Greetings in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” – John 1:17
Picture this. It is an ordinary day in the third month after the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. A multitude of people, over a million strong, are camped in a barren desert. Their tents sprawl out as far as the eye can see. Suddenly, a call rings out, and the entire encampment stirs into motion. Families gather their belongings, load up their animals, and they begin to move. A cloud goes before them, guiding them to their next destination – the foot of a towering, rugged mountain: Mount Sinai.
Fast forward a few days. The multitude is now camped at the base of the mountain. The air is thick with anticipation. Moses, their leader, has ascended the mountain and spoken with God. He returns with a message: prepare yourselves, for in three days, God Himself will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.
The day arrives. The people watch as a thick cloud descends on the mountain. The whole mountain quakes violently. Thunder roars and lightning flashes, piercing the dark cloud. A sound, like a blast of a trumpet, grows louder and louder. The people tremble. Out of the billowing smoke and brilliant flashes of light, a voice thunders. This is not just any voice. This is the voice of the Lord God Almighty. In this moment, the Israelites stand in the awesome presence of God, in the shadow of Sinai.
This scene marks the beginning of one of the most significant moments in the Bible: the giving of the Ten Commandments.
Remembering God’s Deliverance
To truly grasp the weight and context of the Ten Commandments, we need to journey back to the narrative leading to Mount Sinai. The laws that would be etched into stone tablets by the finger of God were not being presented to a random, detached group of individuals. They were given to the Israelites, a nation who had experienced oppression, slavery, and miraculous deliverance. God’s rules were not appearing out of a void but were handed to a people whose history with their God was rich and layered.
Remember that the Israelites were not always a band of desert wanderers. They originated from a single family, that of Jacob, later renamed Israel. The sons of Jacob moved to Egypt during a severe famine, invited by Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons who had risen to power in Egypt. The Bible tells us in Genesis that the family of Jacob, totaling 70 members, moved to Egypt, marking the beginning of a significant phase in Israelite history.
However, over time, the Israelites grew in number and became so significant that the new Pharaoh, who had no memory of Joseph’s deeds, viewed them as a threat. This led to the subjugation and oppression of the Israelites, marking the start of a bitter period of slavery. Their cries for deliverance echoed through the years, ascending to the heavens, reaching the ears of their God.
Exodus 2:23-25 says, “The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
The Israelites were not forgotten. God saw their affliction, heard their cries, and responded. He raised up a deliverer named Moses, an Israelite who had been raised in the Pharaoh’s palace. Despite his initial hesitation and self-doubt, Moses accepted the task, fortified by God’s promise:
“I will be with you” (Exodus 3:12).
The narrative that follows is filled with confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh, punctuated by miraculous plagues that demonstrated God’s power over Egypt’s gods. These culminated in the death of the Egyptian firstborn, a devastating plague that finally bent Pharaoh’s will and secured the Israelites’ release.
Their departure from Egypt, however, was not without challenges. Pharaoh’s hardened heart led him to pursue the Israelites, trapping them between his army and the Red Sea. But God made a way. Exodus 14:21 tells us that Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind, turning it into dry land. The Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall to their right and left. When Pharaoh’s armies pursued, the waters crashed back over them, securing Israel’s deliverance and demonstrating once again the power of their God.
The Israelites were guided through the desert by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, clear symbols of God’s presence. They were sustained by miraculous provision: manna from heaven and water from a rock. Through these experiences, the Israelites learned about God’s faithfulness, power, and care for them.
Therefore, by the time we arrive at Mount Sinai, the Israelites have already been on an incredible journey, marked by God’s deliverance and provision. These experiences formed the backdrop against which the Ten Commandments were given. The law was not given to an oppressed people but to a freed people. They were not slaves in Egypt, but a nation under God. They were not individuals without identity but a covenant community shaped and formed by the powerful acts of God.
In a similar vein, as believers in Christ, we share in a parallel narrative of deliverance. The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:13-14, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Like the Israelites, we were enslaved, not to a cruel Pharaoh, but to sin and death. Yet, God in His love and mercy sent a Deliverer, Jesus Christ, to free us and bring us into His kingdom.
As we approach the Ten Commandments, we should do so with a sense of our identity as God’s delivered people. This identity must shape our understanding and application of these divine laws. They are not a means to earn God’s favor or achieve deliverance; we have already been delivered through Christ. Instead, they are guidelines for how we, as a redeemed people, should live. They are signposts directing us to a life of holiness, gratitude, and love – responses to the deliverance God has so graciously given.
The Holy Nature of God
When the Israelites gathered at the base of Mount Sinai, they were not only about to receive a set of laws; they were on the precipice of an encounter with the Holy God. This encounter would shape their understanding of Him and establish the parameters of their relationship with Him.
The scene at Mount Sinai is one of immense majesty and awe. The mountain is covered with a thick cloud, the earth shakes, and there are sounds of a loud trumpet. Out of the midst of the cloud, God’s voice thunders, filling the Israelites with fear. The sights, the sounds, the sensations—they all pointed to a profound reality. They were in the presence of a holy God.
The term holy denotes separation, set-apartness. It is a word used to describe God’s otherness, His transcendence, His purity. He is distinctly different from us—infinitely powerful, profoundly pure, and deeply loving. The Lord’s holiness is at the core of His identity.
This becomes apparent in the way God prepared the Israelites for the giving of the Ten Commandments. God gives specific instructions to Moses in Exodus 19:10-11, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.”
There was a necessary preparation, a setting apart, a cleansing before meeting God. The washing of their clothes was an external sign of an inner reality – that they were to be a holy people because their God is holy.
It is within this context, in the light of God’s holiness, that the Ten Commandments are given. They were not arbitrary rules but grounded in God’s character. As the Israelites would learn, to live according to these commandments was a call to live in light of God’s holiness.
When we turn to the New Testament, we find that the theme of God’s holiness continues. In 1 Peter 1:15-16, Peter writes, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Peter was writing to early Christians, reminding them that the call to live a holy life was still relevant. The God they serve is still the Holy God of Sinai. And so, the laws given on that mountain echo down to us today as they reflect this God who is both our Lord and model of holiness.
How do we apply this understanding of God’s holiness to our lives? The Apostle Paul provides us with a clue in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
Our call to holiness is not a call to legalism or moral superiority, but a call to worship. It is a response to God’s mercy and love toward us. As those who have been brought into a relationship with this Holy God through Jesus Christ, we are to reflect His holiness in our lives. This is not achieved through our strength but through the Holy Spirit working within us, shaping us, and making us more like Christ.
The Ten Commandments provide us with a roadmap for this journey toward holiness. They teach us about God’s values, His standards, and His desires for us as His people. They point us toward a life that mirrors God’s holiness, a life that is set apart for Him.
Therefore, as we explore the Ten Commandments in detail, let us remember the context in which they were given. Let’s approach them, not as a list of dos and don’ts, but as a reflection of our Holy God. As we strive to apply them to our lives, we’re not seeking to earn God’s favor but to live in a way that honors Him, that reflects His holiness, and that draws us closer to Him.
In conclusion, our journey through the Ten Commandments is not just about exploring ancient laws. It’s a journey into the heart of God, a journey that invites us to live as a people set apart, a people shaped by God’s holy love. As we embark on this journey, may we be inspired to live lives that reflect the Holy God we serve.
The truths of God’s law: love
As we stand on the precipice of our journey through the Ten Commandments, we find ourselves in a place similar to where the Israelites stood so long ago. We may not be gathered at the foot of a shaking mountain, surrounded by the sound of a trumpet and the voice of God, but we too are standing at the base of a profound spiritual journey. And as we look up at the towering mountain of God’s law, some of us might feel overwhelmed, weighed down by the gravity of our own failures and shortcomings. Some may be struggling with trials, tribulations, and heartaches that feel too burdensome to bear.
Yet, just as God’s hand was on the Israelites in their journey, His hand is on us today. His presence was with them through every step of their wilderness wanderings, through every moment of uncertainty and fear. He guided them, provided for them, comforted them, and most importantly, delivered them. And it is the same God who is with us today, with every one of us who is hurting, struggling, or simply yearning for more of Him.
For those who are suffering, remember that our God is a God of deliverance. He heard the cries of the Israelites, and He hears your cries today. Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” He is not a distant, uncaring God, but a loving Father who comes close to us in our pain, who bears our burdens with us, and who promises to deliver us.
As we explore the Ten Commandments, we are not exploring a path to earning God’s love or securing His deliverance. His love for us is already certain, secured by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Romans 5:8 declares, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Instead, we are embarking on a journey of understanding more about this God who loves us so much.
The God of Sinai is the God of Calvary. The God who gave the Ten Commandments is the God who gave His Son. This is the heart of our journey through the Ten Commandments. It is a journey toward the heart of God, a journey marked by His holiness, guided by His love, and secured by His grace.
So, whether you are weary and burdened, or eager and expectant, I invite you to join us on this journey. Let us climb this mountain together, guided by God’s Word, upheld by His grace, and empowered by His Spirit. And as we do so, let us remember the promise in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
As we uncover the truths of God’s law, we discover the depths of His love. May this love be our strength, our comfort, and our guide as we navigate through life’s trials and tribulations, and as we journey deeper into the heart of God.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – John 14:1