Returning to our study of the book of Exodus, we pick up our study just as Moses has ascended Mount Sinai to receive the terms of Israel’s covenant with God (see Ex. 19). This was one of the most important moments in the history of redemption, for at Sinai, Moses received the fundamental laws not only to govern the nation of Israel but to guide God’s new covenant people as well. We are talking, of course, about the Ten Commandments.
Throughout church history, Christians from all theological traditions have understood that the Ten Commandments have a unique, abiding significance for us today. While we look to all the Old Testament laws for guidance, for that is what the Apostles did (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 9:8–12), the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, have a special place. There are several reasons for this. First, we see that the Lord gave the Decalogue to the people of God directly. We see this in today’s passage, where we read that our Creator spoke the words of these commandments, but no mediator is listed (Ex. 20:1). It is not until Exodus 20:18–21 that the Israelites asked for God to speak only to Moses and not to them directly, for the divine voice and the attendant natural phenomena terrified them greatly. Exodus 31:18 reports also that the Ten Commandments were later written on the stone tablets with the finger of God. Other laws, however, Moses wrote down after receiving them from the Lord (see Ex. 24:4; Deut. 31:9). God’s giving the Ten Commandments directly to Israel without speaking through Moses the mediator signifies the importance of the Decalogue and its place as the foundation of the covenant law code. Furthermore, the reality of the Ten Commandments as foundational to all other laws is indicated in that these were the first of the written laws to be revealed.
We see the significance of the Decalogue also in that these laws are given in what we could call a universal form and not limited to the experience of Israel in the promised land. Deuteronomy 5:31 tells us that after God gave the Ten Commandments, He gave laws to be followed “in the land” of Israel. There is a distinction between the Ten Commandments, which are given first and are to be followed everywhere, and the other Mosaic laws with their punishments and civil and ceremonial regulations, which were limited to Israel’s particular situation. Not every commandment in the law of Moses is to be followed under the new covenant exactly as given, but the Ten Commandments remain in force as written (see Rom. 13:8–10).