Today is a big day. The Israelites have been gone from Egypt exactly three months. There has been much complaining and moaning and groaning. Things were much better in Egypt, in hindsight. They should have stayed there. Why did Moses bring them out into the desert to die? Note they have approached the desert of Sinai. Think back to God appearing to Moses in the burning bush. In Exodus 3:12 God told Moses, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God on this mountain.” Now that promise was fulfilled. The Israelites had arrived at Mt. Sinai, the mount of God. And, they would remain there, encamped, for the next eleven months. God had redeemed His people. Now He was going to claim them as His own and He would enter into a covenant relationship with them, just as He had promised.
Look at how God speaks about the Israelites. They will be His treasured possession out of all the nations of the whole earth. But they must keep His covenant with them. God is their maker and sustainer. He has chosen Israel not because of their merits but because of His love and sovereign grace. And, just because the Israelites are God’s chosen people doesn’t make them better than everyone else. They are different, set apart for the Lord for His special work. The Israelites spent three days consecrating themselves and then they prepared to meet the Lord. It was an awesome sight. On the third day God appeared. There was thunder, lightening, thick clouds and a VERY loud trumpet blast. And fire. God came in fire and thick smoke billowed up from the top of Mt. Sinai. Picture the people standing like stones, looking up, mouths hanging open at the sight. They pushed Moses to the front saying you talk to Him. We will wait right here. It must have been the most incredible sight ever!
And God spoke. We know these words as the ten commandments. They are not just laws that govern the Israelites. They are part of the covenant God made with them when He took them to Himself to be His special people. God promised Abraham descendants and land. Israel’s enjoyment of that land depended on their obedience to the covenant they would now make with the Lord at Mt. Sinai. Following the law here was not a guarantee of salvation. The law does not save, it convicts. Only the good news of Jesus Christ saves. And salvation is not a reward for good works. It is the free gift of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The law reveals God’s righteousness, and it demands righteousness, but the law cannot give righteousness. Only Jesus can do that. Only Jesus can make us right so we can stand before the Lord.
All ten commandments deal with our responsibilities towards God. The first four tell us how we are to treat God and the last six how we are to treat our fellow man. How we relate to others depends on how we relate to God. If we love God and obey Him, we will also love our neighbors and serve them. So, lets take a brief look at these ten commandments. They begin by recognizing there is only one true God. His name is I AM. The Israelites were going to a land full of people who worshiped many gods. They were superstitious, and blind to the power of God. The Israelites were to bear witness to the one true living God wherever they went and invite those they encountered to worship Him as well. Having another god before them was akin to going to war against God. So far that sounds just like the world we live in today.
All of God’s people are called to worship Him and Him alone. If we truly believe God is God then we also believe He is infinite, eternal, Sovereign and He will not share worship with any other person or thing. There are plenty of things and activities today that serve as idols in our lives. God is jealous, not that he is envious but because He loves His people and wants the very best for them. In Bible times it wasn’t unusual for several generations to live together so there was a great opportunity to influence other generations. That could work both ways…positive influence or negative.
Names are a BIG deal and God wants us to honor His. His name has power. We pray hallowed be thy name. When we use God’s name in making a promise or in taking an oath and don’t follow through, we are cheapening His name. And taking His name in vain is blaspheming it.
The word sabbath means rest. God created in six days and then He rested on the seventh. But now the sabbath and its keeping becomes part of Israel’s law and their covenant relationship with God. It isn’t just a reference to creation either. This is a sign between God and His people that He does not have with any other nation. When the Israelites observed the sabbath it was more than just a mark of devotion to God. It was also a witness to their pagan neighbors for whom the sabbath was just another day.
God calls His people to honor others…parents, human life, marriage, people’s property. We are called to treat our parents with respect. Grandparents as well. We are not to kill people. But there are many ways to kill people besides taking their lives. We often kill people with our words. They are powerful weapons that leave invisible scars and destroy lives and careers, families and even churches. Adultery was considered a capital crime, punishable by stoning by the entire community. The family is the basic fabric of the nation and once that fabric is torn lives have the potential to be ruined. We are called to speak the truth to one another, to be content with what we have and to not try to scheme things away from others.
The first and last commandments deal with what is in our hearts. The other eight focus on actions that begin in the heart. People who covet someone else’s things will break all of God’s commandments in order to satisfy their desires. What follows the ten commandments are a slew of laws that God gives to His people. But today’s reading ends with a reminder to all of us. Do not make any idols who will take my place or tempt you to worship someone or something other than Me.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W