What does it mean to be saved? to be redeemed? to be ransomed? It means to be a person who lives out that salvation, that redemption and that ransom by making God the Lord alone. It means obedience to the God who sets us free.
The biggest mistake of Christians today is to make obedience legalism and to think that God’s commands are somehow an inferior form of religion or spirituality. The second mistake when it comes to the Ten Commandments is to fail to see how they flow out of redemption and don’t stand alone as if they are arbitrary commands. The third mistake is to think they are only for the ancient world, or for Israel, and have nothing to do with gospel.
How are the Ten Commandments “liberation” theology? Has our “grace” theology swung so far that we can no longer see the necessity of commands?
The First Commandment (No other gods) and the Second (no images) are connected to one another, and they both flow from the Prologue to the Ten Commandments (or Ten Words).
For this series on the Ten Commands/Words, I am reading Patrick Miller’s new book, The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church.
The Prologue and the first two Commands belong together, and here’s why: grammar. These verses, found in Exodus 20:2-6 have God speaking to Israel in the first person; at v. 7 (the Name Command) it becomes third person. Read this:
Prologue: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Command one: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. Command two: You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
For this reason many see Commands one and two (the longer paragraph above) as the First Command/Word.
Now it might be helpful to see how the various traditions number the Commands, so I swiped this chart from Wikipedia. Click on it and it will get big enough to read easily.
The Prologue, which is our topic today, connects Liberation with One God. The God who liberated is the God they are to serve and worship and obey. As one scholar puts it, “The first commandment is the true meaning of the exodus” (14). Redemption/liberation implicates the liberated ones in a life of obedience. Or, “To be set free is to be set on a journey to the mountain where the full implications of the act are set forth in the Commandments and joyfully accepted” (14).
The Prologue identifies the Commander. That God is YHWH. There may be cultural parallels but these are connected to this One God YHWH. So it’s all about covenant relation to this YHWH. Thus, the Prologue makes the Commands an element of a relationship. YHWH says “I am YHWH your God” and that is why they are not to have other gods or worship idols (which are about false gods).
Israel then is to live a life of freedom that leads to relationship to YHWH who tells Israel how best to live. Miller’s point is so important: Israel is not a “free” people but a “freed” people. That freedom is a gift that comes through YHWH’s powerful act of liberation.
The two tables of the law are how a “freed” people are to live in relation to God and to one another.
The God of the Exodus is the God of the Resurrection is the God of Jesus — the God who liberates summons God’s people into a covenant relationship that spells out freedom as obedience to that God.