October 29, 2020

“10 Words” from the OT that guide my journey

Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law, Chagall

Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law, Chagall

Let me mention Peter Enns once more this week. A couple of days ago he ran a stimulating post called 10 Old Testament passages that shape how I think about God. It’s good stuff, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to read it.

Well, that got me thinking about what I might put on a list like that. So today, I will share my “Ten Words” — giving full credit to Pete for the idea.

In response through the comments, perhaps you might share a passage or two that shapes the way you think about God and faith and life. Hebrew Bible only today. We’ll pick up the New Testament on another occasion.

• • •

I will start with an excerpt from the first chapter in the Bible that I memorized.

King Solomon, Chagall

King Solomon, Chagall

The10CommandmentsProverbs 2:1-5

My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God. (KJV)

Though I am an unabashed critic of naive biblicism, the great interest of my life has been to learn the Bible that I might know God through his living Word, Jesus. The words of the Bible are the primary means by which God communicates to me and I with God. Proverbs 2 describes the hunger I hope I’ll always have for a conversational relationship with God that leads to wisdom.

The10CommandmentsExodus 20:2

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery . . .

In Hebrew, the Ten Commandments are known as the “Ten Words.” And the Jews number them differently than Christians do. Christians start with the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (20:3). But the Jews have a better insight into them. They start with the first word: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and slavery,” and that word is a word of pure, unadulterated, 200 proof grace. God’s doing always precedes mine. And my doing must always be performed as the action of one set free.

The10CommandmentsPsalm 27:4

One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

Another main preoccupation of my life and work has been worship with God’s people. I have taken a long, slow road of learning about the history and tradition of worship, breaking free from revivalism, practicing the liturgy, and so on. But from the beginning of my journey, there was this text. It invites me to follow the psalmist into a life of dwelling in God’s presence, discovering the inexpressible beauty of the King and his kingdom, and taking the place of a learner at his feet along with my brothers and sisters of faith. This one thing is needful.

Elijah Touched by Angel, Chagall

Elijah Touched by Angel, Chagall

The10CommandmentsI Kings 17:7

It happened after a while that the brook dried up, because there was no rain in the land.

At various wilderness times in my life, I have found comfort and help in the stories about Elijah. I’ll never forget the time this text jumped off the page at me when I was in a place of deep discouragement: “. . . the brook dried up.” Imagine the prophet sitting there alone day after day at the side of the brook, watching as it diminishes, worrying about dying of thirst. It was like God took a photograph of my inner world. He knew where I was.

The10CommandmentsGenesis 32:25

. . . he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him.

We walk best with God when he has put a limp in our step. Those who wrestle with God and prevail by clinging to him arise wounded and better off for it, though they appear weaker. May I never stop wrestling, clinging, limping.

The10CommandmentsPsalm 13:1-2

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

The Hebrew Bible is relentless in encouraging me to be real with God. Especially in those times when I’m in the wilderness and God seems absent, puzzling, or hostile toward me. That’s why it is filled with honest cries like Psalm 13, the classic lament. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” another psalmist asked. By singing laments, that’s how.

The Dance, Chagall

The Dance, Chagall

The10Commandments Ecclesiastes 3:11-13

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Another passage from Ecclesiastes says, “Do not be too righteous, and do not act too wise; why should you destroy yourself?” Through the years, I’ve had to learn to loosen up. Enjoy life and the people in my life. Don’t take everything so seriously. Laugh at myself. Have a beer or a glass of wine. Don’t imagine that very much at all depends on me in the final analysis — especially if it needs fixed. I have a big God with a big plan that includes making people like me fully human. Might as well start practicing along the way.

The10Commandments Psalm 23

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life . . .

This is an obvious choice. I think most people would put this on a list of favorite, or most influential texts from the Hebrew Bible. But there is good reason for that. This incomparable meditation on God’s comprehensive care always yields new treasures when I take the time to meditate upon it. I think of it as the OT counterpart to the Lord’s Prayer — perfectly formed, and perfectly provided to form me.

• • •

The final two passages relate to my vocation. These texts have helped to shape my pastoral methodology, especially in my work as a hospice chaplain:

The10Commandments Proverbs 19:22

What is desirable in a man is his kindness.

The10Commandments Job 2:13

Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.

Sympathetic presence and kindness. It is as simple and as hard as that.


  1. Faulty O-Ring says

    Comment deleted. Inappropriate.

  2. Psalm 121:2

    “Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

  3. Proverbs 3:5-6 (had to look it up, us Cat-Licks don’t always know the zip-code for our favorite passages!)

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will guide your paths.”

    • >”don’t always know the zip-code for our favorite passages”

      Apparently, I’ve been Catholic for years.

  4. Psalm 51:17: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.”

    There have been so many times when these were all I had to offer God. It was a great consolation to know that they were an acceptable sacrifice.

    Can I put the whole book of Isaiah in for my other choice?

  5. I will be their God and I will not be angry with them no longer. I will write my commandments on their hearts of flesh.
    I will be all things to them. Sorry, I didn’t look them up. To me He is saying I love them, me too and when I read Psalm 119 I interchange all the words used for law to love and I start to understand how I can actually keep them without ever having to work for it and that love walks among us today as then in a heart of stone turned flesh.

    Choir practice was wonderful last night and I didn’t want to go to much work and tired. It always seems to be this way the struggle I encounter. Please excuse this side note CM

  6. Isaiah 55 ” For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are my ways your ways declares the Lord ” I am reminded of this every day that I kneel and pray.

  7. Micah 6:8,

    He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
    but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

    I’ll second Damaris’s Ps 51, and Isaiah 40 and 53 especially, and although it’s off-topic, Chagall is really cool.

  8. Isaiah 25:6-9

    On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    Of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
    And he will swallow up on this mountain
    the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    The veil that is spread over all nations.
    He will swallow up death forever;
    and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
    It will be said on that day,
    “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    Let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

  9. The idea that God, in all his power and glory sings over us is remarkable to me.

    The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
    –Zephaniah 3:17

  10. Micah 6:8 (at Ted above pointed out), Joshua 1:9-10.

    I also came across one this morning that jumped out at me that I will have to meditate on: 1 Chronicles 30: 18-20
    “For a multitude of the people…had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover otherwise than prescribed. For Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who prepares his heart to seek God, the Lord God of his fathers, though not according to the purification rules of the sanctuary.” So the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.”

  11. petrushka1611 says

    This was beautiful, chaplain.

    But in your comment on Exodus 20:2, do you mean 200 proof? 😉

  12. Marcus Johnson says

    Acts 19:13-16.

    It’s the only narrative that I can find in the Bible in which an evil spirit engages a human being other than Jesus and, in that instance, the demon wins. No coda in which the sons of Sceva come back and drive out the demon. No afterword in which they run to Paul, and Paul does it for them.

    Whenever I think about “speaking the truth in love,” which often seems to be code for telling people they’re wrong and I’m right, I remember the words of the evil spirit: Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?

  13. All of Hosea 2 for me. These are v.19-23:

    I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.
    I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the Lord.
    “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the Lord—
    “I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;
    and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and the olive oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.
    I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.
    I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

    • David Cornwell says

      I read or hear this verse, and have no doubt that herein lies the Word of God. I need no further proof.

  14. David Cornwell says

    Psalm 23:4:
    “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

    This became my verse for many long nights and difficult days upon learning I had colon cancer. Learning I had cancer hit like a white hot flame, searing to the core of my being. The naked power of fear was at the threshold of seizing my soul. Driving for miles for tests or treatment, this verse was a became a living presence to cling to with one hand. I knew that death was a very real possibility, and with scythe in hand desired to stare me down.

    Psalm 19:14:
    “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.”

    To preach the Word, to me, became a sacramental duty of love. I tried to make this a prayer as I began preparation to preach. Our words have life giving, or death dealing power. The temptation is to use the occasion to advance our hobby horse cause, belief, or recent peeve. Also when I had a funeral, and needed to say proper words to the family and community, this was my prayer.

    Also, when at my best, it’s a prayer to use when writing, thinking, and praying. I have a tongue than can cut people to the core. Lord, save me from this. Forgive.

    • Interestingly, rod and staff represent instruments of discomfort. The juxtaposition of pain and joy. The mystery of suffering.

      • In fact that Psalm in its entirety juxtaposes the leading of the Lord which directly draws us into suffering (the paths of righteousness which are followed by the valley of the shadow of death) with the attendant and necessary comfort. If we will go down the path of the cross, as sure as the sunrise, goodness and mercy will bring up the rear. Every comfort will be there for those willing to trudge that treacherous terrain and only those that do will know what that comfort is all about. Posers and yappers will only circle the table. That’s just the way it is.

        • Pardon me if I sound harsh talking about posers and yappers, I only mean to say that there is nothing trite about the experience portrayed in that beautiful psalm even though it has become a sometimes quoted part of common culture. It goes to the very heart of communion with the Lord and what that will entail.

  15. All of Psalm 73, but most specifically the psalmist’s realization of his place in the Lord, and the plight of the wicked:

    When my heart was grieved
    and my spirit embittered,
    I was senseless and ignorant;
    I was a brute beast before you.

    Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
    You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.
    Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

    Those who are far from you will perish;
    you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.
    But as for me, it is good to be near God.
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;
    I will tell of all your deeds.

    In the days I am living, this Psalm indeed gives me hope…

  16. Wonderful post…and thread and comments. THIS is why I still ‘lurk’ at IM, and us a welcome breath of fresh air from the blogs that all too often sound like the Pharisee’s soliloquy before God at the Temple…”I thank you Lord, that I am not as other men, or even this ‘evangelical’ here…”, LOL.
    Were I to add one….there’s a myriad of passages that include the phrase “And it came to pass…”! In all the trials I have endured, I am repeatedly heartened that these verses don’t say…”And it came to STAY!”

  17. Habakkuk 3:17-18

    Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    Yes, even when the prosperity gospel falls flat on its face, I can still be joyful in God my Savior!!

  18. Sean O Riain says

    Psalms 130:1-6

    Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

  19. Most of what people have put up so far is what I would choose. I don’t know if I could even get it down to 10.

    Thanks, all.


  20. First: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. Deut. 6:4

    Second: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Lev. 19:18

    • Your first is my first also. I recall, and prefer the beauty of, the Hebrew for the first part (through the semicolon). On the second part, at least for the bible translations I use, you mingled the OT of Deut 6:5 with the NT quote by Jesus in all three synoptic gospels, with the version at Mark 12:30 being most similar to what you quoted as Deuteronomy.

  21. BEAUTIFUL. This brought me to tears. I have been, and still am, struggling with letting go of my naïve Biblicism as you call it and not sure what to “grab onto” instead so to speak. You have chosen such “merciful” verses. It is very hard to stop seeing the Bible as my “answer book” – hard and scary. Internet Monk has been crucial in my journey and evoked strong emotion from anger to joy, from “who do they think they are” to “thank God I’m not alone.” This particular post has really impacted me and I will be “chewing on it” for quite awhile. Thank you Chaplain Mike.

    “Then I came to the captives at Tel Abib, who dwelt by the River Chebar; and I SAT WHERE THEY SAT, and remained there astonished among them seven days.” Ezekiel 3:15

    • Bless you on your journey, Adrienne. May Christ guide you as he forms you, and is formed in you. May the Scriptures come alive and bear witness to the Risen King in ways you have not yet imagined, and may that imagination be stirred with his creativity from now until the fullness of time.

  22. flatrocker says

    Book of Armaments 4:16-20

    “Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, “Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy.” And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals … Now did the Lord say, “First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it.”

    Sorry, just couldn’t resist…

    • Armaments Chapter *Two*, verses *9-21*.

      Sorry, *I* couldn’t resist. >:-)

    • An all-time favorite!

    • Is it bad that I think of this quote nearly every time my pastor prays the proper preface?
      “Therefore with all the saints and angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven and orangoutangs and breakfast cereals…”

      • …and I lose it at church is there is any mention of “Antioch” at all….

        (as a reader, I once read out loud about a bridegroom in his wedding clothes, and a bride adorned with her diaphragm…….that’s what happens when a maternity nurse reads after working all night!)

  23. Jeremiah 6:16
    “This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

    This is marked in my study bible multiple times because it has been brought before me over and over when I am seeking guidance. This is one of my favorites. I’m a girl from Mississippi and have heard the legend of Robert Johnson’s trip to the crossroads where he sold his soul. The imagery of this passage is ripe for me, as is the constant reminder of the consequences of our decisions.

  24. Joshua 24:15
    “If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

    The last statement is huge to me. It tells me that I can release what I see around me and the beliefs people have that are different from mine, and remain true to my own beliefs and walk.

    Ecclesiastes 12:13
    “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”

    After the harsh realities of life and living, the author boils the meaninglessness down to this simple conclusion.

  25. OlfProphet says

    2Samson 2:2 “be ye buffed, not wimped”

  26. A verse that’s always appropriate for blog comments:

    Bear with me, and I will speak,
    and after I have spoken, mock on.
    –Job 21:3

    • The conundrum is indeed an ancient one…

      Proverbs 26:4-5

      4 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.

      5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

  27. That Other Jean says

    Jonah 4:5ff

    5 Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. 6 Now the Lord God appointed a plant[b] and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort.[c] So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” 10 And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

    I need frequent reminding of the patience and mercy of God, and Jonah helps.

    Psalm 118:24

    This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

  28. Desert Storm Libertarian says

    Job 38:33

    Do you know the laws of the heavens? Can you set up God’s dominion over the earth?

  29. Thank you all for sharing meaning and beauty from God’s word written. Blessings to all.

  30. Christiane says

    Psalm 43
    ‘deep is calling on deep
    in the roar of waters . . .
    your torrents and waves
    have swept over me . . . ‘


  31. 1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
    2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
    3 Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
    4 He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart …

    … and all of Psalm 91. I have comforted myself many times reciting this psalm. It covers nearly every fear that afflicts me.

    Thank you for this, Chaplain Mike. I love all your choices and the ones of each commenter. I particularly like Psalm 27 and pray daily that I may dwell in the house of the Lord forever and gaze on the beauty of his face. I have written dates beside many passages in my Bible as a remembrance of how that word ministered to me during particular troubles. These are like the altars of stone that the Israelites erected at various times as monuments of God’s presence and intervention for them.

  32. OldProphet says

    psalm 84:10. It’s my family’s personal verse. “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere, I would rather be a doorkeeper of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness”. The Lord gave me this verse over 30 years ago when I met Him and I vowed to fulfill it until I take my last breath.

  33. “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”

    After encountering all that she had, famine that had forced her to a far country, the death of her husband, the death of her two sons, no family to care for her, Naomi had become so bitter toward God that she told people to call her just that–“bitter”. And yet, there is so much hope in that final sentence of Chapter One, hope that Naomi is not aware of–but we are; we know not only the rest of the story of Naomi and Ruth but in Whom that story culminates. Our hope, like Naomi and Ruth’s hope, begins in Bethlehem.

  34. Psalm 16

    …The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup
    Thou holdest my lot.
    The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    yea, I have a goodly heritage.

    …The Lord has shown to me the path of life.
    In His presence there is fullness of joy.
    At His right hand are pleasures forevermore.

  35. for me, this from the O.T.

    “Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
    ask where the good way is,
    and walk therein,
    and you will find rest for your souls.”

    (Jeremiah 6:16)

  36. “Remember me, Yahweh, with the favor that you show to your people. Visit me with your salvation” – Psalm 106:4.

    (This was possibly the prayer of the thief on the cross. It is also appropriate for Advent.)

    “The sentence before us is a sweet prayer, at once humble and aspiring, submissive and expansive; it might be used by a dying thief or a living apostle; let us use it now. O visit me with thy salvation. Bring it home to me. Come to my house and to my heart, and give me the salvation which thou hast prepared, and art alone able to bestow.”
    – Charles Spurgeon, from his commentary on Psalm 106 in his “Treasury of David”.

  37. I read through them all and how wonderful. I felt the movement in my heart as I realize these words act upon me. I read them through the lense of Christ and wonder if this is how many were written and especially the many Psalms of David. With the hard day ahead of me as this is friday I hope they stay with me as I realize the treasure that is here among you all. It is dry at the construction sites as barely ever a word of Christ but the constant hum sometimes in my heart and every once in awhile I just break out into a song about hymn and I don’t care.

    • +1

      It was moving to read this conversation as it built yesterday. I returned to it again this morning.

  38. I appreciate your post very much–this is definitely a keeper, to be thought about and referred to in the future. I especially like your points about Jacob being wounded and dependent on God, and about times of wandering in the wilderness–such hard lessons! I agree with those who brought up Micah 6:8, one of my favorites, and Proverbs 3:5-6. Thanks again for your post and your work!