Thou Shalt

No-one likes the phrase “laying down the law.”  But that’s what the unseen LORD does on mount Sinai.  God the Son has brought the people to God the Father and now they learn the law of the LORD.

The order is important.  They’re not told in Egypt “If you obey my commands I will redeem you from slavery.”  No, it’s “I have redeemed you from slavery, here is my law.”  The people do not clean themselves up to earn their salvation.  No they are saved first and in this redemption they learn how to be the LORD’s people.

And so on mount Sinai, Israel is given the ten commandments.  Except that the bible never calls them “the ten commandments” (dare I say this is a mistranslation by the KJV, but one that is followed by most of the English versions).  It’s “the ten words that are revealed on Sinai.

These words from the LORD are a revelation of the Good Life.  The Good Life is a life of loving God (the first four words) and loving others (the last six).

As such it’s a perfect description of the life of the Son of God.  He is the One who loves His Father and loves others.  In fact He loves His Father by loving others.

And so Israel (also called “the son of God” – Exodus 4:22), is given the life of the Son of God to live out.

Which is a tall order – to put it mildly.  Here’s how they react:

the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”  (Exodus 20:18-19)

These words describing the Good Life were death to the Israelites.  The law is good.  But we are not.  And a good law meeting a bad people means death.

Yet think about our phrase for a second: “Thou shalt.”  That’s actually a very surprising way to phrase a law.

Because it’s not in the imperative (the grammatical mood for commands).  God could easily have  said “Thou must not murder”.  But God didn’t say that.  He said “Thou shalt not murder.”  You won’t.  You’re my special people.  I’ve saved you.  You won’t lie, you won’t murder, you won’t covet.  You won’t.  It’s future indicative (for grammar buffs).

Now obviously that still carries commanding force.  When a mother says to two screaming kids “There will be peace in this house”, by golly there had better be peace.   And when God says there will be peace, well there’s a huge commanding force to that.  But there’s also promise there.  You will be my people, You will live the Good Life.

But how?  How can we live the Good Life?

The great majority of the world thinks we can do it by taking good advice, applying it diligently to our moral behaviour and never giving up.  Wisdom, will-power and persistence will see us through.

But no.  Not even God’s people, with God’s law can live the Good Life.  The law can only describe this life for the people – it can’t produce it in them.  Actually the people become distanced from the LORD after the speaking of the law.  They want Moses to stand in between them and shield them from the holy God.

Well Moses isn’t really up to that job, but the LORD promises to raise up another intermediary in Deuteronomy 18.  Moses tells the people:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to him you shall listen – just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb [that is, Sinai] on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken.  I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him.

The Father thundered the ten words from Sinai and it drove the people down.  The Good Life never entered a human heart coming from stone-tablets.  But in the fullness of time He planned to send, not thunder-bolts and not stone-tablets, but His Son.  He would put the words into Jesus, His Prophet.  And from Jesus the Good Life would get into the people.

“Thou shalt” can only ever condemn us if we try to obey it in our own strength.  But “thou shalt” becomes a fulfilled promise in Jesus.  The Son of God lived that Good Life for us.  And then, by His Spirit, He puts it in us.

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