Monday, March 06, 2006

Deuteronomy Chapter Five: The Two Spheres

"Moses convened all Israel, and said to them: Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently" (Deut. ch. 5:1), this seems like the right place to start, with a call to assemble. Here Moses brings all of Israel together to listen to a list of commandments God has given them. As I have mentioned in past postings, this is a time of anticipation. However, anticipation often brings an ease in turning to the "right or the left" (v.32) and departing from the straight and narrow. The subtle draws of a promising future all to often give way to unfortunate ends, where the stuff of knowing God is exchanged for mere idolatry. This is what God wants to protect Israel from in Deuteronomy ch. five, and through the Ten Commandments.

Moses announces that the Lord established "this covenant" not with their ancestors but with all of them present (v.3). The covenant that Moses is refering to is the one that was initiated at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-24). Many of the Israelites hearing this in Deuteronomy wouldn't have been born at the time of Exodos ch. 19-24 so when Moses says, "Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, all of us here alive today" (v.3) he is sharing that the Ten Commandments have immediate importance with each of them, that the law is not something of the past but vastly important in their historical context. The Ten Commandments provide the framework for a faithful community and a faithful relationship with God.

Before I go into the Ten Commandments I should mention that until recently I had thought they were only for legalistic nuts or Charleton Heston. Now, through study of scripture and other 'wiser-than-me' authors I have come to believe that they still hold a prominent place within Christianity. I began to be turned on to this in John's Gospel. In the fourteenth and fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of John Jesus seems to advocate the necessity of commandments, and the obedience to them (John 15:10, John 15:17, John 14:15). Jesus talks about commandments and love as if they were intertwined in a dance, central here is the idea that if we love Jesus we'll keep his commandments (our relationship to God, John 14:15), and if we are obedient to his message we will love one another (our relationship with each other John 15:17). The most important parts of life: God and each other.

In fact the Ten Commandments roughly break down into two spheres. The first four belong to our relationship with God and the following six relate to our relationship with each other or our community.

Here they go: (1) "I am the Lord your God" (that we'd acknowledge God's existence), (2) "You shall not make for yourself and idol," (that we'd not settle for anything less than God and that he'd receive true worship), (3) "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God," (that we'd not trample on the way we largely relate to God, through words), (4) "Remember the sabbath day" (that we'd acknowledge God's sovereignty over time by dedicating a day to him, and that we'd be agents of social justice by giving those under us a day off). These first four sanctify the following six--if we don't understand God then we will never truly understand the world, that is since he is sovereign over creation and the creator of creation.

Next are the following six: (5) "Honor your father and mother" (obedience to those who brought us into the world is important since they have more understanding and are responsible for us), (6)"You shall not murder" (Hmmm...no question), (7) "Neither shall you commit adultery" (again...no question), (8) "Neither shall you steal" (again), (9) "Neither shall you covet your neighbors wife (see the next one), (10) "Neither shall you desire your neighbor's house, or field, or male or female slave," (wanting something that isn't yours can be very unhealthy if it takes away from expressing gratitude for what you have, as it usually does. Especially as seen in the prior commandment coveting people, or relationships, tears down social bonds and ruins community. The seed of covetnous leads us to undervalue the good of the 'present' while leading us forward down a destructive rabbit trail of "if I get this I'll be happy" or "consumerism").

Finally, Jesus bares witness to the importance the two spheres of these commandments when in the Gospel of Matthew he says the two most important commandments are " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' [...] 'Love your neighbor as yourself." Here Jesus shows us what is of the utmost importance: God and people, this happens to be the core message of Deuteronomy five.

I know this is brief, considering the wieght of these commandments, but I hope that more than a list of 'do nots' they reveal a way to live in a faithful relationship with God and in a loving community.

1 comment:

Mark Lloyd said...

When I read the last commandment, "Do not covent your neighbor's stuff," I thought of how advertizers actually incite people to disobey it. I wonder how current media upholds or rebels against the other commandments. Perhaps urging people to rebel against God's desires works as a powerful form of leverage to direct people toward your own ends instead of God's.