The Game of Life
Dr. Jim Denison
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is the most popular show on television these days, with 33.6 million viewers most recently. And not long ago, an IRS agent named John Carpenter actually won the million dollars. I’ll bet he paid his taxes.
It looks like a simple game, but I discovered personally that if you don’t play by the rules you cannot win.
Did you call that number they advertised a few months ago to see if you could qualify to play? I actually did one night, just out of curiosity. I knew the question the recording asked. But I got flustered and didn’t push the buttons on the phone in the right order, the way they said to. I broke the rules. And so, sadly, I couldn’t play.
In the same way, the Ten Commandments are the “rules of the game.” These ten principles tell us how life works, and how to live if we want to live well.
In weeks to come we’ll learn how to handle our ambitions, religion, stress, parents, enemies, sex, possessions, lies, and lusts. These are God’s rules for every game we play.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know the rules, at least not very well. Newsweek magazine recently reported that only 49% of all Protestants, and 44% of all Catholics, could name even four of the Ten Commandments. Can you? Are you living by them, and thus living well?
Go back with me some thirty-four centuries into the past, and stand with ancient Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai.
We are on a sandy plateau some four thousand feet above the Mediterranean Sea. This is a plain roughly two miles long and half a mile wide, with enough room for two million people to stand together.
Towering overhead 2,200 feet is a huge granite mountain peak, altar-shaped and awesome. This is the mountain of God’s law, the throne from which the King of Kings proclaimed his Ten Commandments.
These words were inscribed by the finger of God on two tablets, written on both sides. If these tablets were twenty-seven inches long by eighteen inches wide, the 172 Hebrew words of these Ten Commandments could easily have been inscribed on them.
Moses shattered them in rage when he descended from the mountain and confronted the idolatry of the people. God made them again. Moses eventually laid them in the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred box carried before the people for centuries and eventually stored in Solomon’s Temple. When the Babylonians destroyed this temple in 598 BC they likely took the Ark, and it is now lost to us.
But the words it contained are not. Imagine it: an obscure tribe of Egyptian slaves plunges into the desert to hide from pursuit, and emerges with a code of ten “words” which is still authoritative today, 34 centuries later. A depiction of Moses and these Ten Commandments adorns the courtroom where the Justices of the Supreme Court meet, deliberate, and lead our nation’s legal system. These ten principles are still the foundation stones of moral and legal systems the world over.
Today we examine their first, and foundational command.
What does God say?
Western Union decided in 1876, “The ‘telephone’ is inherently of no value to us.” Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, said in 1895, “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” Charles H. Duell, Commissioner of the U.S. Office of Patents in 1899, said, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.” Irving Fisher, professor of economics at Yale University, said in 1929, “Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” And Decca Recording Company said in 1962, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” The group they rejected was the Beatles.
By contrast, our text begins, “And God spoke all these words.” Fortunately, this command is not based on our predictions, our rules, our laws, to be changed by the whim of our legislators.
God said this.
He is the “LORD,” the Hebrew word YHWH. This is the holiest name of God, meaning the One who was, is, and ever shall be.
He is “God,” the Hebrew word “Elohim,” the typical name for God.
He is “your” God—this God is personal. No Buddhist would say “Your Buddha;” no Muslim would say “Your Allah;” no Greek would say “Your Zeus.” But YHWH calls himself “your God.” We can know him personally, as you would know “your wife” or “your husband” or “your son” or “your daughter” or “your friend.”
He is the holy YHWH, who is yet our personal God.
What does he want of us? “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Remember that the Hebrews have just come from Egypt, where the people worshiped Ra, Phthah, Osiris, Isis, Horus, the animals, and the pharoahs.
They were going into polytheistic Canaan, the land of Baal, Ashtoreth, Asherah, Molech, and Dagon.
Their own ancestors had made the Tower of Babel, to make themselves God. Joshua had warned them, “Long ago your forefathers, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the River and worshiped other gods” (Joshua 24:3).
This would be their tendency as well. In fact, they would make and worship the golden calf even as YHWH was giving this command to Moses on the mountain above.
So, God says, “Have no other gods before me.” “Before me” means “against my face,” and requires absolute and unconditional allegiance to God and worship of him alone.
What a shocking surprise! Before this, everyone knew that the universe was wild and chaotic, a jungle of warring powers: wind against water, sun against moon, life against death. There was a god of the spring planting and another god of the harvest, a spirit who put fish into fishermen’s nets and a being who specialized in caring for women in childbirth; and at best there was an uneasy truce among all these, at worst a battle.