I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
‘And God spoke all these words’. Do we take it as a ‘dibrot’ something like an ‘utterance’ or perhaps even ‘inspired speech’ or does being ‘etched into stone’ make it outdated and not relevant for today? Robert Alter describes: ‘Writing on stone an archaic medium of communication which lines up with archaic fire (roasting) and archaic baking (unleavened bread) earlier in the story’. Is a card in the post carefully written in your own hand an outdated mode of communication?
During Advent we used the worship song ‘Hush there’s a Baby’’*. Had we been in church, doing the actions would have been easy, but in front of your laptop . . .? How on earth can you do ‘Bow right Down’ when , in effect, you are trying to touch your toes! (Can you do that? ‘Touch your toes? Pre-lockdown maybe but as the pounds go on it might be more of a struggle!)
The ‘Bow right Down’ was about the magi visiting the Christ Child with precious gifts. Today’s text commands us not to bow down to the wrong things. An idol is anything that takes God’s place in our lives. Commentators suggest that these commandments are about naming who we follow. We cannot have two masters. African culture teaches: ‘A person cannot choose two roads at the same time’ (Mali) while in Cameroon the saying is ‘One cannot chase two pigeons at once’. ( Do you remember the phrase ‘Catch the Pigeon’ from Dastardly and Muttley?)
The words of this commandment could be translated ‘no other God against me’ or ‘beside me’ or ‘above me’. During Lockdown I came off my bike spectacularly and found my face slammed against the concrete surface of the pavement. The Commandments were etched in tablets of stone, in your face. God is literally beside us, picks us up and says ‘Get back on your bike and keep going’.
Gracious God, as I bow before you, whether on my knees or trying to touch my toes, You are beside me. You are literally in my face, whether I am comfortable or not.
May I know your continuing presence right in front of me, guiding and encouraging me. When I fail and fall and when I cannot physically bow right down, give me the courage to keep on going, knowing you are beside me. Amen.
The Rev’d Andrew Royal, Minister, Maidstone & Staplehurst URC’s