We are studying the book of Exodus to see God’s pictures of redemption. The book of Exodus gives pictures and shadows of what God will do when Christ comes. Exodus is not just the telling of Israel’s history, but also predicting how God will save his people again when he sends Christ to rescue the world.
We need to remind ourselves of the scene of Exodus 19 before we can consider Exodus 20. Remember what is going on as the people of Israel have come to the mountain. God is entering into a covenant with his people and the stipulations are given in Exodus 19:1-6. Once the people have agreed that they will do all that the Lord has spoken (19:8), God comes to meet with the people (19:9,17). The people needed to consecrate themselves before God came down, emphasizing the holiness of God. When God did come down, he did so with thunder and lightning, shaking of the mountain, smoke rising from the mountain, a thick cloud, and a loud, continuing trumpet blast. All the people are trembling before God. God tells Moses again to make sure that no one try to touch or come up the mountain for they will die if they do. Knowing the wickedness of humanity, God warns the people again out of his mercy and grace. We noted in our last lesson that this moment is going to change everything for the people. Everything about the people of Israel will now change from this event. The event will not only change Israel, but also change how we look at what God will do through Christ.
God Speaks (20:1-17)
Notice verse 1 of Exodus 20. “And God spoke all these words….” We saw in Exodus 19:19 that when God spoke to Moses that the sound was the sound of thunder. Thunder is a loud and frightening noise. Hear this voice as God declares his ten commandments to his people. Read Exodus 20:2-17.
Last year I did a series specifically on the ten commandments which you can find on the website under the Exodus series. I would encourage you to go back and read or listen to that series for a detailed explanation for each of the commandments. In this lesson I would rather take a step back and see the big picture regarding what God is doing with these commandments and what these things mean for us today as followers of Christ. Let’s begin by considering what God is doing through these commandments. Why did God give these commands?
First, the scriptures tell us that the Law given here at Sinai was glorious.
The Lord was pleased, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify his law and make it glorious. (Isaiah 42:21 ESV)
Galatians 3:19 tells us that it was put in place by angels, which further indicates its glorious nature. What made the Law glorious? It was not only because God gave it but also because the Law reflects God’s glory. The Law shows you who God is. It shows God’s character and nature. For example, the rules you give in your household are a reflection on you. It shows what you value and what you consider important. In the same way, God’s law reflects on him and shows us who he is and how we can live with him. Therefore his law is glorious. The Sermon on the Mount does the same thing, showing us the very nature and character of God. These are not moral maxims, instructions for personal piety, or commands to win God’s favor. This is the people meeting God. The Law is glorious and it is revealing the glory of God. But God also had another purpose for giving this law.
Second, the scriptures tell us that that Law was given to express the problem of sin.
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:20 ESV)
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (Romans 7:7 ESV)
We would not know what is right and wrong before God unless God revealed it to us. The purpose of the law is also to show us what sin is. God is gracious to reveal the law so that we can know what causes us to be separated from a relationship with God. Parents must give children the rules of the house so the children can know what will maintain a good relationship and what actions are going to bring about punishment. The law gives us the boundaries and shows us sin. But there is another aspect about this that is often neglected. The law was never given so that people would think they are doing a good job at keeping it. This was part of the struggle that Jesus and the apostles had when proclaiming the gospel. The religious leaders thought that since they did some of the law that they were doing enough. The purpose of the law was to show that by your own actions you cannot be in fellowship with God.
Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39 ESV)
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13–14 ESV)
The law does not make us look good before God. The law shows how far from God we truly are. This was the intention of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus climbs the mountain and gives the law of the covenant and he does not give a law that we would sit back and think we are doing well. Listen to what Jesus said:
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment (Matthew 5:22 ESV)
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:44–45 ESV)
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48 ESV)
No one is to listen to God’s law and think they are doing well. The law reveals the glory of God and our extreme sinfulness. This was communicated back in Exodus 19 when God said that we need to be made holy to stand before God. Yet even with this, you cannot touch the mountain when God comes down or you will die. God is that holy and that glorious and that set apart.
Fear God (20:18-21)
Look at Exodus 20:18-20 and you will notice that people got the message.
18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” (Exodus 20:18–20 ESV)
The point is not that you would be afraid of God but that you would fear God. God comes down in this way so that we will not sin. This fear is to keep us loyal to God. This fear is so that we will be transformed in our hearts to not sin. Do not be afraid of feeling fear because fear is the right response to God. We do not need to be afraid of God so long as we fear him (respect who he is).
But this fear produces a realization within God’s people. Notice that the first response of the people is found in verse 19: we need a mediator. Notice that God does not have to tell the people this. The people understand this by the experience they had. The people tell Moses to be their mediator. You shall speak to us and we will hear you. We cannot handle God speaking directly to us. This was God’s goal, as stated back in Exodus 19:9. The point was to get the people to believe Moses forever. We need a mediator. It is stunning how many people think they want to have God talk directly to them. But the scriptures indicate that this is the last thing you want to have happen while you are in the flesh. You need someone to tell you the words of God. Jesus is the one who came for us so that we would not only hear the voice of God but we would be able to see the glory of God through him.
Worship God (20:22-26)
You will notice that this event changes how the people were to understand how to worship God. In verse 22 God says that he has spoken from heaven. What does this mean for the people? Look at verse 23: you are not make any idols. You are not to have any visible form or representation of God. God spoke from heaven which means you are to not have idols because no visible form was God. You did not see God. So do not build any idols. Anything we build only diminishes God’s glory. I want you think about this truth for a moment. Anything we build only diminishes God’s glory. Have you seen some of the glorious things humans have built as monuments to God? The Mormon temples are a good example to consider. Some of them are just staggering. They are built with gold and marble. They are amazing. But do you know what God says? God says he hates it because anything we build only diminishes God’s glory. Nothing comes close to representing the glory of God.
God was so adamant about this truth that I want you to listen to what God says in verse 24-25. God says when you make me an altar, just make in an altar of earth. God says that you can just build up some mud and offer your worship to me. Further, in verse 25 if you make an altar of stone, I do not want you to cut any of the stones. Just stack the stones. Do not cut them into anything majestic because anything you build for God only diminishes his glory. Worship is not be through images. Aesthetics are not to be a concern when worshiping God. God does not want you to think about the beauty of the form because God did not reveal his form to people. God wants people to worship him directly and not through an object. What we build does nothing for God. What we create does nothing for God. He is not impressed by what we make or build. He does not want it.
It is not the altar that matters. It is not the building that matters. Style does not matter. What matters is the sacrifice. God does not care about the altar. God cares about what is on the altar.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2 ESV)
We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:10–16 ESV)
What does God want? God does not want a bunch of externals. God does not care about how pretty we can make something for God. God does not care if we can jazz up our worship. God does not care what we can build him. God does not care about how pretty something is. God wants you. God wants your heart. God wants your life. God wants you to put your life on the altar and offer it to him, by turning away from worldly things and becoming what God has called you to be. God wants you to offering praise from your lips to God.
This is what the law of God is to cause us to do. The law is to lead us to life and holiness because we understand that we are to give ourselves to God. We have a mediator in Jesus so that we can be found pleasing to God. Without Jesus our sacrifice is useless. We need someone to cleanse us and make us holy so that we can be accepted by God. Now that God has cleansed us through Jesus, we are not to make ourselves filthy again but offer our lives in holiness to God. The law shows us how glorious God is and how woefully we fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The law of God shapes our lives so that we can display the character of God to the world (cf. Isaiah 49:6).