1 In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt - on the very day - they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the Lord had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the Lord has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the Lord.
9 The Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.” Then Moses told the Lord what the people had said.
10 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11 and be ready by the third day, because on that day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, ‘Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.’ Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.”
14 After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. 15 Then he said to the people, “Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.”
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
20 The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the Lord said to him, “Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.”
23 Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, ‘Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.’”
24 The Lord replied, “Go down and bring Aaron up with you. But the priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or He will break out against them.”
25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.
If you had to take a poll asking people to name the most well-known parts of the Bible, you’d more than likely end up with the stories of Noah, Joseph, Moses, Psalm 23, the parables of Jesus, and the Christmas and Easter stories. And I’m sure that the Ten Commandments would also be on that list.
Most of us would score at least 7 out of 10 if we were asked to list them. In fact I think that there are many non-Christians that would also score highly.
We’re going to spend a fair amount of time in the coming weeks, taking a detailed look at the Ten Commandments, but today, as a way of introduction, we’re going to ask the question, why. What is the purpose of the Law, or more specifically, the Ten Commandments?
We find the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, and our reading today is the previous chapter. A lot of the answers as to the purpose of the Law are in chapter 19.
The first hint is in verses 3 to 6. The giving of the law made it clear that God wants a relationship with His people.
The problem is though, that while we have the Law, the relationship is missing, and there’s a simple reason for that. Rules without relationship almost always leads to rebellion. If you lay down rules for your kids to follow, but you spend no time getting to know them, involving yourself in their lives and allowing them to get to know you, then chances are that they will rebel against you.
The same is true in our relationship with God.
Part of the reason that we have a problem with some of the laws that He has laid down for us is because there are times when our relationship with God is not as strong as it should be.
God made it very clear that He wanted a special relationship with the nation of Israel long before He gave them the Law. His love affair with His people came first, and God has always wanted the same for us.
In verse 4 He reminds them of what He had done for them – how they had witnessed His power, His provision for them and His protection.
Maybe instead of always focussing on our problems, we should stop and give thanks for all the blessings that God just keeps on giving us.
We’re not that different from the Israelites. No sooner had God rescued them from slavery, than they started complaining and bickering.
We’re very quick to let the negative outweigh the positive. How do you think God feels when He sees Christians walking around under little black clouds, constantly moaning and complaining?
I don’t think He’s that impressed to be quite honest, but yet He still loves us and keeps blessing us. Why do you think that is?
Verse 4 has the answer: “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
God did all these things for the Israelites, and He does them for you today so that He can bring you to Himself, or bring you into a relationship with Himself.
James tells us in chapter 1 that every good and perfect gift comes down from God the Father. That means that everything good that has ever happened in your life didn’t just happen. It was sent down by God. Every time that there was food on your table, it was because God provided it for you. Every time that you have received healing from a disease or sickness was because God demonstrated His power in your life. Every accident that you have ever avoided and every storm that you have made it through were because of God’s hands of protection surrounding you. Why does He do these things?
Is it because you’re good person? No.
It is because He wants you to recognise His love for you and He wants to draw you into a relationship with Him.
In verse 5 He calls His people a treasured possession.
God shows His desire to make you His special treasure above all other things.
God told Moses to tell the Israelites that if they chose to enter into this relationship, that He would make them specifically His most prized possession of all that He had, and remember, God had everything – the whole of Creation.
Have you ever stopped and just thought about that? He could choose whatever He wanted to be His most prized possession, and He chose us!
Think about the other options that God has to make into His prized possession. He could have chosen the angels. They are not scarred with sin. They do exactly what He tells them to do without question or hesitation. They are in a constant state of worship toward Him. But God didn’t choose them as His treasured possession.
He chose us. He chose us as His treasured possession. You are important to Him, and He would rather have you than any other creature in the whole universe.
Another reason He gives us the Law is to change us, which we see in verse 6: “You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The change that God wanted to happen in the Israelites, and what He wants to happen in us is for our benefit, our growth. He wants us to be changed in such a way that we can be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. What is a priest in the context of the Old Testament? A priest is an ambassador between God and man.
God wants us to be His ambassadors, His representatives. That is an honour which we could never deserve but God gives to us out of His love for us.
God wants us to change because He knows that the direction we are headed right now is only going to create suffering and destruction in our lives.
The reason that God puts rules into our lives is because He knows that the things that fall outside those rules will damage us and will hurt our potential enjoyment of the relationship that He wants to have with us and the relationship that we can have with each other.
For example, God doesn’t tell us not to commit adultery because He wants to spoil our fun. He tells us not to commit adultery, because when we do, people get hurt and lives are shattered.
I found this quotable quote: “The Ten Commandments may seem very narrow, but so does every runway on airports around the world. Yet no passenger wants his pilot to miss the narrow runway and land a few yards off the mark in some field or river or row of houses. The narrow ribbon of pavement is really the broad way that leads to a safe, comfortable landing. So the seemingly rigid laws are a guide to a happy fulfilled life.”
And then we begin to get into an often-overlooked aspect of our relationship with God, from verse 10.
We have to do it on His terms.
Contrary to popular belief, God is God, and we are not.
In preparation for God’s coming down to the people, He told them that they had to wash their clothes. That might seem kind of an odd demand from a God who identifies Himself later on as being One who is far more concerned with what is in the heart than what is on the outside.
What message is He trying to communicate to the people by making sure that they washed their clothes? Firstly, He was telling the people that if they wanted to enjoy a relationship with Him with all the rewards that meant, they had to be willing to get clean. The same is true of us.
If we are going to be in relationship with God, then we have to be clean. Of course, we no longer need to have our clothes washed first (although that would be nice!), but we are washed in the purifying blood of Jesus. He brings the cleansing and purifying we need in order to come to God.
Secondly, God was illustrating the fact that the law He was getting ready to hand down to them could only clean them on the outside. It had no ability to clean them on the inside. Even if by some miracle they were able to keep the whole law from that day on, all that would have been affected was their outward actions.
There’s a word in verse 10 that we need to look a bit more closely at – the word “consecrate”.
To “consecrate” something means to dedicate it completely for one specific person or purpose. When you get married, you are consecrated to your spouse – you are dedicated to that one person for the rest of your life. Something that is consecrated is focused on one use or one person.
God wanted the Israelites to be totally consecrated to Him. He wanted their 100% unfaltering, unwavering devotion to Him. If He was going to make them His treasured possession, He wanted to make sure that they were going to devote themselves to Him to the same extent that He was willing to devote Himself to them.
And this is where the part about abstaining from sexual relations comes in too. It’s important that we understand what God is talking about here.
Abstaining from sex was not an issue of cleanliness or holiness; it was an issue of devotion, an issue of focus. The reason He prohibited it in this instance was not because it was wrong, but because He wanted the people’s full attention on Him and on what He was getting ready to tell them. There would be time later on for them to focus attention on their spouses in the days ahead. Now was the time for them to take their minds off their personal pleasure and give 100% of their energy and concentration to the matter before them.
God expects our 100% devotion and attention too.
Two of the biggest distractions we face is guilt and worry. We feel guilty about what we’ve done and we worry about all kinds of things that might or might not happen, and this takes our focus off of God, and puts it back on us.
Don’t let fears and worries of yesterday and tomorrow stop you from doing what you know you need to do today in your relationship with God.
And one of the best ways of building your relationship is to sit up and listen to how God wants you to live your life, or as the prophet Micah puts it, “what does the Lord require of you?”
God is actually not a spoilsport you know.
Every Law, every rule is there for a reason, and the ultimate beneficiaries are us.
Think back to your schooldays. Didn’t you just hate all the rules and regulations?
Let’s face it, who wanted to sit in a classroom when you could be playing outside instead? It made no sense then, but it does now. Or at least I hope it does!
Children may complain when play stops and school starts, because they can’t see the benefit, but as we grow older and wiser, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see the bigger picture and the need for education.
When I was a teenager my parents were the most unreasonable parents in the world. They didn’t understand me, and they were completely out of touch with reality. But as I have experienced parenthood myself, I now know that my folks were the most reasonable parents in the world. They were probably the only people who understood me, and they had an amazing grip on reality. I just hope I can pass on some of the lessons they taught me to my own children.
As Christians we need to submit to the authority of God, and trust that He knows what He is doing when it comes to laying down boundaries and rules. Maybe instead of shaking our fists in defiance at Him, we should acknowledge that just maybe He does know what He’s talking about, and that the Law is there for our benefit. As He says to us through the prophet Jeremiah, “I know the plans I have for you - plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. He not only wants the best for us – He knows what’s best for us.
What happened the first time we defied Him?
We were given all this freedom. Genesis 2:16 - “The Lord God commanded the man, ‘You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.’”
And only one restriction – verse 17 – “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."
And what happened?
Read the Sunday Times today. Watch the news tonight.
You’ll find the answer right in front of you.
When we ignore and disobey God, we head down a road of pain and destruction.
His laws are not there to ruin our lives. He has given us the law so that we can lived life the way He intended.
So join us on this journey through the Ten Commandments. Starting next week we’ll look at each one individually, and we’ll try to find the real purpose of God’s Law. What was God saying to Moses, and more importantly, what is He saying to you and I?