The 10 Commandments – A List or a Lifestyle? (1-4)
“He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” (Deut. 26:19)
Those are blessings I’d like to receive! But before we “name it and claim it”, let’s look at the context.
“The Lord your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.”
Aha! These blessings are part of a covenant with those who keep the Lord’s commands. Deuteronomy 26 comes at the end of several chapters of commands, beginning with the 10 Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. Let’s start there.
Many see the 10 Commandments as an obvious list of do’s and don’ts – things any good person can achieve. “I’ve done this one, this one and this one; and I’ve never done that one, that one and definitely not that one. I’m doing pretty good.” But if the above blessings are contingent on these ten commands, let’s unpack them and see how each one pertains to our lives every day.
The 1st Commandment
“I am Adonai your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, where you lived as slaves.”
This first commandment is about remembering what God has done for us — all that He did in Egypt against our oppressors, against the gods of our oppressors, the miracle at the Red Sea to save us. The Exodus isn’t just a story of what happened to “them.” Since we’re grafted into Israel, this is our people, our family, and our history. This is what God did for US.
1. What God did in Egypt is our family history, the story of what our Father did for us.
My youngest brother is adopted from India. My parents adopted him when he was two years old. As he grew up he learned our family history along with the rest of us kids. We learned how our great, great grandparents had come to this country, the hardships they had, how they survived – their whole story. The fact that my brother was adopted didn’t make that family history any less his. It shaped his perception of who he was, just like it did for all of us, because we grew up with people that descended from them. Their upbringing and development under those conditions now influence us.
The story of what God did in Egypt is just like that. The history of the people we’ve joined is now our history. Our father is the one who performed those miracles for us. This command is about us taking on that history as our own and remembering that we serve that same the God.
The 2nd Commandment
“You are to have no other gods before me. You are not to make for yourselves a carved image or any kind of representation of anything in heaven above, on the earth beneath or in the water below the shoreline — you are not to bow down to them or serve them; for I, Adonai your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the parents, also the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but displaying grace to the thousandth generation of those who love me and obey my commands.”
The second commandment is about what we call idolatry. At that time it was common to have several gods — gods for rain, gods for fertility, gods for healing or crops. We know that these Israelites grew up with Egyptians who had 10 gods. But idolatry can take many forms – it can be anything that we put our trust in besides God, anything we rely on for our security besides God. These are the things that have the power to pull us away from God, or cause us to follow our own path to get what we think we need. Here’s how I summarize it:
2. Anything we put our faith in either in addition to or instead of God is idolatry; trust in the Source vs. the resource.
It may be your income, the approval of your spouse, your savings or emergency supplies — whatever areas of your life that you depend on to see you through. I’m not recommending we do away with those things, but we have to keep them in proper perspective. God is our only source; He’s the one that provides all those things to us. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “You are to remember Adonai your God, because it is he who is giving you the power to get wealth.” When we give the resources equal or greater consideration than the Source of those resources, we’ve just crossed the line into idolatry. This command is about depending on God as our first and only source of everything we need.
The 3rd Commandment
“You are not to misuse the name of Adonai your God, because Adonai will not leave unpunished someone who misuses his name.”
This commandment is not only referring to swearing or taking God’s name in vain, although it certainly includes that. This commandment is explained in Deuteronomy 12-14. Chapter 12 talks all about bringing offerings to the place where God chooses to have His name live.
With the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, we now understand that we are God’s temple; we are the place where God chooses to have His name live; we are representing his presence on earth.
Several places in the Bible talk about profaning the name of God. Look at Ezekiel 36:20:
“When they came to the nations they were going to, they profaned my holy name; so that people said of them, ‘These are Adonai’s people, who have been exiled from his land.’”
How did they profane his name? Because their disregard for God’s commands caused them to be exiled from their land, and people blamed it on their God. The Israelites represented God wherever they went. People equated their lives – either the blessings or the curses they brought on – with the God of Israel. And this is how it is with us.
3. We are representatives of God’s holy name on earth.
We are representing God’s holiness and God’s name as we live our lives and others see the fruit of our relationship with Him.
The 4th Commandment
“Observe the day of Shabbat, to set it apart as holy, as Adonai your God ordered you to do. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your ox, your donkey or any of your other livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property — so that your male and female servants can rest just as you do. You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and Adonai your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore Adonai your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat.”
The Sabbath is the sign of the Mosaic covenant. Just as the rainbow is the sign of the covenant with Noah, and circumcision the sign of the covenant with Abraham. The Sabbath is the sign of the covenant with Moses – the covenant of blessings and curses.
Exodus 31:13 says,
“You are to observe my Shabbats; for this is a sign between me and you through all your generations; so that you will know that I am Adonai, who sets you apart for me.”
Ezekiel 20 repeats this twice.
Observing the Sabbath is obvious in this command, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This is the summary of all of God’s appointed times, his calendar, his timeline and seasons. This is explained in Deuteronomy 15-16.
Chapter 15 covers the shemitah (the Sabbath year every seven years). This is why the command references our slavery in Egypt again – because shemitah includes setting slaves free, just as God did for us. Then chapter 16 covers the feasts and holy days of the Lord.
This command is all about observing God’s calendar and aligning ourselves with his rhythm.
4. Align with all of God’s appointed times, his calendar, his timeline and seasons.
On our Gregorian calendar, we have a sense of what each month brings. In America we think of:
January – cold and dark – the let-down after the hype of the holidays.
February – at least it’s a short month.
March – “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” We have hope that the weather will change.
“April showers bring May flowers…”
We have certain impressions of each month, maybe based on the season, maybe the holidays, maybe vacation times or busy times at our job. We know the Gregorian calendar – you mention a month, we can describe it.
God’s calendar is just as specific. He wants us to know his calendar as well as we do our cultural one. The Jewish Sages have done a wonderful job in observing the Hebrew months over the centuries, and documenting and teaching the “personality” of each month. (Hebrew4Christians.com is one place where you can study these.)