One People, Ten Words (Exodus 19:1-6)
Topic: Exodus Passage: Exodus 19:1–19:6
The Ten Words
One People, Ten Words
(One Body: You Shall Be My People)
Pastor Bryce Morgan
I. For Our Instruction
Let me begin this morning by reading I Corinthians 10:11. Paul writes this to the disciples of Jesus in the Greek city of Corinth:
Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
Notice that last part there, “for our instruction”. These “things” were “written down for our instruction”. But who is the “them” mentioned in this verse? Well, let's find out by looking together at Exodus 19:1-8.
II. The Passage: “If You Will…Keep My Covenant” (19:1-8)
Let's begin by looking at verse 1-6...
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai.  They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain,  while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel:  You yourselves 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, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;  and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6)
In very basic terms, we learn two things from this passage about the “people of Israel”. First, we learn something about where they are. And secondly, we learn something about what they heard.
A. Where They Are (19:1-3)
Verses 1-3 tells us where they are, specifically verse 2. They are in the wilderness of Sinai, in front of the mountain of God; which is often called Mount Sinai. Or in some cases, it is called Mount Horeb. We also learn “when” they are. It's been about fifty days since the Israelites left Egypt. About fifty days since their deliverance from slavery. But as I mentioned, we also discover something else in verses 4-6.
B. What They Heard (19:4-6)
In those verses, we learn about what the Israelites heard. They heard a message from God, a message delivered through Moses. And look again at what God declares:
1. God's Redemption (v. 4)
First, in verse 4, God reminds them of His redemption. Like a powerful bird carrying its young, God carried the Hebrews to safety in the desert. He has protected them. He has provided for them. But for what purpose?
2. God's Re-creation (v. 5b, 6)
Well, look at the second half of verse 5 and verse 6. He has done this in light of His re-creation. God's plan is to transform this people. They will no longer be called slaves. They will not simply be Jacob's descendants. But they will be a God's treasured posessions (that is, the object of God's blessing), they will be a kingdom of priests (that is, a vehicle through which God will bless other nations), and they will be a holy nation (that is, a nation set apart because of God's blessing).
3. God's Requirements (v. 5a)
But notice the first part of verse 5. God's work of re-creating the Israelites is conditioned upon God's requirements. Verse 5...if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant. God wants to bless the Israelites. He wants the Israelites to be a blessing. God has redeemed them so that they might live a redeemed life. Therefore, they must keep his covenant.
But what exactly is this covenant? Is it the covenant God made with their ancestor Abraham hundreds of years earlier? No. As Moses reminded the people many years later, For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:31) The promise God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was a not a covenant they obeyed. It was a covenant by which they were comforted. It was not a conditional covenant. It didn't involve “ifs”. It was all about what God would do; how God would keep His covenant.
And so, again we have to ask, “What covenant is God talking about here?”
III. The Importance of the Ten Words
Well, if were were to continue, we would discover that the rest of chapter 19 is about how the people had to prepare themselves for a special revelation of God's presence among them; or to be specific, God's presence on the mountain. Look at verse 18: Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. And when God speaks in chapter 20, he speaks the words of the covenant.
Listen to how Deuteronomy 4 summarizes this: And he [God] declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, [literally, the Ten Words], and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. (Deuteronomy 4:13)
This is exactly what we find later on in Exodus. Chapter 34: And the LORD said to Moses, “Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.”  So he [Moses] was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, [literally, the Ten Words] . (Exodus 34:27-28)
Do you know these Ten Words? People often talk about them as if they were simply a milestone in the evolution of human morality. Others mainly think about them as the much-needed, but often neglected cornerstone of civil society. And still others have labeled them as legal relics, and consigned them to the dustbin of history.
But the Ten Words go beyond any of these human labels. The Ten Words, the “Ten Commandments” are, in fact, covenant stipulations, covenant requirements for the people of God, the people whom God himself has redeemed, the people that God himself wants to recreate. These Ten Words, which are listed in both Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21, these commandements were 'guard rails' for living the redeemed life.
A. Why the Ten Words are Important
Now, most of this was not new to the people. Genesis is clear about right and wrong (murder, adultery, stealing, lying). So why are these Ten Commandments so important? Well, let me very quickly give you four reasons why they are so central. As we've seen...
1. The Ten Words are at the heart of the people's covenant with God. We've already seen how the Ten Commandments are described, not simply as some addendum to the covenant, but as THE covenant. Even in the New Testament, in Hebrews 9:4 they are called the “the tablets of the covenant”. And because they are covenant stipulations, obedience to them will bring about the very things God promised in Exodus 19:5, 6.
2. The Ten Words are placed at very beginning of the entire Law. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy these commandments are listed first, with the other 603 commandments of the Law given right after this. And when you consider all the precepts, and ordinances, and instructions God gave the Israelites, a good case can be made that the Ten Words are simply a summary of the Law.
3. The Ten Words were written on stones inscribed by God himself. In most cases, God used human scribes to record his words on some kind of scroll. But Exodus 31:18 tells us that the Ten Words were written on stone tablets by “the finger of God”. And not just once, but twice. Remember, when the first set was destroyed, God did it all over again.
4. The Ten Words were placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. The Ten Commandments were not simply words to be passed down from parents to children, and from scribe to scribe, They were a covenant record to be preserved and guarded in the very sanctuary of God. There is no doubt that these Ten Words were extremely important.
But if that's true, then what do WE do with these commandments? Like Solomon's Temple and the Ark of the Covenant itself, are the Ten Words simply Jewish relics of the Old Testament, relics that served their purpose, but are now obsolete?
B. Why the Ten Words are Important for Us
Well, I don't think that's what the New Testament teaches us. Let's look at three things the New Testament tells us about the Ten Words.
1. The Covenant has Faded, But the Commandments Remain.
In Hebrews 8:13, the writer has just finished talking about the “new covenant” that was described by the prophet in Jeremiah 31. The author of Hebrews writes: In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
So even in the Old Testament, God told the Israelites that a day was coming when He would replace this covenant He made with them at Mount Sinai. But notice what the Apostle Paul does in Ephesians 6 as he instructs disciples of Jesus. He writes:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.  “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),  “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
As we've learned from our study of Galatians, Paul knew the old covenant, the one based on our obedience, was never intended to be a permanent part of God's plan. It served a temporary purpose. But as we see here, Paul also knew that the Law was an expression of the righteous character of God, and that what was inscribed back then was written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
No one had, can, or ever will be redeemed by obedience to the Ten Words, but the redeemed life is nevertheless a life of obedience to God's words.
2. These Commandments Expose Our Need by Convicting and Condemning Us
In II Corinthians 3:7 Paul describes the covenant made at Mount Sinai as “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone”. Wow! That's pretty harsh, isn't it? Listen to how he explains this in Romans 7:
What then shall we say? That the law is sin [that the Ten Words are sin]? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet” [that's command #10]....I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.  The very commandment that promised life [promised blessing] proved to be death to me...So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. (Romans 7:7, 9-10, 12)
So the temporary purpose that this old covenant served was to convict us and condemn us, and in doing so, to show us our need for a redeemer. For someone to do what we could not do! And just in case anyone thought, or anyone thinks, that they are doing pretty well in terms of obeying these Ten Words, listen to how Jesus unpacks the depths of the redeemed life to which these commandments pointed. He declared:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder [#6]; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...” (Matthew 5:21-22) Similarly, he also said...
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ [command #7]  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)
If the heart-issues of anger and lust are in fact condemned by the Ten Commandments, then can any of us say we're “doing pretty well” in terms of obedience?
3. Christ has Fulfilled the Commandments, and Because of Him, So Can We.
But right before he commented on these commands, Jesus said, “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.” (Matthew 5:17)
How did Christ fulfill the Law? Well, not only did Jesus fulfill the predictions of the OT and the sacrificial system of the Law by becoming the Lamb of God, by becoming, on the cross, an offering for sin, but He was also a spotless Lamb. As Hebrews 7:26 puts it, he was “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners”. You see, Jesus also fulfilled the Law by always fulfilling the Ten Words, perfectly. He did what Israel could not do. He kept the covenant!
This is why Peter can say this about those who are in Christ : But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession… (I Peter 2:9)
And because He fulfilled this obedience, and because He died for our disobedience, the amazing message of the gospel, of the Good News, is that by grace, and through faith, we too can fulfill God's Law. But listen to how Paul describes our fulfillment of the Ten Word:
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery [#7], You shall not murder [#6], You shall not steal [#8], You shall not covet, [#10]” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Rom. 13:8-10)
IV. Are You Living the Redeemed Life?
The question we need to finish with this morning is, “Are you living the redeemed life?” Just as God delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, has He delivered you, through Jesus, from the slavery of sin and self…by grace, through faith? If He has, then like Israel, He has called you to live the redeemed life! And the Ten Words are, rightly understood, are a beautiful picture for us of the redeemed life.
Over the next three weeks will look more carefully at these Words, and we will do so through the lens of the New Covenant. I’m excited to see what God is going to teach us through these Ten Words. Let’s ask him to bless our study, and for His power to live the redeemed life.