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The Ten Words


The Ten Words


The Ten Words

Exodus 19:1-20:21

Main Idea: Studying the Ten Commandments helps us to understand God’s righteous character.

  1. Consider the Holy God Who Spoke Them (19:1-20:1).
    1. The calling (19:1-6)
    2. The holiness of God (19:7-25)
  2. Consider the Gospel Pattern in Them (20:2).
  3. Consider the Arrangement of Them (20:3-17).
  4. Consider the Attributes of God Displayed in Each of Them (20:3-17).
    1. The first commandment (20:3)
    2. The second commandment (20:4-6)
    3. The third commandment (20:7)
    4. The fourth commandment (20:8-11)
    5. The fifth commandment (20:12)
    6. The sixth commandment (20:13)
    7. The seventh commandment (20:14)
    8. The eighth commandment (20:15)
    9. The ninth commandment (20:16)
    10. The tenth commandment (20:17)
  5. Consider How the New Testament Writers Emphasize Them.
  6. See How Jesus Fulfills Them.

Afew years ago, Stephen Colbert, American political satirist, comedian, and television host, interviewed a congressman about various issues. This particular Congressman cosponsored a bill to place the Ten Commandments in the House of Representatives and the Senate. He also sponsored a bill to place the Ten Commandments in courthouses in a historical setting. Colbert, in his witty way, went along with the discussion, and then he asked, “What are the commandments?”

The Congressman said, “What are all of them? You want me to name them all?” “Yes,” said Colbert.

119The Congressman said, “Don’t murder. Don’t lie. Don’t steal ... [Colbert counts with his fingers]. I can’t name them all.” Colbert ended the exchange with some humorous facial expressions, and a parting shot about keeping the Sabbath day holy.

Can you name the commandments? I do not share this story to mock the Congressman. After all, he is not alone. Several reports have shown that Americans do not know the Ten Commandments. Many Christians cannot name them either.

Martin Luther, the great reformer, understood the value of teaching the Ten Commandments. He said, “I haven’t progressed beyond the instruction of children in the Ten Commandments, the [Apostles’] Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. I still learn and pray these every day with my Hans and my little Lana” (Nichols, Martin Luther, 149).

Of course, we need to know more than what they actually are. Memorizing them is a good start, but we need to see some truths related to them. I would like to point out six concepts related to the Ten Commandments, or the “Ten Words” (Exod 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4).

Consider the Holy God Who Spoke Them

Exodus 19:1-20:1

In Exodus 20:1 we read, “God spoke all these words.” This fact is wonderful. God spoke the Ten Words directly to Israel rather than through the mediator, Moses. The people were so awestruck by this experience that when God finished, they asked for Moses to speak instead of Yahweh (20:19). Stuart says,

[T]he people heard the voice of God for themselves and thus could not doubt his presence among them, a presence more directly manifest at Sinai than in any other mode previously since they had first learned of his interest in them (2:25; 4:31). All the people were hearing the voice of God just as Adam, Eve, Noah, Abraham, and the patriarchs had heard it and as Moses had heard it earlier at Mount Sinai when God first called him. And this time the voice of God was accompanied by such audio and visual displays (19:16-19; 20:18-21) as to leave no doubt in their minds as to both his presence and his uniqueness (Exodus, 445-46). 120Isaiah says of these audio and visual displays, “The Lord was pleased, because of His righteousness, to magnify His instruction and make it glorious” (Isa 42:21).

Exodus 19 sets the stage for the Ten Words. Chapters 19 and 24 serve as the bookends of the “covenant scroll” (24:7), which included the Ten Words (20:2-17) and the “ordinances” in chapters 21-23 (Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom, 307). Gentry and Wellum say, “Central to the book of Exodus—and indeed the entire Pentateuch—is the covenant made between Yahweh and Israel at Sinai, comprised in Exodus 19-24” (ibid., 301).

Chapter 19 focuses on Yahweh setting the terms of the relationship between Israel and Himself. He has delivered the people but the terms of the relationship have not been set (Hamilton, God’s Glory, 98). So they know Yahweh, but not like they are about to know Yahweh. Chapter 19 shows us how Yahweh stuns the Israelites with His blazing holiness and overwhelming glory. This is the God who calls them and makes His covenant with them. He is both gracious and holy. Many people want to isolate the commandments from this context; however, it is essential to know the God who gave them.

The Calling (19:1-6)

As the people continued through the wilderness, a time period of three new moons had gone by—about seven weeks after the exodus. Being at Sinai would have reminded Moses of his first encounter with God at the burning bush (3:1, 12). God promised to bring Moses to this mountain, and He did. The text says “the mountain” and later identifies it as Mt. Sinai (19:20). As the people camped, “Moses went up the mountain to God” (v. 3). There he would receive this amazing covenant. God said, “This is what you must say to the house of Jacob, and explain to the Israelites: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me’” (vv. 3-4). What a beautiful picture of God’s grace! God has brought them out, lifted them up, and drawn them close. An eagle is a good picture because it is a bird of prey and is also portrayed as a bird of rescue. Egypt would be prey, while Israel would be rescued.

God began by reminding them of what He had accomplished for them. God was their healer and redeemer who delivered them from the mighty Pharaoh. In light of this, God said, “Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out 121of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation” (vv. 5-6). God set the terms for the relationship.

God called them (and us) to Himself for faith and obedience. First He rescues us like an eagle, then He gives us His Word and expects us to live for His glory. Those who believe and obey the Word of the Lord will be considered God’s “own possession.” What a title! Out of all creation, the Creator selected this seemingly insignificant nation. So to enjoy the benefits of the covenant, Israel was to follow God’s demands. We too are saved through Christ then called to live for Christ.

God also said, “all the earth is Mine” (v. 5). This phrase stands as one of the earliest direct statements of monotheism. There is one God in all the earth.

Next, just as Adam was a priest, worshiping in the garden sanctuary, so Israel would be a “kingdom of priests,” devoted to worship and ministry (v. 6). They would make the ways of God’s kingdom known to the nations (See Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom, 301-56). Through this people, this “holy nation,” God would bless the nations and bring forth the Messiah.

Christians, likewise, are priests today, who worship and serve the living God, and who can call out to God in prayer (1 Pet 2:4-6, 9; Rev 1:5-6; 20:6). Perhaps you have never been told this. You ask, “Who, me? A priest?” Yes, you! As a believer, you can take people to God in prayer and God to people in witness. Many people minimize the importance of prayer, but it is fundamental to who we are as Christians and to our mission (2 Cor 1:11).

The Holiness of God (19:7-25)

As we read on to the end of the chapter, we see the awe-inspiring holiness of God. In telling Moses these things, God directed him to tell the people what He had said (v. 6). As a result, Moses went before the elders and the people and told them the word from God (v. 7). Again, he was functioning like a prophet, saying, “Thus says the Lord.” Then, it says, “all the people” agreed together and said they would do what God had commanded them (v. 8). (Soon we learn that they did not keep this promise.) God then announced that He would come in a thick cloud, that the people might hear Him speak and believe what Moses says (v. 9). In the New Testament, Moses appeared again on a mountain, with Peter, James, and John. And there was a cloud, and it was majestic. And he was there with Jesus when the Father announced, “This is My beloved122 Son; listen to Him!” (Mark 9:2-8). The three disciples saw glory and were told to listen to Christ. We too must “listen to Him.”

God told the people to “consecrate” themselves for their meeting with Him, which would take place on the “third day” (Exod 19:10-15). This consecration consisted of several things such as washing their garments and abstaining from sex. On the third day, Yahweh descended on Mount Sinai. Look at this: heaven thunders, the lightning flashes, the earth quakes, and the shofar blasts! And the people? They tremble (v. 16). Moses told them to go to the foot of the mountain—which they must not touch or they would die (vv. 12-13)—that they might meet God. Then we are told that the mountain was wrapped in smoke because Yahweh descended on it in fire (v. 18).

The Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain (v. 20). God told Moses to tell the people not to gawk at Him, or they would die, and for the priests to consecrate themselves, or He would “break out in anger against them” (vv. 21-22). Then he is told to go down and get Aaron (v. 24). God was preparing Aaron for ministry as high priest. With Moses present, he was permitted to go up the holy mountain and meet with God. The top of the mountain was like a “sanctuary.” Later, he would do the same thing in the tabernacle—he would go into the most holy place while the people kept their distance.

Now, to lead us to the most holy place, we have a high priest whom God has chosen: Jesus. And we too should stand in awe of God’s holiness. Further, the New Testament teaches that actually we have more to stand in awe of, as new covenant believers, since we come into the presence of God through Jesus. In Hebrews 12:18-24 the author spoke of a new heavenly Zion/Jerusalem. He said that Christians have access in the invisible, spiritual realm into the heavenly Jerusalem, and we participate in worship with innumerable angels (cf. Heb 1:7; Deut 33:2; Dan 7:10) and the great assembly of the faithful dead who are already in God’s presence (Heb 12:1). How do we come here? Our mediator, Jesus, stands as the mediator of the new covenant. His blood makes us able to worship. His blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb 10:24). Abel was murdered. His blood cries out for vengeance; Jesus’ blood cries out with forgiveness and pardon. We who have received an unshakable kingdom must “serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28-29).

A lot of people think the Old Testament was when God was to be feared, but now we can “skip into God’s presence.” This text says you123 have more reason to stand in awe. You are not standing back away from the mountain; you are in it through Christ!

As the story continues, God said, “Go down” (Exod 19:24). God’s intention was for Moses to hear the Ten Words with the people. They would be audible to everyone. When God said, “come back with Aaron” (v. 24), it represented part of the plan to eventually bring Aaron. It was a call for Aaron to ascend the mountain with Moses the next time Moses went back up (Stuart, Exodus, 433). The last verse, “So Moses went down to the people and told them” (v. 25), shows us the awesomeness of God and the readiness of Moses and the people together at the bottom of Mount Sinai to hear the Ten Words thundered at them from the top of the mountain.

As you consider the Ten Words, consider the Holy God who spoke them. God is awesome in holiness yet amazing in His mercy. The God who was ablaze on Sinai is also the God who has rescued us like an eagle. He is to be loved and feared. His commandments are a divine gift from a gracious God who saves and divine truth from an awesome God who calls us to holiness. Hamilton says, “Yahweh is the most significant thing about the Ten Commandments” (Hamilton, God’s Glory, 99). Do not miss the God who gave them.

Gentry and Wellum also point out that a connection is being made between the covenant at Sinai and the creation. They write,

In the creation narrative, God creates the universe simply by speaking, i.e., by his word.... In a very real way, the entire creation depends or hangs upon the word of God. Here, the Book of the Covenant is what forges Israel into a nation. It is her national constitution, so to speak. And it is also Ten Words that brings about the birth of the nation. Like creation, Israel as a nation hangs upon the Ten Words for her very being. (Kingdom, 328)

Our God speaks. Do you see your need for Him and His word? Consider the holy God who gave these words.

Consider the Gospel Pattern in Them

Exodus 20:2

Many people leap past verse 2 when reading the Ten Words, and they miss the important ordering here. Before the Ten Words, a statement124 about God’s salvation is made: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery.”

This is the gospel. We touched on it in chapter 19 and earlier in our study as well. God frees us by His grace, giving us new life, and then calls us to obedience to His words. Because Yahweh is Israel’s God, who has brought them out of Egypt, they are to live for His glory by following His commands. In our teaching of the Ten Words, we should include verses 1-2! This highlights a very important gospel pattern. God’s people desire to do God’s will because they have already been saved, not to earn salvation.

Consider the Arrangement of Them

Exodus 20:3-17

At a comprehensive level, the Ten Words may be divided into two parts: love God, and love people. One way you could summarize them, then, is by arranging them in a four-and-six pattern. The first four hang on the command to love God, since they describe ways to show covenantal loyalty directly to Him. The last six hang on the command to love neighbor as self. The first four are “vertical” commandments, and the last six are “horizontal” commandments. In this way, they express how we fulfill the “Greatest Commands” in Matthew 22:37-40.

To love God any way you please is illustrated by the words of Anthony Burgess in 1646—“like having the sun follow the clock” or “the tail wagging the dog” (Begg, Pathway, 41). In these commandments, God tells us how to love Him appropriately. Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commands” (John 14:15). My love for God is reflected by my obedience to His words.

The last six involve treating others properly. Gentry and Wellum say, “These entail basic and inalienable rights of every human and have been recognized by the customs and laws of every society.... No society can endure that does not respect the basic inalienable rights of every human person” (Kingdom, 328-29). While the last six are comparable to some other law codes in the ancient Near East, the first four are “unparalleled in the ancient Near East” (ibid., 329). Israel’s exclusive devotion to Yahweh set them apart.

Our exclusive worship of God continues to mark Christians. In addition, our devotion to God will keep us from breaking the last six commandments. Since underneath every sin is idolatry, our obedience to 125the “vertical” commands inevitably affects our obedience to the last six. We will not scorn parents, murder, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, or covet if God is our ultimate treasure, whom we honor with our lives and lips.

Consider the Attributes of God Displayed in Each of Them

Exodus 20:3-17

The Ten Words display the character of God. God poured Himself into His law. Each of the Ten Words expresses particular attributes of God, who is the lawgiver.

Let us consider two questions for each commandment. First, “What does the command mean?” To help answer this first question, we can draw on other texts to understand various issues related to them. Some propose that Deuteronomy chapters 6-25 exposits the Ten Words. Second, “What does this command teach us about God?” Notice again verse 2—the character of God undergirds everything. God tells them to do something because of who He is.

The First Commandment (20:3)

The first commandment does away with atheism on one hand and pantheism or polytheism on the other. It assumes that there is one true God and no other. It also addresses the deep problem of the human heart: idolatry.

Everyone is a worshiper of someone or something. Idolatry is putting someone or something else in the place of God. Idolatry is exchanging the glory of the Creator for the creation, leading to a life of ignorance and moral corruption (Rom 1:18-25). Idols are not just on pagan altars but in the hearts of people (Ezek 14; Gal 5:19-20).

We must see our idols for what they are: they are stupid! After seeing this, we must crush them in repentance and turn to the living God instead. Idols will not satisfy. Only God will satisfy the human heart. We need to properly assess created things. Enjoy creation, steward creation, but worship the Creator!

What attribute of God comes to mind in the first command? Consider the command stated positively: “I shall be your only God.” What does this teach? It teaches that our God is a jealous God. He will not share His glory with another.

The Second Commandment (20:4-6)


This commandment warns us against having the wrong object of worship and against worshiping the wrong way. Carved images were manmade objects for worship. These idols have no comparison to the true God. They are impersonal and powerless—deaf, dumb, and dead.

Sadly, Israel would fail in this commandment really soon. Think of what the psalmist said: “At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped the cast metal image. They exchanged their glory for the image of a grasseating ox. They forgot God their Savior” (Ps 106:19-21).

Once again, in this second command, God’s jealousy and supremacy is highlighted (Exod 20:5). Later God said, “You are never to bow down to another god because Yahweh, being jealous by nature, is a jealous God” (34:14; emphasis added).

God promised to show “faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands” (v. 6; cf. 34:6-7). This is the first mention of loving God. It had been implied already in the exodus story, but it is explicit here. Loving God is foundational for everything else. Everything is a spillover of the heart.

The Third Commandment (20:7)

To understand this commandment, it helps to see it in its parts. First, the focus is on “the name of the Lord your God” (v. 7). This does not simply mean the name, “Lord” or “Yahweh.” Rather, it has to do with all that is connected to that name. The focus is on God’s essence. God is to be highly valued. He is worthy of the highest honor. This is understood in the fact that God names Himself. We all were given names, whether we like them or not. Only God names Himself, revealing His supreme authority, dominion, and power.

Understand what it means to “take” His name in vain. It does not mean to simply speak God’s name; it means to carry or bear God’s name. People who have publicly declared themselves to be followers of God are to exalt God’s reputation by living in a way that honors Him.

This command also has the idea of not taking God’s name falsely or using it meaninglessly. This might happen in corporate worship, as people mouth songs without actually thinking about God. As Christians, we bear His name (Acts 4:12; Rom 10:13; 1 John 5:13). In this way, His reputation is attached to us; as a result, we ought to live for Him and His glory.

The Fourth Commandment (20:8-11)


Notice that this commandment is based out of creation (v. 11). It describes how God made the heavens and the earth and then rested on the seventh day. This Sabbath commandment is found in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 as well. In Deuteronomy the commandment is modeled after God’s provision in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. So in Exodus it is related to God’s model of rest in creation, and in Deuteronomy it is related to redemption. God’s people are therefore called to remember God, the Creator and Redeemer, on the Sabbath.

While there are a number of views on what it means to keep the Sabbath today, it seems that the focus is on rest, remembering, and worship. God said, “Remember the Sabbath day.” This calls us to think back to creation, as pointed out in verse 11, and to remember redemption, as pointed out in Deuteronomy 5. God’s people are to remember God’s creating and redeeming work and God’s rest. Further, the Sabbath ultimately points us to a final resting day, which is affirmed in the New Testament (Heb 4:9-10).

Some are very strict in insisting that this happen on the seventh day of the week. However, I do not think the moral demand is on the seventh day of the week. I think the responsibility that is laid on us is to follow the biblical pattern of working six days and resting and worshiping one day.

When Paul wrote to the Colossians he said, “Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah” (Col 2:16-17). These verses, along with Romans 14:5-6 and Galatians 4:10-11, also demonstrate that Paul seemed to lay aside the seventh-day Sabbath with all the Jewish ceremonies as shadows. But I do not think Paul intended to abandon the principle of the Sabbath. What seems to have happened is that the early church chose the first day of the week as their day for rest and worship. After the resurrection, the Jewish Sabbath almost disappeared; the seventh-day Sabbath is never mentioned except as to be tolerated by Jewish Christians (Rom 14:5).

We worship on the Lord’s Day (first day of the week), following the early church (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 16:2). In so doing, we recognize the resurrection. Already by the first century, Ignatius wrote that Christians “no longer observe the Sabbath, but direct their lives toward the Lord’s Day in which our lives are refreshed by him and his death” (Ryken,128Exodus, 597). Begg says, “Just as the deliverance from Egypt was at the heart of the Mosaic Sabbath, so the redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ is remembered on the Lord’s Day” (Begg, Pathway, 106). He adds,

The change not only bore witness to the resurrection, but it emphasized the difference between the Christian Sunday and the Jewish Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath came at the end of six days and spoke of a rest to come; the Christian Sunday comes at the beginning of the week symbolizing the “rest” that Jesus Christ has won for those who trust in him. (ibid.)

You need a Sabbath. It is rooted in creation and redemption. Some may argue over the day, but no one should argue over the principle. The Sabbath is God’s gift to us. It benefits us to keep it, and it helps us anticipate the final rest to come.

Next notice that verse 9 says, “You are to labor six days and do all your work.” Remember also that God created us to work! If you work hard during the week, you should be able to take a Sabbath. Your body and heart and mind will need it as well. Work hard to the glory of God, and enjoy the worship on the Lord’s Day.

What do we learn about God here? He is a working and resting God. He is creator God. He is sovereign God. He is eternal God. He is the redeeming God.

The Fifth Commandment (20:12)

God commands each person to honor his or her father and mother. The word for “honor” implies acknowledging the “weight” of something. In this context, it implies that people give the proper “weight” or “respect” to their parents’ position. The opposite of this would be to despise or scorn one’s parents. One who did this was in danger of being put to death (Lev 20:9), in some cases by stoning (Deut 21:18-21). Thus, respect for parents, and for authority figures in general, should be taken seriously.

What do we learn about God here? We learn of His authority. We also learn about His provision. The clause on the end of the commandment provides a motivation for keeping the commandment—to live long in the land given by God. This reveals the generosity of God. As fathers, we should also seek to imitate our God, who is the perfect Father.

The Sixth Commandment (20:13)


This commandment is expressed with one of eight words in Hebrew for killing someone or something. It includes intentional, premeditated killing as well as accidental killing. This word for “murder” in Hebrew is specific to “putting to death improperly, for selfish reasons rather than with authorization” (Stuart, Exodus, 462). With this in mind, one is not to kill unlawfully. Stuart says, “No Israelite acting on his own could decide that he had the right to end someone’s life” (ibid.). God is showing us that life is sacred!

What do we learn about God? We should not murder because God alone gives life (Deut 32:39) and people are made in His image. Jesus deepened it by saying that anger was like murder (Matt 5:22). James also said we should not curse people because people are made in God’s image (Jas 3:9).

The Seventh Commandment (20:14)

This commandment addresses sexual purity. The purpose of the commandment is to promote, positively, the purity of the heart, especially in regard to the marriage relationship. The commandment specifically addresses adultery, or marital infidelity. As Jesus told us, everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt 5:27-28). Again, the underlying principle is a pure heart.

What does this command teach us about God? It reminds us of God’s faithfulness and holiness. God is holy and He commands His people to be holy (1 Pet 1:15-16). God expects His people to faithfully follow His word in regard to relationships. Another note: God is not trying to spoil your fun. Inside the covenant of marriage there is great enjoyment and intimacy in a one-flesh union. God’s commandments are for your good as well as the good of others.

The Eighth Commandment (20:15)

This commandment deals with taking that which does not belong to you. This can manifest itself in a number of ways. This even goes back to the beginning when man sought to take what did not belong to him—the fruit from the tree in the garden of Eden. The opposite of this is to remember what God has graciously given us. Rather than stealing, we should have thankful hearts that rejoice in what God has provided for130 us. We should be good stewards with what God has given us. Otherwise, we may be more tempted to steal and commit sin against our Lord. We must remember that what we have is not our own, but it is the Lord’s; as He has given freely, so we too should give freely.

God is our provider. Because God gives His people everything they need, we do not steal. Paul tells Timothy that the rich must not “set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim 6:17).

The Ninth Commandment (20:16)

Traditionally, a lot of people summarize this command by saying, “You shall not lie.” While this does provide a good summary, the language used here points to some other important aspects of this commandment. It is directly connected to the idea of legal testimony and the witness. Rather than providing false testimony, the individual should give truthful and honest testimony. This idea, however, is not limited to the courtroom, for nothing extends outside “the courtroom of God.” All will be held accountable for their words.

From this command we recognize God’s attribute of truthfulness. It is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2).

The Tenth Commandment (20:17)

This commandment highlights the twisted desires of mankind and the sin of discontentment. Instead of having a thankful heart, the coveter desires what others have. Notice also that this commandment is about the inward nature of the law. Covetousness is about the heart. It is about desire. It may or may not lead to an act, but even if there is no act, it is still wrong because our desire should be on the God who made us and redeemed us. Covetousness, then, involves breaking the first commandment.

Jesus said, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). In Hebrews 13:5 we read about the need to live free from the love of money. Do not trust in your wealth. Do not have excessive anxiety about wealth. Do not be devoted to wealth.

This command teaches us about God’s faithfulness, goodness, and provision. We need not worry about provisions or desire other people’s stuff, for our Father knows our needs (Matt 6:25-34) and satisfies our deepest longings.

131Therefore, understand the commands and see how God has poured Himself into them. They reflect His holy character. The commandments are not just a list of rules; they are a reflection of God. How awesome it is that we have a God who has given us His Word! The psalmist reflects on God’s law saying, “How I love Your instruction! It is my meditation all day long” (Ps 119:97).

Consider How the New Testament Writers Emphasize Them

Some argue that the Ten Words speak of the “moral law,” not the “civil law” or “ceremonial law.” Some contend that the civil laws are useful, and both the ceremonial and the civil law contain some of God’s moral law, but what is reconfirmed in the New Testament is God’s moral law. The moral law is still binding on us, they say. While I understand this argument and affirm some clear discontinuity between these laws and the new covenant, I think one should be careful in pressing this three-part categorization too much. We should remember that these laws are mixed together “not only in the Judgments or ordinances [Exod 21-23] but in the Ten Words as well (the Sabbath may be properly classified as ceremonial)” (Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom, 355). Gentry and Wellum seem to point us in a good direction when they say, “What we can say to represent the teaching of Scripture is that the righteousness of God codified, enshrined, and encapsulated in the old covenant has not changed, and that this same righteousness is now codified and enshrined in the new” (ibid.).

Indeed, the righteous character of God continued to receive emphasis in the New Testament as the writers spoke of the nature of God and as they touched on the Ten Words. Authors often named the Ten Words in outline form (see Matt 15:19-20; Luke 18:20; Rom 13:8-10) and also separately (see John 14:6; 5:23; 1 John 5:21; Col 3:23; Matt 12:8; Heb 4:9; Eph 6:1-2; Matt 5:21-22, 27-30; Eph 4:28; Col 3:9; Luke 12:15), reconfirming the same righteousness put forward in Exodus. All of these commands show us how to live righteously, but we realize that we have failed miserably; thankfully, the Righteous One lived them out perfectly for us and then died in our place. This good news leads us to the final concept.

See How Jesus Fulfills Them

At the end of the giving of the Ten Words, the people stood in fear and trembling (vv. 18-21). They had a sense of awe toward God. We know132 that they also failed repeatedly. Even their mediator, Moses, would fail. However, there is a greater mediator who did not fail—the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Ten Words point us to the Savior. Christ was “born under the law, to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:4-5). He fulfilled the law in every respect (Matt 5:17-18). He paid the penalty of the law and bore the curse of the law on the cross (Gal 3:10-14; Col 2:13-14). We cannot keep God’s law perfectly. We need another to do this for us. The law drives us to Jesus for forgiveness and a new heart, and the Spirit then empowers for obedience. While in this life we cannot keep the law perfectly and are always in need of grace, we are never crushed by the law because there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). Because the weight has been lifted, we are able to delight in God’s law. We do not see His commandments as burdensome (1 John 5:3).

Therefore, our hope and power does not come from our law keeping but from His law keeping. He lived the life we could not live (keeping the law) then died the death we should have died (for our law breaking). That is why we love Jesus.

Not the labors of my hands

Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my tears forever flow,

All for sin could not atone;

Thou must save, and Thou alone. (Augustus Toplady, “Rock of Ages”)

Praise Jesus Christ, the One who saves those who cannot keep God’s holy law.

My non-Christian friend, did you read the Ten Words and ask, “How can I be saved when I cannot keep God’s law?” There is only one way: Jesus. Look to Him and believe. Receive His perfect righteousness by faith alone. He is your hope. Look to the One who kept these commands perfectly and then died for those who broke them. Christian friend, rejoice that you have a Savior who lived for you and died for you. And by the power of the Spirit, as a new creation, live out these commands to the glory of our great and awesome God.

Reflect and Discuss

  1. 133How many of the Ten Commandments do you know? Beyond memorizing them, how else can they be made profitable?
  2. How are God’s holiness and grace demonstrated in His giving Israel the Ten Words? Why is it important to remember that God delivered Israel from slavery first, then gave the Ten Words?
  3. What is the connection between God saying, “All the earth is Mine,” and our status as a “kingdom of priests”? What is our mandate?
  4. How does obedience to the four “vertical” commands cause a person to obey the six “horizontal” commands? That is, how does the first “greatest command” give rise to the second?
  5. How does the first command address atheism, agnosticism, and idolatry? What do people in your culture tend to worship, and how do they express that worship?
  6. How is jealousy a virtue in God but generally a vice in humans? Why is it good for God to demand His own worship and defend His own glory?
  7. How does human pride subvert each of the commands? How are coveting and stealing related to the first command?
  8. How do you observe your Sabbath? Which receives more time and emphasis: rest or worship?
  9. Why is it not always helpful to distinguish moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law? Which category does each of the Ten Words fall in?
  10. Why does the perfect righteousness incorporated in the Ten Words cause people to lose hope? What restores that hope?