The Ten Commandments is the name given to the covenant that the Lord made with His people by Moses when speaking of his mission upon the top of Mount Sinai. Literally ten "words" (Heb: debarim) or sayings, these were the principles meant to be followed in everyday life.
These words were written by God twice, on two tablets of stone each time. The first tablets had been both cut and inscribed by God Himself, but were destroyed in anger by Moses when he saw the people worshipping the golden calf. After disciplining the rebels, Moses returned to the mountain with two tablets he had to hew out by himself. Upon these, God inscribed the same words. that would be put into the ark of the covenant as a witness to His loyalty to His word.
The books of the Law begin with Genesis, a record of a time long before the Ten Commandments were put on the two tablets. Basic to the Law was trusting the Lawgiver, the only One who had the authority to require anything of His people. When put to the test, that trust was broken. Before the first recorded murder, anger moved Cain to kill Abel. The Lord had told him the "sin" waited to destroy him. The Law was assumed, and Cain knew instinctively that killing his brother was wrong. He even expected others to want to kill him.
It was not until after the flood that God gave specific laws. Until that time, mankind had eaten only from the plants, but use of animals as food was now allowed. Negatively, the simple laws in this covenant pertained to living with the consequences of death. Men were to not eat blood, the life force of the animal; and, mankind was to live at peace as it spread out to fill the earth. The seemingly straightforward order of things brought out the pride in mankind. Failing to trust God, they built the Tower of Babel.
All during Abraham's journey he had issues trusting God. This complicated his family life, endangered his neighbors, and brought shame to a faithful servant. Only the toughest of tests proved his trust of God. His family followed in his steps, failing often, but eventually being saved by God to live among his enemies in Egypt. The law of that land was structured around its false religion -- with many false gods.
Finally, when the Lord was ready to make a nation out of Abraham's descendants, He made a covenant much like that made by kings with their subjects. These would be condensed to ten principles that reflected the "image of God" found deep within each human being. Having returned to the mountain near the spot of his first encounter with the Lord, Moses is told to climb the mountain and talk directly to Him once again. This time, God would begin with the same covenant language He used with Abraham: "I am the Lord, your God, that brought you out ..." What followed became the basis for living life as God intended it to be lived.
The Giving of the Law
The Holy Mountain
The place which the Lord chose for giving of His Law was not new to Moses. It was here that he had first encountered a manifestation of the God of his ancestor Abraham. The one true God had answered the question "Who are you?" with "I AM THAT I AM" -- that is, "I exist in and of Myself".
Called the Mountain of God, Horeb (Heb: "desert") is said to be "in the backside" of the desert (Heb: midbar: "wilderness") near the pasture land of Jethro, a priest of God among the Midianites. Midian was a son of Abraham who, along with his brothers, was sent to live east of the Jordan River. Since the "compasses" in Bible Times were oriented to the east (rising sun), anything "on the backside" would be in the west. If the wilderness mentioned in Midian is to the east of Horeb, then the mountain was in the west.
It had taken a year to cross the Sinai peninsula, much of that time being spent in an oasis called Elim. This was close to the place named Marah (based on bitter water being turned to sweet by the intervention of God Himself). As sacred as the place had been with the burning bush, it's significance increased significantly. A boundary was established around the base of the mountain which allowed only Moses and Aaron to get near its slopes.
For a period of forty days the mountain was covered in storm clouds. In a vast universe, God had chosen a secluded desert mountain to give his timeless principles to Moses. From this time on, Mount Sinai became the most common name for the mountain.
The Spoken Word
The Lord would first use the spoken word to relay His requirements for his people. This followed the pattern which had been established on the first day of Creation. God spoke and light happened. God talked to Adam, Enoch and Noah before the Flood. Later He would communicate with Abraham.
At this spot, the Lord talked to Moses in such a way that the people heard, but did not understand. They begged Moses to speak on God's behalf. Having heard the Commandments directly, Moses came down from the mountain and preached to the people.
The Inscribed Word
After Moses had spoken to the gathered assembly (or at least their leaders), God called him back to the mountain. It was there that God gave him tablets with the words that He had spoken inscribed by His own hand. This took place over a period of forty days, after the Lord had prepared the mountain for six days.
Having the tablets in his hands, Moses descended to find the people had not listened when he preached. Instead, they had persuaded Moses' brother Aaron, the high priest, to build an idol. This enraged Moses, causing him to throw the tablets down the mountain.
The Preserved Word
The Lord, who had patiently relented of His wrath on the disobedient multitudes, commanded the Levites to execute about 3,000 men in the midst of the orgy that had developed from the "feast of the Lord." This was after the golden calf had been ground to dust and placed in the drinking water. Ironically, since gold cannot be assimilated into the body, the ingested idol would be returned to the earth in a most unclean way.
After scolding the surviving worshippers, Moses returned to the mountain to ask God to forgive the sin of the people, even to his own detriment if need be. Instead, a further plague of an unspecified sort was sent to show the consequences of such open rebellion. Some time later, after the Lord had shown Himself both in the cloud and partially in bodily form. The Lord then told Moses to hew out two new tablets that would be preserved for the people as a testimony of their covenant with God.
The Law of God
For more detail, see: Sin
On those two tablets, each of which could be held in the hand, the Lord wrote His covenant with His people. This covenant was a formal declaration of the Law of God. In the introduction to the Ten Commandments, God identifies Himself and addresses those with whom He is making the covenant: "I am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt." This was the "I AM" that had met with Moses and guarded over the people as they escaped into the wilderness.
In the first three commandments the Lord makes it clear that He is not to be treated lightly. He is the only true God, not to be represented by any image and revered when spoken to, and when spoken about.
In the fourth commandment, the Lord provides a weekly reminder to His people that they can rest, trusting Him to provide for their needs. The reason given by the Lord Himself is that He created everything that exists.
Having established His people's relationship with Himself, the "second table" of the Law is inscribed. Commandments five through ten provide the standard required for civil relationships among mankind: respect for authority, life, property; veracity, faithfulness and contentment.
In the covenant, the Lord warns that, since He is the one true God, Creator of all things, those who reject him will feel his wrath while those who accept him will find Him merciful. The consequences of disobedience might span several generations, but obedience yields boundless blessings.
Jesus and the Law
In the New Testament, there seems to be a shift in emphasis concerning the Law. Jesus is charged with blasphemy for declaring the Lord to be his Father. In accepting the title of "Son of God" he was, indeed, claiming to be equal with God. But this was not a sin, for he was telling the truth. In his office as Messiah, he reminded his opponents that the Sabbath day was not put into place to be a burden, but as a blessing.
Jesus taught that all law breaking began in the mind, as a matter of the will of man. For example, he condemned the practice of donating to the work of God at the expense of one's parents. In his famous "sermon on the mount," he taught that both murder and adultery can take place inside one's head with no one but God knowing anything was wrong.
When asked what the "first commandment" was, Jesus followed other rabbis of his day in quoting the Law found not on the tablets, but rather in the expanded commentary of the Law in Deuteronomy: "You shall love the Lord your God with all [your being]." Adding from Leviticus, "and your neighbor as yourself," he gives a classic summary of the Ten Commandments.
- ↑ Exo 34:28; Deut 4:13; 10:4 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 31:18 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 34:1 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 25:19 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 3:13 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 4:5 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 4:14 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 9:1-7 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 22:16 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 47:11 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 1:26 (Link)
- ↑ Rom 1:19-20 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 15:7; Exo 20:1 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 3:1; Deut 4:10 (Link)
- ↑ Gen 25:6 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 15:22-37 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 19:24 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:1 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:18 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 24:16-18 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 32:19 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 32:5,20 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 32:30 35 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 34:1 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 32:15 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:2 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:3-7 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:8-11 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:12-17 (Link)
- ↑ Exo 20:5-6 (Link)
- ↑ Mark 14:61-64 (Link)
- ↑ Mat 12:8 (Link)
- ↑ Mark 2:28 (Link)
- ↑ Mark 7:11 (Link)
- ↑ Mat 5:21-22 (Link)
- ↑ Mat 5:27-28 (Link)
- ↑ Deut 6:4-5 (Link)
- ↑ Lev 19:18 (Link)
- ↑ Luke 10:27 (Link)