Exodus 20:1-3, 18-22
No-one likes the phrase “laying down the law.” But that’s what the unseen LORD does on mount Sinai. As we saw yesterday, God the Son has brought the people to God the Father. And now they learn some house rules.
The order is important. They’re not told in Egypt “If you obey my commands I will redeem you from slavery.” No, they are redeemed apart from law. The people do not clean themselves up to earn their salvation. They are saved first and in this redemption they learn how to be the LORD’s people.
Thus on mount Sinai, Israel is given the ten commandments. Except that the Bible never calls them “the ten commandments” (dare I say it, 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 God’s Son. He is the One who supremely loves His Father and loves his neighbour. Even in eternity, this has been His life.
And so Israel (also called “the son of God” – Exodus 4:22), is given the life of God’s Son to live out.
But of course, this 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 applied to a bad people means death.
Even God’s people, with God’s law can’t 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 this holy God.
Well Moses isn’t really up to that job. But in Deuteronomy 18 the LORD promises to raise up another intermediary. 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.’ (Deuteronomy 18:15-18)
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 would send, not thunder-bolts, not commandments, but His Son. He would put the words into Jesus, His Prophet. And in Jesus the Good Life would be lived out by God’s Son. Where the law exacerbated the gap between God and man – Jesus bridges it. And all of a sudden there is a fulfilment of the promise “Thou shalt.”
Perhaps you are thinking, Promise? What promise? Well think about it. “Thou shalt” is a strange way to phrase a law is it not?
After all, it’s not in the imperative (the grammatical mood for commands). God could easily have said “You must not murder”. But God didn’t say that. He said “You shall 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 children “There will be peace in this house”, by golly there had better be peace! And when God says there will be peace, there’s a huge commanding force to that. But there’s also promise there.
Because, what if there is a Person called Peace? What if there is an actual embodiment of the Good Life? And what if He lives out the life of God’s Son as one of our brothers?
If He does this, then the promise is fulfilled. The Good Life has been lived. “Thou shalt” has become “He did!”
And now we can renounce ourselves and trust in the One promised by the law. You see, in the ultimate sense, there is only One fulfiller of the law – the Lord Jesus. But in Him, His righteousness, His Spirit and His very life is mine. I am free now to live His life in the world:
Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Romans 10:4)
In Jesus, and with Jesus, I become a secondary fulfiller of the law – freed to love God and neighbour. So as I hear God say “Thou shalt” it will trigger a series of responses: