The occasion of the giving of the ten commandments:
Shortly after bringing the nation of Israel out of their slavery in Egypt and through the Red Sea, God led the nation into the wilderness of Sinai in Arabian Peninsula. They numbered roughly 2 million, a sea of people and their animals as far as the eye could see. Moses, the nation’s leader and God’s ambassador to the people, went up Mt. Sinai and received from God a message for the nation, a message about a deal, a covenant that God wanted to make with the people. It was a deal in which God promised that they would be His special people among all the nations of the earth. They would be a holy nation and a kingdom priests. They would have a special relationship with God and be able to lead others to Him. They would be like a bridge between people and God. The condition was that they must obey His laws.
Moses came down from the mountain and informed the elders of the people of the deal God proposed, and then the elders spread the message to the nation. And the general census of the people was “Yes! All that the Lord has spoken we will do! We want in on this deal with God. We want to be His special people.”
So Moses went back up the mountain and told God that the people accept his offer. God told Moses, “I want to speak with the people. I want them to hear My voice to confirm their faith in Me and in you, Moses, that you truly are My messenger.” And God told Moses how to prepare and arrange for this meeting between God and the people. Moses was given 2 days to make all the preparations. He told all the people to get themselves cleaned up spiritually and physically, to wash their garments so that they are ready to come close to God. He set boundary markers all around the foot of mountain and warned the people that they are not to even touch the border of the mountain. If anyone, even an animal, touches the boarder of the mountain they will be either stoned to death or shot through with arrows.
Then on the morning of the third day God’s presence was awesomely manifested on Mt. Sinai. The whole mountain was enveloped in fire and thick smoke, and lighting was continually flashing on it and thunder was sounding. The whole mountain was quaking violently. A loud trumpet sound was blaring from the mountain. The people were absolutely terrified, but they followed Moses to the foot of the mountain. The trumpet sound grew louder and louder. Moses spoke and God answered with thunder. Moses was called up the mountain and God told him to go down and warn the people again not to cross the boundary so as to catch a glimpse of God, or God will break out against them. Moses came down and warned the people again.
That brings us to Exodus ch20. We have the nation trembling in fear before the awesome manifestation of God’s presence. And in Exodus 20 God’s voice comes out of heaven to the people. God speaks directly to the multitude.
God first introduced Himself. Exodus 20:2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” So He identifies Himself for them as the one who heard their cries and their prayers when they were slaves in Egypt, the one who had compassion on them, the one they owe their new found freedom to. And He is the one who showed power above every so-called god of Egypt with the plagues that He brought upon that land. He is the one who turned the great waters of the Nile into blood, who brought the frogs and gnats and flies like you have never seen frogs and gnats and flies before, He is the one that brought the fatal sickness on the livestock in the fields, He is the one that brought the boils on man and beast, He is the one that brought the unprecedented hail and lightening storm, He is the one that brought the locusts so thick you could not see the ground, He is the one that veiled sun and every light in every Egyptian home for 3 days, He is the one who took the life out of every firstborn Egyptian in one night. He is the one who parted the sea and destroyed Pharaoh’s army. He is the one who flew in that quail dinner for them. He is the one who provided them with the manna every morning. He is the one who turned a rock into a giant drinking fountain. He is the one who enabled them defeat the Amalekites in war. You remember when Moses’ arms were up they would prevail over the Amalekites in the battle, and when Moses’ shoulders grew weary and he let his arms sag, the Amalekites would then get the upper hand in the battle. God was in total control of the battle. He is the one who rules heaven and earth and the kingdoms of men. He is the Almighty who holds us and everything in the palm of His hand. He is the one to whom we owe our lives, our families, our freedom, our health, our food, every little thing that we enjoy every day.
Then after identifying Himself, God gives to the people 10 commandments, 10 laws that will serve as the core of what He will require of them in this covenant that He is making with them. The first 4 have to do specifically with their relationship with Him. The first 4 are duties toward God (no other gods before Him, no images even of God, which would be bad pictures of Him, careful use of His name, and observance of the Sabbath day). The remaining 6 have to do with their relationships with other people. They are duties toward your neighbor. (honoring parents, not killing, not committing adultery, not stealing, not bearing false witness, and not coveting anything that belongs to your neighbor).
Then after the 10th commandment God stopped speaking. And the people were pale in face and trembling in fear as they witnessed a bit of His power and majesty on the mountain, and I think as they realized that they have not lived in keeping with His will, that they have fallen short of these 10 commandments. They were so scared they pleaded with Moses to be their mediator. They said, “Moses, you speak to us and we will listen to you, but let not God speak to us anymore. We cannot bear it. We will die if we have to stand before Him and hear His voice anymore.” And Moses told the people that the reason God has come to them in this way is so that they would fear Him and not sin, so that He may remain with them. God wants to have a good relationship with them. But if they just persist to go on sinning, that can’t happen. And so He has come to them in this way to instill within them a healthy fear of sinning. Then the people went back to their camp and Moses drew near to the presence of God to receive further laws for the people.
Very important section of Scripture
There are some portions of Scripture that are weightier, that deserve more attention than others. “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness,” said Paul. But some portions have even greater importance. That’s what Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23, when He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” See, there are minors and there are majors in the word of God. All are important, none should be neglected, but some should be emphasized more than others.
These ten commandments were one of those prominent weightier sections of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. They form, as far as we know, the only discourse that God ever spoke from heaven directly to a multitude of people. God Himself engraved these 10 commandments on stone tablets. When Moses threw them down and shattered them on the rocks in anger at the people’s rebellion in worshiping a golden calf, God had Moses cut out 2 new stone tablets and God engraved the 10 commandments again. Those stone tablets were kept inside the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle. And these commands are repeatedly reinforced by the prophets of God all throughout the history of OT Israel. Apparently, it was extremely important to God that these commands especially be on the minds and hearts of His people.
And I believe it’s still very important even today in this Christian age that these 10 commandments be understood and correctly applied to our lives. And that’s what I want to talk to you about this morning – Why the 10 commandments are important to us today, because I’d like to do a few lessons on them over the next few Sundays.
First, we need to clarify not why they are important today.
I. It is not because we are under the Law that God gave the ancient Israelites.
These ten commandments were part of what the Scriptures call the Law of Moses. And that Law as a whole is no longer binding on men and women today. It has been made void.
The prophets of old indicated that the covenant God made with them with its law would be replaced. Jeremiah for instance in Jeremiah 31:31-32 said, “‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.” So Jeremiah said God is going to make a new covenant with His people, not like the covenant he made with their fathers at Sinai. The Hebrew writer in the NT, in Hebrews 8, quotes that very passage from Jeremiah about God declaring that He will make a new and different covenant. And in Hebrews 8:13 he makes this comment about it. The Hebrew writer says, “When He said [that is when God said through the prophet Jeremiah], ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.” In other words when God said “I will make a new covenant,” it implied that the one in a effect now is not the ideal. It is going to come to an end and be replaced by a better one.
The old covenant with its law was made void at the death of Christ, where the blood of the new covenant was shed. Many passages teach that truth. Just a few so you can see it for yourself. We’ll notice one in Galatians, one in Ephesians and one in Colossians.
Galatians 3:24-25, “Therefore the Law [which is clearly the Law of Moses if you read the whole chapter] has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come [or literally “Now that the faith has come” (Now that the Christian faith has come)] we are no longer under a tutor.” Do you hear that? We are no longer under a tutor, and he just said the Law of Moses was a tutor. So we are not under the Law of Moses today. It is no longer binding on people.
Ephesians 2:14-15, “For He Himself [Jesus] is our peace, who made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” So he’s talking about how Jesus united Jews and Gentiles together in a peaceful relationship. He did that by abolishing the Law that functioned as a dividing wall and was causing enmity between the two. And that Law has to be the Law God gave the Jews at Mt. Sinai. That Law was like a dividing wall. It caused separation between Jews and Gentiles because it forbid the Jews from intermarrying with the Gentiles. It forbid them to eat a number of things that the Gentiles ate. It had them do many things differently and conduct themselves differently than the Gentiles. So it was like a wall that divided them. And it lead to enmity between the 2 groups, because the Jews felt like they were superior to the Gentiles because God chose to give the Law to them and not to the Gentiles. They felt like that meant they were better than the Gentiles. And the Gentiles in return despised the Jews for their arrogance and the attitude they had toward them. But Paul says Christ has united Jews and Gentiles and established peace between the two by abolishing that wall, that enmity, that Law of commandments. And He did it, Paul says, in His flesh, which I think means He did this when His flesh died on the cross. At the death of Christ that OT Law’s authority came to an end. Nobody this side of the cross in history is accountable to that Law.
And then Colossians 2:16. If you’re familiar with Colossians you know Paul is trying to protect these Christians from some false teaching. The false teaching apparently was that listening and following Christ is good, but not enough. If you really want to be close to God you need more than Christ. And one of the things they were saying is that you also need to also follow the commands of the Law of Moses that Jesus has not commanded. And so Paul explains in this letter that Christ is all you need. If you have Christ, you are good to go. So in Colossians 2:16 he says, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” All those things that he lists there were elements of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses had regulations about what you could and could not eat and drink. It had food and drink regulations. And it commanded annual festivals like Passover and Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. And it commanded a monthly new moon observance. And it commanded the weekly observance of the Sabbath day. But Paul says no one is to act as your judge in regard to whether you do those things or not.
So in other words if anyone quotes to you Exodus 20:8, the 4th of the 10 commandments, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work,” if they quote that to you and say to you “You need to obey that command if you want to be right with God,” don’t listen to them, they have not right to say that. Or if they say “You need to quit eating bacon and pork chops and catfish and wonderful things like that, if you want to be right with God,” don’t listen to them. Because that Law that commanded those things no longer has authority over people. Today our authority is simply Christ. We are under the law of Christ, is how some NT passages put it (I Cor 9:21; Gal 6:2). And many things required of people in the Law of Moses, Christ does not require of us today.
So that’s the “not why the 10 commandments are important to us.” It’s not because we’re under the Law God gave the Jews. But they’re still important to us because…
II. Jesus has commanded 9 of the 10, and the one He hasn’t, the Sabbath observance, still contains some great principles that are forever relevant and helpful to our lives.
(And we’ll see that as we study in the next few weeks.) You know, Jesus has taught us to love God and love our neighbors, didn’t He? The 10 commandments really just elaborate on how to do that. They explain what it means to love God and love your neighbor. Love is not just a funny feeling you carry around. Love does stuff. Love is a way of life. What it means to love God is explained in the first 4 commandments. It means you don’t have any other gods before him. You don’t make any image of God. You honor His name and you honor His day. What does it mean to love your neighbor? The remaining 6 answer that. It means you don’t sleep with the lady next door… unless she happens to be your wife and lives next door. It means you don’t rip off your boss and steal stuff out of the office. It means you don’t fiddle with your income tax. It means you don’t drive around the neighborhood resenting the fact that your car is the crummiest in the neighborhood and everyone else has a bigger house than you do.
Listen to something Paul said in Romans 13:8-10, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
So in the ten commandments we have spiritual and moral rules and principles that people of all generations are to live by.
Another reason the commands are important for us is that…
III. They are not a formal list of do’s and don’ts that has been given by God to restrict our personal freedom and prevent us from enjoying life too much.
That’s what many think they are. They say, “Ugh, the 10 commandments. Just bunch of things you can’t do. They’re just enslaving and restricting and make life miserable. Why didn’t God just save time and say ‘Don’t have fun, period.’ Or ‘No happiness.'”
And that’s exactly what Satan has wanted men and women to believe about God’s laws from the beginning. He has always wanted mankind to believe that God is a big cosmic killjoy; that He is like a harsh grouchy old man that’s mad at the world and happy people enjoying themselves just irritates Him and so He’s given laws to just prevent us from having fun. It’s what Satan wanted to convince Eve of in the beginning. He said to her in essence, “Has God really forbidden you this delicious fruit? Oh my. What a shame! You realize, don’t you, Eve, that He knows if you ever tasted from this tree, you’d be like Him in wisdom. God wants to keep you from the really best life you could have. Eve, true freedom means freedom from confining restrictions like these.”
But think about something. When God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and He brought them to Mt. Sinai do you think He wanted to enslave them all over again by giving them a law? If He didn’t want them to be free and happy, why didn’t He just leave them in Egypt? You see, what God was doing with this law was showing them how to live in their new found freedom, and how to live in the way that is absolutely essential if they are going live a life of enjoyment and safety. It was really for their happiness now and forever.
Those of you who have had kids, I suspect you have laid down some laws for them, like “Don’t eat anything that you pick up off the ground or stuck to the underside of a table.” Or I’ve had to tell my kids, “Don’t eat anything stuck underneath a church pew. Don’t eat it!” Now, are you wanting your children to starve to death? No. You’re wanting your children to be nourished properly and not sick and grow up and live long healthy lives. You’ve probably told your kids, “Don’t pester one another, and definitely don’t hit one another.” Are you hindering the free expression of these kids? No. You want them to have the kind of environment where they are safe, where they may grow up to know loving relationships, and can learn to deal with disagreements in a better way. You want what’s best for them.
God is a Father. We are his children. He has given us these commands because He loves us and He knows some things that we don’t.
You read so much in the Proverbs about how to live a wise life, a life of joy and peace, and how to live a foolish life and destroy yourself. He explains the wise ultimately happiest life is when you do things God’s way; when you do things God’s way in your marriage, in raising your kids, with your money, in your business dealing, in your relationships, in handling conflict, do it God’s way and things will turn out best. For instance, people think sexual immorality is the path to pleasure and fulfillment. Solomon explains the path to the adulteress’ house is the path to emptiness, frustration, misery. He says if you take the path to her house you are like an ox going to the slaughter, it’s like a arrow has pierced your liver. You’re going to lose your life if you go down that path.
I Timothy 4:7-8, Paul told young Timothy, “Discipline or exercise yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily exercise is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” You see, you not only miss out on the best of the life to come, but you miss out on the best of this present life when you neglect the commands of God. There will be trials and a measure of persecution when you follow His commands, but it is still the best life to live even now.
So as someone has aptly said, “You don’t so much ‘break the commandments’ as you get broken on them.” When we defy God’s laws it is to our own harm. It’s like the law of gravity. You defy that one, you walk off a building, you might for a moment enjoy the ride down, but it won’t be worth it.
And then just 2 more reasons real quick why the ten commandments are important to me.
IV. They are a mirror that helps us to see where improvements can be made.
When I study and mediate on the ten commandments and their applications to my life it’s like a mirror and I go, “Ugh, I didn’t know that was on my face.” It shows flaws and imperfections in my heart and life.
If you come into church with something gross hanging out of your nose, wouldn’t you rather I tell you about that than just let you go around and display that for everybody? We should want to know about anything in our hearts and our lives that’s gross to God, so that we can look our best for God and not model that stuff before other people as though it’s okay.
Jesus taught us to pursue perfection before God. Remember in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Not that we ever will be, but that’s the goal to strive for.
And Romans 3:20 says “Through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Through the Law, through the 10 commandments, we see where improvements can be made. So it helps us in our pursuit of perfection.
And one importance of studying the ten commandments is I think…
V. They will help us love Jesus all the more.
Remember the parable He told to Simon a self-righteous Pharisee? He said, “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And Jesus said, “You have judged correctly.” The amount of love we have for the Lord corresponds to the amount of debt that we see He forgives us of.
So it’s good for us to see how much sin we have, how much we’ve fallen short. Because then we love the Lord all the more for His forgiveness. And I think a little study and meditation and application of the ten commandments will help us see a little more of the great debt that He’s canceling for us.
– James Williams