September 23, 2018
Exodus 19. 3-7; 20. 1-17
Exodus 19. 3-7; 20. 1-17
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians,” God says to the Israelites, “how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Israel is rescued from slavery; set free from a life cruel servitude, and brought into the wilderness to a place where a decision has to be made. “Now therefore,” God continues, “if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”
There is an echo here of God’s call to Abraham—the father of the Israelites, from hundreds of years before. “Go from your father’s house”, God told Abraham, “to the land that I will show you and I will make you a blessing to the whole world”. Abraham was called to bless and serve the whole world on God’s behalf. Israel is called to be a “priestly kingdom”; a nation of people who will serve the world on God’s behalf.
Israel was never meant to go it alone, you see; never meant to set up hard borders between themselves and their neighbors or to build high walls to keep out the people who they thought were too different from them. Both these are things the modern nation Israel has done—and is doing with great energy and increasing violence every year, it seems. But if Moses is telling the truth here, this isn’t the way it was supposed to be.
You can’t be a servant nation and serve only yourself, you see. You can’t be a priestly nation and keep the blessings of God only for yourself. God called Abraham, as God called Israel—as God calls us I believe, not to hoard the blessings of God for ourselves but to be the blessing the world needs; to be God’s own blessing to the world God loves.
So Israel is brought out of slavery, gathered around the base of God’s mountain at Sinai and given a choice: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.”
Now here’s something many Christian readers miss in this story.
The call to obey God’s voice, to enter into a unique “covenant” relationship with this God, comes to Israel after they have been rescued; after they have been redeemed out of slavery. “You have seen what I did,” God reminds them. “How I bore you and brought you to myself”. All those verbs are past tense. Their redemption has been accomplished. They are full and free recipients of God’s unbounded, unmerited grace. They are free right then and there to go any direction they want to go—back to Egypt if they’d like or on to Palestine or off to any other country, if that’s what they want to do.
That’s what grace does, don’t you see. Grace pulls us out of a life that looks, really, very much like death. A life devoid of choices. A life bound by obligations laid on us by forces we can’t control or escape. Grace sets us free to choose. Grace puts us in that place where we—and not some bully tyrant, can chart the course of our lives.
“You have seen what I did; how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you out”. Now God wants to show them what can come next; to show them a future they can live with; a future beyond than anything they have ever hoped for or imagined.
“Then Moses summoned the elders of the people. And God spoke all these words”—
What follows here is the passage Mary Lou and I read a few moments ago; the passage we typically label “The 10 Commandments”. But did you know in the Hebrew Bible they aren’t called “commandments”; they are called simply “words”. “Moses summoned the elders of the people. And then God spoke all these words…” And this makes perfect sense, when you think about it.
Grace has been given. Redemption is completed. The people are free. The future lies before them wide open and wonderful and mysterious. They have options they have never before imagined. What might that future be like?
“Well, I’m glad you asked”, God seems to say, “because I have an offer I hope you won’t be able to refuse. “If you obey my voice (listen to my “words”, in other words) and keep my covenant (live in close relationship with me, this means), you shall be my treasured possession…you will be a priestly kingdom, a holy nation, a blessing to the whole world. Live by my words and your world will look like this:
1. You will have no other God but me. This was the best news. None of the other gods gave 2 hoots about the people, but you had to work really hard at keeping them happy anyway. This God—the God of Abraham, for whom grace always comes before law, for whom redemption always, always precedes requirements—this God promises to be different; unimaginably better.
2. You will know and worship the Creator of all things, and not the things themselves.
3. You will take this God’s name—that is, you will call yourself a follower of this benevolent God, and you won’t be taking that name in vain. You really will be who you have been called to be. You will fully be yourself.
4. Follow these words, God says, and you will have ample opportunity to rest. In fact, you will be expected to rest. You will be given Sabbath time in which the only appropriate thing you can do is rest. You will rest and not be guilty. You will rest and be refreshed.
5. Family ties are strong and long lasting in the future God’s words offer. Mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, sons and daughters will be honored and valued.
6. There will be no murder in this future. “We’ll lay down our shields and swords”, as the song goes. “No more killing, no more wars”.
7. There will be no stealing of affections. The deep bonds of marriage will hold.
8. There will be no stealing of anything else, either.
9. Truth will matter, in God’s future. We will not destroy our children’s future with lies or our neighbor’s lives with false statements.
10. And number 10—in this covenant future God offers we will be so sure of God’s provision, so confident of God’s grace, so persuaded of God’s generosity that it simply won’t occur to us to chase after our neighbor’s house—or wife, or husband, or ox, or donkey, or shiny new car or anything else that belongs to our neighbor. Greed will be unknown.
This is the future God offers the newly freed slaves, who were standing around Mt Sinai and wondering what would come next. It becomes the present for us—as we hear the Words of God and as we decide to listen and follow.
There is, of course, a lot more to pull from these 10 Words; and we’ll be back here again next week. But this, I think, is a good place to start.
What we call the 10 Commandments are in fact 10 Words of Grace. Grace that rescues us out of a life that looks, really, very much like slavery and death. A life bound by obligations we can’t control or escape.
Grace sets us free to choose.
Then, in these 10 Words of Grace, God offers us a good choice; a good future to live in to.
“You have seen what I did; how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you out. Now let me show you what can come next. Let me show you a future beyond anything you have ever hoped for or imagined.
“You have seen what I did (God says). How I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now, obey my voice. Keep my covenant, (and) you shall be my treasured possession. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me (and for the world) a priestly kingdom and a holy blessing.”
Adult Bible Study Class
Week 4 September 30, 2018
Last week we read the story several times and have become well acquainted with the details—who’s doing what to whom when, where and why. Then we answered the first 2 of the 5 questions we will address each week on the text for the week. this week we will dig a little deeper into the portion of the story that seems to have caught our attention and won’t let us go. This will likely be a different part of the story for each one of us. You are not doing a deep theological critique here. You simply need to listen and somewhere in the story you may sense the Spirit nudging you to look more closely at something. It may be a single word or a short phrase or maybe even a whole verse—but probably not more than that. So read over the story one more time and work through the questions that follow.
Exodus 19. 3-7
3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him.
Exodus 20. 1-17
1 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
12 Honour your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 You shall not murder.
14 You shall not commit adultery.
15 You shall not steal.
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
17 You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour.
You answered questions 1 and 2 last week. So unless you have found something that has caught your attention more forcefully, repeat your answers here
1. “What’s the place in the text that fascinates you, bothers you, troubles you thrills you, haunts you, angers you, gladdens you or otherwise jumps up to meet you?” (Rehearsing Scripture, pg 86). Write out that word, phrase or verse here: ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
2. Why does it get you? Why the strong reaction? Hint: It might be because you’ve been in a similar situation, made the same mistake, felt the same blessing. Pay attention to your feelings and answer the “Why?” question here: _____________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. What do you know about God from this moment in the text that gets you? Here we get closer to the point of this exercise. We read and rehearse Scripture “so that we can say something true—something that matters vitally for the world—about God”. (Rehearsing Scripture, pg. 90). Honesty, more than certainty, about what you know of God really counts in this answer.
5. Why does your community (this class) need to hear today what you know about God from this story? Why is it important to tell them? (“If what we say matters vitally, if it speaks to the needs and concerns of real people we love and care for, then we must speak up…It will be a word about God” Rehearsing Scripture, pg 92) _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
6. What do you want to say? Say it in one sentence. This may be the toughest question. You may need the help of your fellow students to find the words. From Rehearsing Scripture, pg.93 “Keep it simple. God is the subject. We encountered God in this text. I have a word to speak, a word that matters, for people I love. This is what I want to say:” _________________________________________________________________
6. “Since words do things to people, what do you hope your words will do?” (Rehearsing Scripture, pg 94) Recall what your words have done in the past—hurt feelings, ruffled feathers or even causing someone to fall in love with you. Are your words “tasty”, hospitable? “The door we open is the one that points to God”, (Rehearsing Scripture, pg 95). Write your hope here: