Tuesday of Lent III – Exodus 20:1-17

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Have you ever walked into your neighbor’s house and found a copy of the Ten Commandments framed on the wall? Did you take a good look at it only to observe that they had misnumbered them? Or, from their perspective, have you got them misnumbered? There has been a debate carried on over centuries about the numbering of the commandments. The problem is that there are only nine distinct commands in there. Luther retained the medieval Catholic numbering which splits the final commandment, creating two coveting commandments. Zwingli rejected that system and renumbered them by splitting the first commandment, forbidding graven images in the second commandment. That is why your protestant neighbor looks at you funny if you speak about the fifth commandment forbidding murder. It is the sixth commandment for him.

But notice Moses’ naming of this passage in verse 1. These are words. Yes, it surely does include commandments, but the category is larger. In fact, the Bible does not often refer to these as commandments until the New Testament. They were originally known as the “Ten Words.” You might think of it as the Ten Sentences. The first sentence (word), I believe, is actually verse 2. It is a word of truth. God is the God who rescued us, delivering us from Egypt, the house of slavery.

What does that do to our understanding of these commandments? I like to think that it puts a “therefore” in front of each commandment. “I am the Lord who rescued you, therefore you will have no other god, you will not misuse my name, you will honor my sabbath, etc.” Our obedience begins with God’s gracious action. Like me, your Lenten repentance involves assessing life and finding things that need to change. Being a repentant Christian, we root those changes in Christ’s rescuing love for us. We do fear and love God so that we…you probably know how the rest of that sentence goes. If you do not, pick up the catechism and look afresh at these words as Luther describes them for you.

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