In the previous message we found that the fourth commandment, like the first three, supported and reinforced the fact that Israel already had a relationship with God. It was just a matter of acknowledging their relationship and living in harmony with God's plan for them. He wanted the Hebrews to live in complete dependence on Him and, as a result, to enjoy abundant living, spiritually and sometimes materially.
This system required nothing more of His people than trust in His faithfulness and goodness. He wanted, and still wants, His people to remember that while work is good and effort is encouraged, all our daily sustenance comes from Him.
When the Lord brought the Hebrew people out of bondage to settle them in the promised land, He reaffirmed His relationship with them by His love and His law. He carefully designed each event and experience to teach the Israelites, and all of humanity through them, this fundamental truth: God's law was never given to establish a relationship; God's law was given to confirm an existing relationship.
The story of the Exodus and the Ten Commandments reveals something important about God's character; the law of God is an expression of His grace. If we miss this, we won’t ever understand the role of God's law in our relationship with Him. If we have a wrong understanding of the purpose of God's law, His grace will continue to be a mystery to us.
Andy Stanley, the son of the TV minister Charles Stanley, is a minister himself. He made the following analogy on the believer’s relationship with God in one of his books. He wrote: “Think about your pet. Don't have a pet? Then think about my pet. We have a black Lab named Shadow. And we have an invisible fence that works about half the time. But that's beside the point. Now, based on what you know about pets, when do you suppose we took Shadow home and trained her to stay inside our yard? Before we bought her or after? Exactly: after. Once she became ours, we taught her to live within certain boundaries. Imagine the absurdity of stealing her from her previous owner, rushing to our house, putting her in the backyard, and then making the argument that she was our dog because she was in our backyard. She didn't become our pet when we placed her inside our fence. She's inside our fence because she's our pet. She became our dog when we purchased her. Similarly, God doesn't throw fences around people to make them His. God gives rules of conduct to those who already belong to Him.
Now, from time to time, Shadow thinks that the fence isn't working and she takes off to visit the adjoining neighborhood. When that happens, we usually get a call. And never once have I made the case that Shadow is not our dog because she is no longer in our yard abiding by our rules. Nope. She's our dog whether she's in or out of the yard and whether or not she is obeying us. Why? Because obedience does not determine ownership.
In the same way that our family made a choice to purchase Shadow, God chose to purchase us from sin through the sacrifice of His Son. Okay, maybe not in exactly the same way. But you get my point. Shadow didn't earn her way into our possession (or into our backyard), and we don't earn our way into God's backyard either. God made a choice to make us His own by grace and we enter that relationship through faith by accepting His offer of forgiveness for our sins. And then and only then do we become accountable to His prescription for living.” Andy Stanley
As we will look at the second half of the Ten Commandments, and measure our own behavior against these ancient instructions for life, we’ll see that what was true of Israel is true of ourselves as well.
The purpose of the Law was to make us understand what sin is, not to make us good. The best way to understand God's purpose for establishing rules is to go back to the very first rule God gave man. Genesis 2:17. “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.” That commandment was a daily reminder to Adam and Eve of God's authority over mankind. Obeying it kept things in their proper order. That principle was true for them and is still true for believers today. But when sin came in to the world, it changed everything. Sin made the world a dangerous place and the more dangerous the environment, the more rules that are required to keep people safe. There was no danger in the garden of Eden so one rule was all that was needed. But as man multiplied, sin increased in the world, and the need for laws increased as well. However, while the need for laws has changed, the purpose of God's laws have not changed since the beginning. God gave those laws to protect the relationship between Him and those He loves.
When it comes to the law of God, we are all tempted to ask the same question Adam and Eve undoubtedly did: “Is God trying to keep something good from me?” That kind of thinking changes the subject from obedience to trust. “Do I trust that God has my best interests in mind?” It is very important to remember that God only gives commands to those who already belong to Him. If God loves you, would He tie you down with commands in order to harm you? Why would God want to keep something good from you?
If you are a parent, you understand tension. There likely were times you had to say “no” to a child’s request and your child asked “why?” Sometimes we don’t have an answer to the question. The best we can do is tell them “I just need you to trust that I know what is best for you.” Our heavenly Father often finds Himself in a similar situation with us. And as you read the history of the nation of Israel, it’s clear that God found Himself in that same situation with them many times. When they trusted and obeyed, there was a benefit. But when they chose to do otherwise, there were consequences.
When we trust and obey Him, we’ll see that the law of God is actually an expression of the grace of God. And when we see it in that light, we understand the words of Psalm 1:2. “But His delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law he meditates day and night.” When we see that God's law was given to keep man safe from evil, we will understand that the grace of God and the law of God are not in opposition. One is simply an expression of the other.
The final six commandments also preserved the nation's liberty in very specific ways. God wanted the Israelites to maintain their freedom from the natural consequences of sin. While living in Egypt, the Hebrew people knew only the rule of pharaohs. The pharaoh's word was law. Justice was as he saw fit. Might determined what was right. When a new pharaoh took his place, the rules were subject to change, and often dramatically. The word of the pharaoh was the only real absolute.
That was how law and government worked in ancient times. People were subject to the whims of powerful men. When the ruling men established a law, they invariably viewed themselves as above the law, a practice that is much adhered to by governments today.
And the same holds true for anyone who establishes rules, whether for a household, a club, a company, a church, or a nation. The general thought is that laws are for the other person.
Under God’s government, He gave Israel the Law but He did not establish a king. The people were to live under the rule of God’s law rather than the rule of man and under God's newly established code, everyone received equal treatment. Unlike the laws of other nations, this system of justice provided equal treatment of women, children, foreigners, and even servants. Everyone enjoyed divinely appointed rights, regardless of power, social ranking, status, or wealth, because everyone answered to God as king.
The surrounding pagan nations who were ruled by kings all drafted young men for military service and young women as servants, collected taxes, and denied their citizens many liberties. God wanted the pagan nations to take note of how the Israelites built cities and roads, maintained armies, and maintained justice, all the normal functions of a nation, and yet without taxation or a king. Israel was to be a nation driven by love and submission to a divine Lawgiver. God wanted them to love His law because they trusted its source.
In spite of having the best governmental system on earth, they were determined to have a king. 1 Samuel 8:19-21. “No; but we will have a king over us; 20: That we also may be like all the nations; and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles.” 21: And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he rehearsed them in the ears of the LORD." God’s warning recorded in 1 Samuel 8:11-17 was rejected and He granted their demands. 1 Samuel 8:22:, “And the LORD said to Samuel, “Hearken unto their voice, and make them a king.”
All the bad things predicted did come true for the people, even though Israel’s kings ruled under divine law. Their kings ruled the people, but they answered to God.
Commandments five through ten were given to teach the people how to live peacefully with one another. Most people living in the United States were raised in a culture that has these values and that is due largely to the fact that the Ten Commandments were central to the lifestyle of our founders. But for Israel, a former nation of slaves, this was all new. In their former environment they had practically no individual rights.
An individual could be considered of less value than an animal in Egypt where people were bought, sold, and traded as a commodity. When we consider that background, we can understand the dignity these simple laws brought to the nation of Israel.
Before prohibiting murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and coveting, God instructed His people to “Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” Exodus 20:12 This is the only commandment that contains a promise for obeying it.
How we treat our father and mother will influence how we treat others, and that in turn will directly impact the future welfare of our country.
The next five commandments are found in Exodus 20:13-17 and are based on that concept.
They read as follows:
Verse 13: You shall not kill.
Verse 14: You shall not commit adultery.
Verse 15: You shall not steal.
Verse 16: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Verse 17: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,
you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
nor his manservant, nor his maidservant,
nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor’s."
"You shall not kill." Man was made in the image of God and the Israelites were to honor that fact. God had given them life. Man had no right to take that away without God's permission.
"You shall not commit adultery." Marriage was instituted by God between one man and one woman and mankind has no right to interfere with, or alter, that arrangement.
"You shall not steal." They were to honor others by respecting their ownership of property and possessions.
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Here, too, they were to respect the integrity of their neighbors and not lie or insinuate falsehoods about them. God wanted them to honor the reputation of others.
"You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor’s." They were not to lust after or wish they were married to their neighbor's wife. They were not to “strongly desire” their neighbor's house, or his manservant, maidservant, ox, or donkey, or anything that belonged to their neighbor. The commandment even prohibited dishonorable thinking! To covet isn’t simply admiring something that belongs to someone else or wishing you had one like it. Coveting is wanting something that belongs to another to the extent you want it at the expense of denying them ownership of it.
These six commandments simply stated amount to this: God was telling His people to respect one another. That would preserve their freedom, both personally and as a nation.
In 1787, Benjamin Franklin, who, like Moses, was in the process of establishing a new nation, wrote this in a letter to a friend. "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."
He knew dishonoring others would destroy the newly formed United States of America. The Ten Commandments are of great value to non-Jewish nations in that they point out that all governments rule by permission of God and are subject to the power of the almighty Lawgiver, and they must answer to Him.
God gave Israel specific laws that are found in the book of Leviticus, some of which would not be appropriate today as many of those issues are no longer in existence, but governments can still find the way God intends people to live in today’s economy in the Scriptures. Specific laws need to conform to His perfect pattern of human conduct. Governments that embrace God's law can keep their nations safe and free from tyranny.
It’s easy to see that the Ten Commandments and the rest of the law were not designed to keep Israel from something good. They were designed to keep them from something bad and to protect their relationship with God. They did not stand in contrast to His grace. These laws reflected God's grace toward His people; they were given to guide His people.
The Lord had something far greater in mind when He gave His people the Law and the Ten Commandments. He had chosen the Children of Israel as part of a plan to redeem the world from the consequences of sin. The Hebrew descendants of Abraham were to be a nation ruled by God and to be the means by which other nations could come to know Him. Israel was to become God's voice of truth in the world and, ultimately, to give the world a Savior called the Messiah.
God knew from the start that man would not and could not keep His law perfectly, not even in the form of ten simple rules. He didn't give the Law to make man good. He gave the Law to make man aware of what sin was. So He made provision within the Law for those who did violate His commands. He gave instructions for restitution when they harmed a fellow citizen. There were specific punishments for every infraction of the Law for any reason. The Law included an animal sacrificial system by which sinners could repent and restore their broken fellowship with God.
From the beginning, the Law, along with the sacrificial system, exposed the sinful hearts of His people and stood as a constant reminder of their need for grace. Even here we see the grace of God within the law of God until the time the all encompassing and final sacrifice could be made by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ.
Each sacrifice was an object lesson wherein man offered his very best animal. This taught both that someone always bears the consequences of sin and that the substitution of an innocent sacrifice could bear the penalty of sin for another.
At the giving of the Law, there was an event that again illustrates the relationship of God's law and His grace. As Moses came down from the mountain with God's law, there was thunder and lightning and this frightened the people of Israel. Exodus 20:18-19. “And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. 19: And they said unto Moses, Speak with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
Even God's terrifying glory was an expression of His grace. While the people trembled at the base of Mount Sinai at the awesome display of God's presence, Moses reassured them that this was for the welfare of His people. Exodus 20:20, “And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before your faces, that you sin not.”
Before this time, the Israelites had no history with the actual consequences of sin. They had no background as to what sin could do to their infant nation. They didn’t understand the danger of intermarrying with the pagan nations around them or the danger of idol worship that accompanied it. There were many other things new to them so God demonstrated His power in an effort to gain their obedience and to show there was no other power like His.
I can relate to this. When I was a kid, my dad put the “fear of Dad” in me on lots of occasions. And that kept me out of a lot of trouble and I think you could put that in the grace column, so what was true of Israel is equally true for you and me.
God's law was given so that they, and we, would know what sin is and to let all mankind know that they could in no way keep God’s Law perfectly so it is in no way a ladder to heaven.
In a moment of temptation, Adam and Eve believed Satan’s lie that God was keeping something good from them. God had warned them that they would surely die if they ate of the forbidden fruit and they did die spiritually the moment they disobeyed Him.
The history of Israel records that, as a nation, they believed the same lie by Satan. They chose the way of mankind instead of trusting God. They are still in that position today and will be until the time of the coming Great Tribulation.
Many people think that Christ came just to live an exemplary life by keeping the Ten Commandments. But the part of the law He came to fulfill was the law that innocent blood had to be shed for every sin. This He did by going to the cross to shed His innocent blood to pay for our sins. He fulfilled the law for all mankind in that act. It remains for us to acknowledge our guilt as sinners, the Ten Commandments prove we are. It is only then, and by the grace of God, that we are able to accept His forgiveness for our sins. Jesus paid for them with His precious life and His innocent blood on the cross.
His forgiveness is a free gift.
Have you accepted Christ’s gift to you?