this tent, this place of dwelling, that he would use to meet with his people. And in the center of this tent, the Ark of the Covenant, this chest, made from very special wood, covered with Gold inside and out, that held the stone tablets on which the covenant, the 10 commandsments were written. It was a project funded by every Isrealite who were to bring their gold, the best of yarn for curtains. But here is what I want you to get from God's request for them to build this tabernacle. God wasn't just building a sanctuary, he was building a nation. God understood their need for a visible God, just as he understands our need for the same today. The tabernacle would provide that physical presence.
But there was one other thing that God required. God required a way to restore fellowship between a Holy God and a sinful people.
God has reached out to us through His son Jesus Christ, the innocent, blemish free Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world, who died for your sins and mine that we might be made right with God. The Tabernacle - well, the tabernacle today is you and me. As Believers who are baptized by faith into Christ, His spirit now resides in us. The bible tells us that "We are the temple of th eliving God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they will be my people." (2 Corinthians 6:16b)(NIV) The 10 Commandments - they protect our relationship with him and with each other. That we love Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength, just as he so Loves us and that we share that love with the world around us, beginning with those closest to us..
Three things God required from the Israelites point us to the one thing that is required of us today, Love. Love for God that is greater than our love for self. He wants first place in our lives and He gives us first place in His.
I hope you will come and learn more this weekend about this One God who loves you so…