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Exodus 19:46; 20:317 comment (0)

July 27, 2006

By Carol Ann Vaughn, Ph.D.

Related Scripture: Exodus 19:46; 20:317

Family Bible Study
Director, Christian Women’s Leadership Center, Samford University

I Will Obey God’s Commandments
Exodus 19:4–6; 20:3–17

Often when people experience liberation from others’ control, they struggle with a loss of guidelines and ask, “Now what?” We decide for ourselves what rules we follow, which rules we disregard, how much discipline and self-control we will practice voluntarily. As the Israelites reveled in their liberation from the Egyptians’ control — like most human beings — they drifted toward anarchy.

This part of the Exodus story emphasizes a new way of life — God’s way — that is better than the extremes of anarchy or oppression. It is built on freedom and commitment.

In Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, there are more than 600 commandments for Jews to follow. They address all aspects of life: health, wealth, relationships and religious rituals, for example. For this reason, religious people asked Jesus which ones He believed were the most important to keep.

Jesus cited the one we find in Deuteronomy 6:4–9 to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He added a second one, known as the Golden Rule, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–40; Mark 12:29–31). Jesus went a step further with a “new commandment” to “love one another” (John 13:34).

In this passage of Exodus, we see rules given to the people of Israel to follow as evidence of their special relationship with God. These guidelines are often numbered as 10, although there are two different traditions of numbering them.

In one tradition, verses 3–6 are grouped together as the First Commandment; verse 7 is the Second and so on; then verse 17 is divided into the Ninth and 10th commandments. In the other tradition, accepted by most Protestants, verse 3 is the First Commandment; verses 4–6 constitute the Second; verse 7 is the third and so on. Verse 17 is considered one commandment — the 10th.

The number 10 is powerful. Think about the volume of books and programs of “10 steps,” “10 principles,” “10 rules,” etc. The number represents a progression, a list fairly easy to memorize. Every Christian today decides whether to follow the Ten Commandments of this passage, all of the 600-plus commandments and/or the two commands of Jesus. What all people of faith can see is that we please God and help build an enduring society by revering the one God; honoring our parents; and treating others with the utmost respect for their life, marriage and property.

While most of these commandments are stated in terms of what not to do, living God’s way includes doing what is right and good. Paul’s teachings about the purpose of the law demonstrate this. He laid out both requirements, for example, in Philippians 2:3: “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”

In Galatians 5, we see that “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by slavery” (v. 1) because “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (v. 6b).

We are called “to be free,” but, we are reminded, “do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love” because “the entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:13–14). 1 Corinthians 13 outlines specific behavior of this love Jesus discussed as the “new commandment.”

In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages Christians to practice dwelling on “whatever” is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy. In Galatians 5:22–23, he lists lifestyles “against which there is no law” as those of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 

As James 2:8 notes, “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.”

Like the ancient Israelites, by committing to live in covenant with God, we acknowledge our God-given freedom and accept the responsibilities that go with it.

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