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What are the Ten Commandments?

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Some claim that the Ten Commandments are an ethical standard, a Christian code of conduct, by which we can create a good world, one that is free of cruelty and tyranny.

Yet if we adopt this view we run the risk of rejecting Christ – as it assumes that man is able to create a good world by conforming his life to a set of standards.

I wish to propose that the commandments are much more than an ethical standard, they are the means through which God reveals Himself to the world, providing us with the direction with which to take possession of the fallen structures of our world today for His Kingdom.

Mount Sinai – Where God Reveals Himself

It was at Mount Sinai that God revealed Himself to Moses for the first time in the episode of the Burning Bush, and it was to this same mountain that Moses brought the Israelites, after being freed from Egypt. It was at this same mountain where God revealed Himself audibly to the entire nation.

We refer to the words that God spoke to Israel that day as the “Ten Commandments”. However, the original text of the scripture does not use this phrase.

The Hebrew text refers to them as the ‘aśeret hadebāriym, or the ten words. Whilst in the Greek text, they are the decalogue – again the deca – ten, logos – words.

Here, at Mount Sinai, God reveals Himself to Israel by speaking ten words. But this is not the first time that God had spoken ten times.

The Creation Connection

In the creation account, recorded in Genesis 1, we see that God spoke ten times.

John 1 tells us that it was the Word who created the earth. By speaking ten times, form, order and purpose was given to the cosmos.

In both Greek philosophy and ancient Christian theology, it is the logos, or the Word, that orders the cosmos and gives it meaning. Jesus is the one who holds it all together, whether that is our universe, our human society or our personal relationships.

A Set of Directions

The ten words were originally given to a people that had been set free from years of slavery. Israel had left behind the ruins of Egypt which had been decimated by the plagues. They hungered for the Promised Land – yet we must remember that the Promised Land was no Garden of Eden. There were many challenges that needed to be overcome before Israel could take it into possession.

Just as order, form and purpose we given to the cosmos at creation when God spoke ten times, the ten words that God gave to Israel at Sinai were the framework by which Israel would be able to take possession of the Promised Land.

Israel had been delivered from Egypt by the hand of God. The faithful observance of the ten words would be the pathway through which they would overcome chaos and death and possess life in the Promised Land… the ten words gave them the direction and power through which they would be able to overcome the giants.

Relevant today

Today we also desire freedom and to possess our Promised Land. As we respond to the call of our true King, He releases us from the bondage to the false idols that we serve. As we leave behind the crumbling structures of these idols our sight shifts away from the false idols we served, and which kept us in bondage, and onto Jesus Christ who is the doorway to life and who reveals Himself to us through His Word.

Here we see the pattern – He saves first, by calling us out, after which He provides us with direction.

The ten words given Mount Sinai define the very character and being of our Saviour. When we, as His followers, respond to His saving call we express our gratitude to Him by bringing our lives into conformity with His Word. Our loving obedience springs from this gratitude, and this obedience is an act of worship.

Not Commands… but Realties

The ten words spoken at Mount Sinai are not restrictive. They are not a set of commands, rather we should view them as a set of realities. They provide direction and show us how to live a life filled with power and purpose, one in which we can fulfil our mission of exercising righteousness and justice.

A Blueprint showing us how to fulfil our mission

As we become transformed into His likeness we will in turn express His character, His ten words, to the world around us.

We will recognise that God is the One who saves. He loves us first – according to His First Word – 

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Through gratitude we will respond by entering into an exclusive relationship with Him as our rightful King. We will cast aside all others – as expressed in His Second Word – 

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

We will trust in Him fully, having full confidence in His proven faithfulness to us, we will not doubt His nature, or His name –

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.”

This will allow us to enter into His Sabbath rest, Word number four, from where we will be able to honour and express His love, words five through ten – thereby giving expression to His righteousness and justice – which is our mission as Israelites.

This will bring order into the chaos of our current world, and lasting freedom from bondage. This is how we defeat the giants of our day and take possession of His Kingdom.

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