“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 bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:1-3
The Israelites were gathered around the foot of Mount Sinai having just experienced the awesome, majestic power of God in the lightning, thunder, and trumped blast that echoed off the mountain. God in His unapproachable glory and holiness spoke the above words to the people who by now were giving Him their full attention. Isaiah wrote, “It pleased the LORD for the sake of His righteousness to make His law great and glorious.” (42:21) Exodus 20:1-3, of course, is simply the base of the Ten Commandments and the first command He spoke that day.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage,” tells us why God has the authority to give laws to His people. He is the redeemer who saved them from slavery, misery, and death into the world of freedom. It is important that the law was never given to counter freedom but to enhance freedom.
It is important for us to notice that God uses His covenant name, Yahweh, (I Am) when addressing Israel. He is the sovereign and almighty God of their ancestors who has never forgotten them nor abandoned them throughout their history. Philip Ryken, in his commentary on Exodus notes, “He is the supreme, self-existent, eternal, and unchangeable god who bound himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with the unbreakable promise of His covenant. Furthermore, He is our very own God, “I am the LORD your God.” Ryken, Exodus, Preaching the Word p. 525
By using the second person singular God is telling the children of Israel that He is personal and personally acquainted with each and every one of them. When the Israelites received the law that day at Sinai they were experiencing the presentation of the character of God.
In the preamble, verses one and two God is recounting all that He had done for them so far. And when you think about it, it was a lengthy list summed up in those words. He had brought the plagues upon Egypt and yet spared the Israelites. He had sent the Angel of Death to destroy the first born of all Egypt and yet simply applying the blood of the sacrificed lamb over their doors spared the Israelites. He drowned the Egyptian army in the Red Sea and parted it for His people. He fed them Manna in the wilderness, gave them water from the Rock, defeated their armies by the uplifted arms of Moses, and guided them with His ever-present cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
The people were already saved when they received the Ten Commandments. They had already come out of Egypt and were delivered by God’s mighty hand. The keeping of the law was now added to their wilderness experience so they could have a deeper relationship with God. The law gave them the boundaries they needed to live in harmony with the thousands of other Israelites on this journey and to know the proper respect and worship that is due the God of the Universe.
The first law is “You shall have no other gods before me.” The children of Israel had spent four hundred years in Egypt, much of it in slavery. They were worshippers of the gods of Egypt when God delivered them out of slavery. Many of the people probably brought gods with them and still had the concepts and ideas of gods ruling over them when they came to Sinai. Later when they built the golden calf and danced around it they were invoking the power of the god of desert travelers to be with them.
God, however, is jealous for His glory and for the fulfillment of His covenant promise to Abraham that his descendants would occupy the land of Canna. Without the law the Israelites would never get to the Promised Land without complete chaos. Remember, these were slaves who had never experienced a moment of freedom in their lives. They had no real clue on what was right or wrong in relationships and how they should worship or act towards their deliverer God. By giving these laws God was protecting, teaching, leading, and encouraging His people on how to be free men and women who live in the presence of Yahweh.
In Isaiah 45:18 God says, “I am the LORD and there is no other.” There is only one God and that is He. He is not saying He is preeminent amongst all God’s but is making a theological statement that He is the one and only God. All the gods of Egypt, the nations in the Promised Land, and the whole world, for that matter, are false gods. This is what God is telling us in Exodus 20:3. There are to be no other gods before Him and since He rules the whole world then there are to be no other gods at all.
Every violation of the Ten Commandments is an offense against God’s holy character and since they are a summary of God’s character they are perpetual. Yes, the Commandments are never done away with because to do away with the Commandments is to do away with the very nature of God Himself.
The problem is never with the law but the fact that it doesn’t take a person long to realize that they break these commandments. Remember, in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus expanded the law to include our every thought. We should also remember that each commandment is simply a summary of many laws that fall under each category. For example the law that we should not commit adultery also by definition includes not raping, child abuse, spousal abuse, pornography watching, fantasies and sexual daydreaming amongst a host of others. When we realize that each of the Ten Commandments are to be seen the same way anyone who is honest with him/herself soon realizes they are a law breaker.
Paul reminds us “For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (v. 20) It is only when we look at the Ten Commandments and their call upon us do we realize that we are sinners and in need of a savior. Paul is telling us that we are not saved by law keeping, in fact, the law points out our inabilities to live up to all that God would have us be.
It is because of the law that we flee into the arms of Jesus. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His blood, to be received by faith.” Romans 3:21-25a
The law condemns us and Jesus comes to Earth and keeps the law perfectly thus fulfilling the demands of the law. He then goes to the cross as our substitute to pay the penalty of our sins, which is death. He carries our sins to the cross and in their place He accredits us with His perfect keeping of the Law. The result is that the Father looks at us only through the filter of the grace and love of Jesus perfection. When He sees us, He sees Jesus covering of us and thus sees us perfect in Christ.
How do we obtain this amazing redemption from our sins? It is a gift. (Romans 3:24) We accept it by faith and put our trust in the promises of God. So where does that leave the law? Just because the Law does not save me doesn’t mean that I should ignore the law. A born again Christian will live in harmony with the law because under the New Covenant it is written on the heart (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
This law, however, is the law of love and reminds us to love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves. This was also the meaning of the law when given at Sinai. Will we keep the law perfectly? No, we won’t even come close and that is the whole point of grace and salvation. It is because we don’t keep the law, as we should because of our sinful natures that Jesus had to die to redeem us from the curse of the law.
I hope this answers some of the questions of people who believe I’ve thrown the law out the door and believe I can do whatever I want as a Christian. I still live in relationship to the law because the law isn’t bad—it’s me. I just realize that all my law keeping will never save me or keep me close to Jesus. Grace is where I place my flag and it is there that I hold on to the promises of God that He can “save a wretch like me.”
* Please take the time to read some of the stories of Christians who are experiencing persecution for their total commitment to Christ. They need our support and prayers.. http://thebeggardanced.com/nine-oclock-club/ there is much more on the internet…