Third Sunday in Lent (Mar 4th)

Pastor's Summary of Exodus 20:1-17

The giving of the Ten Commandments marks the starting point of Israel as a self-defining community. They form a covenant between God and Israel but, unlike God's agreements with Noah and Abraham, here both parties have a stake in it, and either can break it. (In the earlier covenants, God acts and promises but the recipients passively receive-althought they do have obligations.)

Having arrived at Mount Sinai, the Israelites clean themselves physically and ritually, but it is Moses and Aaron who ascend the mountain. God speaks to all, to the whole community. But why does God enter into the agreement? In 19:3-6, Moses is told that he has seen what God did to the Egyptians, and how he has lovingly protected Israel, that "you shall be for me a ...holy nation." They are to have "no other gods before [or beside]me" (v. 3). In the ancient Near East, people commonly encountered gods in sculpted images, but the Israelites are not to do this (v. 4), because God is different: he demands loyalty to him alone (v. 5); he punishes for a long time those who intentionally "reject" him, but rewards with compassion those who love him and follow his ways. Those who use God's name for a false or evil purpose (e.g. for casting spells, doing magic) will not be acquitted (v. 7) or held harmless. Each week, time is to be reserved for praying to, and worshipping, God. The Israelites must honor older people; doing so will contribute to their own longevity. Then vv. 13-17: life, marriage and property are sacred. Testifying falsely against another  (or even spreading innuendos) is prohibited. Even coveting, desiring greatly, the possessions of others is prohibited.

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