Exo 20 is the climax of the book of Exodus, where everything previously builds up to this place. Today’s passage shows us the law, but how many of us understand and enjoy the law? Do we think of the law as a disappointment after the more exciting things in Exodus? Many of us struggle with the law, and especially this part of Exodus after the narrative is done. Here, God calls the people to Himself and gives them the law.
We are also uncomfortable with the law, because it intrudes our autonomy over our own lives and tells us how we are to live, who we are to be. We are also uncomfortable because we know inherently that we cannot achieve this. But we are to remember that God gives His people His law because this is who they are to be.
(A) The Speaking and Covenantal God: Salvation precedes the law (Exo 20:1-2)
The passage begins with God speaking (Exo 20:1). We know this right from Genesis 1 that this is God and His words have power. His words are words of creation and are good. This God speaks to us and give us His words. How do we come to His word? Do we find these verses boring? Do we skim over the boring bits? Do we think we know it, and come with assumptions and arguments to test His word? Friends, remember that God’s words have power and when He speaks, His people tremble, are fearful and listen. Let’s tune our ears to hear Him.
God gives the 10 Commandments at at Mt Sinai, the same mountain referred to in Exo 3:7-12. The giving of the commandments is in a sense a fulfilment of God’s promises.
How does God introduce the 10 Commandments? He begins by introducing Himself as the LORD, the covenantal God who keeps His promises. The covenantal God reminds us of His nature, how He is the true God, the God who does not lie and whose words can be trusted. He is a God who delivers His people and brings them to Himself.
God also reminds the people of what He did for them -- “brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”.
Before He gives them the law, He reminds them that He has already saved them. Do you see how wonderful this is? We tend to think of doing something and then being rewarded for it. God is telling them they cannot do anything and He will save them before giving them His word. Salvation and deliverance precedes the law. God did not give them a task before He rescues them. Isn’t this wonderful? God is a God who is true and faithful even though His people fail Him. God still sticks by His word and rescues His people.
The law helps us understand who God is. It is His way of bringing us to Himself. (c.f. Exo 19:4) God has constantly been trying to bring His people to Himself. The law actually serves to reflect God’s righteous nature -- His perfection, righteousness as a judge, as morally perfect, good, true. This is the use of the law, and this is why the law is good.
The law also helps His people know how to be His people. God gives them the law so that they can be His children. The moral, civil and ceremonial laws revealed in the rest of Exodus are meant to show that how they live together, how they behave, how they worship should reflect Him.
What does it mean for us to be God’s people today? Is it just about going to church? Is it about coming for Fellowship? How can we know that we are His people?
(B) Love the LORD your God: Honouring God in our loyalties, hearts, words and time (v3-11)
We’ll begin by taking a look at the first three commandments first:
Unlike the previous commandments, this 4th commandment is articulated in the positive. How are we to understand this commandment, when our Sundays are anything but restful? Sometimes Sundays are busy, filled with church things and post-church things. Does this mean we have to go back to being like the Jews and not do anything?
The heart behind this commandment is to honor God with the use of our time. But it doesn’t stop here. This commandment plays out in real practical ways in terms of resting intentionally. So much of our lives is wrapped up in productivity, KPI and output. We are product of our culture and our local system. What happens when we are fundamentally misaligned from this command? It could lead to anxiety, exhaustion, self-reliance and sin. How often have we snapped at people because we are tired and stressed? How often have we turned to things that are not God because we are tired?
The opposite of productivity is not laziness or slothfulness. It is rest, a confidence in God that He will get us through life. It is having faith that our identity in Christ is secure. Do we trust God with all of life, including ministry? This commandment calls us to be like the God who rested on the Sabbath and called it holy. The God who created us know what we need and provides what we need.
Later on in the New Testament, Jesus also reiterates the first 4 commandments (c.f. Mark 12:28). In doing so, He helps us to see that the first 4 commandments have to do with how we love God. We honor God with our loyalties, our hearts, our words and how we use our time.
(C) Love your Neighbour: Our relationship with God informs our relationships with others (Exo 20:12-17)
The next section sets up laws for how God’s people are to live in light of who God is to us. What do they say and how does it apply to us?
Honor your father and your mother … (Exo 20:12) — It is a lot more than just obeying and doing what they say. It is also when we think we know best and they know nothing. This command speaks of our attitude and not just our actions. How do we think of our parents and ourselves in relation to them?
When was the last time you showed your parents genuine love, care, appreciation? When was the last time that you texted them about your life and struggles, instead of just telling them you’re not going home for dinner? When was the last time you helped out at home? Or supporting them financially? Are they just people you need to meet, people who house you?
You shall not murder (Exo 20:13) — This is a call to honor and respect life. It’s not just about not murdering, but it also applies to hating someone. It doesn’t mean overlooking all faults. Love also means calling out sin, having difficult conversations and reconciling. Is there someone you need to be reconciled with?
You shall not commit adultery (Exo 20:14) — This commandment calls the people to be faithful and stay committed. What happens when no one is looking? This calls out sexual sin and lust. Are your thoughts and deeds pure when no one is looking? Do you have people that you can keep yourself accountable to?
You shall not steal (Exo 20:15) — Be content! Do we deny other people’s needs because we are selfish? Are we satisfied with what God has provided? How can we use what God has provided for us to bless others? It is a wonderful gift to not be in want and to share with others.
You shall not bear false witness … (Exo 20:16) — Speak truth like our true God! Gossip, lying, cheating, are some of the ways we don’t obey this. Are we flippant and careless with our speech?
You shall not covet … (Exo 20:17) — This commandment was to remind the people that they have all they need in God. We seek things we don’t have and desire what others have. We are jealous with the life and possessions of another. Is your job, relationship, ministry, church, life not good enough? We are God’s people and that is wonderful. Let us not forget this! We have no lack because we have everything we need in Christ.
The 10 Commandments show us how we are to live as God’s people, with God’s people in light of who He is. This is also known as fruit -- a changed heart that leads to changed actions.
(D) Response to the Law: Recognizing righteousness and sin, and our need for a mediator (Exo 20:18-21)
The people responded in fear and trembled (Exo 20:18-21). They did not dare come close because of what God said. God’s word revealed to them His holiness and likewise, their unholiness. And their response was right, because they recognised who God is. How many of us think of God in this way? Do you recognise that this is a holy God who judges sinners, and we are the sinners deserving of judgment.
The people also sought a mediator (Exo 20:19). Do you see the pattern of Exodus that is consistent with the gospel? The gospel tells us that God has saved us for obedience to be His people by obeying His commands. Before this holy God, we tremble in fear because we see our sin and unholiness so clearly. We need a mediator, and our mediator is Christ.
It is so important for us to see that God brought His people to Himself this way -- by revealing HImself and His character. The moral laws showed them what it meant to be God’s people. God’s revelation of the law showed us how we need a Saviour, and our Saviour is Jesus Christ.
This chapter isn’t merely a list of rules, but is important in showing us one principle: salvation precedes the law, and we are saved so that we can be God’s people.
How do you think about the law? We tend to think of it as a bunch of rules, things that we cannot live up to. In a sense they are, but this burden has been borne by Christ. This law is good for us