Exodus, 7

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Exodus 20:1-18

We come now to the time God gave several suggestions to Moses to pass along to the Israelites. If the events of Exodus 20 had taken place today, that’s how I’d introduce a study of the Ten Commandments. Modern man doesn’t take well to being told what to do or how to live, but that’s exactly what happened in Exodus 20.

After crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites headed for Mount Sinai. Things were about to change drastically. A weakened Egypt had been left behind and won’t be a concern to Israel for over 300 years. In its place, however, would be new enemies and challenges for God’s people to face. These new enemies included Semitic people who had settled in the areas surrounding Canaan, and who would naturally resist the influx of millions of Israelites.

The first such enemy God’s people encountered were the Amalekites:

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. (Exodus 17:8 NIV84)

The enmity between the Amalekites and the Israelites carried on for so long, it became a tradition. In fact, the animosity Israel held for the Amalekites was stronger than that for any other of their many enemies. This may be because the Amalekites were the first to make war with them, when they were least equipped to fight back. Later, in Deuteronomy, this is how Moses summarized the skirmish:

Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. (Deuteronomy 25:17-18 NIV84)

The Amalekites seemed strong to the people of Israel, and in a prophecy given by Balaam, an non-Israelite, he described them this way:

Then Balaam saw Amalek and uttered his oracle: “Amalek was first among the nations,but he will come to ruin at last.” (Numbers 24:20 NIV84)

That phrase, “first among the nations,” means that the Amalekites were just as powerful and intimidating as Israel thought they were. They were easily the most formidable nation they would encounter en route to the Promised Land.

And this is a major reason for the events of Exodus 20. Before the giving of the Law, Israel was a very loose knit, rag tag band of fugitives. In very short order, they needed to learn how to be a community. The Law was the bond that would hold them together.

The Ten Commandments were given first, but they are only a small part of the Law. But, in fact, they were the very foundation of the Jewish faith. Later on the Israelites were given the rest of the Law, and in its totality, it revealed that man is a sinner in need of a Savior.

Israel commanded to love God, Exodus 20:1-11

The reason for the Law, vs. 1

And God spoke all these words… (Exodus 20:1 NIV84)

The foundational “rules for living” of the Mosaic Covenant, the Law, were absolutely necessary for a people who had lived as slaves for generations. They were ill prepared to work together or make decisions.

The Ten Commandments went way beyond legalism. God was vitally interested in helping His people grow and mature into a functioning community – a cohesive nation that would be able work together and who would keep Him at the forefront of everything they did, and everywhere they went.

Further, what follows were not Moses’ words, but God’s. Moses wasn’t up on the mountain concocting the Ten Commandments from his imagination; he received them directly from the mind and heart of Yahweh.

God’s relationship with His people, vs. 2

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2 NIV84)

Right at the beginning, God made it crystal clear what His relationship was to His people: He was their God. He cared about them, and He cared for them. This would be important for them to remember. They, like Christians today, would be tempted to wander from God during the “good times” and moan and complain during the “difficult times.” God would appear to be unloving and unkind at times. But those are misconceptions on man’s part based on his faulty reasoning. God would repeat what He did for His people over and over again, making sure they wouldn’t forget.

Christians should never forget what God has done for them, either. It’s easy for that to happen when the cares of life get heaped upon us. Regular Bible reading and fellowship with other believers is vitally important to our spiritual well-being. We, like the Israelites before us, are prone to forget about God or blame God for things He has nothing to do with.

The Commandments

No other Gods, vs. 3

This very first commandment is the basis of all the rest, and it should have been obvious to the Israelites. After all, the whole reason for the plagues on Egypt was to refute the nonsensical notion that there were other gods. This was, however, a revelation to the Hebrews. They had no theological textbooks to consult nor holy scrolls to study. This was “big news.” But notice the wording carefully:

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3 NIV84)

The word “before” means “side by side with me” or “in addition to me.” In other words – and this is very important – it wasn’t that God was worried that His people might give Him up and replace Him, but rather that they would add other gods to their faith or take other gods and idols seriously.

Noted Bible scholar George Rawlinson commented:

The first commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry, and all inordinate attachment to earthly and sensible things.

He’s right about that. There can be no true, lasting happiness or satisfaction apart from God. He alone is the Source of those things. Anybody who seeks those things elsewhere is smashing this first commandment.

No graven images, vs. 4-6

Some Christians think this commandment can’t possibly apply to us today. They need to read what Paul wrote in Colossians 3:5-

Away then with sinful, earthly things; deaden the evil desires lurking within you; have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires; don’t worship the good things of life, for that is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5 TLB)

Anything you devote yourself to, especially in abandonment, becomes a “god” to you, whether you realize it or not. The reason for this commandment is given:

I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…(Exodus 20:5a (NIV84)

He is jealous, in the sense that He will not allow the respect, reverence, and devotion due Him to be given to another.

It’s not insignificant that both punishment and obedience are spelled out in verses 5 and 6. Some wonder about the judgment upon the children of disobedient parents. These judgments, though, are only temporal (Ezekiel 18:14-17) and apply to the consequences of disease or physical ailments and other things that follow evil actions and sinful decisions.

Yes, love for God should be reason enough to follow this commandment, but if it isn’t, fear of harming your child provides an “in-your-face” check on your actions.

God’s name in vain, vs. 7

According to J. Clement Connell, to take God’s name in vain means:

...to call upon unreality, that is, that which is not an expression of divine character, by means of the divine name.

Got that? Me neither. Well, what Connell was trying to say, and what this commandment deals with is something very basic: dishonesty, which is something God hates. It is dishonest for someone to use God’s name to cover up an evil heart, or to make himself appear better than he really is. People who run around talking about their faith in Jesus, or how much God has blessed them, while they have virtually no relationship with Him, the Church, and produce little evidence of salvation apart from their words, are breaking this commandment.

Also included would be false swearing or flippant use of the divine name and even profanity involving God’s name.

The Sabbath is holy, vs. 8-11

The word “remember” suggests that it is easy for God’s people to forget about this one. God’s most holy day was to be remembered continually, even during the other days of the week.

The reason for observing the Sabbath is that God created the material universe in 6 days and He rested on the seventh. The Scriptures don’t say what should be done on the Sabbath, only what shouldn’t. It’s obvious that God had set aside one day for His people to stop their secular pursuits (work, material gain, etc.) so that they could spend more time on spiritual things, like worship and other spiritual activities. Our Lord condemned the legalism that eventually corrupted the Sabbath in His day, but He never suggested it be done away with. It was given for man’s good (Mark 2:23-28), not just for the good of Israel.

As Christians, we don’t observe the Jewish Sabbath. The observance of the Lord’s Day, Sunday (the first day of our week) preserves the moral principle laid down in this fourth commandment. Yes, no matter how much you don’t want to believe it, Christians are supposed to observe the Lord’s Day regularly, not just at Christmas and Easter. We are to take the Lord’s day just as seriously as the Hebrews were to take their Sabbath.

William Wilberforce wrote:

O what a blessing is Sunday, interposed between the waves of worldly business like the divine path of the Israelites through the sea! There is nothing in which I would advise you to be more strictly conscientious than in keeping the Sabbath day holy. I can truly declare that to me the Sabbath has been invaluable.

Can you say that?  If you are like most 21st century American Christians, you’d be lying if you did.

Honor your parents, vs. 12

With this commandment, the focus switches from the believer’s relationship with God to our relationship with each other. A good commentary on this commandment is found in Leviticus:

You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32, ESV)

As you fear God, so you should honor and respect your parents.

Never at a loss words, Calvin’s comments here are powerful:

“Children obey your parents” (Ephesians 6:1). Why does the apostle use the “obey” instead of “honor,” which has a greater meaning? It is because obedience is the evidence of that honor which children owe their parents, and is therefore more earnestly enforced.

Don’t kill, vs. 13

Liberals like to use this commandment to justify their anti-war and anti-capital punishments stances. In fact, this verse has nothing to do with serving in the military or the execution of a criminal. A nation is given authority to protect human life by taking human life. This sixth commandment has to do with willful murder.

Rick Warren, the preacher a lot of us like to criticize, is 100% right when he said:

The Bible says that all people, not just believers, possess part of the image of God; that is why murder and abortion are wrong.

No adultery, vs. 14

Sexual purity is behind this commandment. Adultery involves married people, obviously. Fornication involves those who are unmarried. But both are sexual relationships outside the bonds of marriage and are absolutely forbidden by God. So serious is adultery, that under the Mosaic Law, a couple caught in the act were to be stoned to death. Yes, the Bible takes sexual sin very, very seriously. Jesus made it clear that adultery begins in the human heart.

John MacArthur wrote:

No sin a person commits has more built in pitfalls, problems, and destructiveness than sexual sin. It has broken marriages, shattered more homes, caused more heartache and disease, and destroyed more lives than alcohol and drugs combined. It causes lying, stealing, cheating, and killing, as well as bitterness, hatred, slander, gossip, and unforgiveness.

Don’t steal, vs. 15

It’s not by accident that the commandment against stealing follows on the heels of not committing adultery. They are related: if you allowed to commit adultery, then you should be allowed to steal another’s personal property. Both are forbidden. Americans like to think they invented personal property rights.  They did not.  God did.

No dishonesty, vs. 16

In other words, don’t lie. We noted already how much God hates dishonesty. Stealing may rob a man of his property, a lie can rob a man of his reputation. Your word should always be true and dependable.

No coveting, vs. 17

The tenth and final commandment underscores the four preceding ones because it deals with the purposes of the heart. Killing, adultery, stealing, and lying are sins of the inner man – they begin in the heart. It is in the heart where all rebellion begins.

The apostle Paul recognized that this was the real purpose of the Law:

What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” (Romans 7:7a NIV84)

A lot of people may never actually be guilty of outward acts of sin or rebellion, but nevertheless feel condemned when they consider their inward thoughts.

The effect of God’s visit, Exodus 20:18-23

God had given the children of Israel the Ten Commandments, which were to be the moral code by which they were to live their lives. There would be more to come. God will eventually give them many other elements of the Law that would govern the religious and social aspects of their lives.

When the Israelites saw and heard the display from Mount Sinai, they were afraid. This fear was probably for many reasons, including the fact that the Law presented a very high standard by which to live. The Law presented a very disciplined lifestyle that was completely different to what they had seen in Egypt and would see as they entered the Promised Land. The Law demanded perfection. Therein is the problem with it and why the people were afraid. If one is depending on the Law to save them, forget it! Nobody is perfect enough to keep the Law. Ultimately, the Law pointed to the need for grace, which would be revealed in Jesus Christ.

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