Thinking Out Loud

September 1, 2022

Frustrated Leaders: As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter

As Christianity 201 became my primary blog, I have found myself writing more original devotional articles for it over the past few years. This is one from last week.

There’s a bad Sunday School joke that goes something like, “Who in the Bible broke all ten commandments?” The answer is Moses, when he returned from the mountain and exasperated over the sin of the people sent the tablets crashing to the ground.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

First of all, the giving of the commandments in a physical form does not mean that this is the first time God establishes moral and behavioral boundaries of the people of Israel. The website Life Hope and Truth states,

…The answer is found in a fascinating statement God made about Abraham, recorded in Genesis 26:5: “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.”

This is significant because Abraham was born hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Mount Sinai!

In order for Abraham to obey God’s commandments, statutes and laws, he had to know what they were. This means that Abraham was taught the laws directly from God or from others (or possibly both). God was not giving Moses a brand-new law on Mount Sinai. He was merely giving a codified, or formal, version of His law so that it could be used to govern the emerging nation of Israel…

The article then goes on to illustrate instances of such laws existing prior to Moses.

Let’s pick up the store in Exodus 19 and Exodus 20

NIV.Ex.19.20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”  …

NIV.Ex.20.1 And God spoke all these words:

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

“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.  …

It’s verses 4-6, which we call the second commandment — see the post from last month where we break them up into commandment 2a and 2b — where we want to focus. It’s reiterated in verse 22

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

Then, for nearly a dozen chapters, God gives Moses instructions for worship, and also some amplification of the “big ten” commandments given. But then he tells Moses it’s time “get down to earth” because there’s trouble stirring.

NIV.Ex.32.1  When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”

2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”…

…7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt…

…15 Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. 16 The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.

17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of war in the camp.”

18 Moses replied:

“It is not the sound of victory,
    it is not the sound of defeat;
    it is the sound of singing that I hear.”

19 When Moses approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Moses returns to see the people breaking the second commandment which was cited above. And he is livid. In his anger and frustration he shatters the “big ten,” which we’re told God Himself engraved.

It’s a very Moses thing to do. In his anger he will later strike a rock he is told to simply speak to, and that particular act of anger costs him entry into the promised land.

But here’s my point.

Before I started writing this, I gave it the title, “As Ten Commandments Tablets Shatter.” I was thinking about Moses and what the people did in his absence. But I was also thinking about pastors and church leaders today.

Depending on whose statistics you read, in North America 1,200 or 1,500 pastors resign (quit) from ministry each month. While conservatives are busy arguing about women in ministry, it’s probably a good thing some of those women are in place, because the mostly-men pastoral workforce is abandoning ministry in droves.

There are a number of reasons, but I’m sure one of them is frustration over the lack of spiritual dedication among the parishioners. Or, as Moses observed, a flagrant disregard for the will of God.

So figuratively, over a thousand each month are throwing the tablets up in the air and letting them crash to the ground while literally, they pack up of their church office library and dust off their resumés and begin to look for another career path.

Vocational ministry life can be frustrating. I write that even as a member of my immediate family prepares to enter into a greater level of vocational pastoral commitment. I am sure that like Moses, I would get exasperated by what I would see and would want to toss the tablets up in the air as well.

In North America, October is designated as “Pastor Appreciation Month,” however if people were serious about appreciating their pastor, they would, to use an archaic word, “harken” more to the things about the ways of God that he or she is trying to teach the congregation. Yes, they should live a certain way because it’s what God desires and what God requires, but there should also be a recognition that the very reason this person has been set apart for career ministry is to teach them such things with the expectation that they will follow.

Otherwise it’s all just empty words and meaningless worship.

Are there “ten commandments” violations that you see that would cause your pastor/rector/priest to want to toss the stone tablets in the air?


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February 8, 2010

Yichud

Okay, so first of all, if you’ve landed here from a Google blog search or a WordPress tag, you need to know that I’m not Jewish.   This is actually a Christian blog, and up until about an hour ago I’d never heard the word Yichud before.   Since then, I’ve been reading various internet articles, and while I’m not an expert, let me say to any Jewish readers who land here, I’m impressed with the concept.

The word and I crossed paths in a stage show review published Thursday  in The Toronto Star.     Longtime theatre critic Richard Ouzounian was reviewing a play bearing this word as its title, in an article titled Wedding Crashers.   The husband and wife in Yichud are, in real life, also husband and wife.     She grew up in Judiasm, while he converted from Roman Catholicism.

So what is Yichud?    Let’s start with Wikipedia which quickly alerts us to two different definitions around which the play Yichud revolves:

…the impermissibility of seclusion of a man and a woman a private area. Such seclusion is prohibited when the man and woman are not married to each other in order to prevent the two from being tempted or having the opportunity to commit adulterous or promiscuous acts. The laws of yichud are typically followed by Orthodox Jews. Some Orthodox authorities view these laws as so strict that they may not be broken even when a life is in danger.

Okay; got that one?   Then you’re ready to move on to meaning number two:

…a ritual during a Jewish wedding in which the newly married couple spends a period of time secluded in a room by themselves.

But it’s the first definition I want to return to.   The prohibition finds its roots in the story of David and Tamar, as spelled out here on the website JewishMag.Com.   (II Sam. 13: 1-29)    The restrictions — which extend to parents and siblings — are spelled out in detail by Rabbi Howard Jachter.

[Sidebar:  To my Christian readers — There is a Jewish internet world*, besides the Christian internet world.   You should check it out sometime.   Of course I realize this is going to come as a bit of a shock to some who didn’t realize there was a Christian internet world beyond the Calvinist internet world.]

Everybody back?  I want to return now to comments that were made by Aaron Willis, the Catholic-turned-Jewish actor in the Yichud review, and his wife Julie Tepperman:

“There are so many levels of seclusion, within religion, within family, within ourselves,” says Tepperman. “I came to realize that all the laws of Judaism keep us safe. The Torah is like a blueprint for life.”

Willis adds his perspective. “My experience with Judaism is that one of the most beautiful things about it is that you experience it by doing, rather than intellectualizing. There are 613 mitzvot or commandments and every one is capable of making your life fuller and deeper.”

What strikes me there is the complete trust that — without putting too many words in their mouths — God’s rules have our best interest at heart.   It reminded me of another scripture verse that may be more familiar to my regular readers:

Trust in the Lord with everything you’ve got,  and don’t depend on your own rationalizing.   Put Him first in every decision and He will illuminate the pathway for your journey.    Prov. 3: 5,6 (my paraphrase)

When it comes to definition number two…

…What Tepperman discovered was that “many people consider the time spent there more sacred that the wedding itself…”

The play itself  “revolves around an arranged marriage, where this is the first time the couple have been alone together. Originally developed by Convergence Theatre, the production transforms the entire theatre into an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue.” [Toronto Star stage play summary, Feb. 4]  And yes, the various websites on the subject indicate that some couples do, in fact, do it in the Yichud room, while a greater majority would indicate no, couples do not, in fact do it in the Yichud room.

Christians believe that with the coming of Christ, we moved from a period of law into what is called the “age of grace.”   However, we also believe that God is the same:  In the past, in the present and in the future to come.  (Hebrews 13:8 speaks specifically about Jesus, but the expansion from this to the very nature of God Himself is implicit, such that the verse is often misquoted with God as the subject.)

Do we as Christians have the same trust that God is looking out for us, as Julie indicates in her appraisal of the commands?    Psalm 119 — the long Psalm — also testifies to a love of the law, with almost each of its 176 stanzas praising law, commandments, ordinances, statutes, etc.

Finally, the take-away from this for Christian parents with preteens and teens is huge.   Or even non-religious parents who are trying to maintain some kind of moral or ethical standard in the home.     Go back to the Rabbi Jachter link above, and show your children the rules that some teenagers live with, even in sex-saturated 2010.  I’ll bet the rent that it makes whatever rules you’ve got in place at your house seem tame by comparison.

Remind them that God doesn’t view our choices as simply good or bad, but that in his view, our good choices can be overshadowed by the possibility of better choices, and that those in turn, are nothing when compared with best choices.   God is looking out for our best.

Do we delight in his law to the same extent as Psalm 119 does?

*I tried to find an updated version of these 2006 awards for best Jewish blogs, but even though many of them may no longer exist, I’m posting the link anyway, because I want you to see the categories that they assign to various Jewish bloggers.

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