The people Israel stood skeptically before a rock at Meribah, waiting for Moses to produce some water in the wilderness. “What did you bring us out here for, to kill us with thirst?” they cried. But Moses struck the rock with his staff, and water flowed to quench the people’s thirst. (See Exodus 17:1-7.)
Similarly, I stand before the rock of the Ten Commandments. Where is the water here? Is there life for me in these formidable “thou shalt nots?”
These are only ten of the hundreds of commandments and laws in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Christians do not pay attention to the others, though, such as what to do with an ox that gores someone. What is it about these ten that is so compelling?
Jesus repeated them to the rich young ruler as the basis on which the man could be saved. (See Matthew 19:16-22.) But Jesus went on to say that they were not enough, that the young man should sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor—then he would be perfected in God.
And perhaps that is the water from the rock. The Decalogue comprises ten words (deca-logos) of life, intended to keep my life centered, focused, and balanced in God. They remind me of what God has done for me. (“I brought you out of Egypt.”) They relieve me of the young man’s burden of constant work, achievement, and accumulation of possessions by letting me rest in the wondrous grace of God, the Creator of heaven and earth. (“Remember the sabbath.”)
Jesus said, “Follow me,” and the poor fishermen dropped their nets to come along. But hearing the same call, the rich young ruler turned away. Which one am I?
Read Psalm 1. Where do you find the waters of life?
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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