Daily Bible Studies
Series Theme: Exodus Studies (Series 2 of 3 - chapters 20 to 24)
The Law in Exodus
GENERAL INTRODUCTION : Studying the Law
A. The Purpose of these Studies
We need to read or study the Law for the following reasons:
B. The Difficulty of Approach
The difficulty of studying the Law is that it is spread over the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, often with repetition. We can either choose to study it as we go, verse by verse through the books, or by seeking to group together the various subjects covered by the Law. In this set of studies we have chosen to adopt the former approach and will therefore simply observe the Laws as they come up in the passage we are reading in Exodus.
C. The Purpose of the Laws
Living in the early part of the twenty first century means that we will from time to time find some of the Laws quite antiquated and we may wonder why God had laws that we consider so old fashioned. We need to remember, therefore,
Introduction to 'The Law in Exodus'
The Scope of this set of Studies
Within these studies we cover the passage in the book of Exodus from chapter 20 to chapter 24. This covers the first area of Law given by God through Moses at Sinai. We therefore start with the Ten Commandments and go on through the Laws that came to be referred to as the Book of the Covenant.
The Structure & Nature of these Studies
In Ex 24:3 we find, “Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws”. The “laws” are specified as starting at 21:1 and they run on until 23:19. The Ten Commandments simply are described in 20:1 by, “God spoke all these words ” and the whole of that chapter and the verses of 23:20 -33 describe God's general instructions to Moses. We will use the sub-heading for the “laws” that the New International Version uses.
We will see that the whole of Israel heard the Lord speak the Ten Commandments (which He later wrote on tablets of stone) at Mount Sinai, but only Moses heard the Lord speak the laws up on the mountain.
Moses then wrote down all these laws and words (24:4) when he came down, and they then became referred to as the Book of the Covenant (24:7).
It would appear that other laws, e.g. in Leviticus & Numbers, were spoken directly to Moses by God in the Tent of Meeting (see Lev 1:1, Num 1:1) in the early months after the main encounter at Sinai. The Laws of Deuteronomy are those thus received and reiterated by Moses just before Israel entered the Promised Land.
Part 1 : “The Words (1)”
In this first chapter we will see the Ten Commandments, Moses allaying the people's fears, and the Lord's instructions about idols and altars before we move on to what are described as “The Laws” in chapters 21 to 23. The ten Commandments are God's basic laws for founding this new society and any other in the world. Note them.
Chapter: Exodus 20
Passage: Exodus 20:1,2
A. Find Out:
1. Who spoke the words that followed? v.1
2. How did He name Himself? v.2a
3. What had He done? v.2b
1. Read Exo 3:14,15a. Why is God's “name” important?
2. Why do you think the Lord describes Himself as he does in v.2?
3. Why do you think He speaks about the Exodus?
Before considering the Ten Commandments, it is important to note the words in these first two vital verses. The first thing to note is that these Commandments are GOD-SPOKEN and they are the first Laws given by God to His new people. They were Laws written by God on the two tablets of stone (Deut 5:22, Ex 24:12).The rest of the Laws of the Covenant Moses wrote down (Ex 24:4,7) and it became the Book of the Covenant. This first group was especially important therefore.
The next thing to note is God's description of Himself. He reveals Himself with the name He had previously used with Moses, He is “I AM”, signifying His eternal qualities, the God who is, who was and who always will be. In this He distinguishes Himself from all else we know. He alone is eternal. In this, therefore, He identifies Himself in a way that emphases HIS DIFFERENTNESS. These Laws are therefore unique among the Laws of humanity. They come from heaven!
The final thing to note is His reference to His activity in bringing them out of Egypt. In this He describes Himself as GOD IN HISTORY, the One who intervenes in the affairs of men. The first description lifted Him above the affairs of men in the description of His Being, but the second description, reminds us that He is God who comes down among us and has dealings with us.
Chapter: Exodus 20
Passage: Exodus 20:3-6
A. Find Out:
1. What is the first commandment? v.3
2. What is the second commandment? v.4
3. What is the second part of that? v.5a
4. How does the Lord describe Himself? v.5b
5. Who does He punish? v.5c
6. But who does He show love to? v.6
1. Why do you think we should have no other gods?
Now the Lord speaks the commands. The first one is very simple: not to have any other gods (v.3). Why? Because there is only ONE God and therefore if you worship anyone or anything else, or rely on anything or anyone else, you are not giving to God the worship or trust that is due to Him alone. No one or no thing in any way compares to His greatness and therefore to trust anything less than Him is pure folly and does no good at all.
The second command (v.4) is a further expression of the first command: don't make anything in natural likeness that you then bow down to. Why? Because you are simply giving expression to disobedience of the first command and are making something far less than God the object of your esteem. If you bow down and worship something or someone you are exalting them and declaring them much greater than yourself. Isaiah challenged Israel with cold logic when they failed this commandment – Isa 41:22,23, 44:12-20, 46:6,7 – pure folly!
When the Lord gives these commands He doesn't give these logical reasons, simply that He is jealous – incensed at any false rivalry – so those who reject and hate Him will receive His judgement but those who live in the truth and worship the One who alone is worthy of worship, will receive His outpoured love.
1. Only worship that which is worthy of worship – the Lord!
2. Don't even consider any challengers – there are none!
SPECIAL NOTE : Judgement through Generations
The expression of God's activity in verses 5 and 6 of Exodus 20 often raise queries and so we pause to consider it here.
“Punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation”
That God punishes wrong doing we probably have no problem. Deep down we expect wrongs to be punished, for that is justice.
“Punishing the children”
The question that is sometimes raised is why does God punish children for their father's sin? There are two possibilities here.
First, the children aren't guiltless; they (implied) follow their parents in their sin and therefore also receive the judgement. Second, there is in the Hebrew history an indication that God holds entire families accountable (e.g. Josh 7:24 ,25) but that would almost certainly be because they all held the beliefs of the father and, again, were all guilty.
“to the third and fourth generation”
Because of the strength in Hebrew families of the role of the father, the patriarch, when there was a son, a grandson and even a great grandson, all of them would come under the patriarch's influence and would thus become guilty of the same sin of unbelief. We perhaps don't appreciate the influence by the father on the thinking of the children. The fact that the punishment only goes as far as the fourth generation is an indication of the Lord's grace in withholding further judgement.
The Scriptures reveal that although this rule applies, where an individual repents of the sin of the Father and turns to God, then God's blessing is immediately available for him (e.g. Josiah in 2 Chron 34)
“showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me”
This simply says that God's love is unlimited in respect of those who love Him. God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and love is His natural expression, the giving of goodness. Those who are in relationship with Him He is able to bless – every generation that enters into relationship with Him.
Chapter: Exodus 20
Passage: Exodus 20:7-11
A. Find Out:
1. What are we not to do? v.7a
2. Why? v.7b
3. What are we to do? v.8a
4. How? v.9,10
5. Why? v.11
1. How do you think it is possible to misuse God's name?
2. What is the twofold purpose of the Sabbath day?
The first two commandments were about having just the one true God. The second two commandments are about honouring Him.
First of all, how is it possible to misuse the Lord's name? Firstly we do not honour God and demean Him by the way we speak of Him, by the way we may use His name as a swear word. Secondly, we do it when we speak wrongly about God, misrepresenting Him and making Him less that He really is. If we speak casually or carelessly about God we are not honouring Him as the Almighty, Holy Being that He is, and for this He holds us accountable.
But what about the Sabbath? Was this just a day for the Jews or has it wider implications? The first aspect of this is about making it holy or special and different, simply because God made it different. This goes back to Gen 2:2,3 when God came to the end of His work of creating the world and purposefully used the next day as a rest day to emphasise the completeness of all that He had done. This seventh day is, therefore, a day of acknowledging or remembering the perfection of God's work in giving us this world, a day of thankfulness. Ceasing work on that day, as well as being a means of being able to stop and being thankful, may also be simple wisdom. The human spirit needs to rest and pause up. Work is legitimate and a means of making provision but pausing on the seventh day acknowledges that the provision is from God. Abandoning this memorial day says we are abandoning God.
1. How we use God's name indicates what we think of Him.
2. How we use the seventh day reveals what we think about God.
Chapter: Exodus 20
Passage: Exodus 20:12
A. Find Out:
1. What is the 5 th commandment? v.12a
2. What will that do? v.12b
3. Read also Eph 6:1,2 What is the promise there?
1. What do you think honour means?
2. Why do you think God added a condition?
3. Why do you think this commandment is important?
In our society in England in the early part of the twenty first century, we are seeing a breakdown in society of which the rejection of this command is one clear characteristic. Let's examine the command.
What does honour mean? It means to exalt or esteem or acknowledge distinction. Why should a child do this of their parents? First of all, because God says so, and He makes it a condition of a good life. What are the fruits of rejecting this commandment? Thinking and speaking badly of the parent, then acting badly by abusing the parent and disobeying the parent. When we see this taking place we see disharmony and break-up of the family with eventual disintegration of the family with the child/adult leaving their parents and having little or no further contact with them. This is not the life of blessing.
So what other reasons are there for honouring parents? Because they deserve it. Why? Because they are older and (we hope) wiser. Note that wisdom doesn't have anything to do with accumulation of lots of knowledge (e.g. at University) but knowing how rightly to live as God says. Our estimation of our parents may not be very high because we see their weaknesses or failures but our honouring them will open the way for God to bless and change them. Expecting perfect parents this side of heaven will be a fruitless hope, so honouring is not only when our parents get it right. Honouring has to do with position and not necessarily about achievement. It is something we have lost as a society and it may, therefore, be difficult for you to comprehend.
1. Do I honour my parents, despite their failings?
Chapter: Exodus 20
Passage: Exodus 20:13
A. Find Out:
1. What is the sixth commandment? v.13
2. Which of those would you consider murder?
We consider this one verse on its own because it is so often misunderstood. It is NOT, “You shall not kill ”. If it was it would contradict a variety of other verses in the Law.
For instance IN WAR, Israel were commanded by God to kill all the enemy forces – simply to stop come-back. When Israel first entered the Land at God's command, the choice for the people of Canaan was either to leave, to join Israel , or to die. Killing was a legitimate action under those circumstances.
In SOCIAL LAW killing was a requirement for a number of serious crimes. Capital punishment was a legitimate means of punishment. The death penalty was at God's instruction.
Then there was ACCIDENTAL KILLING, which we would refer to as manslaughter. Where it was a legitimate accident then the penalty was strictly limited.
In each of these incidences there was killing that was not murder. Murder was purposeful killing of another human being under circumstances not covered by one of the above three categories. This command is the first of the commandments that affects society as a whole and when followed brings a security to life. When we demean this command in any way, we make the taking of life accessible or possible. The purposeful taking of life FOR WHATEVER REASON apart from the three above is murder and in God's eyes requires the severest of penalties – death. Whereas for some (e.g. ideological fanatics) the death penalty may not be a deterrent, for many it is. We have removed it in our society to our own detriment.
1. Killing is not necessarily murder. We need to distinguish them.
2. Murder is seen, in God's eyes, as one of the severest crimes.
Chapter: Exodus 20
Passage: Exodus 20:14
A. Find Out:
1. What is the seventh commandment? v.14
1. What do you take adultery to mean?
2. Why is adultery harmful to individuals?
3. Why is adultery harmful to society?
Genesis 2:24 speaks of a man being “united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” Now most commentators maintain that that refers to far more than just physical oneness. This seems to be affirmed in the sense of Paul's words about not being united with a prostitute (1 Cor 6:16). Uniting with your partner in this way is also a joining of spirit and therefore anything that breaks that unity is to be condemned.
Adultery is sexual intercourse outside of marriage involving at least one married person. What is supposed to be probably the most intimate of encounters is, in God's design, purely for within marriage. Adultery is unfaithfulness by one marriage partner whereby they abandon their love and commitment to their partner to give themselves to another. In secret it breeds guilt, and when it becomes known it creates pain, shame, anger, and mistrust. It has the potential to utterly destroy the marriage relationship. When it becomes casual, as in our society today, it brings upheaval and insecurity to society and our world is littered with individuals who are the hurt cast-offs of another's casual sexual encounter outside of the marriage relationship. In early Israel so important was it that the death penalty was the punishment for adultery (e.g. Deut 22:22 -24) .
Jesus expanded the basic commandment and said simply looking at a woman lustfully was already committing adultery with her (Mt 5:27 ,28). His warning was don't even start moving in that direction. In a world where the media is full of sexual pictures, it is difficult to keep a pure heart but that is Jesus' call to us who call ourselves Christians. No excuses, it is quite clear!
1. “Falling out of love” is not an excuse for adultery.
A. Find Out:
1. What is the eighth commandment? v.15
2. What is the ninth commandment? v.16
1. Why is stealing harmful to the individual?
2. Why is stealing harmful to the community?
3. What is the negative effect of speaking wrongly about another?
Stealing is simply taking into your ownership what belongs to another, without their permission. It differs from borrowing in that you take it without permission and you take it to hold onto it for your ownership. It is an offence against another person. There is in God's eyes a very simple principle and one which is re-enacted in most laws: what has been bought by you or made by you belongs to you. It is yours and so taking it without your permission for their long-term use (ownership) is wrong. It doesn't matter what it is, it is stealing. We may try to rationalise it by saying they don't need it (e.g. paper from the company you work for) or don't deserve it (evading taxes), but it still is stealing.
But the ninth commandment gives us another abuse against others: speaking wrongly about what they have said and done. This is more than just speaking badly about others, although that is also wrong, this is seeking to pervert justice, because false testimony is telling untruths about them that lead to injustice.
Each of these four commandments we have just considered are to ensure there is peace and harmony in the community of God's people. Murder takes life, adultery takes a person, stealing takes a possession, false testimony takes a reputation, and each one causes harm and upset in the lives of individuals and in the community. It isn't only the individuals that are upset, although that is bad enough, but the whole of the community is adversely affected when these things take place. Guilt, shame and especially mistrust break in to the lives of the people.
1. If you don't acquire it legitimately, it's stealing.
2. If it's not true what you say about them, it's false witness.
A. Find Out:
1. List the things the tenth command says you shouldn't covet. v.17
1. What do you think covet means?
2. What do you think is the purpose of this commandment?
To covet means to yearn wrongly after something. First and foremost it is an indication of lack of contentment, failure to be satisfied with what you already have. In a day of mass production of goods, and high levels of advertising, we are encouraged to want more than we have, not to be content with our lot. This command is a restraint on constantly wanting more. But there is more.
There is a second aspect to this command. It is a restraint on wanting more wrongly, on wanting what someone else already has. It envisages someone looking over their fence, so to speak, and wanting their neighbour's house, wife, servants or goods and possessions. Not only is this a sign of lack of contentment, it is providing the seeds of temptation to do something wrong. Coveting is first thinking this desire, which can then be followed by some action to bring about the fulfilment of that desire.
The classic illustration of this in Scripture is Ahab coveting Naboth's vineyard (see 1 Kings 21). Ahab had an apparently legitimate desire – to acquire a neighbouring vineyard to turn it into a kitchen garden for his palace. The only thing was that Naboth didn't want to sell it. Ahab's wrong reaction to this shows he had a covetous heart which when expressed to his wife ended in them having Naboth killed and the vineyard taken. Covetousness is essentially greed that flourishes on discontentment. Jesus' antidote to wanting more and more possessions (Lk 12:15) and being able to be at peace, was to put seeking God's will first and allowing the Lord to provide your needs (Lk 12:31). Note here the distinction between needs and wants. Wants are the things that breed covetousness and all that goes with it!
1. Possessions are not bad in themselves. Wanting more and more is.
2. Contentment and resting in God is the antidote to wrong desires.
SPECIAL NOTE: Do we need the Ten Commandments Today?
Sometimes people are heard to ask, “Are the Ten Commandments relevant to life today? Are they binding on Christians?” The simple answer to this question is, “Consider the opposite to these commands. Is that the sort of life you want?” Consider the following suggestions:
No, simply by considering the alternatives, we can see that each of these ten commands is still applicable today. Reverse the first four and you have pagan superstition. Reverse the latter six and you upheaval of society.
God gave these commands because:
The first four match reality and anything less degenerates into pagan superstition and fear, and
The latter six bring peace, order and stability to society. Remove them and all those three characteristics are also removed.
A. Find Out:
1. What did the people see and hear and what was their response? v.18
2. What did they ask? v.19
3. What did Moses say God was doing, and how? v.20
4. So what happened? v.21
1. What was the fear of the people?
2. Why do you think they had this?
3. What do you think Moses meant about it being a test?
In chapter 19 Moses had been up the mountain [1st time] and received their initial calling (19:3-7), then again [2nd] to receive instructions for consecration (19:8-14), then [3rd] to receive a warning (19:20 -25). According to Moses (Deut 5:22 ) the Lord first spoke the Ten Commandments out loud in the hearing of all the people and then the people responded in fear (Deut 5:23 -27) as we've just read.
Thus it seems that all the people heard the Ten Commandments but only Moses received the following laws (20:21) when he went up again [4th] which he wrote down (Ex 24:3,4) and which became referred to as the Book of the Covenant (Ex 24:7). Moses then went up again [5th] to receive the stone tablets (Ex 24:12-18) and remained there forty days. He went up a final forty days [6th] to receive the replacement stone tablets after he broke the first ones (Ex 34:1-5,28)
The significance of these verses is that the people didn't receive the revelation of the Covenant Laws because they didn't want to come near to God when they feared for their lives. Fear, an awesome respect of the Lord, is good, and in this respect they passed the test of having a right response to the Lord's presence (see Moses' record of God's approval – Deut 5:28 -31). Moses reassures them (“Do not be afraid” v.20). It's good to have the respect but understand that God's intent is not to destroy them.
A. Find Out:
1. What had Israel ‘seen'? v.22
2. What were they not to do therefore? v.23
3. What were they to make and why? v.24a,b
4. What will the Lord do, where? v.24c
5. How were they to build the altar? v.25
6. How were they to approach it? v.26
1. What did making an altar presuppose?
2. Why do you think it was not to be of dressed stones?
3. Why do you think these instructions come here?
Before the laws of life within the community of Israel are given, there come these simple instructions about their relationship with the Lord. Everything in the Law was to come out of the relationship they had with Him. These simple instructions reveal the basics of that relationship.
First, it was to be a SINGULAR relationship. They had heard God speaking, they knew He existed and they know He is One God. Therefore they are not to become superstitious and make other ‘gods' or idols. They are to maintain God's uniqueness in their understanding.
Second it was to be a WORSHIPPING relationship. If God is who He is, then He is worthy of our worship. That is what the altar is about – providing a means of bringing thank offerings to the Lord as acts of worship.
Third, it is to be a SIMPLE relationship. It is not to be developed into a big, spectacular thing. The altar they build is to be simple and not a glorious piece of man's handiwork that brings pride to them. Moreover it is not to be elevated and lifted up on steps. The reference to nakedness was no doubt a literal reference to physical nakedness but trying to create something lofty and glorious would only show their spiritual nakedness or barrenness. Keep it real and simple.
1. Does our ‘worship' glorify man or God?
2. Is worship at the heart of our relationship with the Lord?
RECAP - "Words (1)" - Exodus Chapter 20
In this first group of 10 studies we have seen the ‘words' spoken by God to Moses, and Moses' subsequent instructions to the people as follows :
- The Lord's instructions about idols and altars (Ex 20:22 -26)
In our studies of the origins of the Law for Israel , we have started with the Ten Commandments that are the bedrock or basic law that any people wishing to follow the Lord can live by. We noted along the way the awfulness or folly of rejecting these laws and living by the opposite of them. It is really unthinkable and yet much if not most of the Western world at the present time fails to keep them, a clear indication of the folly and sinfulness of mankind if ever there was one!
As the people of Israel hear God they fear. Here is greatness and holiness beyond anything they know and they fear for their lives. The Lord gives them simple guidelines of how to relate to Him: faithfully (no others) and simply (no grandeur leading to pride). Is that how we relate to Him?
1. The Lord is unique and, as such, He alone deserves our worship.
2. The Lord designed us and knows how we best ‘work'.
3. Without a saviour, closeness of the Lord brings fear.
4. Worship is to be God-glorifying, not man-glorifying.
Ask the Lord to show you afresh the reality and wonder of the Ten Commandments. Declare that they will be yours!
PART 2 : "The Laws"
We now move into the study of these next two and a half chapters of laws or rules from God for the life of Israel as they were to live in covenant with Him. See if you can sense the nature and goodness of God's character coming through these laws to bring security, peace and blessing to Israel.