Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5

Discussion in '2000-02 Archive' started by Helen, Sep 9, 2002.

  1. Helen

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    Aug 29, 2001
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    With the Ten Commandments already done, there is some important information in this chapter which should not be overlooked. And because Deuteronomy 5 is Moses’ review of this event of the giving of the law, it will be included here as well.

    First of all is the opening line, “And God spoke all these words.”

    In other words, the Ten Commandments were directly from God from the first, and not simply ‘through’ Moses. We need to remember that. As some commentators have put it, these are not the “Ten Suggestions.” Paul makes an interesting comment about God’s Law in Romans 7:10-12: ”I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, righteous, and good.”

    The commandments were intended to bring life? How can that be? Let’s look at another bit in the New Testament. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all recount the conversation which took place between Jesus and a certain rich young man (Luke refers to him as a ruler). The young man asks Jesus what he must DO to inherit eternal life. The question, from the first, is loaded, for the young man is emphasizing the idea of saving himself by his own actions. So Jesus reminds him of the commandments. In other words, for anyone who is able to perfectly keep all of God’s law, there is eternal life.

    The problem is stated by God Himself in Genesis 8:21, however, when he mentions to Noah that the heart of every man always tends toward (or inclines toward) evil from childhood! So it is impossible for the rich young man or anyone else to perfectly keep the law. In this Jesus is the answer again, for as He states in Matthew 5:17, ”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

    Thus, these words God spoke, these Ten Commandments, which must be obeyed to the full to earn eternal life, are only completely obeyed by Jesus Christ – God Himself. And this is one reason why no man can inherit eternal life outside of Christ Jesus. This is the reason the young ruler went away so sad: he could not fulfill the law himself. There was nothing he could DO to earn eternal life.

    Exodus 20 continues after the giving of the Ten Commandments, stating that the people were terrified of the thunder and lightning and noise on the mountain. They told Moses they did not want to hear God themselves, but would Moses please intercede and simply bring them the message? ”Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

    This might be a good time to mention the number of modern day televangelists and other ‘ministers’ who claim to have one on one conversations with God on a frequent basis (this is not referring to the communication the Holy Spirit has in the heart of each Christian, or to our internal conversations with the Holy Spirit, but claimed external conversations which are spoken of as quite casual and common). In contrast to the fear and awe the Israelites felt, and in contrast to the fact that almost every time God or an angel appears to a human in the Bible and must first caution “Don’t be afraid,” or “Fear not,” we find that whatever these televangelists are communicating with seems to be quite comfortable and fearless for them.

    It may not be God….

    Moses’ response to the people is to tell them, also, not to be afraid. He says God is testing them. Many people misunderstand this idea of testing. This is not a pass/fail sort of test, but rather the kind of testing done to metal: it is heated to drive the impurities out and to refine it. This is the way the word ‘test’ is used here. We might consider the idea of ‘discipline’ to be more like what Moses is referring to in our modern day cultures.

    And then Moses gives the reason for the testing: ”…so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

    In other words, God was not showing off! He was doing what needed to be done to keep the Israelites very conscious of Him and therefore away from sin. It was done for love of these people.

    And then we read that Moses approaches the thick darkness where God is while the people stay at a distance.

    Thick darkness? Isn’t God light?

    David is recalling another event, but in an interesting way, in Psalm 18 when he writes

    The earth trembled and quaked,
    and the foundations of the mountains shook;
    they trembled because he was angry.
    Smoke rose from his nostrils;
    Consuming fire came from his mouth,
    Burning coals blazed out of it.
    He parted the heavens and came down;
    Dark clouds were under his feet.
    He mounted the cherubim and flew;
    He soared on the wings of the wind.
    He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him –
    The dark rain clouds of the sky.

    It is fairly easy to see, I think, that there may be a reference to volcanic activity here. And Mt. Sinai may very well have been volcanic. Nevertheless, God uses what He Himself has created to speak to men in various ways. By appearing ‘clothed’ or ‘wrapped’ in ‘thick darkness’ we can see both the terror the people must have felt as well as the symbolism of the necessity to shield them from the fullness of His glory. They could not even handle what little they were exposed to; there is no way they could have dealt with more.

    When God speaks to Moses personally then, the first words are a reminder of the first commandments: no gods are to be ‘alongside’ God. He stands alone, unique, God of gods, Lord of lords. There is none like Him. This is, by the way, repeated a number of times in the eight chapters from Isaiah 40-47. This is also echoed in something called the Sh’ma of Deuteronomy 6:4”Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

    The Lord God goes on to reiterate to Moses: ”Do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.”

    Man cannot represent or imagine God. Man cannot create God. God created man and is far above anything we could even imagine, let alone represent with some kind of image of metal or stone.

    Chapter 20 of Exodus closes with a new instruction regarding the building of any alter used for sacrifice or to present other offerings to God. Any alter must not be the work of man. Earth may be used. Undressed stones may be used. But man cannot add to anything God has done or created Himself. And, as a last statement, God says that no steps may be used, for if the priest mounts the steps, then his nakedness would be exposed. The explanation for this is quite simple: the priests wore rather short tunics when sacrifices were made and no underclothes. Immodesty is not something God allows, either in men or women.

    In Deuteronomy 5, when Moses is reminding the people of this event which took place at the foot of Mt. Sinai, he adds some other details which are of interest.

    ”These are the commandments the Lord proclaimed in a loud voice to your whole assembly there on the mountain from out of the fire, the cloud and the deep darkness; and he added nothing more. Then he wrote them on two stone tablets and gave them to me.”

    God added nothing more.

    God wrote the commandments HIMSELF in stone and gave them to Moses.

    And while Exodus 20 simply says that the people were afraid and begged Moses to intercede for them so they would not have to hear the voice of the Lord themselves, Deuteronomy 5:23-27 gives the fuller ‘speech’ the elders gave to Moses asking him to release them from being in the Lord’s presence.

    And Moses also, then, in this book, gives the Lord’s response:
    ”I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!”

    The Law, in other words, is, and always has been, for our benefit! God is not playing super-Boss in the sky. He is acting out of love for us from the beginning. His desire is clearly that people should fear Him and thus obey His commands. This would ensure their future well-being during their time on earth. But He also knows that the men prefer another path, and because He has not made men robots, He will allow those men to take that path – a path that leads to death and eternal separation from Him.

    On a personal note, I cannot imagine the pain this must cause God.

    Deuteronomy 5 closes with the instructions from God that more laws will be coming, but that they will be for this people alone to follow in the land they are being given to possess for themselves. This is an important distinction between the Ten Commandments and the laws which follow. The Ten Commandments are universal: each individual man has the ability to obey or disobey without societal sanctions. But the law for Israel which comes after is different. Look closely at what God says about it in the final verses of chapter 5 of Deuteronomy:

    ”Go, tell them to return to their tents. But you stay here with me so that I may give you all the commands, decrees and laws you are to teach them to follow in the land I am giving them to possess.”

    [Moses then adds] So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.

    The one point that should be added here is that although the laws which will be following are not commanded for society today, they nevertheless form a basis of what is right and good in a society and which have been used by a number of countries and involves what has come to be known as “the Judeo-Christian ethic.”
  2. Clint Kritzer

    Clint Kritzer
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    Oct 10, 2001
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