Imagine the Israelites at Sinai. They have fled from Pharaoh, rushed headlong through a miraculously parted sea, and then traveled on into a barren desert wilderness. Suddenly, it dawns on them that they are in the middle of nowhere, following an eighty-year-old man who has promised them a land of milk and honey. But first they must stop at this mountain, Moses tells them, and hear what the Lord has to say.
When Moses had received his charge from the Lord to go to Pharaoh and say, “Let my people go,” he had been at the foot of this same mountain—also called Horeb. (See Exodus 3.) Horeb means “wasteland” and that was an understatement! “We would rather go back to Egypt,” cried the people, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. (See Exodus 16:3.)
The Lord sent manna with the dew, but the people whined, “What is it?” (16:15). The Lord made water flow from a rock, but the people soon thirsted again (17:1-7). Now the Lord calls the people to the mountain—shrouded in darkness, thunder, and smoke—to hear a word.
The people tremble, for they cannot see the wasteland for what it is: a place of grace, where in their neediness they can learn to rely on God. In the fear and despair of their lives, can the Lord have a word for them?
Read Psalm 114. How has God spoken in your wilderness?
The Decalogue in Exodus 20 need not be considered a litmus test of righteousness or religious purity but rather a declaration that lies near the heart of the covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. The Torah is the way the people say yes to God’s saving initiatives. Psalm 19:1-6 links the gift of the Torah to other acts of divine creation. The balance of the psalm celebrates the strength and beauty of the Torah and moves the reader behind the Torah to its Giver, thereby proclaiming the gospel of the well-ordered life. In Philippians 3 Paul speaks of himself as leaning into the future in response to the manner in which Jesus Christ has invaded his own life. The parable in Matthew 21 presents a direct and bold affinity for living in accordance with the gospel, producing “fruits of the kingdom.”
• Read Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. If you are unable to live out the Commandments, which ones would you remove from the list?
• Read Psalm 19. If you monitored your speech for a day, how would you describe the tone and content? What one gift would you petition God for?
• Read Philippians 3:4b-14. How is your church and its people a sign for those who need hope and new life?
• Read Matthew 21:33-46. Where in your church, among the members and in the various meetings and activities, have you seen evidence that folks “have forgotten who owns the vineyard”?
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