And God spoke all these words . . . (Exodus 20:1).
“Can you make the Costco run today?”
I paused to be sure I had heard her correctly. The trip to Costco is no small matter in our world. Costco is the central supply station for much of what sustains life in our home. Being asked to do this was a bit like a minor league player being called up to the big leagues. I wanted to get it right. Better make a list.
I find satisfaction in making lists. Lists allow me to plan my day; lists are a tangible indicator of progress and accomplishment; lists bring order to chaos; lists allow reflection on priorities, what comes first and what can wait.
But lists are static and inanimate things. When I went to Costco the list was important. It told me exactly what to do. But it was only important because before there was a list there was a voice. My wife’s speaking came first. She knew what we needed. I didn’t have clue. Her words were primary. The list was secondary.
Listening precedes listing. It was true for me at Costco. And it was true for Moses at Mount Sinai.
A couple of days we noted that for many of us the Ten commandments have been reduced to a list, inscribed tablets of stone, silent and foreboding. Fair enough. Exodus 32:16 says plainly that the tablets were “the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.” So yes, we have a written list of commandments.
But God did not give his instruction by writing, at least not at first. First, God spoke. This is how Exodus 20 begins: “And God spoke all these words.” The commandments are not a lifeless list; they are a living voice. Our primary task is to listen for this voice. If we refuse to listen to the voice, we will never be moved to pay attention to the list.
In C. S. Lewis’ Narnia story titled The Magician’s Nephew there is a scene in which Aslan the Lion is singing Narnia into being. A character in that story, Uncle Andrew, is convinced that Lions cannot sing. Lewis writes,
The longer and more beautiful the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring. Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed. Uncle Andrew did. He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song. Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to. And when at last the Lion spoke and said “Narnia awake,” he didn’t hear any words; he heard only a snarl.
There are many who hear the Ten Commandments as a snarl, a harping list of demands or rules. But these words are God’s voice; they are a song. The list is important, but listening precedes listing. If you have not done so already, take a few moments to sit down and read the Ten Commandments. Read them slowly. As you read, listen.
What do you hear in the Ten Commandments?
Before we act in obedience, O God, help us to listen in devotion to you. Tune our hearts to the sound of your voce in your Law. Help us to live in loving response, we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.