SMOKE ON THE MOUNTAIN1
My God, I’m grateful for the assurance of Your presence throughout today. To You be all glory and praise.
Read EXODUS 20
The Ten Commandments
20 And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before[a] me.
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”
21 The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Idols and Altars
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.
24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’
- Exodus 20:3 Or besides
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.’2
How much God says and how few words he takes to say it! The ten ‘words’ (v 1) have justifiably become universally famous as a guide to right living. They stem from his gracious deliverance of Israel from Egypt (v 2). Israel wasn’t liberated to exchange one form of tyranny for another, but to live under God’s direction, the freest life of all.
These commandments provide for the smooth functioning of societies, where people can be at ease with each other and trust neighbors to live honestly. The first four commandments call for the unique God to be put first and respected in his holiness (vs 2–8). Primarily addressed to Israel, the Creator God is the universal Lord and deserves honor from all. The second group (vs 12–17) stipulate simple behavioral principles. They serve as windows that frame larger questions. Parents are always to be honored, but how we do that in practice will vary in different cultures. Murder is outlawed, but the wider law is nuanced, dealing with manslaughter, judicial execution and warfare. Transparent honesty unites the commands relating to marriage, possessions and speech. The much-ridiculed commandment against coveting points inward, beyond wrong actions to our twisted human desires. Jesus refocused other commandments, too, onto our inner motivations.3 The New Testament says all these laws still apply to Christians, although the sabbath rule is treated somewhat ambiguously. The Ten Commandments are like anchors: firmly secured on solid ground, they provide necessary stability in all weathers. Yet, good anchors also allow for a ship’s responsive movement on the surface: here are indispensable timeless moral anchors, which each age has to work out in its own contemporary situation.
How much does the psalmist speak for us in saying, ‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long’?4
Mighty God, I say with the psalmist, “O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for You….in a dry land where there is no water” (Psa. 63:1).
1 The title of Joy Davidman’s book on the Ten Commandments (Westminster Press, 1954) 2 Ps 119:44,45 3 Matt 5:17–37 4 Ps 119:97
Click here to sign up to receive the EXTRAs via email each quarter.
© 2023 Scripture Union U.S.A. All rights reserved. Reproduction of the whole or any part of the contents without written permission is prohibited.
Encounter with God is published in the USA under license from Scripture Union England and Wales, Trinity House, Opal Court, Opal Drive, Fox Milne, Milton Keynes, MK15 0DF.