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10-16-22 Great Themes of the Bible: The Law, Part 1

Great Themes of the Bible: The Law, Part 1

David Peterson / General

Great Themes of the Bible / Law; Ten Commandments / Exodus 20:1–11

Sermon Type: Textual-Topical

Proposition: Special grace is the gift of God’s personal self-revelation. In the first four commandments, God reveals his otherness, his freedom and his claim on humanity.


1. Continuing the theme of last week—Special Grace is a personal revelation of who God is (PERSONAL relationship)

All these words. In Hebrew, words is deliberately connected with the verb spoke with which the verse begins. The whole stress is that these commandments are words of revelation from God. The emphasis is primarily on their source, secondarily on their purpose, and only thirdly on their content, although this is naturally governed by God’s nature. It has been well said that the commandments are God’s nature expressed in terms of moral imperatives: and it is significant that God chose to reveal himself so, rather than in terms of philosophical propositions. So, to the Israelite, he is the God of history (verse 2) and of daily life (verses 13ff.) rather than the God of speculation. This is not to say that philosophy and speculation are illegitimate; but they are not our primary channels of certain knowledge of God, and they can be based only upon what God has done and said.

Cole, R. A. (1973). Exodus: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 159–160). InterVarsity Press.

In Jewish tradition, the self-revelation of God (20:2) is the first commandment. It is interpreted as a demand for faith in the deity. The prohibition against graven images (20:3–6) is the second law.

Shectman, S., Sadler, R. S., Jr., Dozeman, T. B., Kugler, R., Jacobson, K. N., & Bennett, H. V. (2014). Themes and Perspectives in Torah: Creation, Kinship, and Covenant. In G. A. Yee, H. R. Page Jr., & M. J. M. Coomber (Eds.), The Old Testament and Apocrypha (p. 161). Fortress Press.

I. The OTHERNESS of God (Exodus 20:3)

1. Explanation

a. He is not like other gods—no consort, no pantheon. Not a part of creation, like the son and moon (Sabbath not linked to nature)

fourth commandment. Sabbath observation has no known parallel in any of the cultures of the ancient Near East and is distinctive in that it is independent of any of the patterns or rhythms of nature.

Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed., Ex 20:8–11). InterVarsity Press.

b. He reveals himself, his character. Ten Commandments are not arbitrary they are his character, who he is. And he is the ultimately real.

c. His worship tied to his creating, not to being a part of creation.

2. Application

a. God’s otherness confronts us in Christ. A life fully grounded in God—totally lacking our hang ups.

3. Illustration

Socrates taught for 40 years, Plato for 50, Aristotle for 40, and Jesus for only 3. Yet the influence of Christ’s 3-year ministry infinitely transcends the impact left by the combined 130 years of teaching from these men who were among the greatest philosophers of all antiquity. Jesus painted no pictures; yet, some of the finest paintings of Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci received their inspiration from Him.

Jesus wrote no poetry; but Dante, Milton, and scores of the world’s greatest poets were inspired by Him. Jesus composed no music; still Haydn, Handel, Beethoven, Bach, and Mendelssohn reached their highest perfection of melody in the hymns, symphonies, and oratories they composed in His praise. Every sphere of human greatness has been enriched by this humble Carpenter of Nazareth.

—Henry G. Bosch

Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times (p. 647). Bible Communications, Inc.

II. The FREEDOM of God (Exodus 20:4, 7)

1. Explanation

a. God is not controlled.

But the prohibition is more concerned with how they are employed, and here the issue is power. Images of deity in the ancient Near East were where the deity became present in a special way, to the extent that the cult statue became the god (when the god so favored his worshipers), even though it was not the only manifestation of the god. As a result of this linkage, spells, incantations and other magical acts could be performed on the image in order to threaten, bind or compel the deity. In contrast, other rites related to the image were intended to aid the deity or care for the deity.

Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed., Ex 20:4). InterVarsity Press.

b. God is not used.

As the second commandment concerned the issue of exercising power over God, the third turns its attention to exercising God’s power over others. This commandment does not refer to blasphemy or foul language. Rather it is intended to prevent the exploitation of the name of Yahweh for magical purposes or hexing.

Matthews, V. H., Chavalas, M. W., & Walton, J. H. (2000). The IVP Bible background commentary: Old Testament (electronic ed., Ex 20:7). InterVarsity Press.

The third commandment asserts that God cannot be put to use and is never a means toward an end (v. 7). The notion that the ultimate human purpose is to “glorify and enjoy God” means that God is pure end and never means. Using God’s name mischievously however, is an enormous temptation, because the holy God is vulnerable to being made into an ideological tool.

Brueggemann, W. (1994–2004). The Book of Exodus. In L. E. Keck (Ed.), New Interpreter’s Bible (Vol. 1, p. 844). Abingdon Press.

c. God does not change. He is who he is. (Jealous God, bringing consequences. Ex. 20:5)

2. Application

a. Christ does not change and continually stands as judge over all that right and true.

3. Illustration

Everything passes, only the truth remains.

Dostoevsky, F. M., & Ibsen, H. (1990). The Brothers Karamazov

Voltaire—1694 –1778

The World Is More Religious Than Ever

Is our world becoming overwhelming secular? Not exactly, says researcher Rodney Stark. In his book The Triumph of Faith, Stark argues that our world is still very open to spirituality, including traditional Christianity and other beliefs. Stark writes:

The world is more religious than it has ever been. Around the globe, four out of every five people claim to belong to an organized faith, and many of the rest say they attend worship services. In Latin America, Pentecostal Protestant churches have converted tens of millions, and Catholics are going to Mass in unprecedented numbers. There are more churchgoing Christians in Sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else on earth, and China may soon become home of the most Christians. Meanwhile, although not growing as rapidly as Christianity, Islam enjoys far higher levels of member commitment than it has for many centuries, and the same is true for Hinduism. In fact, of all the great world religions, only Buddhism may not be growing. Furthermore, in every nook and cranny left by organized faiths, all manner of unconventional and unchurched supernaturalisms are booming: there are more occult healers than medical doctors in Russia; 38 percent of the French believe in astrology; 35 percent of the Swiss agree that “some fortune tellers really can foresee the future,” and nearly everyone in Japan is careful to have a new car blessed by a Shinto priest.


Rodney Stark, The Triumph of Faith (Intercollegiate Studies, 2015), page 1

III. The CLAIM of God on our lives (Exodus 20:8)

1. Explanation

a. The sabbath a revealing of God’s rightful claim on our lives.

People are not to live as if all time were their own, to do with as they please. The God of all time retains the right to determine how one day shall or shall not be used. This weekly separation (emphasized by the inclusio in vv. 8 and 11) is to be publicly demonstrated by a time of rest for all engaged in work, including the servants and the animals. “Remembering” is more than a mental act, it is an active observance (see God’s remembering in 2:24).

Fretheim, T. E. (1991). Exodus (p. 229). John Knox Press.

The tie to creation—which is also Torah—shows that the commands are not the heteronomous imposition of a set of rules; to obey them is to be what one was created to be (on the place of commandment in the creation narratives, see Gen. 1:28; 2:16–17).

Fretheim, T. E. (1991). Exodus (p. 223). John Knox Press.

2. Application

a. Fits all areas of life: Time, Talents, Treasure.

b. In knowing God, it becomes natural to give and serve him.

3. Illustration


It was his Friday night ritual. He went to an old pier on the eastern coast of Florida with a bucket of shrimp. One by one, he pulled out the shrimp and fed the seagulls as they flocked around him. Most onlookers thought he was just a crazy old guy. But his name is Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, and during World War 2, he was stranded at sea. When all seemed lost, a seagull landed on Eddie’s hat, and miraculously, without a struggle, the seagull allowed itself to be caught. Eddie and the other men ate what they could and used what remained of the bird as bait. Its sacrifice saved them. His way of saying thank you was to feed those birds every Friday night.

Jesus miraculously healed ten men from leprosy, but only one of them came back to give thanks to Jesus. Perhaps the others were thankful, but didn’t show their gratitude to the one who healed them. Only one came back to express his thanks to Jesus.

His gratitude was a sign of his faith in Jesus, a faith that consisted in total dependence on God. The man knew there was nothing he could do to heal himself of leprosy; only Jesus could do that. His faith didn’t disappoint him, and through his faith, Jesus assured him that he was saved.

Faith in Jesus saves. Faith saves because God gives undeserved, unqualified, unconditional love. The proper response is the same as the leper who came back: to fall at Jesus’ feet and give thanks.

Captain Eddie Rickenbacker was a Christian. He said that he was saved to serve God and to serve others. That’s an even better way to say thanks than feeding seagulls some shrimp. It’s a way that we can all say thank you to Jesus. Devotions,  October 13, 2022


Living for Jesus, a life that is true,

Striving to please Him in all that I do;

Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,

This is the pathway of blessing for me.


O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee,

For Thou, in Thy atonement, didst give Thyself for me;

I own no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne;

My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone.

Living for Jesus a life that is true

Author: Thomas O. Chisholm (1917).


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