The Wild Places Bible Guide – 7
March 19, 2019
Tuesday, March 19
Exodus 20:1-21 (CEB)
20 Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 You must have no other gods before me.
4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. 6 But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 Honor your father and your mother so that your life will be long on the fertile land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 Do not kill.
14 Do not commit adultery.
15 Do not steal.
16 Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.
17 Do not desire your neighbor’s house. Do not desire and try to take your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox, donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the horn, and the mountain smoking, the people shook with fear and stood at a distance. 19 They said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we’ll listen. But don’t let God speak to us, or we’ll die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Don’t be afraid, because God has come only to test you and to make sure you are always in awe of God so that you don’t sin.” 21 The people stood at a distance while Moses approached the thick darkness in which God was present.
Points of Interest
- At Mount Sinai, out in the wilderness, God has some things to say to the people. The wild places, as it turns out, are a great time for re-centering, re-calibrating our life course. But first, a reminder of just who’s talking to them – the god who brought them out of slavery. It would be easy to hear this as a guilt trip, but I think it’s meant to clarify what’s going on here. God’s reminding them that the purpose of this whole journey through the wild places, and whatever spiritual or ethical journey these commandments take them on, is liberation.
There’s been centuries of debate about what to do today with these ancient commandments. Some people want them on the walls of public buildings, while others think they’re utterly irrelevant for modern life. I receive them as my own faith tradition’s oldest, most central ethical teaching, guideposts for living that promise more liberation.
- The commandment against idol-making is tied to God’s passion. Idols – physical representations of unseen gods, be they religious statues or any other objects of devotion and control – are nothing if not dispassionate. God is clear that God is more alive than that – passionate in consequence perhaps but far more passionate in loyalty and love. God wants to be related to as a Person, not an object or idea.
- The command to regular rest is liberating – there is more to life than work! It is also hospitable – it is for the immigrants, it’s even for the animals. Worth keeping in mind when we consider that the lowest pay and lowest status jobs in our own economy tend don’t have paid vacation times and often involve long or inconvenient hours and holding down two or more jobs to make ends meet!
Honor of parents is for liberation too – it’s for long, flourishing life in community.
- Letting your neighbor enjoy their own life feels particularly liberating as well. Our consumer economy is predicated on wanting stuff and experiences that we think other people have. That wears me out and troubles me, whereas wanting and consuming less (in those rare moments I take this to heart!) brings me freedom and peace.
- After all the words, the only thing the people pick up on is the fearsome smoke and noise. They witness an important moment in ethical and religious history while slowly backing away, telling Moses – catch us up later on whatever we missed.
- If these commands are meant to be helpful – guideposts toward the good life – than sin is the word in this text for the life that loses course. Moses doesn’t want people running from God in fear, but in a relationship of awe that will keep them focused and inspired on the liberated way forward.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for any of your friends or family who could use more rest or any other liberation these commands speak to, that they’ll find guidance toward the most flourishing of lives.
Spiritual Exercise of the Week
Encounter and Discovery in Nature – This week, each day if you are able, spend a few minutes of quiet in a natural environment. This could be a patch of woods, a park, or even leaning against a single tree. Be creative with what’s available, or try a single, longer trip at one point during the week. (The ocean of Revere Beach, Boston Harbor, or the beaches of Dorchester Bay, and the woods of the Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park, and more are all available via public transportation.) Quiet your body and mind for a few minutes, and see what you notice or discover. Is there any way you differently encounter yourself, your life, your world, or God in this setting? Is there any perspective you take in?