In a brief series of ten articles over the next month, I want to explore the significance of the Ten Commandments. My aim is to show their value for our lives today throughout the series.
The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, even at 3000 years old, serve as the backbone to our moral, religious, and legal thought. When Moses walked down from Mount Sinai among the Hebrew people, little did he know that the two tablets he held in his hands would have such widespread influence across both time and space. Despite the distance between their introduction and today, these “ten words” represent a treasure of insight and wisdom.
The Bible tells us that Moses brought these two tablets down from the Mountain called Sinai and placed them in what the Hebrews called the Ark of the Covenant. This golden box was kept at the center of Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem in order to signify that God’s law was to be at the center of the people’s existence. In addition, it is important to consider that these ten laws were written by the very finger of God Himself to speak of their enduring value and permanence to every culture (Exodus 31:18). Again, God Himself wrote and spoke these words.
In light of their importance and in anticipation for my series to come, here are three reasons the Ten Commandments are important, even today.
1. They communicate the character of God. You get a sense of the value of the Ten Commandments when you understand they are repeated numerous times throughout the pages of the Bible. The prophets Jeremiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel all repeat aspects of them even though they lived centuries after God spoke these words to Moses. Even more importantly, Jesus Himself tells us that not one iota of the Ten Commandments will be relaxed until the end of time (Matthew 5:17-20). Each of these important religious figures point to the Ten Commandments as valuable in understanding the nature of God Himself throughout time.
You can better understand God’s character through the Decalogue when you consider where the laws were first given. Exodus 19:7-25 describes the scene vividly. In the wilderness of Sinai, we are told the whole mountain was ablaze with fire as God showed the greatness of the Lawgiver, and not simply, His law. It is significant to understand that God chose not to reveal the Ten Commandments with the sweet sound of a harp and the song of angels, but rather with thick clouds and lightening. All of this reinforced the fierce power and splendor of His nature. The mountain itself began to shake while the dreadful scene was completed by the sound of a loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19:19). God told Moses to prepare to meet Him for a full three days before they came near the mountain. Even more significantly, the people were forbidden to touch the mountain as a line was drawn around its foot (Exodus 19:22). No wonder scripture rhetorically asks, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?”
The setting of Sinai is intentionally designed to cause us to feel the force of God’s law on us. The law thunders over and inside us. Much later, the prophet Habakkuk speaks about his experience in meeting God as a time when his body trembled, his lips quivers, and legs gave away from beneath his body (Habakkuk 3:16). This is God’s intention in giving the law for He wants us to see His moral perfection through these ten words. God’s law is an excessively bright light designed to search our inmost thoughts. While the thought isn’t popular in contemporary American culture, God designed the setting of Sinai as the place where all humans abandon any hope of being accepted by God through their efforts. God’s law is designed to tear any such hope to pieces (Hebrews 4:12-13). More than anything, we should sense that it is no trifle thing to stand before the face of a holy God.
2. They show you need a mediator. The frightening scene of thunder, smoke, and flashes of lightning surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments caused the people to be afraid and call for their leader, Moses. Their response is recorded: “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). The people were terrified by the very presence of God, and they cried out in fear like a child afraid of the dark. Instinctively, the Bible tells us that people are consistently afraid when they approach the God of the Bible. Like entering shark-infested waters, people understand they need the protection of something larger than themselves. They need a mediator.
A mediator is another word for a go-between or a peacemaker. As Moses was the mediator of the Israelites (Exodus 33:12), we have an even better one in Jesus. The Bible says these words, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5). Those who love Christ and express faith in His death on the cross for our sins, have a go-between (Romans 5:1). The Ten Commandments are God’s rules, or His yardstick. When we understand the Ten Commandments are God’s standard for each one of our lives, we grasp just how wrong our lives are. We realize we need someone to stand in our place. Jesus is that go-between (2 Corinthians 5:21).
3. They show you God’s grace. Long before God laid the law, God worked to free His people from Egyptian slavery. Remember, the Hebrew people were mistreated and abused while they worked as slaves for the people Egypt. The law was given after God set His people free. The commandments follow God’s act of undeserved deliverance. Salvation has always come by God’s grace. The law is not God’s capricious desire to kill happiness all over the earth. The law is instead an act of God’s gracious love and mercy on behalf of His people. God delivers us and then He instructs us. God delivers His people so that they may encounter Him and enjoy His presence (Exodus 5:1).
Programming Note: I will post on the Ten Commandments each Tuesday and Friday morning for the next five weeks.