We just finished walking through Exodus in my Pentateuch class (which only has 1 more meetings left), and we took a time to sit with this introduction to the Ten Commandments.
“God spoke all these words, saying: I am YHWH your God, who brought out from the land of Egypt, from a house of serfs.” -Exodus 20:1-2
That’s as far as we got. At least at first, we did eventually get through the commandments, but we stayed here for a bit. The first thing we noted is that as God prepares to step in and establish the TEN COMMANDMENTS, something that is arguably pretty important to the development of the nation of Israel, that he stops to remind them of what he has already done. He doesn’t just drop the law in their laps. We often have a harsh picture of God and of how he gives a bunch of rules in the Old Testament to tell everyone how to behave and what not to do, but before the law commences God pauses to make a note. God’s deliverance of Israel comes before Law. Grace precedes Law. I like that.
As YHWH is preparing to call a separate people for himself, he highlights something directly from the immediate past of what has been taking place. He freed them from their time in Egypt where they were held as slaves. And then after reminding them of this thing he has done as a redeemer, he gives them a bunch of rules to govern their behavior. It seems like God has merely taken them from one form of slavery to bring them into a new slavery to his Law, but there is one major differen; God is not Pharaoh.
God is establishing a very different dynamic of relationship here. Instead of master versus slave, which the Israelites were quite familiar with YHWH God is redefining what it looks like to serve him as master. He is not like Pharaoh who broke his word, first saying the people could go and then forbidding it. He is not cruel, demanding more of them and then depriving them of what they need to get the work done. God simply is not a master as we understand earthly masters.
Throughout this discussion, we were dodging around the idea of whether or not God expects the nation of Israel (or us for that matter) to follow the Ten Commandments. He says pretty plainly that this is how they should live. Bottom line should be do it or else. Something interesting to note here is that as the Ten Commandments unfold, there is no punishment directly explained. It’s simply an absolute statement. Further down the law will flesh out what to do to those who don’t follow the law, but right here we received Ten fairly absolute statements declaring what we should do.
So why did God give the Ten Commandments? What are their purpose? Is the new master of Israel just setting up the box of behavioral requirements and stepping back, ready to whack whoever doesn’t measure up?
I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the Law and how I relate to it. Alot of times I spend that time thinking about how seriously I should take the commandments and how I relate to the consequences of not following the law. The more I think about it, it really boils down to the question of should I follow the law? Not do I have to follow the law, or does God want me to follow the law? If God didn’t want me to follow the law, why would he give it the first place. And if I had to follow the law, I would have dropped dead from my disobedience a long time ago. So why should I follow the law?
If there are set expectations in a relationship, a guideline for how that interaction functions and I blatantly violate that agreement, there is a break in relationship. God lays down the guidelines of how to relate to him, what is important to him, and how to relate to each other. God is spelling out what relationship should look like and when I act outside of those bonds, relationship is broken. So if I want to be in relationship with God, I probably should obey the law. Do I understand it? Not always, but God is asking the Israelites to trust him based on who he has proven himself to be, a deliverer who keeps his word.
So really I have to ask myself, do I trust God enough to follow the law?