Before God does anything, He will always prepare His people (see Amos 3:7). The most obvious example of this is the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. For nearly 2000 years before Christ arrived, God prepared the people for the one who would deliver us from our sins—he did so by using prophets. The prophet Isaiah declared that the Messiah would be despised and rejected by men…Smitten by God, and afflicted…wounded for our transgressions…bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:3-5). And right up to the time when Jesus walked the earth, God sent one more prophet—John the Baptist—to declare that Messiah had come. God also spoke of this coming Messiah through the Psalms, saying that God would not leave that Savior in the grave, and that the Savior’s body would not decay (Psalm 16:10). God also used sacrifices and rituals that would paint a picture of the Savior to come. The first Passover—the night when God sent the angel of death to slay the firstborn of Egypt to convince Pharaoh to set the Hebrews free—even that was a picture of the Messiah.
We are about to begin a journey through another means that God used to prepare the word for Christ, and that was the OT Law. And today we are going to see that God even prepared His people to receive this Law. Let me set the stage for you. The Israelites have left Egypt. They have crossed the Red Sea, and they are now dwelling in the wilderness of the area called Sinai. This is not to say that everything was perfect. As we human beings tend to do, this one has a dispute with that one; this other fellow was accusing another of something. Problem was—well, actually, two problems. They did not have a hard and fast set of laws that they could point to and say, “Yitzhak violated my rights under section 123.45 of the Tennessee Code Annotated!” They had no way of determining who was a credible witness, what kind of punishment to deal out. Not only that, the even bigger problem was they only had one judge—Moses. Exodus 18:13—And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening. Now, the most conservative estimates put the population of this great crowd at about 2,000,000 people. You think your local court gets backed up! It’s going to be a while before Moses hears your case. As it says, the people stood from morning until evening.
From the time he woke up in the morning until he went to bed, Moses’ day was filled with hearing one gripe after another. Well, along comes his father-in-law, Jethro. Exodus 18:17-21—So Moses' father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.” Kinda like what we have today. We have sessions court; they deal with local laws. If you want to appeal their ruling, you go up to the Court of Appeals. From there to the federal district court, then up to the Supreme Court for the most difficult cases. That’s what Jethro is advising Moses to do here he says to break them up into divisions, Exodus 18:22-26—“…rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.” So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves. Think about it like this—if you buy a chain saw, do you need to first learn how to use it? So, God sends Jethro to show Moses how to use the Law that God is about to give.
The next thing we read is the people reach Mt. Sinai. Exodus 19:2-6—They departed from Rephidim, and came to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’” Look at what God says in verse 6. “And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These promises are given not only to these people here, but to all who call upon Christ. 1st Peter 2:5-9—You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Revelation 1:5-6—[Jesus] loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father. The priesthood, the covenants, the Law, the favor of God—these were, at the time, given to the Israelites—ONLY. But now, since Christ has come and has performed everything contained in this Law that we are going to study over the next few months, we Gentiles who have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord—now, we too are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people. But, as God is speaking in Exodus, He is giving these promises only to the Jews.
Exodus 19:9-13—And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’” In our conditions as human beings, we cannot look upon the glory of God. But not only are we unable to look upon His pure glory, we cannot even lay a hand upon anything that contains that glory. 2nd Samuel 6:3-7—So they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab…And when they came to Nachon's threshing floor, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzzah, and God struck him there for his error; and he died there by the ark of God. We as humans tend to handle the things of God in a very flippant manner. Turn on the TV and you will find men and women who handle the word of God in a very shameful manner, and use it to further the kingdom of Kenneth Copeland, and the kingdom of Rod parsley and the kingdom of Marilyn Hickey. They will receive the reward they are due.
When we handle the things of God, the things that show His perfect glory and holiness, we must do so with the utmost care. We will see what happens to Nadab and Abihu when they did not regard the holiness of God. Isaiah 66:1-4 (NASB)—Thus says the LORD…“To this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. But he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; he who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog's neck; he who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine's blood; he who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. As they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations, so I will choose their punishments and will bring on them what they dread” We do not honor God when we worship Him any old way we choose. You hear people say, “Well, I worship God in my own way. I worship Him through the tress and the rocks” Unless we worship God in a way which actually honors Him, He will not accept it.
We must totally and completely separate ourselves from the ways of this world. Which is what God tells Moses to do in Exodus 19:20-25—Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the LORD, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.” But Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it.’” Moses was under the impression that since God had given the command for the people to not touch the mountain, he wouldn’t have to give it again. God knows us a whole lot better. God knew that there would be people who would not be able to resist that command, and they would approach the mountain. So, God tells Moses one more time, verses 24-25. Then the LORD said to him, “Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest He break out against them.” So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them. Now they are ready to receive the Law of God.
So we start, in earnest, our study of the Law of God and we begin with the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are usually broken up into two groups. The first 4 describe our dealings with God; the last six describe our dealings with others. We’re going to look at the first commandment today. We’re not going to finish, but we will get started. Exodus 20:1-3—And God spoke all these words, saying: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” He starts out by reminding the people of who He is. “I am the LORD your God.” The word “LORD”—the Bible was not written in English, the OT was written in Hebrew. It is then translated into English, and it is never a perfect process by any means. Not like Spanish to English, which is a fairly word-for-word process. Hebrew into English is a little more tricky. When you are reading the OT, any time you see the word LORD in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, that is how the translators render the Hebrew word YHVH, which is the name that God uses to refer to Himself.
Now, many people pronounce it “Jehovah”, but it is more likely pronounced 'YAH-vay'. We will talk more about the name YHVH when we get to the commandment against taking His name in vain. So, basically what He is saying is “I am YHVH, your God.” “…who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” This would not be the last time that God would have to remind these people who He was and what He had done for them. They had just come out of 435 years of slavery, of stomping mud to make the clay bricks to build the monuments to the very one who was keeping them in bondage. God, in a matter of months—maybe—ended their slavery to Pharaoh, and 435 years of bondage ended in one night—just like that. Yet time and time again, the people would forget that. Kinda like us. When we get saved, we still have to walk around in these bodies of flesh, and we tend to forget that we are no longer slaves to Satan, but rather we are children of God. And we do things and disobey Him. And He has to remind us of who is in charge. Hebrews 12:5-7 (NASB)—You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, nor faint when you are reproved by Him; for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? We disobey, He paddles our backside, we confess our sin, and we follow Him more closely.
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.” Or, better, “You shall have no other gods besides Me.” We won’t get through all of this today, but we’ll get started. These people just come from Egypt. And in Egypt, they were doing the physical task of building monuments to Pharaoh. The Egyptians, at the time, worshipped many so-called ‘gods.’ According to one source,
“The Egyptians considered sacred the lion, the ox, the ram, the wolf, the dog, the cat, the ibis, the vulture, the falcon, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, the cobra, the dolphin, different varieties of fish, trees, and small animals including the frog, scarab, locust and other insects. In addition to these there were anthropomorphic gods; that is, men in the prime of life such as Amun, Atum, or Osiris.” (John Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, p. 95).So when God sent the 10 plagues on the land of Egypt, it was His way of showing that He and He alone was God, and that He and He alone had power over all creation, and that their ‘gods’ were, in fact, no gods at all. For example, when He turned the waters of the Nile River to blood, that was His way of showing the uselessness of Hapi, the Egyptian ‘god’ who was supposedly the one who brought the water of the Nile River to Egypt. When He sent swarms of frogs, He was showing His superiority over Heqt.
“The frog was considered the theophany of the goddess Heqt, the wife of the creator of the world and the goddess of birth. Heqt was always shown with the head and body of a frog.” (David Padfield, Against All The Gods Of Egypt (#1).Likewise, when He sent the swarms of lice and gnats, and caused people to break out with boils, and sent hail that turned to fire, and sent locusts to devour every green thing in Egypt—all these things were His way of showing Pharaoh that Pharaoh was not God—that YHVH and YHVH alone is God. As Paul says in 1st Corinthians 8:4-6—An idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.
Now, God had a good reason for giving this commandment to have no other gods but God. When the Israelites came out of Egypt, they were not alone. If we were to go back to Exodus 12, we would see that there were more than a few Egyptians who, seeing the mighty works of God, came out with them. Exodus 12:37-38—Then the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed multitude went up with them also, and flocks and herds—a great deal of livestock. This “mixed multitude” would come to be a problem later on, and we’ll see that when we get to Numbers 11. It is because of this “mixed multitude” that God tells the people “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Because, when someone with strong morals is surrounded by people of questionable character, who is going to rub off on whom? The morally corrupt will be more likely to rub off on the morally upright than the other way around. If you want proof of that, the apostle Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:33—Bad company corrupts good morals. And next time we will see this principle played out, and we will see that it’s not simply the worship of pagan ‘gods’ that is forbidden here, but even everyday things can be a ‘god’.
Jesus Christ is Lord.