Today we have the giving of the Ten Commandments. Note that God begins the way He always does: with grace. Before commanding anything, God reminds Israel of Who He is and what He has already done. And He begins with “I am the Lord your God.” In the Hebrew, it is literally “I I am your God” (remember, the name YHWH means “I Am”). This is exactly how Jesus (though in the Greek) started all of His “I am” statements (Greek ego eimi – I I am). The first four times Jesus uses the “I am” formula, He is alluding to the bread (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51) that God provided Israel in the manna.
Then God points out what He has done. He is the One Who brought Israel out of Egypt, out of slavery. This is already done. Israel thus far has done nothing to earn God’s favor. In fact, we have already seen four times that they were unwilling to believe (Ex 14:11-12, 15:24, 16:2-3, 17:3). We see here how our obedience is always a response to God’s grace, never a means of earning His favor.
God then gives the Ten Commandments (literally, whenever we see “Ten Commandments” in our Bibles it literally says “Ten Words”). The commands start with our relationship to God, and then move to our relationship with others. Just as God began by stating Who He is in Himself (YHWH – 20:2), the commandments begin with Who God is to us. The command is to have no other gods before Him, literally, in His presence. Then we see the fact that God is spirit (John 4:24), and He demands to be worshiped in spirit and truth. Physical representations of even the One True God and the worship of them are forbidden.
In verse 7 we have the command not to “take” YHWH’s name in vain. The word means to lift, carry, or bear. And while the word can mean to “take up” YHWH’s name, as in, speak it irreverently or carelessly (which is how it came to be understood by the Jews), I think there is more here. We need to take heed how we represent the name of Christ. We are, after all, Christians. Do we bear the name of Christ carelessly?
In the command to remember the Sabbath (vv. 8-11), I personally see the greatest proof of a literal six day creation. God is commanding His people to observe the seventh day as holy, working only six days of the week*. And while the word for “day” can be used much like it is in English to mean something other than a 24 hour period (like when I tell my kids how it was “back in my day”), and while we can read the “days” in Genesis 1 in such a way (if we completely ignore the whole “evening” and “morning” part of it, that is) – here, God uses the word to compare their work days to His days of creation, and their day of rest to His day of rest. I find it untenable that God would use this analogy between His creation and rest days, and the work and rest days of this commandment, if “day” does not mean the same thing throughout.**
The next commandment is the first to deal with human to human relationships. And it is the first command with a promise (Eph 6:1-3). Parents are due proper respect first and foremost because God says they are. It is meant to be the earthly representation of how we hold God in the right esteem simply because He is God.
The command “you shall not murder” also includes, as we will see later, death through gross negligence. Of course, we know that the physical acts represented in the sixth through the ninth commandments are not the end of the story. While the physical acts are forbidden, Christ tells us that the heart and the intentions behind such acts are also sinful. Anger or envy or hate are sin. Adultery is sin, as is lust. Stealing is sin, as is jealousy or covetousness (which we see in the tenth commandment). Lying is sin, as is withholding truth if the intent is to deceive (no matter how we rationalize it).
We see that covetousness (v. 17) is the only commandment having to do exclusively with the inner person – the mind and the heart. This is an indication to Israel that sin is not limited to physical acts. And it isn’t limited to simple desire for something that belongs to someone else. The word used for “covet” would also include taking pleasure in someone else’s loss of something. In other words, the heart (and the mouth) that says anything like, “he got what he deserved” would be forbidden by this commandment.
Now for the controversial part. I (and many others) believe that the Mosaic Covenant was temporary, and that Christ fulfilled every iota and dot of it. That means that the law was only given to, and only applied to, those who were of the nation of Israel (whether born or converted). And this would include the Ten Commandments. To say that a Christian “broke the sixth commandment” or any such thing is incorrect. It is a category error, as we (Christians) are not under the law.
That does not mean, however, that we are free to murder or hate or envy or get angry without cause. In fact, if Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount convey anything, it is that we are held to an even higher standard than following simple dos and don’ts. We are called to bear the name of Christ (see above). And more than that, since Christ sent His Spirit to dwell within us, we are actually able to meet the requirements of the law, that can be summarized by the greatest commandment to love God, and by the second that is like it: love our neighbor as ourselves. And this is rooted, not in what we do, but who we are in Christ. That is where the Ten Commandments, indeed the whole law, points us.
In addition, if we remember that this all begins with Who God is, what we have in the Ten Commandments (and the whole law) is a revelation of the very Person and holy character of our God. Commandment one: He is the only One worthy of worship. Commandment two: He is spirit and He will not share His glory with another. Commandment three: He is holy, holy, holy. And every command – every iota and dot – are a gracious revelation of our God to us. And so the law was a guardian over us (Galatians anyone?) until the final revelation of our God: Jesus Christ. The law is good!
We see in verse 18 how that “thunder and lightning” presence of God struck fear into the hearts of Israel. We see that God tested them (v. 20) that they would not sin. As we saw, God commanded that no one so much as touch the mountain of His presence.
The chapter ends with God again warning of the idols of silver and gold (which we will see Israel fails in before they even leave Sinai!). The restriction against fancy altars and raised altars is a physical analogy for making the place or means of worship a god unto itself, a form of idolatry. The sad reality is that more than one sect of Christianity has done exactly this.
[NOTE: I will treat chapters 21 and 22 in a separate post.]
*What we also see in this command is the God prescribed limit on work. Remember, work is a creation ordinance. Adam worked before the Fall (the same word for “work” is used here and in Gen 2:15). Work is part of the “very good” of God’s creation. And while the important part of this is the Sabbath rest – the one day that is dedicated to God – we see that God does not limit work otherwise. In other words, the limit on work days in a week to five (sometimes less) is cultural, and has nothing to do with the fact that man needs that much rest. If your job prescribes five or less, that’s well and good; enjoy! But we were not created to fall apart if we work six days a week, and even after the Fall, God did not limit us to less. Just sayin’.
**Otherwise, to believe that the six days of creation in Genesis are some indeterminate amount of time (whether years or thousands or billions of years) is to believe that the fourth of the ten commandments that are the basis for the whole law is literally: “Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God…because in six indeterminate amounts of time YHWH made heaven and earth…and rested for another indeterminate amount of time.”