A student at a well-known university returned to his apartment from the supermarket. From the inside pockets of his raincoat he unloaded two T-bone steaks and four lamb chops. He had carried them home in this unusual place because he had not paid for them. “It doesn’t bother me,” said the student. “They don’t miss it in a big store like that. And besides, they add the losses to the price of everything we buy anyway.”
A salesgirl with a master’s degree in marketing confided to a friend that she had deliberately soiled a dress so she could mark it down and buy it herself at a bargain price. When the friend questioned her ethics, she shrugged it off. “You think that’s bad! A lot of girls would steal it outright—which isn’t very smart. The way I do it, nothing shows up missing.” To her, wrong was to steal in a stupid or obvious way.
Two weeks ago, Lois and I toured the Naval Academy at Annapolis. When the tour guide pointed out the head of the Academy’s house, he said this year they had to bring back a retired Admiral because the honor code was in shambles. The Admiral had no hope of reversing cheating and lying with the upper classmen so he is starting with the new cadets to instill honor and he believes it will not be an easy task because the students have not seen anything wrong with cheating all their lives.
Character is no longer an issue with Americans. Wide spread disrespect for authority, murder, crimes of violence, unchastity, marital infidelity, graft, bribery, stealing cheating, lying, slander—all proclaim a woeful neglect of God’s moral law called the Ten Commandments. Romans 3:20 asserts that we become conscious of sin by the law—
No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.
Very few Americans can name three of the Ten Commandments. If you had to list all Ten Commandments from memory without cheating before you left the Sanctuary, would you starve to death?
Even when the Ten Commandments are known, people are constantly trying to lower the standards of the Law. They feel that they cannot get up to it, and they therefore seek to bring it down to them; but the effort is vain. It stands forth in all its purity, majesty, and stern inflexibility, and God will not accept a single breath short of perfect obedience.
Keep in mind that the Law is good, just and holy. Both OT and NT saints found their delight in the Law. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 1:1-2—
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
As a Christian, Paul echoes this same delight in Romans 7:22—
For in my inner being I delight in God’s law.
Why should we delight in the Law? The Law is a road map to blessing, a resume of morality, a restraint on evil, a revealer of sin, and a regulator of Christian behavior. These ten rules cover the entire range of man’s duty and forbid every type of wrongdoing.
The rest of the Bible is, among other things, a commentary on these ten rules, amplifying, interpreting, warning against their violation, as well as giving historical examples of those who have kept or broken them. When we learn the Ten Commandments, we have at our disposal the essence of ethics, the seed- plot of morality, and the kernel for correct conduct in any generation. They are God’s standard of conduct for all men in all times.
All this leads me to ask, “Did the Ten Commandments” exist before God gave them at Sinai? It is possible that THE BIG TEN (as I like to call them) were given by God to man before—they may have been written in man’s heart at creation; but sin had so defaced that writing by the time of Moses, that it was necessary to revive the knowledge of the Ten.
Thus, one of the great events in the history of Israel as well as all mankind is the giving of the Law on Pentecost 1446 B.C. Here God tells man what is necessary to have a right relationship with Him and others.
The introductions to the Law are very significant. Exodus 20:1 is Moses’ introduction and verse 2 is God’s introduction—
And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Moses identifies God as the source of THE BIG TEN and then God asserts His claim upon Israel to obey them. All that God is, says, and does is embodied in this one affirmation: “I am Yahweh your God” The rest of the statement describes the character and graciousness of Yahweh.
The importance of the TEN COMMANDMENTS is seen in the fact that they are the only laws directly spoken by God to Israel. Moses did not act as a Mediator when God spoke these words. All other laws, decrees, stipulations, regulations and instructions were written down by Moses. The Ten Commandments alone were spoken by God and inscribed on stone tablets by the “FINGER OF GOD.” In fact, twice!
After forty days and nights on the mountain, Moses approached the camp and saw the golden calf and the dancing, his anger burned and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. So God had to inscribe two new tablets.
The term DECALOGUE is traced to Exodus 34:28 to the second inscribing—
And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
There could be no question that Yahweh gave this particular set of laws. His presence was surrounded by fire and a dense cloud of smoke covering Mt. Sinai. The whole mountain trembled violently as God spoke.
The voice immediately identifies itself—I AM YAHWEH YOUR GOD. Not God-in-general, but Yahweh—the covenant God who enters into a personal relationship with His people. Immediately, obedience to the words spoken is to be relationally conceived. God identifies Himself in relation to particular history—WHO BROUGHT YOU OUT OF EGYPT, OUT OF THE LAND OF SLAVERY.
The activity of God in redeeming Israel from bondage means that the Law and the service to God and world it entails is not understood to be another form of bondage. The law is a gift of a redeeming God to a redeemed people. Those who are given the Law are already God’s people. Hence, the Law is not understood as a means of salvation but as instruction regarding the shape such a redeemed life is to take in one’s everyday affairs.
Here God reminds the people that His GRACE precedes His LAW. Although His presence on Sinai was intended to put the fear of God with them to keep them from sinning, His grace was to be equally a motivating factor so they would demonstrate their love for Him by obeying His commands.
These ten words or commands given directly by God were to govern Israel’s relationship with Him. These represent the principal requirements that God placed upon the people of Israel for the establishment and maintenance of the covenant relationship between them. The Decalogue is rooted in what the LORD said in Exodus 19:5-6—
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
If Exodus 34:29 did not say there were TEN WORDS on the two stone tablets, we might come up with twelve or thirteen. But not everyone agrees to what the Ten are! The Jews count verse 2 as the First Commandment—
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
They say this is a commandment to KNOW and ACKNOWLEDGE Yahweh as Him without whom you, Israel, would not exist; without His creative, sustaining, redeeming Word, chaos, formless and void, would still embrace you. Only in Yahweh’s identity are you an entity. Know and acknowledge Yahweh who brought Israel out of shackles into freedom, from unmeaning to meaning. I am Yahweh your God, who wrought this for you. In terms of your very existence and history, this is my identity!
The Roman Catholics, Lutherans and the Early Church divide the Ten differently. The Lutherans and Catholics make verses 3-6 the First Commandment and divide verse 17 on coveting into two commandments. We’ll follow the Early Church and Protestant division, which makes verse 3 the first, verse 4 the second, and verse 17 on coveting the tenth. Thus, a condensed version would be:
1. You shall have no other gods before me.
2. You shall not make an idol or worship it.
3. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God.
4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not lie.
10. You shall not covet.
The Ten Commandments are an excellent summary of Ten Divine Rules for Human Conduct. They might be called rules of (1) religion, (2) worship, (3) reverence, (4) time, (5) authority, (6) life, (7) purity, (8) property, (9) tongue, and (10) contentment.
Numerous law codes were in existence before the Ten Commandments. There existed before Moses in the ANE the Code of Lipit-Ishatr, the Code of Ehsmunna, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Hittite codes. The basis of these codes is CASUISTIC LAW: If so-and-so does this, then the following penalty is operative.
In the Ten Commandments, however, are APODICTIC LAW: You shall or shall not do such-and-such, with no penalty spelled out. Although the Second and Fifth commandments appear to contain penalties, these are really MOTIVATION CLAUSES designed to promote the observance of the divine instructions.
APODICTIC LAW is straight-forward declarations expressing core concerns of the community applicable to all situations. Since no specific consequences for disobedience are specified, Yahweh is the motivation for obedience, not the courts. What court could enforce the last commandment—YOU SHALL NOT COVET? We see that God is the motivating factor behind the Law in Leviticus 19:18—
But love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
We love our neighbor because of Yahweh, and therefore, we are to keep the commandments that deal with others because of Him. The appeal for this deeper motivation to keep the Law is found in the first words spoken by God in Exodus 20:2—“I am the LORD your God.”
YOUR is singular. God also address the individual with the singular YOU throughout the commandments and not Israel generally. This lifts up the importance of internal motivation of each individual rather than corporate pressure or external coercion. Each person is personally responsible for not straying from the Shepherd.
The Ten Commandments serve to keep order in the world, restraining the forces of disorder so that creation does not revert to chaos. Because God rested after six days of creation, we are to keep the Sabbath holy.
The plain connection between Sabbath and creation points the way to such an understanding. Obedience of these commands by all would mean that God’s intention that creatures be one thing and not another would be more closely realized.
From a NT perspective, Christians have not been made exempt from these commands. In fact, Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount states that the commandments are not to be relaxed at all but pushed to their deepest level in the human heart. Romans 13:9 asserts—
The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Living the Ten Commandments was impossible for the OT Saint. But what about for you and I—the NT Saint? Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with these words found in Matthew 26:28—
This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Hebrews 8:10-12 tells us that Jesus was referring to the NEW COVENANT predicted by the prophet Jeremiah—
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Ezekiel 36:25-27 clarifies the LORD’S promise of the New Covenant—
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
Under the OLD COVENANT, man was required to keep God’s laws outwardly as a basis of life among men.
Under the NEW COVENANT, God puts His Spirit into our hearts to move us to follow His commands, decrees and laws. Yet, we need to be careful to keep God’s laws.
With the New Covenant—Christ’s atonement and His sending of the Holy Spirit, God’s Law became an inner rule that enables the born again believer to delight in doing His will. God and His people have intimate fellowship since the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and ever believer knows the LORD personally. KNOWING GOD—that’s our motivation to keep the Ten Commandments! And we are not asked to keep them with an imperfect human love because we read in Romans 5:5—
God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Therefore, the NT does not set aside the Ten Commandments but incorporates them and extends them without limit, as part of what it means to do what love requires.
The will of God does not lose its distinctiveness in the command of love; it simply opens up those distinctives to limitless possibilities. Love always means going beyond whatever laws may be articulated, but it needs their distinctiveness for instructional purposes, charting something of what love may entail in specific life situations.
For Christians, the Ten Commandments are the foundation upon which we build our house. They are the skeleton to be covered with the living flesh of love.
Because human beings always fall short in loving, the Ten Commandments function to point out this failure, driving one to God in Christ, in whom the Law has been fulfilled. In Christ, we are liberated to do the works of the Law, not as a vehicle for remaining a Christian, but as instruction for shaping a life of faith active in love.
The Law tells us how to live, but it does not save anyone—it reveals and exposes that no one is righteous, no one! We all fall short of the glory of God. We all, like sheep have gone astray and each of us has turned to our own way. The Law is designed to lead us to Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 3:24-25—
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
The Law was literally was A PEDAGOGUE—A CHILD-CUSTODIAN. The pedagogue was a slave employed by wealthy Greeks or Romans to have responsibility for one of the children of the family. He had charge of the child from about the years six to sixteen and was responsible for watching over his behavior wherever he went and for conducting him to and from school. The pedagogue did not teach. Paul’s point is that this responsibility ceased when the child entered into the fullness of his position as a son, becoming an acknowledged adult by the formal rite of adoption by his father.
To be a true son of God is to be one who is justified by faith in Christ and who has passed into a new and right relationship before God. Before, the person was under the law. Now he is under grace. Before, he was under the curse. Now he is the recipient of God’s paternal favor. In Christ, the believer has passed from infancy under the Law into full maturity as a justified person. Once we have grown up, we are no longer under the supervision of Law, but the Spirit. This is the point that Paul is moving towards in Galatians 5:13-18—
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
The crux of the matter is that Law supervises us as CHILD-ATTENDANT to keep us from destroying each other until we come to Christ. Than we reach maturity, having received the Spirit who leads us to a life of love—thereby fulfilling the righteous requirement of the Law— LOVE. In other words, the whole Law stands fully obeyed in obedience to one word—LOVE.
All this means that the Ten Commandments are very important to us because they define the basic principles of love, much like 1 Corinthians 13 does. When understood, they tell us how to love God and how to love others.
Commandments five through ten constitute essential elements of the natural law; therefore, we also find them in earlier law codes. We should not be surprised to find these precepts in earlier laws, since God gave man a human conscience to reveal right from wrong. However, in the ANE codes the violation of these commands constituted a crime against one’s fellow man; in the Bible, their violation marks a crime against God Himself.
By the Law, David understood that he was a transgressor and sinned only against God when he committed adultery and murder. He confessed to God in Psalm 51:3-4—
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
Hence, the Decalogue is an entirely new orientation, revealing what it means to sin against God.
That eight commandments are negatively formulated is pertinent. As such, they open up life rather close it down; that is, they focus on the outer limits of conduct rather than specific behaviors. In child rearing, it always best to set boundaries and limits are usually set with NO’S, NOTS, and DON’TS. As a child is about to stick their finger in electric outlet, we shout, NO! DON’T TOUCH IT! Or we lay down rules in advance, “Don’t cross the street in the middle of the block.” We give negative commands to our children to protect them. We give them because we love them.
Likewise, God gave the YOU SHALL NOT’S to protect the new community of faith from behaviors that have the potential of destroying it. The commands implicitly commend their positive side. Not giving false testimony invites speaking well of one’s neighbor, not killing suggests efforts to preserve life, and not wrongfully using the name of God commends the praise of God. It is not enough for a community’s life and health to simply to avoid crimes.
When an evil is forbidden in one of the commandments, its opposite good must be understood as being encouraged. All the commands are transformed into the positive by the SHEMA in Deuteronomy 6:4-5—
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
In this light, we understand Mark 12:28-31—
One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: `Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Jesus divides the Decalogue into two categories—those which pertain to man’s relationship with God and those dealing with man’s responsibility to his fellow men.
The Ten Commandments focus first on God, than others, than self. Love for God must come first, but it can never be divorced from love for one’s neighbor. Love of God leads automatically to love of others.
In Matthew 22:40, Jesus declares—
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
Thus, all God’s laws given in the OT are summed up in love of God and neighbor. And certainly, this is true for the NT as well. Jesus said in John 14:15—
If you love me, you will obey what I command.
Since Jesus commanded obedience of the Ten Commandments at a deeper level than understood before, we as Christians are under the obligation of love to keep them.
The fact that man fell and was unable to keep these moral laws did not excuse him. Although man changed, God remained unchangeable. At the basis of all relationships between God’s creatures, all mankind is held accountable to keep the moral law of God, and each person, saved as well as unsaved, will be judged according to His response to that moral law.
That an unregenerate man could not perform these duties internally really does not excuse him from keeping them outwardly and superficially. Unsaved man will be judged in eternal hell for his response to the moral law of God, while saved people will be rewarded or suffer loss at the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven for their response to this Law.
These commands were never intended to serve as a basis for man’s self-justification as the Pharisees of Christ’s day supposed. They were to guide life even of unsaved people from the very beginning, but they were specifically directed to the saved, who love God and seek to please the Redeemer and carry out His will.
Upon our salvation, Christ brought us out of the dominion of darkness—out of the bondage of Satan. He redeemed us and bought us with the price of His precious blood and we were given the Holy Spirit.
Do you think God might expect more in the way of obedience from you and me than He did Israel?
The Law cannot save us, but having been saved we are to obey the Law.
Therefore, THE BIG TEN follow naturally from what God has done for Israel and for us. And we understand God to be saying in Exodus 20:2—
“On the basis of who I am, and on the basis of what I have done for you, here is what you are to do for Me!”
The OT and NT teach that the Law is to be obeyed and lived by a redeemed people.