The Love Behind The Law

(An overview of the Ten Commandments)

The Background

Beginning from creation as recorded in Genesis Chapter 1 right until the time when the people of Israel were delivered from their bondage in Egypt, there was no law that governed the people. As the Israelites wandered through the wilderness, Moses was faced with the formidable task of handling the hundreds of thousands of Israelites living together, and challenged with numerous issues. It was at this point that God intervened to give laws to govern the people of Israel.

These laws could be generally categorized as moral laws, social laws, food laws, laws pertaining to feasts, purity, sacrifices, priests and the tabernacle. The Ten Commandments were part of these laws, but had a most prominent place among all other laws. It is important for us to know that there were numerous laws that were given to the Israelites with regards to almost every aspect of their lives.

The origin of the Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are recorded in two places, first in Exodus 20:1-17, and then in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. God Himself spoke the Ten Commandments, and there was an astounding revelation of God on Mount Sinai, where the awesome presence of God was evident to Moses and the Israelites. In Exodus Chapter 32 we read that God wrote these Ten Commandments on tablets of stone, and handed them over to Moses.

We read in Exodus 32:15-16, Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.(ESV)

The Ten Commandments were therefore held in high esteem as it was hand-written, and handed over by God to the people of Israel.

What were the Ten Commandments?

To say it simply, the following were the Ten Commandments that God gave to the Israelites.

1. You shall have no other Gods before me

2. You shall not make an idol or an image in the likeness of anything in the heavens above or the earth below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.

3. Do not take God’s name in vain

4. Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy

5. Honor your father and mother

6. You shall not murder

7. You shall not commit adultery

8. You shall not steal

9. You shall not bear false testimony

10. You shall not covet

If we read them carefully, we understand that the first four commandments were directed towards God, and the last six were commands that pertained to relationship with people.

Jesus’ interpretation of the Law and the Commandments

• Jesus came to fulfill the law and the prophets

When Jesus came down to the earth, the religious leaders of His day always questioned His origin and authority. Jesus spoke with authority, and performed miracles that baffled them. The teachings of Jesus seemed, on the surface, to be contradictory to the commandments that God gave Moses.

Here was Jesus’ reply to such people in Matthew 5:17, “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.” (ESV)

Jesus was explicit that He came, not to abolish the law or the prophets, but rather to fulfill all of them. Jesus was the sinless Son of God, who alone could fulfill the law perfectly, without failing in even one. There was absolutely no one before or after Jesus who could do this to a tee.

• Jesus called for a higher righteousness

To the religious leaders in Jesus’ days who satisfied with their self-righteousness, Jesus said these strong words as recorded in Matthew 5:20, “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NKJV)

Jesus was inviting people to a righteousness that far superseded that of the Scribes and Pharisees in those days. It was a righteousness that Jesus went on to explain was of a higher standard, and that those who could not adhere to it, would have no place in the kingdom of heaven.

• Jesus explained the higher laws

In Matthew 5:21-48, Jesus literally rephrased all of the commandments to help people understand the true meaning and the heart of God behind the commandments.

Jesus said it this way, “You have heard, but I say..” in order to help the people understand the high standard that God expected.

• While the law commanded that one should not murder, Jesus explained that anger, harsh words and un-forgiveness were equal to committing murder. To kill someone was the extreme act, but Jesus reiterated that those hidden emotions of hate and anger inside our hearts are in reality equal to murdering someone.

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