Before Moses received the Ten Commandments from God the children of Israel were required to cleanse and prepare themselves. On the day the commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai there was thunder, lightening and smoke, the mountain shook and the sound of a trumpet was heard. The circumstances in which God gave these commands, sometimes called the Decalogue, or the moral law, to Moses were calculated to inspire awe, reverence and a fear of God who is holy, Exod. 19. 1-25.
GIVEN BY GOD
The commandments were given by God, ‘And God spake all these words’, Exod. 20. 1. He spoke in the first person singular, saying, ‘I am the Lord thy God’. This is the One who in love and grace presents the commandments. The Lord, that is Jehovah, is the covenant name of the God of Israel. Jehovah is the personal Name of God. It is the sublime and ineffable Name which stimulates thoughts of the eternal God who is independent, self-existing, self-sufficient and unchanging. He is love, 1 John 4. 8, 1 6, and His plans, purposes, promises and communications are founded in love, grace, truth, holiness and righteousness. The name Jehovah directs us to think of the God who reveals Himself to His people and redeems, delivers and saves them.
If the name Lord, that is Jehovah, reminds us of the aspects of God we have just considered, then the word ‘God’, that is Elohim, in Exodus 20. 2 speaks of creatorial and governing power, majesty, sovereignty and omnipotence. This is He ‘the Lord (Jehovah) thy God (Elohim)’ who gave the ten commandments for the guidance and blessing of Israel initially, and ultimately all mankind. Israel was God’s chosen people, Isa. 44. 1-8; Deut. 7. 6-8, and through this nation He intended to bless all nations, Gen. 12. 2, 3.
God, and He alone, had the absolute right give laws for the conduct of His people’s lives. He alone had brought the people out of Egypt and out of bondage, Exod. 20. 2, and in so doing had revealed His power, wisdom, mercy, grace and His love for His chosen people. A love for God, and a reverential fear of God, should lead to obedience to His commands and have a profound influence on the way we live, witness and worship.
God has revealed His power and His love for those of us who are believers. We have been saved by grace through the shedding of the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Pet. 1. 18, 19. Sin is the transgression of the law, 1 John 3. 4, and we have been saved from the consequences of our sin. We have been saved out of the world. We were slaves to sin, Rom. 6. 16, 17, under its dominion and unable to free ourselves, but we have been brought, by grace, ‘into the glorious liberty of the children of God’, Rom. 8. 21, through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, Eph. 2. 8, 9.
THE CHARACTER OF THE LAW
The Law, as given on Sinai, reflects the holy, righteous character of God. It is as immutable as He is, Heb. 13. 8; Mai. 3. 6. This Law was given originally to Israel, but its principles are still applicable to all mankind, Rom. 3. 19. It was written by the finger of God on tables of stone, Exod. 31. 18. Later, these were placed in the Ark of the Covenant.
The Law was given in grace and love, Deut. 33. 2, 3, for the benefit of mankind, Neh. 9. 13; Rom. 7. 12; Deut. 10. 12, 13, so that men would know how to live, Eccles. 12. 13, and be blessed by God, Exod. 20. 6. God knew men would fail to keep the Law, Rom. 3. 23, but that same Law which revealed God’s righteousness revealed men’s sin, Rom. 3. 20, and became a ‘schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ’, Gal. 3. 24.
The Ceremonial Law governed the way in which the Israelites were to worship God. This Law is no longer required, Heb. 10. 9, because the Lord ‘offered one sacrifice for sins for ever’, Heb. 10. 12. The Civil Law applied to Israel as a nation. It was concerned with the regulation of the daily life of the people and is not binding today.
The principles of the moral law, however, stand. This law is perfect, Ps. 19. 7. We who are believers are not under the curse of the law but we find instruction in it; it is our guide. The law is concerned with our needs and the satisfying of those needs in accordance with God’s holy standards. We do not keep the law perfectly despite having the power to do so, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, because the old sinful nature is still alive within us, Rom. 7. 25. The Lord Jesus Christ did not destroy but fulfilled the law, Matt. 5. 17. He was ‘made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law’, Gal. 4. 4, 5. He kept the law perfectly, and bore its curse, Gal. 3. 13. As believers we are not condemned by our failure to keep the law, because the Lord paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, Rom. 8. 1-4. When we sin, then ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’, 1 John 1. 9.
The principles of the moral law are to be reverenced and obeyed in the strength of the Spirit. They are to be taught to our children and grandchildren, Deut. 6. 6, 7. We cannot save our children but we can teach them God’s commandments, Deut. 11. 19, so that they might know that God is holy and has objective and absolute standards of right and wrong, Prov. 22. 6; Rom. 3. 20. Our lives will be affected for good and will glorify God if we love His law, delight in it and meditate on it, Ps. 1. 2; 119. 97;Josh. 1. 7, 8.
God gave the law. It is spiritual, Rom. 7. 14, and God requires more than a mere formal observance of His law. He is concerned with our thoughts, motivations and aspirations, Matt. 15. 18-20. God requires ‘truth in the inward parts’, Ps. 51. 6. Consider, for example, the seventh commandment. It says Thou shalt not commit adultery’, Exod. 20. 14, but the Lord said ‘I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’, Matt. 5. 28. The commandments tell us not to steal, Exod. 20. 15, but also not to covet,-Exod. 20. 17; Rom. 7. 7. Coveting is a mental activity.
RELEVANCE FOR TODAY
The society in which we live seems to be floundering without standards. Generally, there is little reverence or fear of God, and there is a tendency to lawlessness and for every man to do that which is ‘right in his own eyes’, Judg. 17. 6. We read in Proverbs 14. 34, ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people’. The ten commandments, which lay down a person’s responsibilities to God and to other people, are not respected, known or taught, and the consequence is a movement towards anarchy in every area of human activity, and a decline in moral standards. That ‘mystery of iniquity’, or lawlessness, referred to in 2 Thessalonians 2. 7, is working, resulting in declining respect for law, authority and restrictions of any kind. The break up of families and marriages is seen increasingly, and adultery, covetousness, thefts, deceit and lying are commonplace. There are many murders and blasphemy and profanity abound. There is little respect for property or people, so that many live in fear of violence. To the person who does not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour, the future looks very uncertain and very bleak.
People want freedom, and yet do not realize that they are slaves to sin and that true freedom is to be free from sin, Rom. 6. 11-18. The ten commandments were given by God in love and grace for the guidance and blessing of men and women. The principles of these laws still apply to all people.
NO OTHER GODS
If, as believers, we kept the first commandment fully at all times, untold blessing would result. God speaks in Exodus 20. 3 and says, ‘Thou shall have no other gods before me’. These words are clear, unambiguous and unequivocal. Notice the use of the second person singular, ‘Thou’, there is no vagueness here. The use of ‘thou’ focuses the attention of each person. The commandments are addressed to, and apply to, the individual but the obedience or disobedience of individuals to the commandments has a profound effect on society.
Each individual Israelite was commanded to have no other gods, but to worship and serve the true God and Him alone. This commandment applies as much today as it did on the day it was first given. If those of us who are believers kept this commandment our spiritual lives would flourish, we would glorify God, and be a blessing to others.
When asked by a lawyer ‘which is the great commandment in the law?, the Lord replied, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment’, Matt. 22. 36-38. Then the Lord added, ‘And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’, Matt. 22. 39, 40. If we loved God with every aspect of our being we would always and inevitably keep the other commandments covering our obligations to God and our fellow men. We would care for each other and certainly not harm another through murder, adultery, theft or lies.
LOVE THE FULFILMENT
In Romans 13. 8-10 Paul lists a number of the commandments and states that ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’, and in Galatians 5. 14 love is again seen as the fulfilling of the law. The Lord stressed the vital importance of love when He said ‘a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another’, and He defined the divine quality of that love, which cannot be achieved without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, when He added, ‘as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another’, John 13. 34, 35.
God demands to be the only God in our lives. He must be the sole object of worship, adoration and service. Anything or anyone we put before God constitutes a breaking of this first commandment. There is only one true God, Deut. 4. 39. Anything which is given the first place in a person’s life, whether it be an idol of precious metal, wood or stone, Ps. 115. 4-7, loved ones, self, covetousness, Col. 3. 5, home, fame, business, hobbies, the pursuit of pleasure or whatever it may be, is being treated as a god. God is omniscient, Ps. 139. 1-6, omnipresent, Ps. 139. 7-12, and omnipotent, Ps. 139. 13-18; that is, He has a complete knowledge of all things, is everywhere at all times and is all powerful, and therefore knows immediately if He is not being given precedence in our lives.
We are constantly faced with those words, ‘choose you this day whom ye will serve’, Josh. 24. 15. Unless we know, worship and serve the true God we will be restless and dissatisfied, always searching for something new tD fill the place that should be filled by God.
To love God and desire to serve Him we need to know Him and have some insight into His wonderful attributes. He can be known in some measure through creation which reveals His glory and power, Ps. 19. 1, but to know God we must know the Lord Jesus Christ, John 14. 9, His only begotten Son, as Lord and Saviour. He is the ‘brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person’, Heb. 1. 3, and the only One through whom we can be saved, Acts 4. 12.
THE ONLY WAY
In the pluralistic society in which we live we hear many lies. We are sometimes told that all religions lead to God or that different religions give us an insight into various aspects of the truth. God warns, ‘There is a way which seemeth right to man, but the end thereof are the ways of death’, Prov. 14. 12. There is one way to know God, and one way only, and that is through the Lord Jesus Christ who said ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me’, John 14. 6. To learn more and more of God we must prayerfully study and meditate, throughout our lives, on His written word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Knowing God and giving Him the first place in our lives means to have an increasing awareness of His glory and majesty and to learn more and more of His holiness, love, power, grace, mercy and truth. The demons’ knowledge of God causes them to tremble, Jas. 2. 19: our knowledge of God should stimulate worship, zeal, service, love, reverential fear, trust, obedience and hatred of sin, and should lead to a peace that passes understanding, Phil. 4. 7, and true joy, Ps. 144. 15.
The human heart is ‘deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’, Jer. 17. 9. We need to pray for the ability to carry out careful and honest self-examination to find out if there is anything taking God’s rightful place in our lives. A believer can attend every meeting of the local assembly, be active in the things of the Lord and still not put God first. We can fear God and serve other gods, 2 Kgs. 17. 33.
The believer who is determined, by the power of the Spirit, to ‘flee from idolatry’, 1 Cor. 10. 14, and having been saved by grace takes the attitude which says ‘what have I to do any more with idols?’ Hos. 14. 8, is in the way that will be blessed. Those words are eternally true, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve’, Matt. 4. 10.