Once I heard a beloved preacher, Pastor Ed, begin his sermon by asking people to respond, “Yay!” to good news, and “Boo!” to bad news. “For God so loved the world…” – Yay! “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…she took of its fruit and ate…” – Boo! Then he threw in a zinger. “God gave us the Ten Commandments…” – Silence. And then laughter. Are God’s laws good news or bad?
I fear many of us have been taught that the 10 commandments are hard and fast rules to be followed or else – hellfire and brimstone, weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal punishment! I vehemently disagree!
For a lost and broken people that had never governed themselves, God’s laws were a gift! How else would a nation know how to behave properly in civilized society? They had been slaves their whole lives – being told what to do, when and how to do it. They were probably regularly punished unpredictably and inconsistently for any number of infractions – whatever was the whim of the taskmasters that day. To have acceptable and unacceptable behavior spelled out word for word would have helped them tremendously as they learned to navigate healthy community life. It’s a good thing for us that God knows what we need, even when we don’t know what’s best for us.
Then God spoke all these words: 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. 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. You 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, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 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. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But 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. For 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.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.