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God’s Written Covenant
Fall Quarter: Covenants with God
Unit 2: Called Into Covenant with God
Sunday school lesson for the week of October 15, 2017
By Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell
Scripture Lesson: Exodus 20:18-26
Background: Exodus 20
Purpose: To embrace the presence of God in awe, wonder, and commitment to doing God’s will
Hearing the Word
The Adult Bible Studies’
writer begins this lesson with a reminder of the Israelites agreed covenant at Mount Sinai to “faithfully obey” God and “stay true” to the covenant (Exodus 19:5, 8). We see again from last week’s lesson the Israelites standing at “a distance” (20:21) from the mountain, and hearing the details of their covenant with God (verses 3-17). The writer states that this is the only time in the Torah that the people themselves directly heard and saw God’s revelation. The writer provides the following insights:
It became a defining document of the Judeo-Christian tradition, appearing again with minor differences in Deuteronomy 5:6-21 as well. Known as the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue, or the “ten words” that Moses (or God) later wrote on two stone tablets (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4), the divine instructions formed the template for the covenantal obligations that the Israelites had committed to. The “ten words” informed Moses’ guidelines for holy living in Leviticus 19. And centuries later when Jesus was challenged by a Pharisee to identify the “greatest commandment in the Law,” he beautifully captured the spirit of God’s Sinai revelation by responding, “You must love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands” (Matthew 22:34-40).
The writer presents three concepts of the omnipotent God: “the intimate, covenant name (Lord), the transcendent Other (God), and the personal (your) relationship between the divine and the people.” God had remained faithful in the relationship with the Israelites and kept his promises (3:7-10). The people had been delivered from Egypt. But God required for the people to be faithful and enter into a covenant of obedience and promise as well. The writer connects the promises with the Ten Commandments, the Decalogue (Exodus 20:3-17); here is a summary:
- Do not have any other god before God;
- Do not make yourself an idol to worship;
- Do not take the Lord’s name in vain;
- Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy;
- Honor your mother and father;
- Do not murder;
- Do not commit adultery;
- Do not steal;
- Do not testify or give false witness against your neighbor;
- Do not covet.
Verses 18-21: The writer conveys that the narrator wants the reader to be reminded that the Ten Commandments are more than reading the content, analyzing and displaying it, and seeing it as foundational principles, but that it is to be regarded as an “earth-shattering and frightful” experience that came with the “ten words.” The writer makes note that Verse 18 shifts from the Decalogue to the people reappearing and standing at a distance, in terror, from the rumbling and smoking mountain. We see this similar scene in last week’s lesson (Exodus 19:16-17). However, in this text, after the people heard from God in this powerful way, they only wanted to hear from Moses (Exodus 20:19). They were afraid for their lives. Moses offers comforting words to the people in Verse 20, “Do not be afraid.” The writer connects Moses’ response as reoccurring throughout the Bible: (Genesis 15:1; Matthew 14:26-27; Luke 1:11-13, 2:8-10). Moses further responds in Verse 20, “…for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Moses’ response also gives assurance that God’s “awe, wonder, and power means no harm,” but he requires his people to give reverence and obedience to his covenant.
Verses 20:22: The writer makes distinctions in Moses’ actions and refers to them as an act on “behalf of the people,” and then as an “act on God’s behalf.” The latter action was to affirm that Israel’s personal witness of God at Sinai would confirm the divine authority of his words. The writer expresses that the Deuteronomy account as more specific: After telling Moses to send all the people back to their tents, God said, “But you, Moses, must stay here with me. I will tell you all the commandments, the regulations, and the case laws that you must teach the Israelites to do in the land that I am giving them to possess” (Deuteronomy 5:31).
Verse 23: The writer describes the next scene, from Exodus 20:23–23:19, as detailed descriptions of those “commandments,” “regulations,” and “case laws,” commonly called the “Covenant Code” or “Book of the Covenant,” after Exodus 24:7: “Then he took the covenant scroll and read it aloud for the people to hear.” The writer also notes that these consist of altar laws (20:23-26) and various laws, warnings, and ethical, social, and religious rules (21:1–23:19), followed by concluding promises, admonitions, and exhortations (23:20-33).
Verses 24-26: “Make for me an altar from fertile soil on which to sacrifice your entirely burned offerings, your well-being sacrifices, your sheep, and your oxen. I will come to you and bless you in every place where I make sure my name is remembered. But if you do make for me an altar from stones, don’t build it with chiseled stone since using your chisel on the stone will make it impure. Don’t climb onto my altar using steps: then your genitals won’t be exposed by doing so.”
In these concluding scriptures, the writer says that they deal with the “sanctity of the altar and the decorum of worship,” and as God’s sanction and stipulation of their alternative use in altars.
Teacher: Ask the class members to engage in the following questions:
- Have they fearfully encountered God? If so, what were the response and emotions?
- How do they view the Ten Commandments in today’s society?
- Are God’s rules, laws, and stipulations frightful? If so, in what way?
- What are some of their main points from the lesson, for example, sin, commands, etc.
Dear God, let us embrace your presence, commands, and live in reverence, awe, and faithfully to your covenant and love. Amen.
Rev. Earnestine W. Campbell serves as the Associate Director for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at email@example.com.
The “Adult Bible Studies, Series Fall 2017” book is used for the content of this lesson.