The commandments from the Old Testament were a starting point in learning how to relate to God. (And it seems to me I had put forth that idea previously, but I cannot find where.) The called people of God had to learn how to relate to this God, and the Hebrews who were called out of Egypt had to re-learn, after centuries of living as slaves to the Egyptians, who God wanted them to live. It is hard for me to believe, as a multi-generational descendent of my Christian forebearers, that people could and did live without passed down knowledge of God. But I suspect that is what might have happened in Egypt.
“God spoke, and these were his words: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, where you were slaves.
“Worship no god but me. “Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth. Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals. I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation. But I show my love to thousands of generations of those who love me and obey my laws.
“Do not use my name for evil purposes, for I, the Lord your God, will punish anyone who misuses my name.
“Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.
But not only did they need to learn how to relate to the God who called them from Egypt, they had to learn how to relate to one another as free-born people and accountable for how they treated others, and worthy of being treated well by others. It is matter of mutual respect and accountability, something that slaves may not have been allowed to expect.
“Respect your father and your mother, so that you may live a long time in the land that I am giving you.
“Do not commit murder.
“Do not commit adultery.
“Do not steal.
“Do not accuse anyone falsely.
“Do not desire another man’s house; do not desire his wife, his slaves, his cattle, his donkeys, or anything else that he owns.” (Exodus 20:12-17)
A code of honor and ethics was being set up for the Hebrews. I suspect that is why many of these laws were defined in minute detail in the other books of the Old Testament. If I sound harsh and judgmental on the Hebrews who were called out by God in the desert, consider that God determined that these people were not able to “inherit” the land that God had chosen for them. I am not saying they were too flawed; but it took a passing of a generation for these laws given to Moses and sent down to the Hebrews for them to incorporate into their daily lives.
And it took the death of Christ to make us worthy of heaven and God’s unconditional favor. That is why it is not enough to live under the law; we must live beyond the law. But we can’t – that is why we need Christ! And that is another one of the themes of Lent. Some of our society and generation still struggle to maintain and obey these simple laws. How much more is the struggle to live a more perfect life under God’s guidance! May you ponder on these things, beloved reader, during the season of Lent. Shalom!