Thoughts to Ponder are my musings regarding community, things of the Spirit, and living as a Christ-follower. I don't offer the words of a professional or an expert; just a fellow traveler and explorer. Please don't take my musings more serious than I do. I've discovered a long time ago that I do not hold the keys of knowledge or wisdom. If I did, I misplaced them somewhere...typical.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Ten Commandments Displays
I don't wish to enter the constitutional fray right now, but it seems the actual context of the commands is lost in all of the furor and debate. To approach the commandments as a list of good rules for a society is to miss the point. Like it or not, the commands are part of two exclusive religions: Judaism and Christianity. Even so, the ACLU probably shouldn't be too concerned about it. After all, most of these monuments erected 40 years ago were actually publicity props and advertisment for Cecil DeMille's epic movie The Ten Commandments. Today there seems to be little, if any, danger that America is integrating Yahweh God (LORD God in your English Bibles) as the dominant force behind our government and culture.
These commands make little sense apart from an understanding that Yahweh is God. The rules found in Exodus 20 are part of an Ancient Near Eastern Lord-Vassal treaty (also called a Suzerainty treaty) between Israel and God. To divorce these commands from the person of God is to miss the entire point. The commands themselves are rooted in the character of Yahweh.
Without going into great detail the ten commands are divided by three positive satements: I, Yahweh your God; Remember the Sabbath; and Honor your father and mother. These three positive statements form the basis of the other seven negative commands.
The first statement emphasizes that Yahweh is the one who redeems and delivers his people, so he has the right to demand unmitigated allegiance and service. All other gods are no-gods. Images of Yahweh are not to be erected because of the tendency to worship the image rather than God. His name is not to be used in an empty or silly way (which includes what I call theobabble--the use of God's name as filler in conversation). Why? To lightly invoke the name of God indicates one's attitude toward God.
The second positive statement emphasizes remembrance. The basis for the Sabbath is the two works of God: the creation and the Exodus. Again, this is rooted in the identity of God and our relationship to him. The Sabbath rest also reminds Israel of the fact that 400 years in Egypt was everything but rest. The slave drivers worked them ruthlessly in an attempt to break their spirit.
Sometimes I wonder if we abuse the sabbath principle by our eagerness to get business done seven days a week (we can't even turn our computers and cell phones off one day out of seven). Have we become so obsessed with activity that we cannot take one day out of seven to truly rest, to take one day out of seven to gather as a community and remember God's actions on our behalf?
Even churches tend to fill Sunday with an over abundance of religious activities and committee meetings. What are we doing when we demand more work from people already worn out instead of allowing them the opportunity to rest and reflect on the love of God?
The final positive statement highlights our relationship with people. Honor your father and mother is a foundational command. This command sets the stage for how we treat everyone else. I think it interesting that the apostle Paul includes "disobedience to parents" in a list of particularly heinous sins which include idolatry and murder(Romans 1). In 1 Timothy Paul says that someone who doesn't take care of his immediate family (parents are the ones in view in the context) is worse than an unbeliever.
Once more, these commands are rooted squarely in the identity of Yahweh God. To abuse those created in his image is to abuse God. Jesus, Paul, James and Jewish rabbis throughout the ages all agree that the basis for all the ethical commands in the Hebrew Scriptures are to love Yahweh your God with all of your being and to love your neighbor as yourself.
We can debate whether or not city councils or judges can or should erect monuments depicting the ten commandments. Personally, I'm not interested in expending energy protesting the removal of some two ton monument from a courthouse in Alabama. I am much more interested in God's people integrating the intent of these commands in their own hearts. Wasn't that Jeremiah's point in Jeremiah 31:31-34?
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares Yahweh. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.