Covenantal Commandments (Exodus 19:1-20:1) Pastor Josh VanLeeuwen
Does your family have house rules? If so, they probably include something like “don’t take what doesn’t belong to you,” or “respect others,” or “watch your language.” Maybe some members of your household (kids) complain that these rules are overly restrictive, but most people (parents) find that life runs more smoothly when a clear expectation of acceptable behavior is established. House rules not only set limits and govern behavior, though: they also are a statement of a family’s values.
We first find our identity in family. We live in relationship with one another, and through those relationships we learn who we are. We learn what’s important and how to live in the first community that is family, and as we grow our community expands to include more family, friends, teachers, and eventually bosses and coworkers. Living successfully in community requires a willingness to give and take, to teach and learn, and to forgive and accept forgiveness. There are rules that establish acceptable behavior and act as covenants between us and others to help ensure a thriving community.
If you ask people what the Ten Commandments are, the answer you’ll probably get is “a list of rules.” And they are, but that’s not all. Like our house rules, the commandments allowed the Israelites to live successfully in community, in relationship with God and with one another. The Law was an extension of the Lord’s covenant with Abraham, reminding the Hebrews who God was and what he had done for them, and with the members of the community, reminding them who they were—God’s children—and how they were to live peacefully together. The if-then of that covenant was clear: as long as the Israelites obeyed the Law and kept the covenant, God would bless and protect them.
As the modern-day fellowship of believers, we also look to the commandments, the Law, as a reminder of who God is and who we are in relation to him and to each other. Only by obeying the Law can we live successfully in community. Some say that we don’t need the Ten Commandments anymore because of the work Jesus did on the cross, but Jesus himself said he came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. The word fulfill has several interpretations, from the Hebrew “to uphold or establish” to the more idiomatic “properly interpret or carry out.” So even though we aren’t Jewish, we still are the beneficiaries of God’s blessing of Abraham, and we still are in a covenant relationship with God through the Law. Think of the commandments as a kind of house rules for the community of faith. As long as we obey, life goes more smoothly, and we can thrive and grow together as the adopted children of God.