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Moses 21 – Announcing The Law


On the morning of the third day, as the eyes of all the people were turned toward the mount, its summit was covered with a thick cloud, which grew more black and dense, sweeping downward until the entire mountain was wrapped in darkness and awful mystery.

Then a sound as of a trumpet was heard, summoning the people to meet with God; and Moses led them forth to the base of the mountain.

From the thick darkness flashed vivid lightnings, while peals of thunder echoed and re-echoed among the surrounding heights.

“And Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.”

“The glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount” in the sight of the assembled multitude. And “the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder.”

So terrible were the tokens of Jehovah’s presence that the hosts of Israel shook with fear, and fell upon their faces before the Lord. Even Moses exclaimed, “I exceedingly fear and quake.” Hebrews 12:21.

And now the thunders ceased; the trumpet was no longer heard; the earth was still. There was a period of solemn silence, and then the voice of God was heard.

Speaking out of the thick darkness that enshrouded Him, as He stood upon the mount, surrounded by a retinue of angels, the Lord made known His law. Moses, describing the scene, says:

“The Lord came from Sinai, and rose up from Seir unto them; He shined forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints: from His right hand went a fiery law for them.

Yea, He loved the people; all His saints are in Thy hand: and they sat down at Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.” Deuteronomy 33:2, 3.

Jehovah revealed Himself, not alone in the awful majesty of the judge and lawgiver, but as the compassionate guardian of His people: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
He whom they had already known as their Guide and Deliverer, who had brought them forth from Egypt, making a way for them through the sea, and overthrowing Pharaoh and his hosts, who had thus shown Himself to be above all the gods of Egypt–He it was who now spoke His law.

The law was not spoken at this time exclusively for the benefit of the Hebrews. God honored them by making them the guardians and keepers of His law, but it was to be held as a sacred trust for the whole world.

The precepts of the Decalogue are adapted to all mankind, and they were given for the instruction and government of all. Ten precepts, brief, comprehensive, and authoritative, cover the duty of man to God and to his fellow man; and all based upon the great fundamental principle of love.

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” Luke 10:27. See also Deuteronomy 6:4, 5; Leviticus 19:18.

In the Ten Commandments these principles are carried out in detail, and made applicable to the condition and circumstances of man.

Let us carefully work through God’s golden rules for a safe and happy life:

Exodus 20:1 And God spoke all these words, saying,

God spake. The stage was now set for the proclamation of the moral law, which has remained the fundamental standard of conduct for countless millions ever since.

None will deny that this was one of the momentous and decisive events of history. Nor can any deny the vital need of all men for such a code of conduct, because of their moral and spiritual imperfections and their proneness to do that which is evil.

The Decalogue stands high above all other moral and spiritual laws. It is comprehensive of all human conduct. It is the only law that can effectively control the conscience.

It is for all time a condensed manual of human conduct and covers the entire field of human duty. Our Lord referred to the commandments as the way whereby one might secure eternal life (Matt. 19:16–19).

They are suited to every kind of human society, applicable and in force so long as the world shall last (Matt. 5:17, 18). They can never become obsolete, for they are the immutable expression of God’s will and character.

It was with good reason that God delivered them to His people both orally and in writing (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 4:13).

Though given to man by divine authority, the Decalogue is not an arbitrary creation of the divine will. It is, rather, an expression of the divine nature.

Man was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), made to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15, 16), and the Ten Commandments are Heaven’s ordained standard of holiness (see Rom. 7:7–25).

The key to the spiritual interpretation of the law was given by Christ in the sermon on the mount (Matt. 5 to 7).

The Decalogue is the expression not only of holiness but also of love (Matt. 22:34–40; John 15:10; Rom. 13:8–10; 1 John 2:4).

Whatever in service we render to God or man, if it be without love, the law is not fulfilled.

It is love that protects us from violating the Ten Commandments, for how could we worship other gods, take His name in vain, and neglect the observance of the Sabbath if we truly love Him?

How can we steal that which belongs to our neighbor, testify against him, or covet his possessions if we love him? Love is the root of fidelity toward God, and of honor and respect for the rights of our fellows.

It should ever be the great motive that impels us to obedience (John 14:15; 15:10; 2 Cor. 5:14; Gal. 5:6).

When a man first comes to Christ he will consciously abstain from the evil to which he has been accustomed. It was primarily for the purpose of helping sinners distinguish between good and evil that the Decalogue was given largely in negative form.

Its recurring “Thou shalt not” testifies to the presence of strong tendencies in the heart that must be suppressed (see Jer. 17:9; Rom. 7:17–23; 1 Tim. 1:9, 10).

But this negative form implies a large and satisfying field of moral and spiritual action open to man, and the breadth of character development possible.

He is restricted only by the few prohibitions named. The Decalogue certifies to the truth of Christian freedom (James 2:12; 2 Cor. 3:17).

Though the letter of the law, because of its few words, may appear to be narrow in scope, its spirit is “exceeding broad” (Ps. 119:96).

The fact that the Ten Commandments were written on two tables of stone emphasizes their application to two classes of moral obligation: duty to God and duty to man (Matt. 22:34–40).

That which we owe to God is indispensable to that which we owe to man, for neglect of duties toward our neighbor will speedily follow the neglect of duty toward God.

The Bible does not ignore the distinction between religion (duties directly related to God) and morality (duties arising from earthly relationships), but unites both in the deeper concept that all one does is done, as it were, to God, whose authority is supreme in both spheres (see Micah 6:8; Matt. 25:34–45; James 1:27; 1 John 4:20).

The two tables, which comprise the Decalogue, are, to the exclusion of the other parts of the law, variously called “the testimony” (ch. 25:16), “his covenant” (Deut. 4:13), “the words of the covenant” (Ex. 34:28), the “tables of testimony” (Ex. 31:18; 32:15), and “the tables of the covenant” (Deut. 9:9–11).

These tables of stone, and these alone, were placed inside the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:21; 1 Kings 8:9). They were thus regarded as in a special sense the bond of the covenant.

The placing of the tables under the mercy seat casts light on the nature of the covenant God made with Israel.

It shows that the law is the substratum, the foundation of the covenant, the obligatory document, the bond.

Nevertheless, over the law is the mercy seat, sprinkled with the blood of propitiation, a heartening testimony that there is forgiveness with God for those who break the commandments.

The OT consistently makes a clear distinction between the moral and ceremonial laws (2 Kings 21:8; Dan. 9:11).

Verse 2 I am the LORD your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

I am the Lord. Literally, “I am Yahweh,” a name derived from the verb “to be,” “to become” (see on Ex. 3:14, 15; see p. 172).

It means “the Existing One,” “the One who causes to be” (see p. 172). When, therefore, Jesus said to the Jews of His day, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58), they understood that He was claiming to be “the LORD” of the OT.

This explains their hostility and their attempt to kill Him (John 8:59). It was Jesus Christ, the second person of the Godhead, who was the “God” of the Israelites throughout their history.

It was He who gave them the Decalogue; it was He who declared Himself to be “Lord also of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). The Gr. hē zoē, “the living One” (Rev. 1:18, RSV), is equivalent to the Heb. Eyeh ’asher ’ehyeh, “I am that I am,” of Ex. 3:14.

The house of bondage.

God proclaimed His holy law amid thunder and lightning, whose roll seems to find an echo in the imperatives “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not.”

The terrors of Sinai were designed to bring vividly before the people the awful solemnity of the last great judgment day (PP 339).

The exacting precepts of the Decalogue stress the justice of their Author and the strictness of His requirements.

But the law was also a reminder of His grace, for the very God who spoke the law is the One who led His people forth from Egypt and set them free from the yoke of bondage. It is He who gave the precious promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Since the Scriptures make Egypt symbolic of the state of sin (see Rev. 11:8), the deliverance of Israel from Egypt may appropriately be compared to the deliverance of all God’s people from the power of sin.

The Lord liberated His people from the land of Pharaoh in order that He might give them His law (Ps. 105:42–45).

Likewise, through the gospel, Christ frees us from the bondage of sin (John 8:34–36; 2 Peter 2:19) in order that we may keep His law, which in Him is translated into true obedience (John 15:10; Rom. 8:1–4).

Let those who teach that the gospel of Christ frees us from the holy commands of the Decalogue reflect on this truth.

Deliverance from Egypt was to provide the motive for obedience to God’s law. Note the order here: the Lord first saves Israel, then gives them His law to keep.

The same order is true under the gospel. Christ first saves us from sin (see John 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4), then lives out His law within us (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 4:25; 8:1–3; 1 Peter 2:24).


Verse 3 You shall have no other gods before me.

Jehovah, the eternal, self-existent, uncreated One, Himself the Source and Sustainer of all, is alone entitled to supreme reverence and worship.

Man is forbidden to give to any other object the first place in his affections or his service. Whatever we cherish that tends to lessen our love for God or to interfere with the service due Him, of that do we make a god. {PP 305.4}

Though the covenant was made with Israel as a whole (ch. 19:5), the use of a singular verb shows that God addressed each individual of the nation and required of him obedience to the law.

Collective obedience was not sufficient. For all time the Ten Commandments direct their appeal to, and weigh upon, each man’s conscience (see Eze. 18:19, 20).

Before me.

Literally, “before my face.” This Hebrew idiom often means “besides me,” “in addition to me,” or “in opposition to me.” Being the only true God, the Lord requires that He alone be worshiped.

This concept of but one God was foreign to the polytheistic belief and practice of other nations.

God appeals to us to put Him before all else, to put Him first in our affections and in our lives, in harmony with our Lord’s injunction in the sermon on the mount (Matt. 6:33).

Mere belief alone will not do, nor even the acknowledgement that He is the one and only God.

We owe wholehearted allegiance and devotion to Him as a personal Being whom it is our privilege to know, to love, and trust, and with whom we may have blessed fellowship.

Dependence upon something else than God, whether it be wealth, knowledge, position, or friends, places us in peril. It is hard to fight against the allurements of the world, and so easy to trust in that which is visible and temporal (see Matt. 6:19–34; 1 John 2:15–17).

In our materialistic age it is not difficult to violate the spirit of this first commandment, by putting our trust and confidence in some earthly convenience or comfort, and in so doing forget the One who created the things we enjoy (see 2 Cor. 4:18).


Verses 4-6 You shall not make to you any graven 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. You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor 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 fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

The second commandment forbids the worship of the true God by images or similitudes.

Many heathen nations claimed that their images were mere figures or symbols by which the Deity was worshiped, but God has declared such worship to be sin.
The attempt to represent the Eternal One by material objects would lower man’s conception of God.

The mind, turned away from the infinite perfection of Jehovah, would be attracted to the creature rather than to the Creator. And as his conceptions of God were lowered, so would man become degraded. “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.” The close and sacred relation of God to His people is represented under the figure of marriage.

Idolatry being spiritual adultery, the displeasure of God against it is fitly called jealousy.

“Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.”

It is inevitable that children should suffer from the consequences of parental wrongdoing, but they are not punished for the parents’ guilt, except as they participate in their sins.

It is usually the case, however, that children walk in the steps of their parents. By inheritance and example the sons become partakers of the father’s sin.

Wrong tendencies, perverted appetites, and debased morals, as well as physical disease and degeneracy, are transmitted as a legacy from father to son, to the third and fourth generation.

This fearful truth should have a solemn power to restrain men from following a course of sin.

“Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.”

In prohibiting the worship of false gods, the second commandment by implication enjoins the worship of the true God.

And to those who are faithful in His service, mercy is promised, not merely to the third and fourth generation as is the wrath threatened against those who hate Him, but to thousands of generations.

After the break, we will continue discussing the greatest set of moral codes ever given to man. God wants to write His ten precepts of love in our hearts. Let’s give Him permission to do it for us

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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