Ten Commandments - Introduction Exodus 19:1-25

The Owner’s Manual for Life
Exodus 19:1-25

Check any owners manual you have laying around the house. Most likely it contains detailed instructions regarding the operation of a given “thing.” It is an invaluable document. Prevents pain! Makes us efficient. Of course, in order to be of value, it has to be read and consulted! 

I am suggesting that God has given us a basic “Owner’s Manual for Life.” It is called the Ten Commandments. So as we begin our look at this owners manual, let’s get a basic perspective regarding these ten words from God.

First, the purpose of the Commandments is on the one hand to expose man’s sinfulness (Rom 3:19-20) and on the other hand to reveal God’s holiness while serving as an aid in pointing people to Christ (Gal 3:24).

Second,  no one ever is saved by keeping the Ten Commandments (Rom 3:20-28).

Third, God has never repealed the Law. In fact, Christ has reaffirmed the law (Mat 22:36). Paul does as well (Rom 3:31). Indeed, the 10 commandments are desperately needed today.

Fourth, God is interested in both our relationship to Him and to each other, therefore #1-4 are God-ward and #5-10 are man-ward.

Historical Overview: Three months after leaving Egypt in 1445 BC the Israelites arrived at the mountain range on the southern Arabian Peninsula. There they set up camp near Mt. Sinai. Soon, Moses made four trips up the mountain to receive instructions from God and then returned to speak with the people. On the fourth trip he brought back the Ten Commandments.

Here are some didactics drawn from the narrative leading up to the giving of the commandments. This will prepare us to examine each individual command.

Didactic 1: God normally structures his relationship to his people by means of mandate rather than miracle 19:1-3.

The opening line of v 1 fairly jumps off the page. A mere 3 months following the exodus from Egypt God is ready to change the operating procedure. He is ready to return to normal. The period of spectacular miracles was brief. The 430 years in Egypt was not marked by such miracles. In other words, miracles are extraordinary, not ordinary. And obedience is ordinary, not extraordinary. It’s not that God couldn’t part our Red Sea every time we get in a fix. It’s just that he chooses not to. He expects us to implement his will. And he knows we will get along just fine if we do!

Didactic 2: God has every right to ask for obedience 19:4.

As God gets ready to lay his requirements on Moses, he begins by reminding him of his great act of rescuing Israel from Egypt. Recall the details with me. 430 years earlier Jacob and his family of 70 went to Egypt to be cared for by Joseph, his son, who had been sovereignty placed there. After Joseph died the plight of the Israelites turned sour. They became slaves to the Egyptians. So God took pity upon them and, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron, through a series of miraculous disasters (the plagues) brought about their freedom. The climax was the night the death angel killed the firstborn in every Egyptian home. So off the Israelites went! Approximately 2 million strong loaded with bounty from Egypt.
Of course the Egyptians came to their senses and sent their Army in pursuit. So God came up with the miracle at the Red Sea. The Sea parted to allow the Israelites to cross and the crushed the Egyptians as they attempted to cross.
And then there is the small matter of feeding 2 million nomads. No problem, God miraculously provided meat and manna. He also took care of water! No wonder God’s care is described as “how I bore you on eagles wings” (4). I am told that an eagle is known for its unusual devotion to its young. When teaching an eaglet to fly the parent will take him on his back to heights and drop him. If he were still too young to fly the parent would swoop down beneath him and catch him.
Thus we realize that the ”now then” of v 5 is dripping with God’s grace! How could they reasonably refuse anything God might ask? They owed him their very lives. Does this sound familiar?
This takes on even greater significance when we factor in the last phrase of v 4 - “I…brought you to Myself.” God sets them free for his own company. They belonged to Him! This sounds a lot like  1 Corinthians 6:19, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."

Didactic 3: Normally, blessing from God is conditioned on obedience 19:5-6.

Notice the language in these verses – “If…then…” The Mosaic covenant was clearly conditional.
How we cringe at this notion. We want all the goodies but none of the obligation.

Didactic 4: Often, God’s people are quick to profess love and loyalty to Him but they are slow to live it 19:7-8.

They hadn’t even received the specific commandments yet. They only know of God’s general requirement. And yet there response was swift and unqualified – “all that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ How laudable!
Unfortunately this grand profession of loyalty to God lasted a scant 40 days (24:18 and 32:1)!
A recent television documentary pointed out that the cheetah survives on the African plains by running down its prey. The big cat can sprint seventy miles per hour. But the cheetah cannot sustain that pace for long. Within its long, sleek body is a disproportionately small heart, which causes the cheetah to tire quickly. Unless the cheetah catches its prey in the first flurry, it must abandon the chase. Sometimes Christians seem to have the cheetah's approach to obedience. We speed into projects with great energy. But lacking the heart for sustained effort, we fizzle before we finish. We vow to start faster and run harder, when what we need may be not more speed but more staying power--stamina that comes only from a bigger heart. Motion and busyness, no matter how great, doesn’t yield anything unless we follow through. (Grant Lovejoy, Leadership)
Good intentions don’t cut it. A blazing start doesn’t show up in God’s stat book. He wants to know how we finish.

Didactic 5: The God of the Ten Commandments is to be feared 19:9-25.

Contemplation of being in the presence of a holy, majestic God should strike fear into our hearts. It is no small thing to trifle with God. This view of the holy God is desperately needed today. Our view must be that of Daniel (Dan 9:4-19).
For the believer, fear of God is good!  Exodus 20:20, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.” But for those outside of Christ facing God is an awful prospect. Hebrews 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In "Words We Live By", Brian Burrell tells of an armed robber named Dennis Lee Curtis who was arrested in 1992 in Rapid City, South Dakota. Curtis apparently had scruples about his thievery. In his wallet the police found a sheet of paper on which was written the following code:
1. I will not kill anyone unless I have to.
2. I will take cash and food stamps—no checks.
3. I will rob only at night.
4. I will not wear a mask.
5. I will not rob mini-marts or 7-Eleven stores.
6. If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.
7. I will rob only seven months out of the year.
8. I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
This thief had a sense of morality, but it was flawed. When he stood before the court, he was not judged by the standards he had set for himself but by the higher law of the state. Likewise when we stand before God, we will not be judged by the code of morality we have written for ourselves but by God's perfect law. (Craig Brian Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories and Illustrations (Baker, 1998), p.181).

Finally, I am impressed by the occurrence of the word “consecrate” in this narrative. Note v 10, 14, 22, 23 (re: the mountain). This term shows up in conjunction with the 4th commandment, but for now let’s be satisfied with a basic meaning of “set apart.”
Here’s the point. The holy God required that the people come before him as holy people. Or to put it another way, God expected that his people approach him having cleaned up their lives. And, how strongly did God feel about this? Verse 22 sounds rather foreboding - Exodus 19:22 "And also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them." So, here is the last didactic:

Didactic 6: We must take care how we receive the Ten Commandments.

These people were about to receive the very Words of God. They are from God Himself. This Owner’s Manual is far superior as owner’s manuals go. It is easy to read. It can be understood. It is brief. But it too must be read. And followed. Or it has no value for us!

Copyright. Joseph Flatt. 2015. All rights reserved. May be used for educational purposes without written permission but with a citation to this source.