What’s Your End of the Freedom Bargain?

10 Commandments
Photo credit: Fergal of Claddagh

Exodus 20:1-20

Then God said:

I am God. I brought you out of Egypt and set you free. Therefore:

  1. Don’t worship any other gods.
  2. Don’t make images of other gods, in whatever form, from anything you may see in the sky or on earth or in the sea. Don’t bow to them or worship them. The dire consequences of doing so will last three or four generations, but do as I say and the benefits will last thousands of years.
  3. Don’t use my name as a curse, or I’ll curse you.
  4. Take one day off in seven. Work for six days, and then take a day off. But one day off per week is sacrosanct. And don’t make anyone else – I don’t care if they’re family, employees, or even the illegal aliens you hired under the table – don’t make anyone else work incessantly either. I got all my work done in six days, you ought to be able to take a day off, too.
  5. Respect your parents if you want to live near home.
  6. Don’t murder.
  7. Don’t screw around on your spouse.
  8. Don’t steal.
  9. Don’t tell lies about your neighbors.
  10. Don’t try to keep up with the Joneses.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning, and heard the trumpets and saw the mountain erupting, they were afraid and backed away. They told Moses, “You tell us what God says. We’d rather God didn’t talk to us.”

Moses said, “Don’t be afraid. God just wants to see if you’re going to chicken out, or if you’ll keep your end of the freedom bargain.”

In all the zeal for mounting these in public spaces, what’s often overlooked is that these are not ethical imperatives. These are the enumerated terms of a specific contract. They are the people’s end of a deal, in which the quid-pro-quo on God’s end has already been delivered. God has set them free from Egypt. Now, this is their obligation to God. That’s why it starts with, “Don’t worship any other gods.” That’s why Moses says what he does about chickening out or keeping their end of the deal.

Truth be told, freedom is a fearful thing. It’s much easier when someone (even if it’s a nasty Egyptian boss) is telling you what to do and when to do it. Slavery, grunt work, as unpleasant and back-breaking as it is, doesn’t require any imagination or risk. You do what you’re told, and you get what you expect.

Freedom, on the other hand, always requires responsibility. In the case of the Israelites in the wilderness it was the responsibility to build a vibrant, meaningful, inter-generational community with God at the center of it’s life. These commandments reflect that priority.

Your responsibility, your calling, may be different. But if you’re free then your freedom comes with responsibility to do something great – and that something is exactly the thing you’re most afraid of succeeding at. The particular terms of your freedom contract may differ from those enumerated here. But whatever they are, they come with the fear and force of God behind them. In the presence of that fear you can say, like the Israelites did, “I’d rather not hear that,” and ask someone else to handle it for you. You can always chicken out and go back to being a grunt for someone else.

But God (along with the rest of us) is hoping that in spite of your fear you’ll, keep your end of the freedom bargain, and do something that changes the world.