Forming Faith Blog

The Gift of the Torah (Exodus 19 & 20)

How do we teach and preach about laws and commandments? How often do we focus on the negative rather than the gift of the Torah?

If you haven’t ordered your Narrative Lectionary (or Revised Common Lectionary) faith formation resources for the 2022-2023 program year, it’s not too late! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Fall, Winter, and Spring resources and put them to use right away.

A wrapped gift. The Torah is a gift.
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on
God’s Promises Bring Hope

Our Narrative Lectionary faith formation resources are divided into multi-week themes. Our first this year is about God’s promises, and how they bring hope. This starts with the promise God makes to Noah after the traumatic flood story. We then moved to God’s call, blessing, and promise to Abram and God bringing some of those blessing-promises to fruition during Joseph’s tribulations. Last week, I reflected on the very real fear that the people of Israel experienced as they felt trapped by the Red Sea.

This week, we finish this unit with God’s gift of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. 

The Law: A Bad Rap?

Christians, especially Protestant Christians, often have a complicated relationship with the Law. This is in large part to the apostle Paul’s criticisms of the Law in his letters, where he seems to be pitting the Law against God’s grace. Jesus also seems to criticize the Law.

However, on closer examination, Jesus is criticizing the religious establishment’s narrow interpretations and traditions regarding the Law that protect them from actually doing the hard work of loving their neighbors. Similarly, Paul is usually criticizing a particular interpretation and use of the Law, as his opponents are themselves pitting the Law against God’s grace. So, it’s not specifically the Law itself that is being slammed; it is how some people are misusing it in ways that separate people from God and each other.

God’s Gift of the Torah

While “law” is the most logical translation of the Greek word nomos, I prefer using the Hebrew word torah. Why? Because we are used to the word “law” and know what it means. In our society, laws are rules that we must follow, generally created by a government body. They are—generally—negative (don’t do that). That is an accurate description of the Ten Commandments and many of the other commandments (thou shalt not).

But torah is more complicated than that. Not only can torah simply mean “law,” but it can also mean “instructions, direction.” God handed the people of Israel the Torah (the famous Ten and the rest of the commandments, too) not as a punishment but as a gift. Through the Torah, God taught the Israelites (and us) how to live out justice and peace. And the people needed that instruction. For their lifetimes, the people had been slaves, harshly treated under the laws of the Egyptians. God is preparing them to live as free, self-governing people.

The Purge (Why Laws Are Good)

There is a movie series (that I have no interest in watching) called The Purge. The basic idea of this is that there is a day when—sanctioned by the government—there are no laws and no punishments. People are free to do the worst things they want to do, limited only by what they can get away with using their own strength.

That is not a world I want to live in, whether that lawlessness is one day or all days. That is a world that shows the depths of human brokenness and why laws are good.

Laws and Justice

God gave God’s beloved people laws to teach them how to live out justice and peace—justice and peace being inextricably linked. However, laws are no guarantee of justice. Even good laws can be manipulated by people in power to benefit some and oppress others. That is, in my opinion, one of the problems with prohibitionary (thou shalt not) laws.

Look on the Positive Side

Laws that do not say “don’t do that” are very hard to enforce. That’s why we need the prohibitions. Prohibitions tell us the numerous ways how not to harm our neighbors. But humans are sneaky, selfish bastards who do what they can to find loopholes to selfishly use laws to unfairly benefit themselves and oppress those with less power.

But it is no accident that when Jesus is asked to choose one commandment above all others, he summarizes the entire Torah in two positive statements: love God, love your neighbor. Paul agrees in Romans 13:8-10. And there are other examples of this. It is impossible to manipulate these laws for selfishness and oppression, as manipulation, selfishness, and oppression are—by definition—contrary to love.

Faith Formation Connection

So, as you teach or preach this week’s Narrative Lectionary reading, focus on the positive. Explain that the Ten Commandments (and subsequent laws) were (and are) a gift from God, given out of great love. Interpret each commandment into its positive counterpart. For Lutherans, Martin Luther demonstrated this practice in the Small Catechism. I also did this myself in my post on this passage from four years ago: The Ten Words from Sinai.

God’s peace and justice be with you,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 11 to May 28), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download a free activity “Mountaintops and Valleys” an interactive prayer activity from our Living the Word: Kids (3rd-6th, NL). While this activity is written for later elementary classrooms, it can be adapted for most other settings.

2022-2023 Faith Formation Resources

The program year is upon us. Have you made all your decisions for your congregation’s faith formation needs? It’s not too late to order! As soon as your payment is processed, you can download the Fall, Winter, and Spring lessons for our Narrative Lectionary and Revised Common Lectionary resources.

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

Stay updated by liking our Facebook page, subscribing to our e-newsletter, or following this blog!

Leave a Reply