Ever heard someone say “Thou Shalt Not” tongue-in-cheek to a person about to get into trouble? They’re quoting the Ten Commandments from the Bible.
Commandments are, by nature, restrictive. No one likes limitations and rules—don’t they ruin the fun? It’s easy to come to the Ten Commandments braced for a kill-joy or guilt trip. This is how many people approach them.
But they’re mistaken, and missing out.
God Wants Us to Know Him
Because people have only paid attention to the restrictions, we have lost the revelation. Yes, a revelation. That’s what the Ten Commandments are. They tell us what we don’t know and need to know.
God wrote them not to embitter us but to enlighten us as to who he is, what he is like, and to the nature of our own hearts.
Surprisingly, the Ten Commandments don’t start with “You shall not.” They start with, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:1 ESV).
God spoke these words audibly to a group of Israelites whom he had just rescued out of enslavement to their contemporary world-power, Egypt. The first thing he needed them to know was who he was—the title “The LORD” is actually the name Yahweh, which means “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:13-14).
The LORD asserted his character before his commands. He’s unlike any other. He is self-defined and self-described. He introduces himself, and asserts himself first—not as a lawgiver—but as a Savior.
He doesn’t say, “I am God, you’re not, so listen up.” He says, “I am God, I heard your cries, and I rescued you.”
God Is Good, and Wants Us to See that We Are Not
Based on his merciful rescue, he tells his people how to relate to him and how to relate to other people. His commands reveal two things to us: First, they reveal his character. Then, they reveal ours.
God’s commands say that he wants a world where there’s no murder, adultery, theft, or jealousy. He wants a world where you can trust your neighbors. He wants a world where all that’s unsafe and unsavory doesn’t exist. What kind of God is this?
A good one, certainly.
God’s commands indicate that we are inclined to do what he forbids. Why would you tell a child not to run into the street? Because they’re likely to do so.
God has to tell us not to kill one another, steal from one another, cheat on one another—why? Because we’re inclined to do so.
The world is, by default, unsafe and unsavory. What kind of people must we be?
Not good, certainly.
God’s ten commands reveal life as it ought to be in the eyes of the author of life. They also reveal that life is not as it should be. And if we’re honest, they show us that we aren’t the sort of people we ought to be.
God Wants to Save Us
Now, these ancient laws aren’t meant to just leave us feeling guilty. But they are meant to lead us to a place of honest guilt, where we are able to say, “Yep, I’m a sinner too.” Why?
Because it’s only when we realize that we are enslaved to sin ourselves that we recognize our need for a Savior.
The God of the Israelites in Exodus is the God of the whole Bible, and later on in the biblical story, he rescues not just Israel, but all nations.
When God brought Israel out of Egypt, he was painting a picture of what was to come through Jesus Christ—people rescued from slavery to sin through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV).
For all who believe in Jesus Christ, who acknowledge him as their Lord and Savior, he requires obedience to his law. And just like God spoke to Israel from the mountain to give us his law, he has spoken to us by his Son, Jesus, and gave his people, those that believe in him, a new law (Hebrews 1:2, John 13:34).
And his law is the law of love.
God Wants to Make Us Loving People
Jesus didn’t come to rid us of the Ten Commandments, but to transform us into people like himself who could actually obey them. He summed up the whole Old Testament law with two commands: love God and love others (Matthew 22:36-40).
He came to make us people who could love again, who could love like him.
See, these laws are not really about us. Ultimately, they find their meaning in the Lawgiver—a loving God who took it upon himself to free sinners from their sin, so that they might love him and others again. Rather than seeing the Ten Commandments as God’s laundry list of restrictions, they’re actually a revelation of his goodness.