Show Steadfast Love

Exodus 20:1-17 can be found here...

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  ~Psalm 19:14

This is the moment in the sacred story after God has led the Israelites out of slavery; after they have celebrated their escape with dancing; after they have traveled for three months to God-only-knows-where in the wilderness; and after they’ve mourned their complete lack of water and food and everything else that was available to them in their time of slavery.

This is the moment of their arrival at Sinai at the time of the New Moon, when the wilderness sky would have been its darkest. They can see—but not quite see—the terrible power and glory of God, who remains shrouded in cloud and smoke atop the mountain, giving the words you have just heard to Moses, and through Moses to the people. God is terrifying, God is hidden. Let there be no mistake: God is God.

But God is also speaking to the people, directly, intimately. God doesn’t say, “I am God, the all-powerful!” like that man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. Instead, God says, “I am the Lord, your God.”

Your God.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
    making wise the simple… ~Psalm 19:7

God’s first move in giving these words to the people is intimacy. God’s first move is relationship.

“I am the Lord, your God.” Which means, we are already in relationship with God.

“I am the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

These words are founded on a relationship that already exists, a covenant with a God who has already demonstrated, in the most dramatic way possible, that we are loved, and we have been saved. Therefore, we read all these commandments through that lens: the lens of redemption. The lens of salvation. The lens of steadfast love. [i]

The precepts of the Lord are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
    enlightening the eyes… ~Psalm 19:8

The Hebrew word translated “steadfast love” is חֶסֶד (chesed), and there are a lot of different ways to translate it, all of them circling around the same idea. Other translations would include “kindness,” “mercy,” “goodness,” or “favor.” We find this word again and again, as a central attribute of God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. God has already shown this steadfast love in the rescue of God’s people from slavery. God is going to keep on showing it.

The fear of the Lord is pure,
    enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
    and righteous altogether…  ~Psalm 19:9

The commandments are composed of two sections—traditionally, two tables. The first consists of commandments relating to God. This steadfastly loving God is also a jealous God, which got me running to the dictionary, because I can never keep straight the difference between “jealousy” and “envy.” I think I finally have it. Envy is a feeling that you lack something. Jealousy is a feeling that you might lose someone. When God says, “I am a jealous God,” God is saying, “Don’t worship other gods. Worship only me. I don’t want to lose you.”

In fact, the whole first table has to do with God’s jealousy, and the risk that God will lose God’s people—us—to other gods. And… it would be foolish for us to interpret this section as referring only to “Baal” or “Asherah,” or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, for that matter. It would be wrong to interpret it literally, because a “god” is anything at all—any person, place, or thing—that we love as much as—or more than—God almighty. And, we have to be honest. Scholar Terrence Fretheim reminds us, these “other gods” could easily be “the long-standing [ones] who have long been worshiped among us, such as money, property, fame, power … the list is long.”[ii] What would you add to the list? I know what I would add. But very quickly I notice, that’s me looking at others, and judging what they choose to be their little-g-gods. And so, I wonder what others would say I make a god of. It’s always easier to see what other people seem to place between themselves and God, than it is for us to see what we worship in God’s place.

More to be desired are [God’s precepts] than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
    and drippings of the honeycomb. ~Psalm 19:10

The second table of commandments concern themselves with the ways in which the God who loves us steadfastly, wants and commands us to love one another in the very same way. So we are told to do one thing—to honor our parents—and we are told not to do five others—to murder, to break our covenant vows to the people we love, to steal, to lie, or to covet.

Coveting has to do with envy. Remember: Envy is the uncomfortable feeling that we lack something. Jealousy is the maddening feeling that we might lose someone.

At this point, the commandments may start to feel like a long list of “No’s,” almost as if we were children, being told not to touch the outlet, or go near the fire, or step off the curb into traffic. But these words, given in the context of relationship, are much more than that. They are words not simply against transgression. They are words for life.

Moreover by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.

 But who can detect their errors?
    Clear me from hidden faults.  ~Psalm 19:11-12

In the book of Deuteronomy, the first table of the commandments, the ones about our relationship with God, are summarized, like this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5). And Leviticus summarizes the second table, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). This doesn’t set aside the “No’s.” But it does remind us what is the basis for the “No’s.” Of course, if we love God with all our heart, we won’t cling to our little-g-gods. Of course, if we love God with all our soul, we will set aside a day for rest and worship. Of course, if we love God with all our might, we will love one another as God has loved us.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts
    be acceptable to you,
    O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.  ~Psalm 19:14

Thanks be to God. Amen.

[i] Terrence Fretheim, “Commentary on Exodus 20:1-17,” Working Preacher, March 8, 2015,

[ii] Ibid.