The Law and Response
The Ten Commandments, were given to the Israelites after they escaped Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, and arrived at Mount Sinai. This moral code remains a central part of both Christian and Jewish theology. Then and now, some look at The Ten as God’s just authority and order while others resist relationship with God and maintain a defiant posture of indifference or disobedience.
Or we might land in the middle somewhere in trusting the legitimacy of God’s love and direction. How do we balance simple faith in the legitimacy of a divinely ordered world with the current atmosphere of distrust, dismay and anger over its cruelty and unfairness?
Working for the 2020 Census has helped me think about law and response. The Census is designed to determine congressional representation, inform hundreds of billions in federal funding, and provide data that will impact communities for the next decade. An accurate count of the population as well as a response by all, is required by law and should serve as the basis for fair political representation. Yet, whatever the law may be and the benefits to community programs, there are still many whose distrust of the government and fear over privacy concerns keep them from answering the census survey. The big question: Is the Law legit?
Trust and legitimacy are the two big issues surrounding our response to governance over our lives. It really wasn’t that different in the story of God’s people in Exodus.
Exodus 20 (The Voice) Then God began to speak directly to all the people.
Until now God has dealt only with Moses on behalf of His people; at Mount Sinai, He turns to address them directly…He then proceeds to lay out the Ten Directives that will define and shape their lives together. The first four Directives concern their duties to know and worship the one True God. The last six pertain to how Israel is to live with one another in a covenant-based society.
Eternal One: 2 I am the Eternal your God. I led you out of Egypt and liberated you from lives of slavery and oppression.
3 You are not to serve any other gods before Me.
4 You are not to make any idol or image of other gods. In fact, you are not to make an image of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath
7 You are not to use My name for your own idle purposes, for the Eternal will punish anyone who treats His name as anything less than sacred.
8 You and your family are to remember the Sabbath Day; set it apart, and keep it holy. 9 You have six days to do all your work,
12 You are to honor your father and mother. If you do, you and your children will live long and well in the land the Eternal your God has promised to give you.
13 You are not to murder.
14 You are not to commit adultery.
15 You are not to take what is not yours.
16 You are not to give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 You are not to covet what your neighbor has or set your heart on…anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
18 As all the people witnessed the signs of God’s presence—the blast of the ram’s horn, the roaring thunder, the flashing lightning, and the smoke-covered mountain—they shook with fear and astonishment and wisely kept their distance.
Israelites (to Moses): 19 We are afraid to have God speak directly to us; we are certain that we will die. You speak to us instead; we promise to listen.
Moses: 20 Don’t be afraid. These powerful manifestations are God’s way of instilling awe and fear in you so that you will not sin; He is testing you for your own good.
Practice. Rewriting The 10.
As a teacher of English as a Second Language I often used Bible stories in class. The story of Moses made for good discussion, but I was worried about introducing the Ten Commandments for fear they would seem archaic and rule-based. Yet, the students enjoyed talking about the Law, and rewriting it in everyday language. Jesus did his own “rewrite” when asked: “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” His answer summarized the ten directives into two, focusing on love: “The most important one is this: Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31)
Take some time to rewrite the Ten Commandments in positive language, changing “shall nots” to “I wills.” See what comes up in your spirit and mind showing ways you have broken relationship with God or neighbor.
Think about ways you can love God holistically and completely with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Write down one idea or prayer for each of the four areas:
Heart. O Father, I place you in the center of…
Soul. Jesus, transform my…
Mind. O Wisdom. Speak truth about…
Strength. Almighty God. Help me…
Drawing: Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1860)