- Describe how God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel.
- Wonder what would happen if no one obeyed God's rules.
- Suggest ways in which we are to love God and others.
- Pray for help in obeying the rules God gives us.
The Ten Commandments don't stand all by themselves; they come embedded in a story, a very important story. After God delivered his people from Egypt and led them into the wilderness, they finally arrived at Mount Sinai, another name for Horeb, the mountain of God (Exodus 3:1).
It is here, at Sinai, that God renews the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, now embracing the whole people of Israel, and the Ten Commandments are the centerpiece of that covenant.
Picture the Israelites encamped at the foot of the craggy and imposing mountain. God makes a special appearance on the mountain, where he speaks to the people through Moses. The Lord recites how he has delivered the people from slavery in Egypt, carrying them out "on eagle's wings." "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession." The people answer, "We will do everything the Lord has said," and the covenant ceremony begins.
As tenderly and lovingly as the Lord speaks, the whole atmosphere of this encounter is fraught with pyrotechnics and warnings. The God of the covenant is a holy God, and he now claims the Israelites as his holy people. First the people must consecrate themselves, making themselves clean, ready, and prepared for this sacred occasion. Second, God creates a distance between himself and the people. On pain of death, they must not touch the mountain. Only Moses and Aaron can approach God. Third, God appears on the mountain with the cloud; thunder and lightning; fire and smoke; and heart-stopping, loud trumpet blasts.
All of this teaches the people their proper relationship with God, who has saved them and embraced them in covenant love. At the same time the Lord is unapproachable in holiness, calling forth not only the people's love but also a proper and wholesome fear. This is what the Bible calls "the fear of the Lord ," which is "the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10).
Then God speaks the words of the Ten Commandments, an indescribably rich description of God's will for human life. Notice, first, that these commands are given in the context of grace: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." The Commandments are not given in order for the Israelites to become the people of God but because they already are the people of God. Always in the Bible the indicative (who we are) precedes the imperative (what we must do).
The Commandments also have a distinct structure, the first four concerning people's relationship to God and the last six their relationships with their neighbors. That's why Jesus summarizes the law by saying "Love God above all, and your neighbor as yourself."
Finally, notice that most of the Commandments are negative: "You shall not . . ." In the Ten Commandments God is not prescribing how we ought to conduct every aspect of our lives but rather is drawing the boundary lines within which we may freely live as God's people.
This wonderful passage makes clear that obedience to God's law flows out of a trusting relationship with the Lawgiver. We obey the commandments not out of mere duty or fear but from a desire to please God.
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