The law of God, and namely the Ten Commandments, often takes a beating for being legalistic, old covenant, etc. But Biblically, God’s commandments are simply a summing up of His character. God is love (1 John 4:8). The commandments are meant show what it means to love (Matthew 22:36-40). I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Exodus 20 begins with “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” As Vara Prasad Deepati writes, “A recovery from bondage, a symbol of redemption, lies at the foundation of the Ten Commandments. Therefore, the Decalogue is not a legalistic code given to Israel, but a redemptive tie that defines the relationship of love that should exist between Israel and their mighty God”*
Yes, what if, instead of a list of commands, these ten statements are more meant to show a “redemptive tie,” a promise, a covenant… Not of what we are going to do, but what HE is promising to do for us? The church is described as Christ’s bride in scripture (Eph. 5:22-23, Rev. 19:7-10, etc.). And while attending a wedding, I listened as the couple made beautiful, personally written, vows to each other. I think that’s when it dawned on me: God has made vows to us too! And while we’re probably all familiar with them, we may have missed them altogether. (Disclaimer, this is not meant to be Biblical exegesis, but maybe some food for thought 😉
And God said, I’m the God who brought you out of your bondage, out of those dark places that only you and I know. I, that same God, vow to you this covenant:*
- You shall have no other gods before me. I promise to be faithful to you, and to help you to be faithful to me alone. When other things or people threaten to get between you and I, I will help you. I want to be the one who occupies the first spot in your thoughts, your affections, and your dreams. While I created you to love others, you do not need to furiously seek them to fill the void in your life. I long to show you that I am enough for you, that when I am your first love, everything (and everyone) else will fall in place. You will be satisfied.
- You shall not make for yourself any idols. I promise to jealously protect your freedom. You can get rid of those things that remind you of the life you left. The things of this earth are here to serve you, not to trap you into service to them. The sins of your past, and even your family’s past may weigh heavily on you. But don’t make memorials to them in your mind and heart. I have freed you in my mercy. What ties you to the old life? Money? Entertainment? Culture? Unhealthy relationships? Anger? I want to free you from those idols.
- You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. I promise to give you my name. And when I talk about my name, I don’t just mean the letters in my titles. My name is who I am – it is my character. When you become mine – my spouse – you take my name too. You are a representative of my character. It’s not a light thing. Many have rejected me because of those who claimed to be my followers. But not so with you. I want to make it so that you actually become like me! When people see you, they will see me through you. You have entered into a royal position. I want to show you what it means to be royalty.
- Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. I, the God and Creator of the universe, promise to set aside holy time just for you and I. In order for you to be faithful, filled, and united to me, we need our time together. Yes, we can spend time together everyday, but on the seventh day I have set aside the whole day just for you. Please choose to spend it with me too – it’s irreplaceable. This is the day when I remind you that just as I created you, I am recreating you. I have purchased you, and married you. I long to renew you – mind, body, and spirit. Every Sabbath, I will be there waiting.
- Honor your father and your mother. I promise to provide honor and care for your earthly parents. Because I love you, I love your family too. You are my gift to them. Just as you love and respect me, they also deserve your love and respect. Show your parents that you care. Help them with their needs. Help to preserve their lives, just as they were commissioned to preserve yours when you were a child. Even if your parents have fallen short in fulfilling their commission, I will bless you for blessing them anyways. Your longevity and inheritance are in my hands. As you bless, you will be blessed.
- You shall not murder. I promise to make you a fountain of life. Don’t just avoid causing death, but do everything you can to preserve life. Protect the innocent. Fight for the oppressed. Stand up for what’s right. As the Creator, I value life – I value your life – and I value the lives of those around you. You can give or take life by not only what you do, but also by what you don’t do. And life is not just physical. I’m empowering you to give life to people’s hearts and souls. That’s why I said that hate is like murder in your heart. Instead of death and hate, I want to make you an agent of life and love.
- You shall not commit adultery. I promise to be faithful to you. And just as you have promised to be faithful to me, so you also are to be faithful in your human relationships. When you commit to your earthly spouse, you are committing to them alone. This doesn’t just mean physically, but in your heart and mind as well. Show your spouse the beauty of the faithfulness that I show you – in your relationships with others, what you look at, and even what you think about. Even before marriage, be faithful to that future spouse. Save yourself for me and them alone. I want to give you a sexuality of the utmost purity. In a world that sells sex, I use marriage as an analogy for my relationship with you. What the world has attacked, I long to redeem in you.
- You shall not steal. I promise that as you give yourself away, I will give you all you need. While people may take from you what is not theirs, you can give because I give to you. Really, all that you have is mine. So even trying to cling to what’s “yours” instead of using it as I ask you is really stealing. Let me have your stuff – your possessions, your money, your time, your whole life. I promise that if you don’t withhold it, I will make better use of it than you ever thought possible. So give – to the poor and needy, the hungry, the spiritually destitute, and even your enemies, as I lead you. It’s all mine anyways, and I always provide for you. Don’t steal from the world the world the blessing I designed you to be to it. Give your life away – as I gave mine for you.
- You shall not bear false witness. In a dark world, I promise to make you a beam of pure, truthful light. In what you say, and what you don’t say, let it shine the true light of my glory. Remember again that you are a witness of my character. And a ‘witness’ has seen or experienced something first hand – like you do in relationship with me. It’s not just what you say, but who you are that gives a true or false witness. Your neighbors are watching you. Your lack of truthful testimony hurts them – when you fail to share me with them, you lie and steal from them. Don’t be afraid to stand. Don’t be afraid to be a witness of our relationship. I am with you. I will help your life to shine.
- You shall not covet. I promise to fill you so much that you do not need to be envious of others’ things, relationships, spirituality, or anything else that someone else has and you do not. Don’t set your mind on these things. In doing so you take your eyes off of me and start walking by sight instead of faith. You are bound to get tripped up. Instead, thank me for what I’ve given you. Claim my promises! You don’t have because you don’t ask. Seek me, and I’ll add everything else. I am the God who gives all that you need – and more. Remember that these are my promises to you – my covenant. Will you commit to me? Even beyond death, I will be faithful.
*Deepati, Vara Prasad. “The Ten Commandments: A law to be obeyed or promises to be celebrated?” Ministry Magazine, June 2012.