By Traci Smith
Northwood Presbyterian Church
San Antonio, TX
The ten commandments, according to my six-year-old son are quite simple. When I asked him what the ten commandments are he said “That’s easy. The ten commandments are the rules about how to love God and how to love people.” I don’t have anything to add to that, do you?
When we meditate on commandments we often think of harsh legalities or strict codes. The text for today supports this as it says in verse five that God is a “jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation.”
I’ll be honest: the image of a harsh and punishing God is not one I easily relate to. It’s much easier for me to latch on to the more gracious image in verse six when God shows “steadfast love to the thousandth generation.”
The contrast between these two poles — punishment and grace — is one that we find time and again in scripture. It’s significant that the punishment lasts only for four generations at most and love is shown to the thousandth generation.
The Hebrew word for commandment - mitzvah - has many different meanings, one of which is tradition. The ten commandments, therefore, are exactly what my six-year-old understands them to be “rules how to love God and how to love people.” He will come to understand what that means as family traditions of love and mercy are passed down to him from his elders.
Prayer: God of love and grace, help us to teach the ten commandments to the generations that follow us in ways that inspire them to love you and others all the days of their lives. Amen.
- In this passage, God is referred to alternately as jealous and full of steadfast love. Which image of God is easier for you to understand?
- Have you ever thought of the ten commandments as traditions before? How does this change your understanding of them?