Before giving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, God said, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”
These words were far more than a reminder to Moses and Israel of the deliverance the Lord made possible. This was the Lord saying to Moses and to every person in the Sinai wilderness that the commandments were given individually and not collectively. God was dealing with a nation at the time, but He is also a very personal God who speaks to the hearts of people of all ages.
During the time in which God gave the commandments, the people were gathered around the base of Mount Sinai. He had given instructions about how they should stand at a distance from the mountain, making sure they did not so much as touch the border of Sinai, for “whosoever toucheth the mount shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 19:12).
The people observed with terror as God gave the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20:18 tells us they “saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking.” It seems likely these things accompanied the giving of each of the commandments, and Scripture tells us the people moved away from the mountain. In the beginning, they were understandably curious, but now they reacted in fear of the Lord’s judgment.
Moses came down from the mountain, and the people said, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” They were willing to let Moses be the one who came nearest to the Lord. With the giving of the Law, the people became more aware of their sinfulness and the judgments they faced because of their sins.
Moses said they should not be afraid of God as if He sought to harm them. Instead, Moses told them, they ought to have a reverential fear of God as the One who intended only good things for their spiritual wellbeing. “God is come to prove you,” he said. Would they acknowledge God as their King and would they avoid evil?
When Moses again “drew near unto the thick darkness where God was,” the Lord told him to tell the children of Israel they had heard His voice giving the Ten Commandments. There should be no doubt that it was God who spoke.
Moses must tell the people they should never make for themselves gods of silver or gold. He did not want them to fashion and worship gods that came from their imagination.
The children of Israel must be careful that an altar built for sacrifices had nothing idolatrous in its construction. “An altar of earth” was sufficient for their offerings during their journey. Such an altar could be easily built up and just as easily brought down when they moved to another place.
If they should make an altar of stone, the stones they used must be unhewn. When man puts a chisel to a stone, he is putting himself and his ideas into the stone. The materials God supplied were satisfactory to Him.
The Law reveals our unrighteousness, but it is not the way to salvation. We cannot perfectly obey the Law, and we know our salvation is not by works. The apostle Paul made this clear when he wrote “a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). Salvation is a gift, not a reward.
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. firstname.lastname@example.org