In one of the epochal moments of human history, God revealed himself to Moses and the Israelites on an obscure desert mountain outside of Egypt. After graciously rescuing his people from their bondage and oppression under Pharaoh, God wrote his universal law on tablets of stone in an unprecedented display of power and great glory. What are these commandments, and what do they mean? How are we to understand them today?
One Hebrew expression for these laws is “the ten words” (Exod 34:28; Deut 4:13, 10:4). That is why the collection is sometimes referred to as the Decalogue. These ten “words” or statements are part of a larger covenant framework in which God relates to his people: “And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments” (Exodus 34:28). God therefore bound himself not only to rescuing but realigning his people after their captivity in a polytheistic land. It’s one thing for God to get Israel out of Egypt; it’s another thing for God to get Egypt out of Israel. The Ten Commandments were God’s initial strategy to do so.
Quite significantly, the Ten Commandments are distinguished from the rest of the laws in that they were delivered by an audible voice from God himself and then written by God on two stone tablets. The Decalogue thus reflects important insights about God and his ways, as all laws reveal to us something about the one who gave them. The same is true with parents and the rules they give their own children. Believers today who seek to love God and be in sync with his ways will therefore take the Ten Commandments seriously, as does the New Testament.
John Bunyan once wrote, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.” Ultimately it was not Moses who was blotted out of God’s book because of humanity’s failure to keep the Decalogue (cf. Exod 32:32); it was Jesus. As Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Gal 3:10).
In Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross (Matt 27:46; Mark 15:34), we hear the tortured cry of a man being treated as if he were being damned by God himself. Yet it was the tortured cry of a sinless man, so the curse Jesus bore was not his own; it was ours. And that is why lawbreakers can still be saved.
Part 3: Accept No Substitutes for God (Exodus 20:4-6)
Part 4: Revere God’s Name and Character (Exodus 20:7)
Part 5: Rest in Peace before You Die (Exodus 20:8-11)
Part 6: Respect Authority and Cherish Your Family (Exodus 20:12)
Part 7: Regard Human Life as Sacred (Exodus 20:13)
Part 8: Protect the Covenant of Marriage (Exodus 20:14)
Part 9: Respect Your Neighbors and Their Stuff (Exodus 20:15)
Part 10: When You Speak, Tell the Truth (Exodus 20:16)
Part 11: Be Content with What You Have (Exodus 20:17)
Part 12: Good News for Law-Breakers (Various)