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Of the 613 commandments Medieval Jews identified in the Torah, the ten written by God on the tablets of stone Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai are the most famous.

Though written as negative commandments (with one exception), they all have a positive meaning for public behavior and private morality. These commandments govern every relationship that man has: religious, family, social, personal integrity, and goals for life. Think of what they cover:

  1. There is but one LORD God.
  2. Images distort our perception of God.
  3. Revere God’s name.
  4. Your life is more than work.
  5. Honoring parents preserves society.
  6. Respect the image of God in every human.
  7. Keep pure in your sexual relations.
  8. Earn your own bread.
  9. Be truthful.
  10. Know that life is more than things or pleasure.

Is it any wonder Moses said to Israel:

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

In addition to moral laws, God gave the sacrificial laws and instructions for building the Tabernacle, which was the center of the camp in the wilderness. God made His presence known among His people by the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night over the Tabernacle. After entering the Promised Land, it continued to be the center of religious life for the nation.

Other parts of the law governed civil matters. What do you do when someone’s ox gores your ox? Or when someone builds a fire that burns your field? Or accidentally kills someone? Why should you should build a parapet around the roof of your home.

The laws of ceremonial cleanliness were also laid out by Moses after he came down from Sinai, laws that still keep practicing Jews from eating pork.

Some of these laws made a separation between Israel and the nations around them. Most of the nations practiced polytheism; Israel served but one God. Law kept them from intermarrying with the Canaanite nations, though there were exceptions. The law of the Sabbath, when observed, also marked a major difference between Israel and its neighbors, as did circumcision.

God had called Abraham for his descendants to bless all nations. They should have been a light to the nations, thus showing them a better way to live.

That was to be their place in the STORY. How did they do? Our next readings will follow them into the promised land – where they come to want to be more like the nations around them than to walk with God and in God’s ways. Thus, Israel, as a nation, failed to be what God called them to be.

Yet, God was faithful to His covenant with Abraham. HE never lost sight of the goal of the STORY written for us in the Bible.


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