The Ten Words: Exodus 20:1-17

If you remember your confirmation instruction, you may remember the three purposes of God’s Law.  God’s Law serves as a curb, a mirror, and a guide.  The curbing part of the Law helps restrain our sinful behavior.  The mirror of the Law shows us that we can’t fully do what God expects of us.  The Law as a guide lets us know how to live our lives in a way that pleases God.

But today, we are going to look at the 10 Commandments in their original context.  To make sense of this, we first need to realize that God did not give 10 commandments.  He gave ten words.  In Hebrew, the word for “command” is mitzvah.  If you’ve heard the term Bar Mitzvah, that means a “son of the commandment,” which is a rite of passage for a 12-year-old Jewish boy.  But God doesn’t use mitzvah.  He uses davar, which means “word.”

So when we look at the entire text, God wants us to have and cherish 10 words that He gives to us.  What makes this difficult is that God gives us the number “10.”  But He doesn’t tell us what those 10 words are!  So we can’t get too picky about how people have numbered them, as long as there are 10!

God’s 1st word: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  What does this mean?  Remember how God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt and saved them through the Red Sea from the Egyptian army.  The gist of God’s Ten Words is, “I am a God who loves you.  This is how my rescued people live.”

The Israelite story is also our story.  The Old Testament saints were also saved through faith–faith in the messiah to come.  Today, we have faith in the messiah who came in the Person of Jesus Christ, 2,000 years ago.  The difference is one of time.  They had faith in Christ before He came; we have faith after.

So, although God hasn’t personally rescued you from slavery in Egypt, He has rescued you from your slavery to sin.  That’s what today’s Epistle reading was all about.  Consider yourselves dead to sin because you’ve been united to Christ through baptism.  So, although God didn’t personally save you through the waters of the Red Sea, He did save you through the waters of holy baptism, as 1 Peter 3:21 also tells us.  And so God’s Ten Words to you are the same.  He says, “I am a God who loves you.  This is how my rescued people live.”

God’s 2nd word: Don’t have other gods besides me.  What does this mean?  We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  God is saying, “Trust me; I’ll take care of you.”  He tells you not to have other gods because He loves you.  He knows He’s the only one who can provide everything you need.  He’s already given you what is most precious–His Son and His forgiveness.  He’ll take care of everything else, as well.  You don’t need other gods.

God’s 3rd word: Don’t misuse the name of the Lord your God.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t curse, swear, manipulate, lie, or deceive with His name.  Instead, we are to call on it in every need, and with it pray, praise, and give thanks.

What’s the point?  We are not to do anything that will belittle God, or even speak of Him in a trivial way.  For although God is a God we are to love, He is also a God we are to fear.  That’s why we are to “pray, praise, and give thanks” to God.

God’s 4th word: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t dishonor His Word, and the preaching of it.  Instead, we are to hold it as sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  But there’s more to the Sabbath than that!

In the Old Testament, God told His people to set a day apart, once a week.  On that day, God would come to give them His forgiveness through the sacrifices they made.  Today, God’s people no longer make such sacrifices.  For those sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus and His once-for-all sacrifice for us on the cross.

Yet, God still comes to His people to give them His forgiveness.  But instead of using sacrifices, He now uses Sacraments.  God replaced circumcision with baptism, still bringing people into His covenant (Colossians 2:11-12).  God replaced Passover with His Supper, still reminding His people that He rescued them from their slavery of sin.  But now, He even forgives them by giving them His body and blood!

That’s the whole point of remembering the Sabbath.  If you don’t set a day apart to be where God comes to you with His forgiveness, it won’t happen.  This is so crucial that God says to have an exclusive day just for this.  God giving His forgiveness to you is so essential that you need it, not just when you feel like it, but even every week!

God’s 5th word: Honor your father and your mother.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority.  Instead, we are to honor, serve, love, obey, and esteem them.  This word of God says, “Children, if you want to please God, obey your mom and dad.  Adults, if you want to please God, take care of your aging parents.”

Nowhere does the Bible specifically say that you should become some specialized church worker.  But God tells every Christian to “honor your father and your mother.”  When you do that, you know that pleases God.

God’s 6th word: Don’t kill.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t hurt or harm our neighbor in his body.  Instead, we are to help and support him in every bodily need.

God loves you.  He gives you life.  He wants you to enjoy life.  He wants others to enjoy life.  So, you please God and keep this word when you help others also enjoy life.  You do this when you provide food or clothing to those who need it.  You do this when you help someone in danger.  You do this when you speak for someone who can’t speak for himself, such as the unborn baby.

God says, “Don’t kill.” He doesn’t say, “Don’t murder.”  God is against taking all human life, not just murder.  And so, even if taking a human life becomes necessary, it is never something good.  It is only to be done by the proper authorities to prevent a greater evil from taking place.

God’s 7th word: Don’t commit adultery.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so in matters of sex, our words and deeds are pure and honorable, and husband and wife love and respect each other.

Sex is a gift from God.  We are not to abuse that gift.  Instead, sex is a way to strengthen our marriages and provide us with children.  God gives husbands to wives and wives to husbands.  This is so each can love the other, care for the other, and remain faithful to the other.  Why?  Because each is a precious gift from God!

God’s 8th word: Don’t steal.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t take our neighbor’s money or goods, or get them by any dishonest dealing.  Instead, we are to help him improve and protect his property and means of making a living.

Oh good, finally, a word from God we can keep!  We may not always put God first, but at least we don’t steal!  Yes, we do.  We steal from our employers when we waste time at work.  We steal from our employees when we don’t pay them as much as we can.  We steal when we give service that is less than our best, when we cheat on tests in school, and when we tweak the numbers on our income taxes.

God’s ninth word: Don’t speak falsely against your neighbor.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t lie about, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor.  Instead, we defend him, speak well of him, and see his actions in the best possible light.

When you see someone doing something wrong, don’t go blabbing to others.  Have enough personal integrity to talk to the person privately.  Who knows, you might lead him back to Christ, instead of ruining his reputation.  Use your mouth to help.  Use it to speak about the best in others and to defend those whom others are bad-mouthing.

God’s 10th word: Don’t covet.  What does this mean?  We are to fear and love God, so we don’t scheme or desire to get what is our neighbor’s, or seize it by legal loophole.  Instead, we help him to keep what is his.

This word of God reminds us that even if our lives look respectable on the outside, our hearts are corrupt on the inside.  You know about your sinful yearnings to want more income, a better car, or someone else’s looks.  Those yearnings condemn you, even if you don’t act on them.

Instead of wanting what your Lord has given to someone else, treasure what He has given to you.  He has never failed to give you enough.  And He never will.  Because He loves you!

Do you see yourself as sullied and stained after hearing God’s Ten Words?  Do you feel as if you’ve failed God?  If you do, then good!  That’s what’s supposed to happen.  You’re supposed to realize that you can’t make yourself right with God.  But then you are to believe God, even more, when He says that He has already made everything right between you and Him in His Son, Jesus Christ.

The Ten Words of God are all about God’s love.  God rescued you from sin, death, and the devil.  And He gives you 10 words that you may know who you are.  You are someone whom God has rescued.  And, by the Holy Spirit’s working, you are someone who wants to live a life that pleases God.  For God is, indeed, pleased with you.  Jesus has made sure of that!  Amen.