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Scripture Audio
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Exodus 20:1-21

The Ten Commandments

1 And God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 “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.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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. 11 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.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

18 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 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 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.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

(ESV)

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Teaching Audio
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The Story Continues

God continued to give good gifts to our first parents, but outside of Eden, their struggle with evil intensified. When Eve held her first son, Cain, she must have hoped that he would be the deliverer God had promised. But he killed his brother and became the world’s first murderer. As the generations advanced, evil multiplied and people knew little about the living God.

But God would not abandon the human race. He appeared to a man called Abraham, promising to bless him and, through him, people from every nation on earth (Genesis 12:1–3). From that point on, the Bible follows the story of Abraham’s descendants.

At the height of a famine in Canaan, Abraham’s grandson Jacob moved with his family to Egypt. The migration saved their lives, and over the next four hundred years, the people God had promised to bless grew from a large family to a nation of almost two million people.

As they grew in number, the Hebrews were oppressed and became slaves. God raised up Moses and, despite the determined resistance of Pharaoh, delivered them from Egypt. God brought them into the desert at Sinai and made a covenant with them. They would be His people and the Lord would be their God. Then God gave them the Law.

Moses was shaking as he stood at the bottom of the mountain surrounded by two million terrified people. As they looked up, they could see “Mount Sinai… covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it with fire.” (Exodus 19:18) The whole mountain shook as the God who walked with Adam in the garden came down.

The people were so terrified that they asked Moses to go up the mountain so that God could speak to him. They could not bear to have God speak with them directly. So Moses climbed the mountain, and God gave him the Ten Commandments (20:3-17).

The Ten Commandments are not an arbitrary set of rules. They are a direct reflection of the character of God.

When God said, “You shall have no other gods before me,” it was because He is the only God (Exodus 20:3). There is no one else like Him.

When He commanded that we rest on one day each week, it was because he rested on the seventh day of Creation.

Why should you not commit adultery? Because God is faithful.
Why should you not steal? Because God is trustworthy.
Why should you not lie? Because God is truth.
Why should you not covet? Because God is at peace and content in Himself.

The law reflects the glory of God, and if our lives are modeled on who God is, this is what they will look like.

The Greatest Battles of Your Heart

The Ten Commandments also identify the greatest struggles of human experience.

In the first commandment, God said, “You shall have no other gods before me.” We don’t find it easy let God be first in our lives. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we want to take the place of God ourselves.

In the second commandment, God said, “You will not make for yourself an idol.” We struggle to worship God as He is, and prefer to think of God as we would like Him to be.

When God said “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” you can think of it as Him saying, You will be tempted to use my name to support your own prejudices, and express your own frustrations. And when He said, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy,” He was telling us that we would struggle with giving Him our time.

The last six commandments speak to our struggle to love our neighbor as ourselves. When God said “Honor your father and your mother,” He identified our difficulty in submitting to authority.

We also struggle with issues of ongoing hostility. God speaks to these in the sixth commandment: “You shall not murder.” Christ tells us that the issue here goes beyond physical violence to the underlying resentment we may feel toward others (see Matthew 5:21–22).

In the seventh commandment, God tells us that there will be a battle for sexual purity by saying, “You shall not commit adultery.” Again, Christ made it clear that this commandment speaks to the difficulty of keeping our minds and our thoughts clean.

Then, there is a battle for personal integrity and honesty: “You shall not steal” and “you shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” There will be circumstances in which you will be inclined to exaggerate a story, misrepresent the way things are, or simply to tell a downright barefaced lie.

Finally, we struggle over this whole business of contentment. That’s why God wrote the tenth commandment: “You shall not covet.” When you see what other people have, it will create within you a feeling that you should have it too.

These are the battles of our lives, are they not? They’re the great struggles that we all face in some degree or another. The Law is like a light shining into our souls, and when we look at what God says to us, we have to admit that He is speaking directly to the primary battles of our hearts.

An X-ray of the Soul

I went to see the dentist recently. I’d been putting it off for a long time mainly because I had no pain. The experience was not encouraging.

My dentist took some X-rays and then held them up to the light. “Mmmm…Oh dear! Gross. There’s a lot of decay underneath these fillings,” he said.

“I’ve no pain,” I insisted. But he didn’t seem impressed. “You’re going to need some pretty major work,” he said. “And the sooner, the better.”

Many people go through life with no sense of pain over their spiritual condition. They make the false assumption that things are well with them and that, having lived generally respectable lives, they are in good spiritual shape. But God’s law is like an X-ray to the soul. It shows us that we are people who find it difficult to let God be God, and that it is natural for us to love ourselves more than other people.

The first reason you need Jesus Christ is not that you’ll have a richer, fuller, and more satisfying life. It is that you are a sinner by nature and by practice. The X-ray of God’s Law shows it.

The law is a good thing, just as X-rays are good, even if they bring us bad news. I didn’t like the bad news at the dentist, but I was grateful to know about the problem before it got worse. If you don’t know there’s a problem you won’t pursue the remedy.

The Law is like a teacher to bring us to Christ (see Galatians 3:24 NLT). When you learn what the Law has to teach, you will, come to Jesus Christ.

Laying Track for the Train

The Old Testament story makes it clear that God’s people were not able to keep His law. The law tells us what to do, but it doesn’t give us the power to do it.

Later in the Bible story, God promised a new covenant in which He would not only tell us what to do, but give us the power to move in that direction. “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:27).

God’s Law is like the rails for a train. The rails give direction, but the train will not go anywhere unless there is power in the engine. It is the special work of the Holy Spirit to give God’s people power to move in the direction that is laid out in God’s Law.

Turning Commands Into Promises

There’s a great story about a man serving time in prison because he was a thief.1 Stealing had been his lifestyle, until the long arm of the law caught him. During his time in prison, he heard the good news of Jesus Christ and was wonderfully converted.

When the time came for his release, the man knew that he would face a new struggle. Most of his old friends were thieves, and it would not be easy to break the patterns of his old way of life.

On the first Sunday of his new freedom he slipped into a church building. The Ten Commandments were inscribed on a plaque at the front, and his eyes were immediately drawn to the words of the command that seemed to condemn him. “You shall not steal.”

That’s the last thing that I need, he thought to himself. I know my weakness. I know my failure, and I know the battle I’m going to have.

As the service progressed, he kept looking at the plaque. As he reread the words, they seemed to take on a new meaning. Previously he had read these words in the tone of a command, “You shall not steal!” But now, it seemed that God was speaking these words to him as a promise. “You shall not steal.”

He was a new person in Christ, and God was promising that the Holy Spirit would make it possible for him to overcome the habit of stealing.

God’s promise is that when you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit will come and reside in your life. His power will make the difference between a battle in which you are destined for defeat, and a battle in which there will be ultimate victory. The law tells us how God wants us to live. Christ makes that life possible.

Pause For Prayer

Which of the Ten Commandments speaks to the area of your greatest struggles right now? Take a moment to identify the commandment, and then ask God to make this an area of victory for you by the power of His Holy Spirit. As you pray, remember the promise of Romans 6:14: “Sin shall not be your master.”

Holy Father,

Thank You for giving the Law to reveal the extent of my sin and show my need for a Savior. You know I continue at times to struggle with {Name the sin}, and in so doing I break Your commandment.

I recognize that I need Jesus Christ, and thank You that He has come to deliver me from the power of sin in my life. Give me victory in {name the area of sin} by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is in Christ’s name that I pray.
Amen.

 

Notes:
1. I heard the story from my friend Charles Price, and am grateful for his permission to use it. See Charles Price, Matthew. (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1998), 88.

Next
Use these questions to further engage with God's Word. Discuss them with another person or use them as personal reflection questions.
  1. On what basis should a parent decide the rules their children must follow?
  2. Why do you think God chose these ten commandments?
  3. Which of the Ten Commandments do you think are the most difficult to follow? Why?
  4. In this chapter we learned that the Law is like an X-ray. What is this X-ray revealing about the condition of your soul?

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