A few million former slaves were set free from the Egyptians, but God’s people were still living as slaves to their sin: committing adultery, stealing from one another, coveting, and lying. They were not raising their children in the Lord. They were worshiping false gods in addition to the real God. Though they had been set free, they chose to not live free.
So God chose to teach them how to live out their newfound freedom. Through the giving of the Ten Commandments, God displayed the same love, grace, patience, mercy, and justice to his people that he had shown Pharaoh and that he continues to show us.
If we look at the Ten Commandments by starting in Exodus chapter 20, we miss the context and read the Bible like those who are Jewish or Muslim, moralistic or political, Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon: Do this; don’t do that. If you do this, God will punish you; if you don’t do that, God will bless you. That’s not the way the commandments were meant to be viewed.
Instead, they must be taken in context: God has already loved; God has already served; God has already set free; God has already adopted his people, his children, into his family. The commandments are not about obeying him so that he will love us; they are about him loving us and helping us to obey. The context is very important. We can’t ignore the first nineteen chapters of Exodus and launch into morality in the twentieth chapter.
In some Bible classes in colleges across the country, the first thing the professors might tell you is that Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch. But God’s Word tells us that he did. It says it in the first five books (see Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27-29; Deuteronomy 31:24). It says it in Paul’s letters (see Romans 10:5; 1 Corinthians 9:9). It says it in the teachings of Jesus (see Mark 7:10; 12:26; Luke 2:22-23; 20:37; John 5:46; 7:19). Numerous Old Testament authors recognized Moses as the author of Exodus, (see, for example, Ezra 6:18; Daniel 9:13; Malachi 4:4). The great attention to detail also provides evidence that the author was an eye witness to the events recorded in the Pentateuch. It doesn’t matter what the professor at the community college or state university says—Moses wrote the first five books. And though Moses wrote the words, it was ultimately God who did the speaking. It was God’s Word.
When we open the Bible, God speaks to us. We hear directly from him. His Word is not taken alongside a philosophy, a religion, a spirituality, or an ideology. We don’t believe that the Bible is merely speculation about God. We believe it is revelation from God. His Word is the bedrock for our faith. So when God says something, we need to listen. This is what we believe: What God says, the Bible says; what the Bible says, God says. If we come to the Ten Commandments and say, “I disagree,” then we disagree with God.
God loved his people so much that he spoke directly to them when he gave them the Ten Commandments. And he started by introducing himself as the God who set them free. “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery’” (Exodus 20:1-2).
Some would say that this is the only time recorded in the Bible where God assembled all his people in order to speak directly to them at once. This unprecedented event is very important. It is historically in a category unto itself. God started by telling them who he was. Here’s the truth: Apart from revelation, we would not know who God is; if God didn’t tell us who he is, we would not know who he is. And here’s the good news: Our God tells us who he is. He says, “I’m the Lord your God.” It’s very personal.
“I’m Yahweh, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” The problem was slavery; the solution was God. The problem is always slavery, and the solution is always God. This is not just a story about what happened but about what always happens. The Bible is not an old book; it’s a timeless book, so God’s words are always timely.
It has been said that 68.5 percent of the Pentateuch is filled with God’s laws—613 laws, to be exact. Not surprisingly, these first five books of the Old Testament are collectively called the “Books of the Law.” The Ten Commandments are the summary and center of the Law.
Most people are not particularly excited about law. Most—if not all—Christians would skip church if we were told by our pastors that we would be going through the fine print of a new IRS tax code every Sunday for ten weeks.
What if your boss were to call you to a meeting in the break room to go over a whole bunch of new policies? Would you run into the break room, quoting the Psalms in your heart? Would you pray, “I delight in the law in my innermost being. Give me more rules about the coffee machine”? Ridiculous, right? That’s because when we think of law, we tend to think of law that is tedious at best and unhelpful or unnecessary at worst.
Is God’s law like that? Many people think it is.
I believe the two most influential people for our understanding of the law, outside the Bible, are John Calvin and Martin Luther, two amazing Bible teachers. I appreciate them so much I named one of my sons Calvin Martin. Both of these men were trained as attorneys, and I love their insight concerning the law and the gospel.
If we read the Bible solely through the eyes of an attorney and without the element of faith, we could miss something that is very important: God’s laws are completely different from the laws created by human leaders. Commandments, laws, or rules are most assuredly different when they come from a loving father than when they come from a dictator. Pharaoh had laws, but they were not loving, life-giving laws for the children of God.