Exodus 20: Law v. Grace

Exodus 20 is a famous chapter in the Bible. Most people in America can probably quote at least one of the Ten Commandments, if not several. We are studying the Old Testament right now, and even though we live in the New Testament we can draw parallels between this Law (given thousands of years ago), and His grace (which is at work today).

As we begin to study the Law, remember that the Law:

1.       Was fulfilled (brought to completion) through Christ, not abolished (Matthew 5:17);

2.       Is the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:2);

3.       Brings about wrath (Romans 4:15).

Praise God that we no longer operate under the Law, but under His grace through Christ Jesus. Grace provides us with:

1.       Free justification through the redemption of Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24);

2.       Freedom from sin’s mastery because we are not under the law (Romans 6:14).

And God spoke all these words:

2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

-          I was sitting in the dentist office once (waiting to discuss my root canal) and I saw an old, wooden plaque with the Ten Commandments inscribe on it. We are used to seeing the “Big Ten,” but you’ll notice that verse 2 – which is foundational – isn’t included. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” God did give commandments; but, before He gave commandments, He gave freedom.  Let that one simmer, simmer, simmer…

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

-          This is the first, and most foundational, commandment. “There’s no one but Me.” Folks, if we could get this one right, our lives would be so much simpler (not easier, but simpler!). Jesus told the Pharisees (who created laws from the laws) the same thing in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” If other things are vying to sit on the throne of your heart, turn away from them and ask God to give you a singleness of heart and action. Begin praying Jeremiah 32:39 over your heart each day, which says, “I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them.”

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

-          The second commandment expands upon the first. “You shall not make for yourself an image…” While having carved images in our home is not as common today as it was then, we are a nation skilled in making images. Many people – even proclaimed followers of Christ – have images they make for themselves. Maybe it’s not a wooden figurine, but it’s an image in your mind of what success looks like (and you play it over and over in your head). Or, it’s a reputation you strive to assemble for yourself by the way you dress or how “spiritual” you look/sound when you go to church. It could be the money in your bank account or the music you listen to – these are all idols. Folks, this is convicting to me, too. Every single task you do each day is either in worship of God or in worship of this world. There is no gray. Period. “Tiffany, you’re being too literal!” Yes, I am – because most followers of Christ today are watered down and lukewarm. And I’m typing this not because I’m better, but because the Lord is dealing with me on this subject, too.

-          Notice in verse 5 it speaks about not bowing down or worshipping images. This is another interesting part because even though we may not worship something (meaning, we ascribe worth to it), we can still bow down to it. You’ve probably done this before when you’ve given into peer pressure. You knew it was wrong to do “X” – there was no worth in it; but, you still chose to do it. You chose to bow down to the situation. That’s a slippery slope.

-          We can’t pass by verse 6 because it speaks to the love of God. I remember someone once told me they didn’t like to read the Old Testament because it was filled with war and God seemed cold. How tragic! God’s love and mercy is etched all over the Old Testament – just re-read the first sentence of this chapter!

7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

-          Matthew 12:34 tells us that the mouth speaks what the heart overflows with. So, when we misuse His name, it’s not just an issue of our words, it’s an issue of our heart.  We should take our example from Christ, who in Matthew 6:9 prayed, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…” Do the words you speak proclaim the holy God you serve?

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

-          While other nations worked every day of the week, the Israelites were to rest on the Sabbath. Christians have adopted this idea and even today, it’s contrary to the world’s system. The world says, “You must work more to get more.” But those who trust in God and obey His law are not bound to the economy of this world; instead, we are bound to God’s kingdom. Praise God!

-          God understood the importance of rest. First and foremost, He gave us eternal rest through Christ Jesus, and He desires that we honor His resurrection (Acts 20:7). Secondly, God never meant for us to get so caught up in life that we never fully surrendered to Him – yet we so easily fall into this trap. Wiersbe provides a thought-provoking idea in his commentary, “It has been said that most people in our world are being “crucified between two thieves”: the regrets of yesterday and the worries about tomorrow. That’s why they can’t enjoy today. Relying on modern means of transportation and communication, we try to live two or three days at a time, only to run headlong against the creation cycle of the universe, and the results are painful and often disastrous.” That’s why Christ told us in Matthew 6:34 to not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. If only we’d truly learn to live by this (myself included)!

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

-          No matter how old you are and regardless of whether your parents are still alive, there are people in authority over you (e.g., your boss, government officials, etc.). God wanted the Israelites to understand that you cannot honor God and yet not honor your parents. We must be respectful of those who are over us, even though we may not fully agree with them.

-          This is the first commandment with a promised tacked on the end of it. It further demonstrates the importance of this command to God.

13 “You shall not murder.

-          Pretty clear-cut instructions here. God desired that we protect the life that He created. Jesus goes on to say in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5), “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…” The root of pre-meditated murder was anger; and that is why Christ said our hearts shouldn’t be angry. When anger stews, nothing good comes of it.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

-          Have you noticed a pattern yet in the New Testament verses? Jesus addresses most of the Ten Commandments in His Sermon on the Mount. While the law dealt with the outward action of man, Christ came to deal with the inward man. That’s why He says in Matthew 5:28, “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” God knew that what manifested itself outwardly (such as murder, adultery, stealing, lying, and so forth) was because the sinful seed resided in man’s heart. Christ is the only way in which we can truly experience freedom – the same freedom He promised, and fulfilled, for the Israelites!

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

-          As we read through these commandments, it can be easy to think, “Okay, I don’t use God’s name in vain, I go to church on Sunday, I’ve never murdered anyone, had an affair, stolen anything…I’m doing well!” But let’s remember, you have probably “murdered” someone by what you said, had an affair with someone by what you thought, stolen God’s glory by what you claimed to have achieved yourself, and told a white lie (which is just a term created to justify a true lie). When we measure it that way, we don’t look so hot after all, do we? Praise God for His Son, Jesus Christ, who came to free us from the bondage of what we say, think, claim, and tell. Grace is amazing!

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

-          As we read through the commandments, one verse our heart should always think of is Matthew 5:17 when Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” God knew that we could never be made righteous through the law. We could only be fully righteous through Jesus Christ and the grace He releases to us when we follow Him. The law isn’t grace – but Jesus Christ is.

-          So, what was the purpose of the law if it couldn’t make one righteous? Paul answers this very question in Romans 7:7 by saying, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’”

-          And speaking of coveting, here’s a good tidbit from Wiersbe about the “c” word: Covetous people will break all of God’s commandments in order to satisfy their desires, because at the heart of sin is the sin in the heart (Matt. 15:19). To covet is to feed inward desires for anything that God says is sinful.

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

-          The Israelites got a true taste of God’s glory and His might. This was an event they could each look back on and say, “Now I know that He is the Lord my God.”  That is what God wanted – He wanted His people to know that He was the One and Only. You may have picked up on that statement, or a similar one, as we’ve studied Exodus. God wants us to know, that we know, that we know, that He exists.  It was same then, and it’s the same way now.

o   Exodus 6:7 – I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the Lord your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.

o   Exodus 8:10 – So he [Pharaoh] said, “Tomorrow.” And he [Moses] said, “Let it be according to your word, that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.

o   Exodus 16:12 – “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

o    Exodus 29:46 – “And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.”

-          When I think of this experience the Israelites had, I can’t help but think about Psalm 113:5 which says, “Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?”

-          Verse 21 is my favorite of this chapter, and probably a favorite from the verse of Exodus: “The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.”

o   Be Moses today. You have the opportunity to approach God’s throne freely and with confidence (Hebrews 4:16). Most of the world today – even Christians – are standing at a distance. Be the one person who chooses to go into the thickness with God. It is in God’s thickness that our troubles become muted, the chaos lessens, and the distractions diminish. Enjoy the Lord’s great love and peace enveloped around you!

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’

-          The Lord also provides instructions on how to make an altar. Notice that the Lord desires simplicity. He wants nothing that’s been chiseled on or has decorative embellishments because then man would become focused on what he had constructed instead of on what he was sacrificing and why. Now, think about that. What do the sacrifices you make look like? Are you constantly trying to dress them up or doctor them so they look fancy or have a “holier” appearance? Examine the altar of your heart today. Amen