Exodus 20:1sn This chapter is the heart of the Law of Israel, and as such is well known throughout the world. There is so much literature on it that it is almost impossible to say anything briefly and do justice to the subject. But the exposition of the book must point out that this is the charter of the new nation of Israel. These ten commands (words) form the preamble; they will be followed by the decisions (judgments). And then in chap. 24 the covenant will be inaugurated. So when Israel entered into covenant with God, they entered into a theocracy by expressing their willingness to submit to his authority. The Law was the binding constitution for the nation of Israel under Yahweh their God. It was specifically given to them at a certain time and in a certain place. The Law legislated how Israel was to live in order to be blessed by God and used by him as a kingdom of priests. In the process of legislating their conduct and their ritual for worship, the Law revealed God. It revealed the holiness of Yahweh as the standard for all worship and service, and in revealing that it revealed or uncovered sin. But what the Law condemned, the Law (Leviticus) also made provision for in the laws of the sacrifice and the feasts intended for atonement. The NT teaches that the Law was good, and perfect, and holy. But it also teaches that Christ was the end (goal) of the Law, that it ultimately led to him. It was a pedagogue, Paul said, to bring people to Christ. And when the fulfillment of the promise came in him, believers were not to go back under the Law. What this means for Christians is that what the Law of Israel revealed about God and his will is timeless and still authoritative over faith and conduct, but what the Law regulated for Israel in their existence as the people of God has been done away with in Christ. The Ten Commandments reveal the essence of the Law; the ten for the most part are reiterated in the NT because they reflect the holy and righteous nature of God. The NT often raises them to a higher standard, to guard the spirit of the Law as well as the letter.
Exodus 20:1sn The Bible makes it clear that the Law was the revelation of God at Mount Sinai. And yet study has shown that the law code’s form follows the literary pattern of covenant codes in the Late Bronze Age, notably the Hittite codes. The point of such codes is that all the covenant stipulations are appropriate because of the wonderful things that the sovereign has done for the people. God, in using a well-known literary form, was both drawing on the people’s knowledge of such to impress their duties on them, as well as putting new wine into old wineskins. The whole nature of God’s code was on a much higher level. For this general structure, see M. G. Kline, Treaty of the Great King. For the Ten Commandments specifically, see J. J. Stamm and M. E. Andrew, The Ten Commandments in Recent Research (SBT). See also some of the general articles: M. Barrett, “God’s Moral Standard: An Examination of the Decalogue,” BV 12 (1978): 34-40; C. J. H. Wright, “The Israelite Household and the Decalogue: The Social Background and Significance of Some Commandments,” TynBul 30 (1979): 101-24; J. D. Levenson, “The Theologies of Commandment in Biblical Israel,” HTR 73 (1980): 17-33; M. B. Cohen and D. B. Friedman, “The Dual Accentuation of the Ten Commandments,” Masoretic Studies 1 (1974): 7-190; D. Skinner, “Some Major Themes of Exodus,” Mid-America Theological Journal 1 (1977): 31-42; M. Tate, “The Legal Traditions of the Book of Exodus,” RevExp 74 (1977): 483-509; E. C. Smith, “The Ten Commandments in Today’s Permissive Society: A Principleist Approach,” SwJT 20 (1977): 42-58; and D. W. Buck, “Exodus 20:1-17, ” Lutheran Theological Journal 16 (1982): 65-75.
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