Laws or Guidelines?

Exodus 19:1-20:21.  An emerging nation must have a geographical definition and a social definition.  The Promised Land is the place they are being promised.  They have been slaves for 400 years, governed by the Egyptians, so what we see in the next phase of our epic story is the formation of a group of people able to govern themselves.

         Moses goes up Mt. Sinai and receives “the Big Ten,” the Ten Commandments.  For many people “the law” is the system that tells “authorities”, perhaps God, if you are behaving properly.  Staying within the parameters of the “law” allows a sense of freedom and allows society to function maximally.  These laws can be divided into three sets of arenas that need attention if society is going to function well.  The first three commandments talk about relationship with God or perhaps we can call it values. When people live with integrity with the values of their group, life works best.  The second group of commandments deals with relationships with others, parents and neighbors.  The third group of commandments deals with our relationship to things, no coveting, not stealing.

         Many people use “the Big Ten” to evaluate their own goodness as compared to others and use the Ten to create a hierarchy to tell them who the good people area so they are safe.  I think there is a second way of understanding the Ten.  I know my car works best if I service it regularly, put in gas, avoid accidents etc.  Reading the owner’s manual from the manufacturer can be a burden, a “to-do” list, or it can be seen as guidelines for maximizing use of the car.  Our epic hero, God, wants to form a nation that blesses all people and so giving the “law” on Mt. Sinai is giving us the “owner’s manual” for how to live the good life.  If we don’t steal, kill, commit adultery, act respectfully, rest regularly, speak politely, and aren’t consumed with greed, then we will be more likely to be happy and content.

         Jesus, in the New Testament, expanded the commandments to be guidelines with meaning.  Murder is wrong but hate, the root of murder, also eats up our hearts and our lives and diminishes us.  Adultery is wrong but if we are eaten up by lust, we will not be happy.  Perhaps is would be good to reread the Ten Commandments, not as a check list of how good you are, but as a letter from the owner telling you how to happy.  Perhaps it is time to service your soul to make sure you aren’t running on fumes!  Blessings.

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