Signposts: Daily Devotions

Tuesday, March 22

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
—Exodus 20: 1–17

Thus begins what is known as the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments. In a marvelous article in The Christian Century, Thomas G. Long, the noted professor of preaching at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, offered a whole new slant on this important religious doctrine.

Long acknowledged that most of us think of the Commandments as obligations, encumbrances placed on personal behavior. This understanding, he writes, overlooks the fact that they are prefaced not by an order but by the “breathtaking announcement of freedom” in the above passage. “The Decalogue begins with the good news of what the liberating God has done and then describes the shape of the freedom that results,” Long explains.

First, says Long, comes the experience of being cared for, the experience of being set free. Then comes a life shaped ethically around that profound truth.

Long tells a story about a volunteer fireman and ambulance attendant named Jack who, as a child, had to have some teeth extracted under general anesthesia. The boy was terrified, but a nurse said to him, “Don’t worry, I’ll be here right beside you no matter what happens.” She kept her word and never left his side.

Nearly twenty years later, Jack’s ambulance crew was called to an accident scene, where a driver was pinned upside down in his pickup truck. Jack crawled inside although gas was dripping and there was serious danger of fire. The driver was crying about how scared he was, and Jack kept saying to him, “Look, don’t worry. I’m right here with you. I’m not going anywhere.” 

Later, when they were both safe, the driver said to Jack, “You were an idiot. That thing could have exploded and we’d both have been burned up!” Jack simply said he felt he just couldn’t leave him.

Long concludes: “That’s the way the commandments work. First, being cared for, then a life shaped ethically around that story. ... ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you … out of the house of slavery’ prompts us to live lives shaped by that freedom created by God.”

Thanks be to God for the Tom Longs of this world, who enlighten us and give us new perspectives.

Help us, O God, to remember your great gifts to us: creation and freedom. Grant us the wisdom to respond not only with gratitude but also with obedience.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.