Meditating on the Wonders of the Ten Commandments: 1. The God who is here
Ex 20:1,2 And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
I have previously written a series of meditations on the Law of Moses, which included the Ten Commandments, so why am I doing them again? Well, the other day as I neared the end of the previous series I was writing, I prayed one morning, “Lord where am I to go next, for I haven’t a clue.” Later that same day an elderly Christian lady in our church rang me up (and she didn’t know I had been praying this) and said, “The Lord told me to tell you to do the Ten Commandments when you next do a new series.” God who communicates!
I had just finished a series on “Great Themes in John’s Gospel” which has left me feeling how great the Bible is and how wonderful it is that we can see new things after many years of reading the same words, so I trust that as we go into this new series we may go with a sense of anticipation. I have called it ‘The Wonders of the Ten Commandments’ because I have a feeling we take them for granted and so I approach them with that feeling stirring me!
The Ten Commandments appear in Ex 20 and Deut 5. In Exodus it was the first time they were conveyed by God to Moses and in Deuteronomy it is Moses reminding the people of what had happened, just before he left them and they entered the Promised Land.
Oh how we take words for granted: “And God spoke all these words.” If you are an unbelieving skeptic then of course you will struggle with this but then you will struggle with all of the Bible. All I can do is ask you to open your mind to the possibility and see if you can catch the reality as we go through these studies. Yes, these words came to be written down on stone or slate slabs but initially they are spoken out loud so that Moses hears them as he stands in God’s presence on Mount Sinai (otherwise known as Horeb). But this is the wonder of the Bible record; it shows us a God who communicates with us – and if you are a Jew or Christian you take that for granted, but in some other world religions they have gods or idols who stay silent and offer nothing to their adherents. But here in the Biblical record we have a God who made this world and who interacts with this world and speaks to individuals in this world.
His first words here in this part describe who He is, who it is communicating with Moses, “I am the LORD your God.” Note the capital letters used for LORD. To see why that is you need to go back to Ex 3 where God first makes contact with Moses and describes Himself. First of all He says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6) In other words, I am the God you have been told about who has had dealings with your patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is a continuity of history even at this stage. But then, after Moses had asked His name, who he should tell the Israelites had sent him, He had gone on to say, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex 3:14)
In the following verses we then find God speaking, “Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation,” (v.15) and there is a footnote that “the word for LORD (in capital letters) sounds like and may be derived from the Hebrew for I AM in verse 14.” Therefore from then on when God’s ‘name’ is used it is always in this form and may be taken as “The I AM” or, the eternal one, if you like. Verse 15 links the earlier v.6 with that later reference in verse 14. God identifies Himself as not only as ‘the eternal one’, the one outside history, but also the God of the patriarchs, the God who has had dealings with men. He is the God who works into history.
But there is a further historical dimension to our verse above, “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world. There are those who would wish to acclaim the Ten Commandments as the most sublime and perfect set of laws the world has seen (but we will see that in reality they don’t mean that), and they would like to leave it at that, but that ignores the context.
These are laws that God gives to His chosen people, a people who have come to know Him through His dealings with them both through the patriarchs and now through the release from slavery. This is not to say that these laws cannot be adhered to by those who have not become believers but, as we shall see, when the first four are all about attitudes towards God Himself, it is difficult to see how they can be adopted in total by those who would reject Him. When we come to see each individual law, we will see that outside of God it has no foundation and reason to be followed. God Himself puts meaning into each law and without Him they are mere tokens of civilization!
So the first thing about these ten commands, is not how wonderful they are as simple laws, but the fact that they are laws given by God, the maker of the universe, the one who has designed this world to work in a particular and now reveals something of that way to us. Get ready!