Continuing a plan to get through the entire Bible in a year, follow as I journal through the reading. I have chosen a straightforward approach that begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation. This will not be an in-depth study or a comprehensive commentary. There are plenty of sources for such material. This is stage one Bible reading, taking the text at face value and sharing impressions.
Today’s reading comes from the book of Exodus, chapters 19 through 21, detailing Israel’s arrival at Mount Sinai and the issuance of the Ten Commandments. Some impressions from the text:
- Chapter 19 details Israel’s meeting with God at Mount Sinai. It’s clear from both scripture and nature that God values symbolism and imagery. Surely, He could have spoken to Moses without requiring him to scale a mountain. But He did so as an expression of his majesty. In this way, along with the smoke which veiled his presence, God seperated himself from the people. Indeed, anyone not authorized to be on the mountain was to be executed for trespassing, “stoned or shot.” Even with that restriction, the people were still called upon to cleanse themselves before coming into even remote proximity to God. All this acknowledged his unassailable holiness.
- The First Commandment is so in both chronology and priority. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” God is God, and nothing or no one else compares. We were made with a propensity toward worship, and will worship something or some one. There are only two possible manifestations, worship of the one true God, or idolatry. We will do one or the other.
- The Second Commandment again deals with worship, prohibiting all forms of idolatry. This is one that modern believers often dismiss as irrelevant. After all, who among us today worships carved images of wood or stone? But idolatry does not require a physically crafted idol. We “carve” images of God all the time, perhaps not literally, but in our own minds. We imagine God as we prefer to see him, valuing what we value, prioritizing what we prioritize, despising what we despise. We then worship this imagined god as if he were real. That’s fundamentally no different than bowing to a cold dead statue.
- “I the Lord your God am a jealous God…” Oprah once said this passage caused her to question the biblical narrative. What kind of god is jealous? Answer: the one true God to whom worship is due, when he sees worship directed elsewhere. You might as well ask why a husband is jealous on account of an unfaithful wife. Her affection is properly reserved for him. So it is to an even greater degree with God.
- “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain…” We tend to interpret this commandment too literally, thinking only of using God’s name as a curse word. That certainly qualifies. But that’s not the only or even primary way in which God’s name is taken in vain. Anytime someone evokes God falsely, either through idle curse or well-considered doctrinal blasphemy, she breaks the Third Commandment. Joel Osteen takes the Lord’s name in vain. So does the Westboro Baptist Church, though in a different way. Evoking God without actually serving his gospel is unholy vanity.
- “You shall not murder.” This is the one everyone goes to first when demonstrating their goodness. It’s the one commandment which everyone remembers, because it’s the one which most everyone has “obeyed.” Only we haven’t. As Christ later made clear in Matthew 5:21, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Puts a new spin on it, huh? None of us are good, not one. The Law was given, in part, to demonstrate that.
- “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 is your neighbor’s.” So much for all attempts at a biblical justification for Marxism.
- Reading the laws about slaves and restitution proves challenging in a modern context. We don’t have slaves nowadays, and the concept is rightfully repugnant. That said, getting hung up on slavery misses the broader context here. Slavery then was not slavery as we’ve come to conceptualize it. It was more akin to employment. Indeed, these laws mandated far better treatment of Hebrew slaves than what we today would expect of a slaver.
Return soon as we continue our year-long journey through the text of the Bible.
Catch up on the previous entries:
Moses gets a mission from God. – Exodus 1-3
God makes his name known by plaguing Egypt.– Exodus 7-9
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously…” Exodus 13-15
God continues to provide, even for an ungrateful people. – Exodus 16-18