Return to Eden 2
Welcome to week 2 of our series, Return to Eden, all about the law of Moses. Last week, I took us on a bit of a whirlwind introduction which covered a lot of ground.
Essentially, here's what I said. The law of Moses - even though it is weird and uncomfortable - is actually a part of a much bigger story.
It's the story which begins in the mountain garden of Eden in Genesis, in which humanity - Adam and Eve - eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and bad (as I call it), instead of trusting in God's wisdom and eating from the tree of life.
As a result, they are banished from the garden, and the rest of the story asks the question: is it possible to get back to Eden?
The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) - a.k.a. the law - gives an answer: yes. And all of the laws and regulations within it are pointing the people of Israel to that end.
Like I said, we covered a lot of ground, and in what I just said I didn't even get to the part where Jesus comes and fulfills the whole story.
Oh, and by the way. All throughout this series I am on Grace's Facebook page at 7pm on Wednesday nights for a live Q&#38;#38;A.
If you want to submit a question about the series you can do that at gracechurch.us/byob.
This past Wednesday was a lot of fun. I definitely ended up mentioning the spacetime continuum at some point.
All that to say, Wednesday night. 7pm. Grace's Facebook page. See you there.
Alright. Last week was a big picture intro. Today we are going to dive a bit deeper and look at one of the most famous parts of the whole law of Moses - the Ten Commandments.
I guarantee even if you know nothing about the Bible, you've heard about the Ten Commandments. ""Thou shalt not kill..."" ""Thou shalt not steal...""
Pretty familiar. But it's my opinion that we, in general, have a pretty poor understanding today of what these laws would have actually meant in their original context.
And I think we too often miss how they fit with this bigger storyline I mentioned - the story of returning to Eden.
So today I want look at the 10 Commandments in light of that story. A story, I'll remind you, we are all a part of.
Let's take a look. [House Bibles]
There are so many poetic layers to this story. It's awesome. In Genesis, God brought order out of chaos (1), he made dry land out of the sea (2), and meets humanity in a divine mountain garden (3). There he teaches Adam and Eve how to find (and lose) fullness of life (4). Then they have a choice to make. (5)
[Please bring these in in sequence from the bottom with what I say above. I'd like this to remain up during the next 2 paragraphs as well, please!]
Teaching fullness of life
Dry land from the sea
Order from chaos
Well now, God has rescued Israel from the chaos of slavery, he made dry land out of the Red Sea, and now he is present on a new divine mountain called Sinai with a new Adam named Moses.
Guess what he's going to teach him? How to find (and how to lose) fullness of life. What will Israel choose?
""I am the LORD your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.
The ancient world was filled with powerful gods who, people believed, controlled everything about reality - the weather, crop yields, success in battle... If you worshipped them, perhaps they would give you what you want.
As a result, there was a constant temptation for the Israelites to worship these other gods.
For example, when all of your neighbors were praying to Asherah - a fertility goddess - for their crops, and you a know you need a good harvest for your family to survive, how tempting would it be to hedge your bets a little bit... to take matters into your own hands?
What this law is doing - no other gods but me - is setting up a mandate that in Israel they need to set aside their self-sufficiency and trust only in Yahweh - in God - for provision.
Just like the tree of the knowledge of good and bad in Eden, worshipping these other gods was based on human wisdom. It seemed good. Seemed prudent.
But trusting in Yahweh is what leads to fullness of life. This law is not God being exclusive. It's God revealing the sham of self-sufficiency for what it is.
Now today this commandment might seem like a moot point, since we're monotheists, and we don't really believe that other gods are real. (Has anyone here made sacrifices to Marduk recently? No? Ba-al?)
But how often do we try to take matters into our own hands when it comes to our provision?
Think about it: retirement accounts, security systems, the stock market, credit cards...
I'm not saying any of those things are wrong, but how often do we depend on them to take care of us instead of turning to the Creator of life? How often is our own self-sufficiency a god which demands sacrifice?
Something to think about...
Alright, second commandment. Look at verse 8.
""You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind, or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected, even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
Ok. No idols. Now, it's easy to think this is just a recap of the first commandment. No other gods.
It is that, but this law also includes not making any images or idols of Yahweh himself.
A little later in the story, the Israelites make a golden calf for themselves and they worship it. Some scholars believe they were breaking both of these first two commandments. They were putting another god first.
But others argue that the golden calf was meant to be an idol of Yahweh himself. Which would have been a major problem.
Why? Why would it be such a big deal to make an idol of Yahweh? Well, because God is holy. He is other - beyond our comprehension.
By creating an idol to worship - of Yahweh or another god, we're turning away from the Creator and worshipping something created. We're trying to bring the divine under our control.
Yet again, we are eating from the second tree in the garden. We're defining good and bad for ourselves and we're missing out on the fullness of life that comes from the God who created it all.
Now look again at verse 9. It says, ""I am a jealous God... I lay the sins of their parents on their children...""
This is a bit uncomfortable for us, because when we think of jealousy we think of petty rivalry (""why were you talking to Becky?"").
But this word ""jealous"" is only used of God in the Old Testament and it also carries with it the idea of being zealous for something. What we see is a God who is intensely passionate about maintaining an exclusive relationship with his people.
But not because he's petty and doesn't want to share, but because he desperately wants them to find life and wholeness. Apart from Yahweh is chaos and death - the whole Eden story.
Human wisdom - all these other gods - or the ""wisdom"" of making our own idols to worship - none of them can bring true life, which Yahweh is zealous for us to have.
And all this stuff about punishing children - I tend to think of this as humans experiencing the consequences of their choices. Adam and Eve chose not to trust God and look what happened to their descendants: lying, murder, rebellion within one generation.
When we choose to make ourselves gods and trust our own wisdom, we bring death and chaos into our world and it spreads.
Anyone who has been caught in a cycle of generational brokenness can see this. Alcoholism, abuse, greed, abandonment... The sins of the parents spread through the generations.
Yahweh is jealous and zealous to bring us back from that. To bring us back to fullness of life. He is a God of boundless grace. Of ""unfailing love"" as it says in verse 10. The blessings of God spread through the generations too.
But ultimately we have to make the choice to trust. We are not going to find fullness of life through our own invention.
Alright, commandment number 3 (and I promise these will start going a bit faster now).
""You must not misuse the name of the LORD your God. The LORD will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name.""
You may know this one as ""don't take the Lord's name in vain."" Growing up, I always understood this to be about swearing. So I always said much safer things like ""oh my gosh"" and ""darn it."" Totally in the clear.
But actually, in ancient Israel, this would have meant something a bit different. Misusing the name of Yahweh would have meant invoking his name doing magic or necromancy or even in cursing someone - all things which spread death into the world.
Ultimately it meant misrepresenting Yahweh's character. Claiming that he stands for something that isn't true to who he is. This is problem because misrepresenting Yahweh could lead others away from fullness of life.
It's interesting to think that today when politicians or celebrities are using the name of God to endorse ether human agendas, they may very well be breaking this commandment. They may be misrepresenting God and leading people away from fullness of life.
Ok. Commandment number 4.
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you.
Now, for the sake of time I'm going to stop there because in a few weeks I'm going to have an entire message about the sabbath where we'll go into a lot more detail.
But put really simply, the sabbath was like a rehearsal of New Creation - carving out sacred time once a week for the whole community to live as if they were back in Eden.
Not being ground to dust by the work of survival. Giving space for their dependents - their children, their servants, even their animals - to rest. Sabbath was an invitation to practice fullness of life.
Again, we'll come back to that in a few weeks.
Next, we have commandment number 5.
Honor your father and mother, as the LORD your God commanded you. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.
This one seems a little odd in a list which includes idol worship and murder, but when you understand that this is all a part of an ongoing story, it locks into place.
Remember, God is attempting to bring humanity back to Eden. To push back the darkness of death and bring them once more into a place of life. ""Then you will live a long, full life...""
Honoring your parents is simply a reminder to learn from those who have gone before you. God is in a covenant relationship with his people, and it's the parents' responsibility to pass on that life-giving relationship to their children.
This is NOT about blind obedience to your parents. Especially in situations of abuse or neglect. Every one of these commandments is about finding fullness of life.
This one is about listening to the wisdom of our elders so that we as a community can return to Eden together.
Ok, the last five commandments all have something in common. So we'll read them all together.
You must not murder.
You must not commit adultery.
You must not steal.
You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.
You must not covet your neighbor's wife. You must not covet your neighbor's house or land, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor.
Here's what these five commandments have in common: each of them refers to robbing another person of fullness of life.
Obviously, that's what murder does. Taking away life that is not ours to take. There is no death in Eden and we shouldn't spread it here.
Adultery steals life because in Eden, man and woman together make humanity complete. It is their cooperation and union which makes it possible for humanity to ""serve and protect"" creation.
Adultery sows divisions into this relationship and spreads a kind of death into the community. It robs another of fullness of life.
Stealing is yet again us determining good and bad for ourselves. ""It is better for me to have this then for them to have it."" Stealing manipulates others for our own selfish gain. And it takes away another's fullness of life.
Verse 20. We usually think of testifying falsely as simply lying but it's more specific than that. In ancient Israel, legal disputes were not determined based on forensic evidence, DNA, reasonable doubt (there was no CSI Judea). Instead, they relied almost entirely on the testimony of witnesses.
In an agricultural community like Israel, people's entire lives could hinge on a court case. If a poor farmer was in, say, a land dispute, and two other farmers decided to lie against him, it could lead that farmer and his family into destitution or even debt slavery.
A family's breadwinner could be imprisoned. Widows could lose their land. Testifying falsely was a matter of great injustice, and obviously the exact opposite of fullness of life.
The final commandment (v.21) is about not coveting. But this is more than just wishing you had someone else's stuff. This is active desire. There's intentionality behind it. Like a hunger.
In Genesis 3, when Eve sees the fruit of the second tree, the story says she ""desires it."" It's the same word as ""covet"" here.
I would paraphrase this word as ""setting your sights on."" Don't set your sights on your neighbor's wife. Don't set your sights on your neighbor's house.
Fullness of life comes from satisfaction with what you have. When you are hungry for what someone else has, it's a very short walk between that and lying in court to take their house, or stealing that thing you want, or committing adultery.
Setting your sights on - coveting - what others have will inevitably lead you and them away from fullness of life.
So there we go. Those are the 10 commandments. I hope you're starting to see how they are a part of a much bigger story.
The story behind the entire law: God's relentless faithfulness to bring humanity back into the mountain garden of his presence. Back to fullness of life.
When you understand the law in this way, you realize it's not about legalism. They're not just arbitrary rules laid out by a picky God so he would know who to strike with lightning.
If that was all the 10 commandments were, then you'd just have to look at your life and check them off a list of moral absolutes.
- Have I murdered anyone? Nope.
- Have I constructed any idols to worship? No sir.
- Have I testified falsely in a land dispute? I'm good!
But when you see the law as part of a grand story of redemption, you see the 10 commandments not as an ending point of morality but as a starting point
As I said last week, Jesus
took the commands of the law to the extreme. ""Don't murder? Well I say don't even hate.""
At one point someone asked Jesus what law was the greatest. Here's how he responded.
'You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.
What do we see in Deuteronomy 5? Laws about loving God completely and laws about loving our neighbor.
Imagine if each of us were to look at our lives and not ask, ""Am I breaking any God rules?"" But instead ask, ""in what ways am I bringing fullness of life into this world and in what ways am I protecting fullness of life for others?""
Through his death and resurrection Jesus opened back up the door to Eden
and through his life he modeled what New Creation looks like. Through the Holy Spirit he made it possible for us to live the same way.
Imagine what our community would look like if we really believed that. If we were committed to creating Eden
everywhere we went.
If we were a people who didn't just avoid doing bad stuff, but pursued life
with everything we had...