The Context of the Law

For the first time in my ministry, I have been studying in some depth the Ten Commandments. This has been a most profitable study in my own heart and life. I have been encouraged to share my notes, and while it is not the same as the message, I pray that someone might gain some profit from what is written. Lord willing, I will seek to share my notes on each message over the coming weeks. Please note these are the sermon notes I worked from, and do not contain the complete text of what I shared in the ministry of the Word.

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“The Context of the Law”

Text: Exodus 20:1-17, “And God spake all these words, saying, 2I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 8Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.12Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. 13Thou shalt not kill. 14Thou shalt not commit adultery. 15Thou shalt not steal. 16Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. 17Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”

Intro: Our introduction to the Decalogue began by considering seven main points. We looked at their 1) Appearance summed up the law as the two great commands given by Christ, namely, a) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and b) Love your neighbor as yourself. With 2) Access we can understand that all are guilty because the law is written on the heart of mankind. 3) Authority tells us that God is the Giver and Fulfiller of the law. 4) Ability of the law is devastating in that it can only bring condemnation and separation from the holy, righteous God of heaven. 5) Assurance comes from the precious passage found in Psalm 19 and describes the perfect law of God. 6) Adversary of the law pointed directly to Satan. And 7) Acceptance of the law for a believer helps us love what provides protection. The main aspect we learned is that in order to live a life pleasing to the Lord we must learn to adore what God adores. He has given the law and it is in this law that we are to meditate day and night.

As with the purpose of every one of the 1189 chapters in God’s Word, the 20th chapter of Exodus is for the purpose of focusing on God. We do not need a chapter to show us how bad we are. Our depravity is always evident and even after salvation, the flesh can choose at times to revolt and bring dishonor to a holy God. This can and will result in discipline if the correction from God’s Word and the Holy Spirit do not bring changes to our heart and life.

So, if we are focusing on God, then we will understand the words of Paul in 1 Cor. 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” Paul is not excluding the works of the law and is not in contradiction to the writing of James. He is pointing out what the Jews failed to realize – they could never do or be good enough and could never obey the commands in order to know the glory of God. James points out that the difference between a true believer and an unbeliever is that the believer has the ability to show his faith by the works he does. The law therefore must be obeyed so that it brings the glory God demands from those who trust in Him. If we fail to obey the law, then we are falling short of the glory of God as we learn from Romans 3:23. Thus a person who sins is rightly under the wrath of God and deserved his just reward of death.

Our sovereign God has chosen to care for us in so many ways. Two of these come through the means of regulation and illumination. If you will, regulation came through the giving of the law. Illumination comes when the Holy Spirit creates a new spirit in us and we understand the light of God’s Word is for our learning. It is not to bring us harm, but to keep us from harm that will befall us. His Word also illumines our daily walk and graciously shows us why God is so far above us. He is holy and without the regulation of the law, we could never know how far we fall short of His glory. The law simply brings this into clear perspective.

As we shared previously, God did not give the law so that the children of Israel could see what they needed to do each day in order to keep a good relationship with the God who had redeemed them from Egypt. The law was given by God to prove to them that there was no way they could keep any type of behavioral pattern that would allow them to have a relationship with God.

We ask that the Lord be our guide as we now continue meditating on the law of God. Our desire is to be like trees planted by the rivers of water which brings forth fruit in its season and in so doing be a blessed and happy person. We now consider “The Context of the Law.”

  • II. The Context of the Lawgiving
  • A. The Reminder– The children of Israel are in the wilderness and they have recently been rescued from Egypt where they lived for 430 years as slaves to a foreign power. The Egyptian armies were routed while in pursuit of the Hebrews who had already completely spoiled the riches of Egypt. While in Egypt, they suffered terribly at the hands of the Hyksos who ruled the land. Their troubles were even compounded by the fact that the rulers of the land had sought to exterminate all the male babies in order to bring extinction to the Hebrews. But God had preserved them by the hand of faithful couple who had brought Moses into the world.
  • B. The Redeemer – v. 1
  1. The Identification of His Person – “I am the LORD” – Hos. 13:4, “Yet I am the LORD thy God from the land of Egypt, and thou shalt know no god but me: for there is no saviour beside me.” The word used is Jehovah and means the self-existent or eternal One. Unlike the gods of Egypt who needed the adulation of their followers, Jehovah had need of nobody and of nothing in order to bring honor and glory to Himself. In other words, by the calling of His name, He clears up any possible idea or misunderstanding that He was a creation like unto them. We would do well to remember this truth. God does not have to have our attention or glory. He graciously accepts that from us, but as A.W. Pink stated, “The Creator does not need the creation in order to exist.” So, in this first person address, He confirms to the Israelites and to us that He is not a mere object of worship such as a piece of wood or stone. He reminds the Israelites that He is the “I Am That I Am.”
  2. The Immutability of His Person – I am thy God – Here He clearly distinguishes Himself as the One Who is far above the mere gods of Egypt that they have just left behind. To the listeners as they stood in the desert sands, there would have been no doubt, but that He was and is the Sovereign Who controls all things both in heaven and in earth. Further, there could be no question as they had just watched the vast waters relinquish their hold on the bloated bodies of the army of Egypt, that His protection was unchanging.

    His provisions were also unfailing, but more importantly, His Person cannot and does not change. The Israelites could not change this by their actions or even by their acceptance of it, and neither could the Egyptians. As Ps. 121 makes clear, “My help comes from the Lord.” The God of heaven had already promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their seed would be vast as the sand of the sea. For this to take place would take an unchanging presence that never sleeps.

    In addressing the Israelites, He stresses the importance of not just Who He is, but that He is their God. He is a personal God unlike the gods of Egypt who were distant and unapproachable. God is also making it clear that He is the One Who did the choosing by this phrase. “I am” reminds us He is from everlasting and the choice of Israel was His alone by the clarification of “thy God.”

    It is a sovereign provision that He not only chose them, but condescends to be just their God. He is not the God of the world’s heathen, but of all who have their faith in Him alone. Today, nothing has changed and neither has God. The teaching that God is the Father of all and all of mankind is His children is heresy.

  3. The Importance of His Protection – Ps. 81:5-10

    a. I brought thee out – a helpless people. The Hyksos who ruled Egypt were a powerful people who had moved into the region of the lower Nile. When they arrived, they had quickly subjugated all the native inhabitants of the land. Their armies were well equipped and Scripture indicates they feared an uprising by their slaves. Of interest though is that they did not seem to fear losing their power over the nation of Egypt. Their fear was that the Hebrews would join with Egypt’s enemies in order to leave the land, thus leaving Egypt with no slave labor to build its great cities and funeral pyramids.

    Unlike the Hyksos, the Hebrews were helpless. They were but lowly sheepherders despised by the Egyptians for their choice of animal husbandry – the raising of lambs.

    b. The house of bondage – a hopeless people – A slave has no hope for the future. They live each day in fear it may be their last. If a master has no more use for them, they could be killed outright or sold away from their families. A slave had no hope his condition could change. It was a miserable existence many endured.

    1) The bondage of Egypt – Egypt in Scripture is a type of the world and of sin. Sadly, the time spent in Egypt had not produced a people who were holy. In fact, the vast majority of the Hebrew peoples had no clue as to Who God even was.

    For 430 years, they had been captive to a people greater than themselves, but they had also been captive to the gods that surrounded them. They were living in the depths of despair and of sin. They had already as individuals, and as a nation, failed in the very and greatest of all the commands to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind.

    Their bondage in Egypt controlled their body and their mind. Throughout their journeys in the wilderness, it seems like their default was away from the law of God given for their protection and was instead focused on the gods that they brought with them out of the house of bondage.

    2) The bondage of sin – It is a unique parallel when we realize the world resembles Egypt even in its abhorrence of lambs. As Egypt was bound in its own sin and hatred of sheep, so also, the world is bound in sin and its hatred of the perfect, spotless Lamb of God.

    The people of God would do well to remember the hatred Egypt had for sheepherders. Should we wonder when the world hates those who are the sheep of His pasture? Sadly, it would not be long before the Hebrews were wanting to go back into bondage because they preferred the garlic and leeks of Egypt. It took the killing off of an entire generation before the murmuring would cease and they would be able to move into the Promised Land. How sad that we as believers can prefer the garlic and leeks of the world just as the Hebrews did. We believe the pleasures of the world are worth going after instead of laying up treasures in heaven.

  4. The Ingathering of His People
    a. The children of Israel –

    1) A small, insignificant tribe of peoples – What an outpouring of grace that God did not choose based on what Israel had to offer! They were the smallest of all the tribes and there was nothing in them that demanded the attention of God. In fact, even after they were chosen, their constant desires and lusts dragged them away and it is a wonder they were not fully and completed destroyed just as the surrounding nations. Their sin was compounded by the continuous rejection of the God who redeemed them. The love was His alone!

    2) A peculiar people – 1 Pet. 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”

    The word peculiar speaks of an act of acquisition. It also means a preservation, a purchase, or a possession. How like our Lord to choose a people to Himself! This is why Peter calls them peculiar. They were a purchase and a completely owned possession. By right of covenant made with Himself, He preserved them. This was a direct type of what He did with a Bride for His beloved Son.

    3) An holy nation – Oh, how the law should have kept their lives in a manner where they would not be a poor testimony. Sadly, no sooner had they been punished for their transgressions, then they would turn around and go into even grosser types of sin. Their name as a people of God brought severe condemnation from the Almighty because it was a reproach against His perfect holiness.

    To be called a nation that was holy was a type of the church that was to come. The church of Jesus Christ is called to a life of complete holiness. To be holy is to be set apart from all that detracts from the glory of God. A person cannot claim to be part of the holy nation or people of God when their lives do not reflect a change of heart and life.

    4) A nation of priests – What a marvelous difference between the OT Israel and the NT church in this statement. Israel was to be governed by the sacrifice of the Levites as they led the people to God through the sacrifices demanded by God. However, the priests were only a temporary institution to guide the Israelites into worship. Sadly, the worship by the priests was often leading them to worship self or the evil gods surrounding them. In the church though, every believer can now come before the throne of grace. There is no need to have a mediator because our Mediator is Jesus Christ.

    b. The Bride of Christ – Walter Chantry commented, “Sinners are boxed in to only one hope for recovering themselves from the iron grasp of the devil. It is, ‘if God will give them repentance.’ With ‘if God’ before him, a sinner may cry to God for his omnipotent mercy to save a helpless wretch.”

    For those who wish to consider the difference between these two entities, you will note that membership in Israel was based on keeping certain provisions of the law and by rite of circumcision. The apostle Paul though noted that “not all Israel was Israel.”

    Membership in the bride of Christ comes simply by placing faith in the Lamb of God, repentance and forgiveness of sins. It is not by keeping any provision of the ancient law given to Moses. Christ came to show that only One could keep the law perfectly and gain favor with God the Father, and that was God the Son. Only through Christ now do we have redemption through His blood. What a glorious truth!

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