So, we have seen that the Lord is ready to give His law and commandments to the children of Israel. The Mosaic Law is something that Paul spent a great amount of time preaching about. In our world, the law and the Ten Commandments is often by both believer and nonbeliever to berate others. There are some who still choose to live by the law and the commandments. So, should we live by the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments? Our lesson this week is being taught from Exodus 20:1-17.
Understanding the Law and Ten Commandments
Last year, I did a bible study – What Does the Law Mean to the Genuine Believer? – on the subject of the law that you might also want to go read and listen to. As a genuine believer of God, we must acknowledge a few things about both the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments. First and foremost: we do not live under the Law but live under grace (Rom. 6:14). Secondly: the law and the Ten Commandments were given specifically to the children of Israel (Ex. 19:3-5).
Again, this was a subject that Paul spent a great deal of time teaching and preaching. The reason being was that the Jews were trying to hold the Law over the head of any new believers of God. What the Jews failed to understand during that day was that Christ came and fulfilled the Mosaic Law. We fulfill the law through living by our faith in Christ (Rom. 7:13-25). Does this mean that the law is meaningless? Absolutely not.
The Law is still very good and has really good rules in which people could benefit from following. However, the problem is that no man can actually keep the law. (Remember the scripture I referenced in last Sunday’s lesson – Jas. 2:10.) Ultimately the law would judge anybody as a sinner considering that if we failed in one part of it, we would fail the entire law.
The Lord’s intentions for us and Israel
So, someone may ask, “if that is the case (that nobody can keep the law), why did God give the Israelites the law and these commandments?” As He is doing today with believers, God was hoping that the children of Israel would be faithful. Let us remember what we saw in scripture last week. God said, “IF you keep My covenant, then you will be a special treasure to Me above all people.”
So, the idea of giving the Israelites the law was built on a condition. We would tell a child, “IF you’re good, then you can have a cookie (or toy/etc.) – this is a conditional statement. In this case, we would be hoping that the child would be good, but we know that there is a possibility that they may not act in a good way. Let’s remember that the hope was that the children of Israel would become a kingdom of priests – stewards of the law – and show others the way to follow after God.
The phrase I keep using here to describe the Lord’s intentions is hope. The reason I do so is because God gives mankind the freedom to choose how it will live. God is not a dictator! The Lord is faithful towards us and therefore is hopeful towards us doing what is good. After all, faith is the substance of things hoped for (Heb. 11:1).
Certainly, if He needed a kingdom of priests, He would have snapped His fingers and made us all mindless priests. To do this, however, would indicate a lack of faith in mankind. We have the ability to make choices in our life because God gave us the mind to think for ourselves. The Lord much rather have free thinkers that have chosen Him over mindless zombies. I suppose this is a lot to take in and we haven’t even started diving into the commandments! Alright, let’s go ahead and dive into the commandments.
The Ten Commandments
So, our lesson opens with God speaking (Ex. 20:1-2). The setting is still the same for our lesson this week – all of this is taking place in Horeb at Mount Sinai. Let us note something that we noted in our lesson last Sunday. God reminds the children of Israel again that He is the God that brought them out of bondage and Egypt. As I said last week, it was of the utmost importance that Israel remembered what God had done for them just like it is important for us to remember.
It was important that they understood the Lord’s sovereignty and His authority. It was also very important that they never put another god over God. So, the very first commandment makes a great deal of sense. God commands the children of Israel not to have no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3). There was no person or thing that did for Israel what the Lord had done. So, in this covenant, Israel was not supposed to rely on some other god before God.
The commandment against idolatrous worship
In the next few verses (Ex. 20:4-6), we’re going to see the Lord commandments on the worship of idols. God commands the children of Israel not to make for themselves a carved image in the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, the earth, and underwater (v.4). This was certainly something that other nations were already doing in that day.
The children of Israel had just left the land of Egypt where the Egyptians were big on building images of their gods. God tells them not to be building any images like how the other nations of people were doing. He even commands the children of Israel not to be bowing down and serving those carved idols (v.5). Again, this was something that was already prevalent in the world during that time.
I mentioned last week how it did not take long for the Israelites to break the law. Their first actions against the law was to build an idol (a calf of gold) in which they began to feast, worship, and play around (Ex. 32:4-6). I believe idolatry to be very present in our world today and we as believers have to be careful of committing this great sin.
Many people worship other people, ways, or inanimate objects in ways that they never worship the Lord. We have to be very careful of idolatrous worship. The Lord told the children of Israel that He is a jealous God and would punish such worship. I often believe this punishment is God allowing people to see if their god will save them in a time of need.
The commands of respect and honor
The rest of our lesson (Ex. 20:7-17) will dive into the commands of respecting and honoring others. It is really from these commandments that we see the aspect of God wanting people to be respectful and love others. God starts these commands off by commanding the children of Israel to not take His name in vain. In other words, God was telling them not to be disrespecting His name by using it in a manner that was not true. (This often happens when people try to speak a truth on the Lord’s behalf, but are either making up what they are talking about or flat out lying.)
If the Israelites could not be respectful and honor the Lord’s name, how would they ever be able to do the same to others? Sadly, using God’s name in vain is something that certainly happens in our world today. For me, this is why it is so important when I am teaching or preaching to stick with scripture. There are many people today who simply go off of what others say, but people have lied on God for a very long time.
God commands the Israelites to keep (honor) the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the last day of the week (Saturday) (v.10). This was a day set aside as a holy day for the children of Israel to come together and honor the Lord. As followers of Christ, we treat the first day of the week as our holy day. It was on the first day of the week (Sunday) that Christ was risen from the grave (John 20:1-10). The apostles began to treat that day as the day in which they set aside to honor and worship the Lord (Acts 20:7).
The day one worships God can actually be a controversial subject to some when it really should not be. Paul would write in his letter to the Romans that whatever day one esteemed to be higher than another, to be fully convinced in their mind about that day (Rom. 14:5-8). The key point being that we should set aside time, whichever day we choose, to give to the Lord. God has done much for us and the least we could do is give Him some of our time. Be convicted and true in your heart of your worship of Him. Our day of worship does not have to follow what is stated in the Mosaic Law considering that we now live under grace.
Honor loved ones and those around you
I want to group these final commandments together as they form the basis of loving others (Ex. 20:12-17). Jesus would later tell His followers to love their neighbor (that means all of those around us) as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:39-40). What Jesus said in that scripture was essentially a summary of what the law is built on – loving others.
God first commands the Israelites to honor their fathers and mothers (v.12). Again, the idea being that if you cannot love the ones responsible for you being in the world, how can you love anybody else? Now this is a deeper subject here that we are going to have to dive into at another time, but I do understand those that struggle with loving abusive and hateful parents.
From there, the Lord commands the Israelites not to murder (v.13). Again, the actions that he wanted the children of Israel to have towards one another was that of love. So God commands the Israelites not to commit acts that would harm others (murder, adultery, stealing, or lying on a neighbor.) The goal was to have a society that honored and respected each other. Of course, we know that all of these things exist in our world today but God is a hopeful God in mankind.
Lastly, the Lord commands the children of Israel not to covet what others have (v.17). He goes down a list of things from spouses to what others own – during that time it was animals or servants (like maids and butlers). Covetousness is of the works of the flesh that Paul wrote about in his letters (Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5). Covetousness is often what leads people to stealing from others, killing others, or cheating others. So, you can certainly understand why God would give this commandment.