The Lord told Moses from the burning bush that He was “aware of their [Hebrews] sufferings” (Ex 3:7) and was going “to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land” (Ex 3:8). In Exodus 3:12, the Lord told Moses, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.” Faithful to His word—delivering them from Egypt, feeding them, giving them water, and protecting them from enemies—the Lord brought Israel to the mountain of God (Horeb/Sinai) to worship Him. It has been three months since they left Egypt and in Exodus 19, the Lord prepared the people to receive His Covenant and His Law.
The Covenant is Given and Accepted
The children of Israel were brought to Mt. Sinai to worship the Lord. For this worship to be acceptable to God, it had to be done properly; therefore, the Lord prepared His people for their new life in the Promised Land by giving them commands, rules, and statutes to let them know what the Lord delights in and what is abhorrent to Him. A vital part of the Law was the Covenant. He told them “If you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the people, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:5-6). This Covenant is an “If, then” type of covenant that required continual sacrifices and based on their obedience. The Lord made it clear that if they obeyed, then they would be blessed. But, if they disobeyed, then they would be cursed. They were to be God’s special nation that was distinct from the other nations and wholly devoted to the Lord.
The Lord then told Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments” (19:10). The Lord then said that He would appear to them on the third day (19:11) and they were to cleanse themselves: body and clothes. They were warned not to approach the Lord directly because of His holiness (19:12) and their sinfulness. They were to abstain from sexual activity (19:15). God was about to graciously give the people His Law and make a Covenant with them to be their God and they will be His people. He would protect them and provide for them. Consider for a moment how gracious and loving it was for God to give the people His Law! Rather than wondering what God wanted, loved, and hated, He specifically told them.
The Law of Moses and the New Covenant
Before we begin our study of the Law of Moses (starting with the Ten Commandments), we need to answer a common question: “Should Christians obey the Ten Commandments?” The answer is both ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.
Do Not Obey the Ten Commandments!
Christians should not obey the Ten Commandments as a means of securing righteousness before God. The Ten Commandments are part of the Law of Moses and the New Testament is clear that the Law cannot make one righteous. Romans 3:20 says, “by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” Our righteousness and salvation come through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. The Covenant proposed in Exodus is the Old Covenant. Since Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension we are now under the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was an “If, then” covenant with blessings and cursings based on the peoples’ obedience. The New Covenant is a better covenant with blessings and no cursings because it is based on Christ’s obedience, not our own. We do not obey the Ten Commandments to be saved because we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8). Romans 6:14 tells us, “you are not under law but under grace.” The New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ “has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises” (Heb 8:6). Christians are not under the Law because Jesus has “fulfilled the law” (Matt 5:17) and He is our propitiation for sin (Heb 2:17).
Obey the Ten Commandments!
Christians, however, should obey the Ten Commandments because “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom 7:12). We do not obey the Ten Commandments as a means of securing righteousness, but because we are made righteous through Christ. In other words, we do not obey the Ten Commandments so that we might be saved, but now that we have been saved (born again) we see them as a revelation of God’s goodness and character. Pastor Kevin DeYoung said it well:
The law is an expression of the Lawgiver’s heart and character. We must think about that before we say, “I don’t care for laws,” or before we bristle at the thought of do’s and don’ts. The commandments not only show us what God wants; they show us what God is like. They say something about His honor, His worth, and His majesty. They tell us what matters to God. We can’t disdain the law without disrespecting the Lawgiver.
The Law of Moses was given from fiery mountain Mt. Sinai and was a terrifying sight. But the Lord spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah: “the days are coming…when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…this is the covenant which I will make…I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer 31:31-33). As we begin our study of the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses, reflect on your relationship with God. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Have your sins been forgiven? Have you been reconciled to God? Are you fully trusting in His grace for salvation? Are you working for His glory? Are you forgiving others just as God has forgiven you? If not, seek the Lord!