Books of the Bible
- Old Testament
Old Testament Sermon Series
Also Lent 3 C, Exodus 20:1-17
Today we continue
the summer series of sermons that focus on major Old Testament
I love the Old
Testament. I love the stories of the Old Testament. I love the
gigantic personalities of the thirty years. 95% of my sermons have
been based on Bible passages from the New Testament. Only 5% of my
sermons or about two sermons per year have been based on the Old
Testament. Most preachers rarely preach on the Old Testament, and I
am like my colleagues. This summer is the time to make amends and I
will focus this entire Old Testament. Knowing how much I love the
Old Testament, it was a surprise to me to examine my preaching of
the past sermon series on Old Testament Bible passages.
In the book of
Ephesians, chapter four, we are told that we Christians that we are
to mature in Christ, that we are to grow to the full measure and
stature of Christ, that we are to mature in our faith and become
like Christ. This summer, we will study the personalities of the Old
Testament so that we mature in Christ, so that we growth
spiritually, so that we become more like Jesus Christ.
Each personality of
the Old Testament has a major theme. That is, each name in the Old
Testament is synonymous with a certain emphasis or mental
association. For example, Abraham is synonymous with faith, David
with the Psalms, Solomon with the Proverbs, Job with suffering,
Isaiah with peace, Micah with justice, Ezra with the Temple. So what
is the major theme that is associated with Moses? When we think of
Moses, what do we think of?
When we think of
Moses, do we think of the story of his birth, when all the Jewish
boy babies, under two years of age, were to be killed, that Moses
was put into a floating basket in the bulrushes and reeds of the
Nile River, that the name Moses means “pulled from the
bulrushes?” What is the major theme of Moses’ life? Is it when
he stood before the burning bush and heard the voice of God say,
“Take off your shoes, Moses. You are standing on holy ground.”
Or is the major theme of his life the ten plagues like the river
into blood, the locusts and flies? Is Moses primarily remembered
because of the Passover, when the angel of death “passed over”
the houses of the Jews with the lamb on their doorposts, but killed
each first born Egyptian in the houses without blood on the door?
What is the major theme of Moses’ life? The parting of the Red
Sea? The forty years in the wilderness? Not being able to go into
the Promised Land?
Of course, none of
these are the most defining moment in Moses’ life? And what was
the most defining moment in Moses’ life? The giving of the Ten
Commandments on Mount Sinai. There on Mount Sinai, Moses was given
by God the Ten Commandments, the Ten Moral Principles for all human
civilization for all time and history, the moral map for human
society. Mount Sinai and the giving of the Ten Commandments is the
most defining moment in Moses’ life.
This moral map or
Ten Principles for human civilization are found in all cultures of
the world, in all generations of the world, in all centuries of the
world. Scholars have called these Ten Moral Laws the Tao, pronounced
Dow. All societies of the world have similar moral laws that protect
language, family, sexuality, property, reputation, etc.
What are these Ten
Commandments, these Ten Moral Laws? Most Americans are aware of the
number ten of the Ten Commandments, but can recite and remember only
three of them.
Let us recite the
Ten Commandments right now. Please compete the following sentences.
Commandment 1: You
shall have…no other gods before me.
Commandment 2: You shall not take …the name of the Lord your God
Commandment 3: You shall remember … the Sabbath day to keep it
Commandment 4: Honor your … father and mother.
Commandment 5: You shall not k … kill.
Commandment 6: You shall not commit… adultery.
Commandment 7: You shall not st…steal.
Commandment 8: You shall not … lie.
Commandment 9: You shall not covet your neighbor’s … wife.
Commandment 10: You
shall not covet your neighbor’s … possessions.
have not changed for the past 3400 years. Why? Because human nature
has not changed. During the past 3400 years, there have been all
kinds of changes in the lives of human beings. Civilizations have
changed. Knowledge has changed. Medicine has changed. Science and
technology has changed. Politics and political systems have changed.
Nations have changed. Government has changed. Perpetual change is
the mark of the human experience during the past 3400 years of
all these changes have been going on for 3400 years, human nature
has not changed. Today, 3400 years later, people still worship
various gods in their lives. Today, 3400 years later, people still
swear and cure. Today, 3400 years later, people still don’t find
time to worship. Today, 3400 years later, people still have problems
honoring their parents. Today, 3400 years later, people still
murder, still commit adultery, still steal, still lie, still covet
other peoples’ spouses or property. Change is all around us human
beings, but human nature has not changed. People still need the Ten
Commandments, the Ten Principles for human community as much today
are people did 3400 years ago.
generation, and society applies these Ten Moral Laws differently to
their particular time in history. Every century, generation and
society needs to interpret these Ten Commandments afresh, a new ways
that face new situations. Let me explain. We find such differences
of application in the Scriptures themselves. How many basic
commandments are there? Ten you say? It depends on how you count. We
have three recitations of the basic commandments in Exodus 20,
Leviticus 19, and Deuteronomy 5. But in two Biblical lists, we do
not have ten commandments but twelve. In our list of the Ten
Commandments, we didn’t even mention the commandment about making
no graven images and the commandment against making graven images is
a long commandment in one of the Biblical accounts. The third
commandment, remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, took eight
lines in one account. The fifth commandment too, you shall not
murder, took merely four words. Every generation needs to apply the
Ten Commandments to its situation in a fresh way.
Let us briefly walk
through the Ten Commandments and see how they apply to our situation
commandment. You shall have no other gods before me. In Old
Testament times, gods were small statues, about ten or twelve inches
high, often made out of wood. Today, in the twentieth century, none
of us have small pieces of wood in our homes that we worship.
Rather, for us, we realize that we modern human beings have other
material gods. We have material possessions that we worship more
than God such as money, homes, cars, retirement accounts, bank
accounts. Martin Luther said that our god was anything that we fear,
love and trust above all things.
commandment for today’s world. You shall not take the name of the
Lord in vain. That is, you shall not curse or swear. If you have
visited any junior high schools recently, you know how filthy and
dirty the language has become and how God’s name and Jesus’ name
are regularly abused and cursed. People 3400 years ago and today
still have foul mouths that can spit out obscenities. Watch a few
movies or televisions shows today and compare the language of such
films with thirty years ago and you realize that the volume of
filthy language has increased enormously.
the Sabbath day to keep it holy. If you read the text for today, the
third commandment, from Deuteronomy 5, you hear a Biblical
application of that commandment. There is to be no work on the
Sabbath, including no work for one’s donkey, oxen, manservant, or
maidservant. What day is the Sabbath referring to in the Old
Testament. Saturday. For Christians, does the word, Sabbath, refer
to Saturday or Sunday? Sunday, of course. Do any of you own a
donkey? An oxen? Do any of you have servants? Men servants? Women
servants? How many of you have jobs that demand that you are
employed on Sunday? The details of the Third Commandment in
Deuteronomy 5 clearly refer to another culture and generation other
than our own. So what does the Third Commandment mean for us today
who often have to work on Sundays? The Third Commandment teaches us
about the importance of rest and community worship. That is, there
needs to be a period of time for your body, mind and spirit to truly
rest. Also, we Christians need a time to focus on this book, the
Bible. We need to come together as a community to listen to the word
together, pray together, sing together, worship together, be
together in the Spirit of Christ.
commandment. Honor your father and your mother so that it will go
well with you. A friend of mine was just here in Seattle for a
visit. His name is Rollie Martinson, a professor of family life at
Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul. Dr. Martinson says that one
of the most important parts of mental health of seminary students
(and anybody) is to
heal the frictions and factiousness with your parents. Knowing that
we cannot be Pollyanna about frictions with parents who may be
deceased, you and I know how important it is to reconcile our
differences with our parents. Honoring parents is to heal the
frictions. Also, parents are living much longer today and another
way of honoring parents is caring for them in extremely old age.
What does it mean to honor your parents when you have moved away
from them decades ago? When they are divorced, two or three times?
What does this fourth commandment mean in today’s world in which
families are fractured and people are living to such extraordinary
commandment: You shall not murder. Four words, but so much
complexity. How do these words apply to our society today when
abortions are more common than births? When wars become nuclear and
hundreds of thousands are killed. When 54,000 men were killed in one
battle during the Civil War which was anything but civil. When the
United States has far more people imprisoned for murder than any
other modern industrial state.
commandment. You shall not commit adultery. What does this
commandment mean for us today when 90% of young people live together
before marriage, where parents and grandparents often can’t say
anything about the living arrangements of their children or
grandchildren without alienating and losing contact with their adult
children? What does this commandment mean when people have access to
the pill to prevent pregnancy? What are the sexual boundaries to be
in this sexually stimulated world where almost all advertising sells
some part of the human body?
commandment. You shall not steal. Is this commandment about shop
lifting? Does this commandment
have anything to do with 10% of the earth owning 90% of the
earth’s resources? Do the rich steal from the poor when they keep
the poor down and poor? How do you feel when you see pictures of
hungry and starving people in other nations and you know how
fortunate or lucky you were to have been born into such societal
opulence? You shall not steal? Does it have anything to do with the
rich and poor nations?
commandment. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Do we human beings still have problems with gossiping and spreading
false rumors about other people?
commandment. You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse. I feel
that this is the American commandment. That is, in a world in which
both men and women need to work in the marketplace, men and women
often find themselves in close connections with each other in the
work place. All I know is that many people in our parish who have
worked for major and minor companies have found themselves drawn
into illicit relationships at work.
commandment. You shall not covet your neighbor’ possessions.
Possessions like cars, homes, clothing, boats, vacations, cabins,
life style. We are taught to be envious at any early age.
What I am
suggesting to you today is that every generation and every culture
needs to freshly apply the Ten Commandments to their own situation
and wrestle what the meaning of the commandments are for our daily
lives. It is not easy doing this.
Let us now move to
the New Testament. How does Jesus handle the Ten Commandments.? In
the first five books of the Bible, which are called the Law, there
are more than 600 laws, rules and regulations for human society. But
Jesus seems to ignore all of these 600 laws, rules and regulations.
Instead, we find Jesus highlighting two laws in a special and sacred
way. Jesus said that there were only two commandments and the whole
Old Testament rested on these two commandments. Without doing these
two sacred commandments, the whole Old Testament was worthless. The
first commandment was this, quoting from Deuteronomy 5. “You shall
love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and
with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.”
In this commandment, Jesus invites us to love, not only our husband
or wife or children or grandchildren or family or friends or
neighbors. More than that, Jesus invites us to love God, who is the
source of all life. And we are invited to love God, not just a
little bit, but with all our heart, soul, and mind. For Jesus, this
is the first and greatest commandment. And the second it like it for
Jesus. Jesus quotes from Leviticus 19:18, “You shall love your
neighbor as yourself.” That is, just as you look after your own
self interest and life, so you are to work for the benefit of your
neighbor as you would work for the benefit of your own life. Jesus
said, “Do these, and you shall live. Do these, and you will
understand what it means to find life. Happiness in life consists of
loving both God and your fellow human beings.”
Years have gone by
and I have discovered that by giving us the two great commandments,
Jesus did not nullify the Ten Commandments. That is, human nature
has not changed in the past 3400 years and my own human nature has
not changed in me since my birth. For me personally, I know that I
am attracted to other gods around me and within me more than the
True God, that I have trouble with language and swearing, that I am
too busy to worship, that I did not care for my aging parents as
they needed, that I kill with my tongue and anger, that I still lust
even though I am a Christian, that I still do almost nothing for the
poor of the world even when I am so comparatively rich compared to
the poorest of the poor, that I still gossip and still pass on
salacious rumors, that I covet other men’s wives and possessions.
In other words, knowing me and knowing other human beings, we still
need the Ten Commandments, God’s laws for human community. Even
after 3400 years of human history, I need those laws just as much
today as the human race did more than 3000 years ago.