The Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-21

Not too long ago my daughter shared a conversation she had with a classmate.

“Are you religious?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Are you?”

“Nope. And I’m glad I’m not . . . if I were then I couldn’t say any bad words.”

While his honesty and confession make me laugh, his perception of religion probably sides with the majority. Most of us chafe under rules that we think restrict us. There are 613 commands found in the first five books of the Bible. Admittedly, I have a difficult time reading through all of the Old Testament laws, let alone the book of Leviticus.

Although these laws are directed toward ancient Israel, how could anyone follow all these laws, let alone remember all of them? What is the purpose of the law? Are we expected to follow all of these laws today? What is the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant, and how are they linked together?

Although I’m camping out at Exodus 20 in the familiar Ten Commandments Campground, I hope this post helps answer some of these questions. You may read this passage here: Bible Gateway.

While all the Ten Commandments deal with our responsibilities toward God, the first four relate primarily with Him. The last six deal with people. How we relate to God will manifest how we relate to others.

After freeing the Israelites from bondage, God wasn’t about to chain their hands and feet with burdensome legalities. Rather, His desire was for Israel to become a holy nation and kingdom of priests (19:6). Israel’s accurate representation of God would only manifest through them if they adhere to His commands.

( God’s laws are given to free us to be all He desires us to be. The only restrictions He sets are ones that keep us from doing what might cripple us and keep us from being our best. His guidelines light our path and keep us from destructive paths when we follow them.

God desired to lead Israel to a life of practical holiness by meeting individual needs in a responsible and loving way. Layman’s Bible Commentary notes: “The Ten Commandments are both a corporate constitution for Israel and an intensely personal revelation from God to His children. The you in the commandments is not plural, but singular. Each individual is therefore urged to enter into the joy of service by adopting this covenant and by obeying the laws which are contained therein. The Decalogue is not only a constitution, it is God’s standard for Israel’s culture.”

The correct interpretation of the law is best understood by a study of the Old Testament prophets. Rather than zooming in on the particulars, their focus is on the essence of the law (Hosea 6:6-7; Micah 6:6-8). By Jesus’ time, most people viewed the law through distorted lens. Instead of seeing the law as God’s principles to fulfill His ultimate law of love, law-keeping became an end in itself. The religious leaders added their own burdensome laws that even they themselves couldn’t keep. They promoted the idea that one had to keep every law to earn God’s protection and prosper on earth and the life to come. But God never intended for the law to be a means of earning His favor or salvation.

Layman’s Commentary adds: “The Mosaic Covenant was never given as a means of earning righteousness by law keeping. The new covenant is promised because the Mosaic Covenant could not be kept by Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Whenever Israel failed with regard to the law, it was not just a matter of violating the law in some minute particular, but it was a result of unbelief (Psalm 78:21-22, 32:-33, 37).”

In Hebrews, the Apostle Paul writes that the law is provisional and preparatory. The law not only laid out God’s principles, but acted as a mirror to show us our unrighteousness. Although the law was good, the new covenant is superior. By revealing God’s righteousness, the law demands righteousness. But the law can’t give righteousness (Gal. 2:21); only Christ can do that (2 Cor. 5:21).  Unlike the old covenant—where only a few could draw near to God—all who wish may draw near to God in the new covenant.

Layman’s writes: “The first manifestation of God on Mount Sinai portrays the marvelous truth of the holiness of God, and the separation which that demands. The second manifestation of the Lord (on Mount Calvary) reveals the marvelous grace of God, by which He draws near to us and by which we may draw near to Him. How careful we must be to keep both the holiness and the grace of God in perspective.”

The following video is a good animated explanation of the Old Testament Law by The Bible Project. They share not only how the old and new covenants link together, but also how Jesus fulfills the law.