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Notes & Transcripts

The Ten Commandments

A Way to Live

Exodus 19:16-25; 20:1–21

Purpose: To learn how and why God's moral laws are best for humanity.

Each of the Ten Commandments warrants a full-length study. You will have to be judicious in the use of time and in sensing which commands the group seems most interested in exploring.

The most convincing orders are those issues in simple words: Stop! Go! No misunderstanding them. In military training, soldiers learn split-second obedience to concise commands. Their survival depends on it! In Exodus 20, God speaks ten words—the most majestic moral commands ever spoken, the clearest rules for humanity's welfare. They are the foundation of personal and national life. They also reveal God's character. In this passage Israel learns that God is much more than the God of food, water, military victories and natural calamities.

1.  Have you ever noticed how many warning signs there are?  Are there some that are just annoying?  What about these two signs?  Whose interests do they seem to be protecting? 

Show the "No Cameras" and "Federal Offense" signs, as examples of annoying nuisance signs. 

Are there some signs that are useful, and warn you of real dangers?  How do you feel about these other signs?  Would you appreciate them if you were in the area where they're posted?

Show the other two pages of signs, warning of real dangers. Chat about where these real signs are displayed and the real dangers they might help protect us from.  Finally, show the two gag signs.

Comparing the first page of signs with the other signs - do the ones who posted these signs seem to care about us?  Do you make you want to trust whoever posted the signs?

Joseph's family (the children of Jacob, or children of Israel) continued to live in Egypt after the famine of last week's lesson. More than 200 years after Joseph and all his brothers died, a new Pharoah ruled, who didn't remember Joseph.  Things were made very hard for the children of Israel, they were made slaves, and and God led them out of Egypt in an event called the Exodus, that we'll have for a lesson some time. 

Here are maps of the children of Israel's route from their home to Egypt, and of the Exodus from Egypt back to their home, now the "promised land."

Today we'll be studying the most famous warning signs there are - the Ten Commandments, which were given to Israel only three months after their deliverance from Egypt, at Mount Sinai.  In Confirmation, you'll spend several weeks on the Ten Commandments, so today's lesson will only be a summary.

As we read them and think about them, keep in mind the warning signs we've just looked at.  Whose interests are the Ten Commandments looking out for?  Does the Author care about us, or only about Himself?

2.  Read Exodus 20:1–11. What right did God have to issue these commands (v. 2)?  Whose interests does he have in mind?

Notice how the Commandments fall into two groups:

Our relationship with God (1-3).

Our relationships with one another (4-10).

3.  What does the First Commandment mean?

Answer: We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. (SC)

What does "to have a god" mean, or what is God? (LC)

Answer: A "god" is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. (LC)

"Whatever we can't live without." (MDB)

What “other gods” or idols compete for your allegiance?

4.  "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain."

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not use his name to curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive, but in every time of need call upon him, pray to him, praise him, and give him thanks. (SC)

If you are asked, "What does the Second Commandment mean?" or, "What does it mean to take the name of God in vain or to misuse it?" you should answer briefly: "It is a misuse of God's name if we call upon the Lord God in any way whatsoever to support falsehood or wrong of any kind." What this commandment forbids, therefore, is appealing to God?s name falsely or taking his name upon our lips when our heart knows or should know that the facts are otherwise - for example, when taking oaths in court and one party lies about the other. God's name cannot be abused more flagrantly than when it is used to lie and deceive. Let this be the simplest and clearest explanation of this commandment. (LC)

5.  "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise his Word and the preaching of the same, but deem it holy and gladly hear and learn it. (SC)

We observe the Sabbath, first, because our bodies need it. Nature teaches and demands that the common people - menservants and maidservants who have gone about their work or trade all week long - should also retire for a day to rest and be refreshed. Second and most important, we observe it so that people will have time and opportunity on such days of rest, which otherwise would not be available, to attend worship services, that is, so that they may assemble to hear and discuss God's Word and then to offer praise, song, and prayer to God. (LC)

6.  "Honor your father and your mother." What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them. (SC)

God has given this walk of life, fatherhood and motherhood, a special position of honor, higher than that of any other walk of life under it. Not only has he commanded us to love parents but to honor them. In regard to brothers, sisters, and neighbors in general he commands nothing higher than that we love them. But he distinguishes father and mother above all other persons on earth, and places them next to himself. For it is a much higher thing to honor than to love. Honor includes not only love, but also deference, humility, and modesty directed (so to speak) toward a majesty concealed within them. Honor requires us not only to address them affectionately and with high esteem, but above all to show by our actions, both of heart and body, that we respect them very highly, and that next to God we give them the very highest place. (LC)

Compare and contrast our duty to "obey" our parents with our duty to "honor" them.

The duty to obey lasts until we are adults, able to make our own adult decisions without the guidance or instruction of parents.  But the duty to honor our parents never ends.

7.  "You shall not kill." What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor's life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life. (SC)

This commandment is easy enough to understand, and it has often been treated because we hear Matthew 5 every year in the Gospel lesson, where Christ himself explains and summarizes it: We must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting. It forbids anger except, as we have said, to persons who function in God's stead, that is, parents and governing authorities. Anger, reproof, and punishment are the prerogatives of God and his representatives and are to be meted out to those who transgress this and the other commandments.

But the occasion and need for this commandment is that, as God well knows, the world is evil and this life is full of misery. Therefore he has erected this and the other commandments to separate good and evil. Just as there are many attacks against all the commandments, so here, too, we must live among many people who do us harm, and thus we have reason to be their enemy. .  . . .The meaning of this commandment, then, is that no one should harm another person for any evil deed, no matter how much that person deserves it. (LC)

8.  "You shall not commit adultery."  What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, each one loving and honoring his wife or her husband. (SC)

Adultery is particularly mentioned because among the Jewish people . . . . . Young people were married at the earliest age possible, and . . . . . Accordingly, adultery was the most widespread form of unchastity among them. But inasmuch as there is such a shameless mess and cesspool of all sorts of immorality and indecency among us, this commandment is also directed against every form of unchastity, no matter what it is called. Not only is the outward act forbidden, but also every kind of cause, provocation, and means, so that your heart, your lips, and your entire body may be chaste and afford no occasion, aid, or encouragement to unchastity. Not only that, but you are to defend, protect, and rescue your neighbors whenever they are in danger or need, and, moreover, even aid and assist them so that they may retain their honor. (LC)

9.  "You shall not steal." What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not rob our neighbor of his money or property, nor bring them into our possession by dishonest trade or by dealing in shoddy wares, but help him to improve and protect his income and property. (SC)

Stealing is not just robbing someone's safe or pocketbook but also taking advantage of someone in the market, in all stores, butcher shops, wine and beer cellars, workshops, and, in short, wherever business is transacted and money is exchanged for goods or services. . . . . Let all people know, then, that it is their duty, on pain of God's displeasure, not to harm their neighbors, to take advantage of them, or to defraud them by any faithless or underhanded business transaction. (LC)

10.  "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."

What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not tell lies about our neighbor, nor betray, slander, or defame him, but should apologize for him, speak well of him, and interpret charitably all that he does. (SC)

Besides our own body, our spouse, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure that is indispensable to us, namely, our honor and good reputation. For it is important that we not live among people in public disgrace and dishonor. Therefore God does not want our neighbors deprived of their reputation, honor, and character any more than of their money and possessions; he wants everyone to maintain self-respect before spouse, child, servant, and neighbor. (LC)

11.  "You shall not covet your neighbor's house." What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not seek by craftiness to gain possession of our neighbor?s inheritance or home, nor to obtain them under pretext of legal right, but be of service and help to him so that he may keep what is his. (SC)

12.  "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's."  What does this mean?

Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not abduct, estrange, or entice away our neighbor?s wife, servants, or cattle, but encourage them to remain and discharge their duty to him. (SC)

13.  What does God declare concerning all these commandments?

Answer: He says, "I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments."

What does this mean?

Answer: God threatens to punish all who transgress these commandments. We should therefore fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments. On the other hand, he promises grace and every blessing to all who keep them. We should therefore love him, trust in him, and cheerfully do what he has commanded. (SC)

14.  Thinking about the Ten Commandments and the signs we looked at earlier, whose welfare does God have in mind in giving the Ten Commandments?  Are they for Him, or for us?

15.  Can we keep these Commandments?  All of them, all the time? If not, what are we to do?

Remember God's promise in 1 John 1:8-9, which we hear in the confession and absolution at the beginning of each Sunday's liturgy:

"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Closing prayer:  God, thank you for giving your good commandments, for our benefit, as a guide for our lives.  And thank you for your promise, that when we confess our sins you will for give our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Amen.

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