In Chapter 18 of Exodus, Jethro comes to visit Moses in the wilderness. He brings with him Moses’ wife and his sons. Now, I always thought that Moses and the Israelites were wandering around in the wilderness lost. Apparently, they weren’t lost in the way I thought they were since Jethro knew where to find them.
After offering some sacrifices to the Lord, Jethro watches Moses in action for a while. He notices that Moses is trying to do everything himself and he can see that Moses is getting burned out. He asks Moses why he’s behaving this way. Why do it all yourself? And Moses says exactly what we all say when someone points out that we’re seriously over-extending. I have to! It’s my job. They need me. They come to inquire about God. I have to tell them.
On the surface, this sounds reasonable. But Jethro tells Moses that what he’s doing isn’t good.
18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.
I have to admit that I’m fascinated by this. Not just by the story but, once again, by the fact that God considered this important enough to include in the Blble. And again, I have to ask why He did that. I suspect it’s because He knew that this would be an issue for us in this lifetime. He knew we’d have trouble distinguishing between enough and too much. That we’d get in too deep, do too much, and create problems for ourselves. Even if we’re doing incredibly good things, the good we’re able to do is diminished when we wear ourselves out.
So Jethro advises Moses to delegate. Do this, he says, and let someone else do that. Advice that’s been passed down for generations on end. Teach them how to do it for themselves, Jethro says, and quit trying to do it all yourself.
Jethro leaves again, and the Lord prepares to make another appearance to Moses. He tells Moses that He’ll appear in a thick cloud so the people can hear Him speak and instructs Moses to have the people cleanse themselves and their clothing so they’re ready when He comes to Mount Sinai on the third day. He instructs Moses to set boundaries and warn the people not to cross them so they’re not harmed.
Moses goes back and forth between God and the people, and then in Chapter 20, God gives to Moses and the Israelites His Commandments:
1. I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land wich the Lord thy god giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
10. Thou covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
There are two things I know to be true about the Ten Commandments. One is that God did not give them to us so we could measure each other and figure out which of us were good and which of us were bad. Nor did He give them to us to box us in and tie us down. God gave us the commandments to grant us freedom. It’s sin that binds us and makes us prisoners.
The commandments are like God’s “Don’t Touch the Hot Stove” rules. If a child touches a hot stove, he’s going to experience pain. If we commit adultery or steal or fail to honor God, we’re going to cause pain for others and we’re going to experience pain ourselves. All He’s saying here is, don’t. Spare yourselves. Avoid the pain.
The second thing I know to be true about the Commandments is that they all have meaning on several levels. I can’t presume to list here what all those levels of meaning are for all of the commandments, but I know it’s there. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, for example, means that we shouldn’t run around using the Lord’s name in common conversation, without meaning. As an expletive. In cheap, common ways. In degrading ways. It’s common practice in this world of ours, but each time we do it, we chip away at the sacredness of His name. Each time we do that, we create a rift between ourselves and God — and that rift can only result in pain.
But not taking the Lord’s name in vain also means that we should be careful about taking his name upon us, as we do when we’re baptized, when we’re saved, when we accept Christ as our personal Lord and Savior, and then doing nothing with it. We’re not supposed to take the Lord’s name without significance, without importance, without effect or purpose. Neither are we supposed to take the Lord’s name upon ourselves with vanity, with pride and conceit, thinking and acting as if it somehow makes us better, higher, or more important than someone else.
Those are the three meanings for that one commandment that I’m aware of today. I’m sure there are others. The Lord reveals gospel principles to each of us little by little, when we’re at the right place in our personal walk with Him.
I know one other thing to be true: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is simple, but it’s also profound. Profound enough to save lives, to save marriages, to save souls. Profound enough to bring joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the middle of fear and solace in times of trial.