1 And God spoke all these words: 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Consider for a moment or two just how many rules, regulations, and laws we have.
The one that affected you the most on your way to church was the traffic laws. They regulate on what side of the road to drive, proper speed, passing zones, signaling for turns, where stop or yield etc. Another traffic law that we may not think about is that our vehicles are also limited by the laws of nature. Taking a corner at to high of a rate of speed may end in disaster or driving at night without our headlights can be a problem.
But these are not the only laws in our lives. Schools have rules. Places of employment. Businesses. We are reminded every day if we watch any TV at all that our taxes are due April 15 and we are aware that there is a tax code that regulates how much we pay. Even at church we have rules. Ushers may be familiar with an old document outlining what their duties are. Those who rent the fellowship hall are provided an entire page of do’s and dont’s. Those getting married here at Salem will also face a long list of how a wedding is to be conducted. In addition to written laws, we have certain expectations out of each other regardless of our situation. (And notice I did not even mention the myriad of rules for sports and games. — Sample of a Warhammer 40K book.)
On the national news on Friday two specific laws were in the headlines:
Tarriffs on imported steel and aluminum.
Laws regulated the purchase, manufacturing, possession, and sale of guns.
The list of laws can seem endless at times.
Are laws necessary? Do we need to be regulated in every facet of our lives.
In the one sense, the answer is “No”.
8 We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
St. Paul is saying that if a person is inherently good, they don’t need a bunch of laws teaching them right from wrong or threatening them with punishment for breaking the law.
Example: How many of you go shopping? Do you need a law that warns that shoplifters will be prosecuted? Do you need a warning sign telling you that the store is under video surveillance? Do you need an armed guard dogging you to make sure you aren’t slipping something under your coat to take out without paying for it? I certainly hope not. You realize that shoplifting is stealing and that even before God gave the Ten Commandments, stealing is wrong.
Most people don’t need a posted reminder of which side of the road to drive on. (Unless you are in Watertown with all of its one way streets.) We just realize the importance of driving on the correct side of the street.)
Those who are righteous don’t need the law. Even the Gentiles showed that in their laws that they had a certain amount of knowledge of right and wrong even though they did not have the Ten Commandments.
12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
But not everyone is righteous. And even though God gave his natural law to Adam and Eve at creation, it soon became apparent that mankind was sinful.
Adam and Eve disobeyed a direct command of God.
Cain killed his own brother, Abel.
The wickedness of the world had become so bad that God sent the Flood.
Even after the Flood we have this announcement from God:
20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.
It is obvious to any student of the Bible that we are sinners and that sinners need to the law for several reasons.
To teach us right from wrong.
To keep excess evil in check.
To show us our sins.
To serve as a guideline we are to follow.
Our text today is the account of when Israel’s laws were codified (define). Of course, God’s people had laws before that as a reading of Genesis and the first 19 chapters of Exodus will show. But it was at Mt. Sinai that God in a formal way presented to His people a clear revelation of what his will is for their lives. Unlike the many other laws which were given at that time (ceremonial and civil) these laws were meant for all people of all time because they summarize God’s moral will for people. “You shall not murder.” doesn’t apply just to the Israelites. “You shall have no other Gods” isn’t just meant that the Israelites were not to worship other gods. Jesus himself teaches us that “He is the Way the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to God the Father except through him.”
How important were these laws for the Israelites?
In your home you may have certain heirlooms that are passed down from generation to generation. You keep them because they are significant to you.
You probably have some very important legal documents as well. Careful people make sure they are properly authorized and kept in a safe place such as a fireproof safe or a safety deposit box.
Did the Israelites have a “safety deposit box”? Yes. It was the ark of the covenant.
Where was it kept?
What were its contents?
God showed how important the law was by preserving it in this way.
He also showed how important the Law is by commanding his people to make it a part of their compulsory education In our nation it is a law to attend school through the age of 16 and that schools must teach certain subjects. Other subjects are forbidden and some schools have even banned the reading of certain books (Catcher in the Rye — not the one by Bob Uecker!) God’s people were to teach their children God’s commands.
Specific Sin: Either did not know the Lord or openly rebelled against him.
Positive: Love for God’s Law (see )
The Ten Commandments Today
Every once in a while we read about those who wish to take down a public display of the Ten Commandments (find article).
The Ten Commandments (a.k.a. Decalogue) is a set of behavioral rules which appears in three separate locations in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) of the Bible. These have historically been accepted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam as a summary of the most important rules of behavior that God expects of humanity. Slightly more than 50% of humans on earth follow one of these three religions.
There is considerable debate in the U.S. whether the Decalogue should be posted in public schools, public parks, government offices, etc. There is a growing consensus that monuments containing the Ten Commandments should not be displayed by themselves on government property, because that would be widely seen as promoting one religion, or a small group of religions, as superior to other religions in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. However, many people have no objection if they are shown in a cultural display along with other examples of ancient and modern legal codes.
On a humorous note, you may have seen this report concerning the Ten Commandments: Commandments in courthouses and legislatures: You cannot post 'Thou Shalt Not Steal,' 'Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery,' and 'Thou Shall Not Lie' in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians...It creates a hostile work environment." 2
Since we as a church are not a government which refuses to promote one religion over another but are committed to teaching the Bible, we insist that the Ten Commandments and their meanings are to be taught and memorized.
Our specific sin: Not knowing, not teaching, not living according to them.
The good we would we don’t always do.
Specific Gospel: Jesus kept the law for us.
Our response? Love and live the law out of thankfulness to Jesus and teach others to do the same.
7 What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. 9 Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10 I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11 For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. 13 Did that which is good, then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful.