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The Ten Commandments Are Not for Show
Preparing for the Day of Pentecost: One Day before Sunday (Year A)
Psalter: Psalm 33:12-22
Old Testament: Exodus 20:1-21
Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
“You shall not murder.
“You shall not commit adultery.
“You shall not steal.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:1-17)
The Ten Commandments serve as the foundation of Israel’s law. In American culture, we continue to have a debate on whether the Ten Commandments should be posted in schools or on the walls of the local courthouse. To do so is to fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of the Ten Commandments.
The ancient rabbis said that when one counted up all of the laws in the Torah, The Ten Commandments were central and foundational. From those Ten flow all of the 613 bylaws that the rabbis had enumerated in the Torah. And so the Ten Commandments or Decalogue as it is also called serve as the bedrock and the beginning of the Law given to Israel. Think of the Ten Commandments as embodying the summation of the law of Moses. Jesus will further summarize the Torah as loving the Lord our God, and loving neighbor.
So to rip the Ten Commandments out of the Scripture, put it on a plaque and stick it on a courthouse is to fundamentally treat the Decalogues in a way that scripture never intended it for it to be employed. Once the Ten are separated from the 613 bylaws they are ripped from their context and no longer make any sense.
Moreover, the Ten Commandments are for the covenantal people of God. That means they are not for all Americans; for not all Americans are Jewish or Christian. Israel did not attempt to enforce the Torah upon those outside the covenant and neither should we.
The prophets of the Old Testament long for a day when the commandments will be written on the human heart. That could only happen if Israel was the light to the nations in their way of life in obedience to the covenant. The Decalogue is about God’s covenant with his people, not the coercion of others. Christians would be more faithful to the Decalogue if they sought to embody it in their way of life instead of making a show of them in public.
PRAYER: O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.