Ten Commandments


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07 May 2023

Ten Commandments

Passage Exodus 20

Speaker Chris Haley

Meeting Morning

Series Exodus: The Redeemer




Sometimes things can be really familiar, but you can be totally unaware of the context. Take the pyramids for example- we’re used to them by themselves, we’re not used to the context. This is the view from the other side! They’re actually right by Cairo city. Apparently one of the closest buildings to them is a Pizza Hut! Context is important, especially for things we’re very used to seeing out of context, and this is true for passages of the Bible. They may be fine and dandy out of context, but if we want to really understand them we need to get the context. This morning we’re looking not looking at the Ten Commandments- nice and neat and packaged and out of context- we’re looking at chapter 20 of Exodus. It’s a shame in a way we had to stop back in December at chapter 19 because this follows straight on.

The Ten Commandments are not their own book, they are in the book of Exodus (and repeated in Deuteronomy) and they follow on from the narrative we were following. How God’s people were in slavery and oppressed by Pharoah and the Egyptians. How God rescued His people mightily with a strong hand. How he revealed Himself to Pharaoh and the nations, and his people. How he brought them through the red sea on dry ground. How they rebelled against him in the wilderness, and how he still took them to be his special people: His treasured possession, His royal priesthood, His Holy Nation. All that is the context for these commands. We can’t rip them away from that. The text won’t allow us: verse 1

And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:1-2 ESV)

The themes of Exodus will continue. This is still about God redeeming his people, and revealing himself to them.

Important fact though that we must get straight before we start: This is not the means of their rescue and redemption. Keeping rules is not how the Israelites were saved. God has ALREADY rescued them at this point in the story. They have already been brought out of the house of slavery. This is not follow this and be rescued. It is you have been rescued, now follow this. The same is true for us in 21st century Otley. Keeping a set of rules for life will not save you, rescue you, redeem you. Trying to a set of rules will not get you to heaven. We are saved by Grace freely, by putting our trust in Christ. We are not saved by works, but we are saved for works. There is a sense in which the commandments are given to help us know how to live after being saved. Before that though they are a charge sheet, showing us how we have failed and pointing us to our need of Christ:

Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24 NKJV)

Now that we have come to Christ we are not ‘under’ the law, but equally not a jot or tittle of that law has passed away. It is still useful to us to know how we might live, when we receive it in the hand of Christ, through the New Testament, understanding it in its context in the Bible and also in the book of Exodus. We’re going to look at the commandments under two headings- as they’ve been traditionally been split up along the lines of Jesus teaching on the greatest commandment. So firstly…

Love the Lord Your God v1-11

The first half of the ten commandments, or ten words as they are in Hebrew tell us about our relationship to God, and that is what God has been revealing to Israel throughout. The first four are really about God and how we treat Him, and if they’re about God then it will surely depend on God’s unchanging character. God is in the process of revealing himself to Israel, that has been a huge theme in Exodus. There’s a sense in which God’s law should tell us about the God who made it. The laws are in light of how God is. God here is revealed in this section as the…

Jealous God v3-4

“You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God. (Exodus 20:3-4 ESV)

‘Jealous’ is nearly always a negative word in English to do with insecurity, but that’s not true in Hebrew. It speaks of a rightful exclusivity. If a man sees his wife kissing with another man- he is jealous. He’s not being insecure, he’s being rightfully offended that his wife is not acting as exclusively his. The same would be true the other way around. The same is true with God. He is to be worshipped exclusively. That’s really what the first two commandments are getting at. We are to avoid idolatry, either by worshipping other things we call ‘gods’, or by making fake versions of ‘gods’ or even the true God, and bowing down to them.

God is invisible. The only time he became truly visible was in the person of Jesus Christ: The image of the invisible God, but we are not worship images of Christ. Partly because we don’t actually know what he looked like. There’s no physical description in the Bible, but He almost certainly was not a white skinned blond haired weakling, but apart from that this commandment makes it clear images and statues were never part of the plan. When we try to dumb down God to an image or a statue we make Him less than He is. We end up with a fake God. That’s why the jealous God is invoked. A visible image is not the real God, so to worship it is idolatry. We may call it ‘God’, but it’s not. We may not make statues or be tempted to worship another deity, but we can still fall into this trap- making God less than He truly is by our own imaginings. A god who always agrees with us, and let’s us do what we want. That’s an idol, just as surely as a golden statue. Or worshipping God with our lips, but showing with our life we worship something else: money, family, popularity, comfort. It’s still another ‘god’ even if we don’t think of it like that. He’s also revealed as…

The Judge v5-7

…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. (Exodus 20:5-7 ESV)


God is the one who brings rewards and punishments in verses 5 and 6. In verse 7 we’re told that God holds people guilty or guiltless. He is the judge of mankind. How will he judge? Well part of it will be how we speak. You might think God doesn’t care about what we say, but what we do. But what does Jesus say?

“The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgement people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-37 ESV)

What we speak out of our mouths reveals what’s inside our hearts. When God speaks his name, it reveals who he truly is. To take his name in vain then is a big deal. To speak God’s name vainly is an attack on God himself. We need to careful how we speak of God. We need to be careful how we speak full stop, because God is judge. Finally in this section God is revealed as…

The Creator v8-11

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

God speaks of his role in creation. He is the God who created the order in which we live, and we are to live in line with that order. He is creator, He gets to make the rules, and yet in the midst of that talk of creation, he reminds us that he rested, and tells us to do the same. Whatever our view on the sabbath rest is part of our worship of God. I originally had a long section on this, but it boils down to this: whatever our view on the Sabbath is we need to live consistently with that view:

If we hold that Sunday is the New Testament Sabbath, a special day, then we should treat it as a special day: No work, no homework, no commerce. If we hold to something theologically then it should be worked out practically! We mustn’t hold that Sunday is a Sabbath and then treat it like those who don’t hold it is treat it. I think that’s a real danger for Sabbatarians amongst us. There’s a world of difference between being theologically convinced Sunday isn’t the sabbath and acting accordingly, and believing that it is, yet acting as though it isn’t.

If we hold that the sabbath is fulfilled in Christ and the sacred/secular divide in time has gone, then we are not off the hook. We need to build in ways to make each day holy, and we also need to build in patterns of rest to acknowledge God as the creator in that our bodies were not designed to work 24/7. Even if it’s not on a particular day. When we won’t rest we deny God his place- as the one true self-sufficient creator, and we shun his provision of rest for us. Rest was there before the fall. It was to remind us we are not God. When we rest, and let go of situations for a while, we acknowledge that. So God is revealed here as the Jealous God, judge and creator, and our worship of him, our very lives and attitudes should reflect that

Love Your Neighbour As Yourself v12-17

The half of the commandments is more to do with our relationship with others, but it is still revealing to us God’s character. It tells us what God is concerned about. It tells us about what God is like. Imagine for a second, for example, if God were the monster some atheists make him to be like: homicidal, racist, dishonest, then you’d expect his rules to reflect that. But think about the rules he gives us: honour your Father and Mother, do not kill, do not bear false witness. Does that sound like the god the radical atheists want to make out He is? Let’s see what we find…

God is Lifegiving Father v12-13

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. (Exodus 20:12-13 ESV)

God in Exodus has revealed himself as the Father of his people.

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”… (Exodus 4:22-23a ESV)

In the New Testament He is revealed as Father in a more personal way. That is why the Lord’s prayer begins with ‘our Father’. He is the one who made us, who gave us life, and because of that we are to honour those who humanly speaking gave us life. The New Testament notes that this is the first command with a promise “that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you” I’ve always wondered whether it’s that your mum and dad won’t throttle you! But it seems more that this respect for God ordained parental authority is a recipe for a society that will last. One of the marks of a godless society in 2 Timothy 3 is that people are disobedient to their parents. That is one that will tear itself apart, and if we treat our human fathers like this, what does that say about how we view God!

The other side of God being life giver is that we have no right to take that life away. This prohibition doesn’t extend to animals- v24 speaks for burnt offerings of sheep and oxen, but it does include all human beings to whom God has given life: young and old, born or unborn, healthy and ill. All life is valuable because it is God given to people made in God’s image. There are exceptions to this rule in the law, such as war or matter of justice, but none where an individual is acting on their own authority.

Jesus also explains how this command is much broader than we think:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22 ESV)

It extends to emotions, thoughts and speech! Even if we don’t actual kill someone, mentally or verbally assassinating someone is not ok! God is lifegiving Father we cannot treat his children that way. He is also…

Faithful Provider v14-15, v17

You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal… You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your neighbour's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour's. (Exodus 20:14-15,17 ESV)

If we trusting in God to provide then we have no need to steal, be it another person’s possessions, or another person’s spouse. God has revealed himself as provider to the Israelites, what need is there to steal? But it goes deeper than that, God is faithful. Tonight we’re going to be looking at the book of Hosea where God reveals himself as a faithful husband to unfaithful Israel. She is pictured there as an adulteress. Just as they are not to commit spiritual adultery with God. So they are not to commit physical adultery with one another. The worship of God does extend to our bedrooms, God cares about who we share a bed with.

Jesus again shows us that this is broader too:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27 ESV)

Again it’s to do with our thoughts and our hearts as well as our actions. Leering at women, or men is not ok. Fantasising about bedding someone other than your spouse is not ok. Watching pornography is not ok- if that is something you struggle with talk to someone. This sort of sin thrives in darkness! That’s really what it’s getting at there when it talks about covetousness in verse 17. That can be a really secret sin, because only we know what’s in our hearts. That strong desire to possess something that is not ours, be it a house, be it a car, be it a lifestyle, be it a husband or a wife. What it’s really saying is ‘God has not provided me what I need’, ‘God has not given me enough- I want what some else has.’ But God is faithful to us, giving us we need, and we need to be faithful to him and to each other- trusting in his provision for us, whatever that might be. If we have God, we have enough. Finally…

God is Just and True v16

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour. (Exodus 20:16)

God’s truthful character is to be reflected by his people. This is often broadened to ‘No lying’ and that is there in the law in Leviticus 19:11. Here though the context is judicial. To bear truthful or false witness could lead to someone’s acquittal or someone’s death. It really comes back to God’s just, impartial judgement. God does not ask them to be kind so much, he asks them to be true, in order that justice might be done. There is plenty to be said here about lying, but really it’s talking about speaking about people fairly. Too often we speak to make ourselves look good, even if that means doing others down- really that’s a version of false witness. We warp reality to suit our own agenda, but as God’s people we are not to play that game:

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.

As God’s people we belong to one another, why would we lie to one another, why would we do one another down? (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

There is a lot to take in there. How do you respond to all that? Well to close let’s see how the Israelites do. Final point, much, much briefer than the other two…

Worship God Rightly v18-21

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was. (Exodus 20:18-21 ESV)

As we said at the beginning, these laws have a context, and are part of story. God here is speaking to the people. It’s not clear exactly in Exodus, but the parallel passage in Deuteronomy makes it clear what’s going on. Moses says:

The LORD spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the midst of the fire, while I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD. For you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up into the mountain. (Deuteronomy 5:4-5 ESV)

God is speaking to the people from the fire on the mountain. Moses is explaining clearly what it is that God is saying as He speaks. I imagine in a similar way to how God the Father speaks at Jesus’ baptism, some hear an audible voice, while others hear only thunder. What we must understand though is that this is not Moses alone on the mountain getting tablets of stone: that’s not until chapter 24. Moses is still at the foot of the mountain telling them clearly what God is saying.

So what is their response? What is their reaction to meeting with God for the first time as a people here in the Old Testament? The people are terrified and ask God not to speak to them! They fear for their lives, and ask Moses to be their mediator, to be their go between. God can speak to Moses and Moses will tell the people what He has said, and from this point on that’s what happens. Only Moses hears God, and he acts as mediator between God and the people, and whereas the people stand far off, Moses draws near into the thick darkness where God is. It’s a sort of forerunner of the temple and tabernacle, only one man may draw near on behalf of the people. It’s not a great start for the people! But the amazing thing is we have something much, much better. The author of Hebrews writes:

For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest  and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them… But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:18-24 ESV)

We have come to mount Zion, we can gather, we can hear! What was the author’s application of this?

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. (Hebrews 12:25 ESV)

Do not refuse him who is speaking. Hear what he has to say. Don’t let your familiarity with these verses make you ignore them. God is the Jealous God, judge, creator, faithful provider, lifegiving Father, just and true. We need to respond to him rightly in the context of our day to day lives. Let’s pray that God would give us the strength to do so

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