4.02 - Introduction To the Ten Commandments: God Reveals Himself
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. (Exodus 20:2)
The Ten Commandments do not impose on people a legalistic system of rules or complicated dogmas, revealed by an angel. Rather through them God Himself speaks to people. The Creator comes close to His creatures and the Holy One draws near to His sinful people.
4.02.1 - The Person of God
The first word in the Ten Commandments is “I“. The living God speaks to us as a person, not as a vague spirit or a sort of frightening thunder heard in the distance. His language is easily understood. He wants to establish a personal, trustworthy relationship with us. He communicates with us by His grace, not by law or wrath. What a privilege it is for us that He turns to us in kindness and love!
Man may stubbornly try to turn away from the Almighty God and run away from His goodness. Yet, the holy God sees us wherever we are. We are always in His presence. That is why every wise person should respond to His words. The fact that He says “I“ means we are elevated to the level of “you“, and are able to speak with Him as beings with an identity.
From all this it is clear to us beyond any shadow of doubt that the eternal God Himself, the Sustainer of all, the everlasting Judge speaks to us in person. Therefore, let us listen attentively to Him, and keep His word joyfully and gladly.
4.02.2 - God's Existence
God reveals His essence to us when He says “I am“. How then can people claim that there is no God? All the atheistic claims ultimately crumble before this testimony of God since the “I am“ is the reason for our existence. God is there! Everything else passes away, He alone is eternal. Time and again man rebels against his Creator as though he were resisting a mighty mountain. But truth is not based on what man says about God or what scientists write about Him. He is the Truth and He fills the universe. Some people denied this 3,000 years ago, in David's time, and claimed there was no God (Psalm 14). So, the psalmist called them corrupted fools because they ignored reality and overlooked Him who holds and sustains the whole universe. Yet the unbelievers lived in their sinfulness without a conscience.
God's testimony about Himself refutes the basis on which Buddha's religious view is built. Nirvana, with its teaching about denying self and putting desires to death to the point of allowing the soul to be absorbed in the great nothing, is not real. God wants people to live. He is alive and He testifies “I am“. The fact that He is there gives meaning and purpose to our lives. He wants us to live as He lives. His goal is not for us to become extinct.
God's testimony also puts all materialistic dogmas to death. It is a short-sighted person who denies the existence of the spiritual world. In fact, he is like a stone which remains on the ground, while a bird soars in the sky. God is alive and He speaks to you. He even speaks to the materialist, the atheist and the communist so that everyone may turn his ear to Him and become wise. If anyone refuses to listen and hardens his heart, then he will be like a blind man who claims that there is no sun because he cannot see it.
4.02.3 - Who is Yahweh?
God said to Moses, “I AM the LORD.“ “I AM WHO I AM“ is a very literal translation of the Hebrew text in Exodus 3:14. It expresses God's real, everlasting, unconditional, independent existence. God exists in a way that no one and nothing else does. He does not change and this is the basis for our faith and the cornerstone of our salvation. With all our limitations and sinfulness, the unchanging God remains faithful to us. We are entitled to come back to Him for the sake of His faithfulness. Even when we face the end of this world, God comforts us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will by no means pass away“ (Matthew 24:35).
God, in His sovereignty, encompasses everything: He is all-knowing, all-seeing, omniscient and all-wise. If all doors are closed, He provides us with the way out. He understands our feelings and thoughts. He does not want us to fall at His feet in terror. Instead He creates a deep hope and confidence in us. He speaks to us so that we may lift up our eyes to Him in trust. He wants to be Lord of our life. Oh, that no one would hide his face from our patient God, for He awaits our answer! When someone returns to his Creator he is responding to His merciful loving-kindness. When God says, “I am the LORD“, He also states that He is the only Lord, and there is no other. All other spirits and gods are vain.
In our present age, where spirits and mysterious teachings are turned into modern religions, the demon-possessed are set free by putting their trust in the one true God. Today agnosticism is declining, and people go to the other extreme and get caught up in occult practices and are bound by evil spirits. Their propaganda is everywhere on the radio, television and newspapers.
In the Gospels, Jesus says “I am He“, which is an integral expression of the Ten Commandments. By saying this, Jesus affirms that He is the Lord, and the subject of the angels' good news to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Jesus goes a step further and says, “I am the bread of life,“ “I am the light of the world,“ “I am the door,“ “I am the way, the truth and the life.“ Jesus also said, “I am King.“ “I am the beginning and the end.“ Ever since, His followers have been confessing without hesitation, “Jesus is LORD.“ He never changes and He saves us from every sin. He affirmed His status and authority when He rose from the dead. Ever since then, the beginning of the Ten Commandments has a comforting sound to us, “I am the LORD.“
Moses had no clear idea about the incarnation of His coming Lord. But 1,350 years before Jesus' birth, he received the basic words of revelation with which God had identified Himself, “I am the LORD your God.“
4.02.4 - Who is God?
In Hebrew God calls Himself “Elohim“, which is translated in Arabic as “Allah“. “Elohim“ can be read as “Eloh-im“, while Allah is “Al-el-hu“. “Al“ is a definite article meaning “the“. “El“ is original name for God in the Semitic cultures, and means “power“. Jesus proclaimed the essential meaning for the name “El“ and affirmed it when He testified before the high court, “Hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power“ (Matthew 26:64). The words “-im“ and “-hu“ are suffixes. The Hebrew “-im“ signifies the possibility of plural, whereas “-hu“ in the Arabic is exclusively for the singular. Thus the unity of the Holy Trinity is eliminated from “Allah“ basically, while “Elohim“ allows for the possibility of a triune God.
The eternal Lord is not only the All-Knowing, All-Wise, Omnipresent, but He is also the Almighty. He is the only power in the whole world that builds, with His mighty Word, He created the whole universe out of nothing. He is patient with everyone. Our Lord is not a destructive, tyrannical god who guides whomever He wills and leads astray whomever He wills (Suras al-Fatir 35:8 and al-Muddathir 74:31). On the contrary, our God wants “all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth“ (1 Timothy 2:4).
In the Old Testament, there are people whose names and countries are connected with the name “El“. Their children were named Samuel, Elijah, Eliezar and Daniel. They named their towns Bethel, Jezreel, and Israel. By doing so, they tied themselves to the “power“ that controls the whole universe. In the New Testament people were also uniquely united with God, since He promised His followers, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you“ (Acts 1:8). God does not reject sinners, but He cleanses, sanctifies and dwells in them.
It is our Lord Jesus Christ, the All-Powerful, to whom all authority in heaven and on earth is given. The atomic bombs are nothing compared with His everlasting power; His authority does not end.
4.02.5 - Who is God in Islam?
The submission to the Almighty leads the Muslims to the call “Allahu akbar“, Allah is greater! Thus, the Muslim regards Allah as more “beautiful“, more “prudent“ than all. So, Allah in Islam becomes great, strong and unreachable above his slaves. No human brain can comprehend Him. He comprehends us. Allah in Islam is the far remote and far unknown. Every thought about Him is insufficient and incorrect. Men, they argue, can never conceive of the Almighty. Muslims can only fear and worship Him as they prostrate themselves.
Sufis have tried to establish man-made bridges to approach the grand yet unreachable Allah, but the Quran itself does not allow any attempts at affinity through its abstract Bedouin logic.
In Islam, Allah remains unseen and has not established a covenant with Muslims. Muhammad is not considered to be a mediator between Allah and Muslims in order to bind them to Allah in an Islamic covenant. He commands all to be subject to their Lord with no strings attached.
Muslims do not comprehend God in His essence. As a result, they cannot have a knowledge of their real sin, nor do they actually experience His grace. Worship in Islam is not gratitude to the Saviour for saving them from sin, nor praise for deliverance from judgement. Rather, it is an adoration of the remote, mighty Allah, like slaves who fall at their master's feet in fear and doubt. They are motivated to follow Muhammad because Islam magnifies Allah, who frightens them and never sanctifies them. They do not thank a Saviour for freely saving them because Islam has no saviour. No wonder a Muslim remains tied to his formal, ritualistic worship!
However, the true God who revealed Himself in the Bible did not remain far from His creation. He came close to us and established a covenant with us children of Adam, as He says, “I am the LORD your God.“
4.02.6 - The Covenant with God
The pronoun “your“ in “your God“ is possessive. This means that God allows us to possess Him. We can trust Him as a child trusts his father. The Almighty God stoops down toward us in spite of our rebellion, as if He were saying, “I am yours. Won't you repent and return to me and surrender yourselves exclusively to me forever?“
This is the tantalizing news, that the Ten Commandments start with a covenant established between God and people. It is a covenant which God alone offered to His people. In it God affirms His presence and love for us. He expects us to respond to His omnipresent existence in faith, hope and love.
In His covenant with sinners, God assures them of His forgiveness, salvation, protection and blessing. “If God be for us, who can be against us“ (Romans 8:31)? He encourages us by affirming that He is always with us and working through our weakness. Man's sin does not stop God's faithfulness. No doubt, the Holy One will judge each sin, no matter how small it is. His perfect justice requires the condemnation of each sin and yet His eternal love in Christ cleanses the sins of all those who enter the covenant with Him. By dying on our behalf, Christ provided the guarantee that the divine covenant had taken effect. The cross has since been the sign for the continuity of His grace.
4.02.7 - God our Father
Man's separation from God was ended by the birth of Christ. God appeared in the flesh so that His followers would no longer be slaves, since Jesus freed them from the bondage of sin, the chains of the devil, from death and even from the judgment of God. The blood of Jesus was shed as an atonement for our release. Whoever believes in Christ will be cleansed and adopted as a son or daughter of God. Through Christ, the Almighty God has become our Father, legally and spiritually. He assures us that even if we commit a grave sin, “I am the LORD, your Father.“
God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grants the power of the Holy Spirit to everyone who loves and follows the crucified and risen Jesus. Born-again believers in Jesus bear the life and nature of their heavenly Father. No longer are they under the bondage of despair and in the grip of spiritual death. In Christ, the holy God has tied Himself to us. He made us His temple, a dwelling place for Him. He is our Father and we are His children. We belong to Him and He belongs to us. This new covenant has been fulfilled by virtue of the substitutionary death of Christ for us. From that time, every believer in Christ experiences personal contact with God. When he prays, he does not call to empty space. Instead, prayer is like a telephone call with God, filled with thanksgiving, confession, requests and petition. Our heavenly Father listens to us faithfully. In His Fatherhood, we find our refuge. He surrounds and shields us with the garment of His righteousness. Unlike Muslims, true Christians are not far from their God. They do not worship a pantheon of gods like the Hindus or wait for the awesome nothing as the Buddhists do.
The Almighty God has bound Himself to the followers of Christ by virtue of His love so that they may live in His presence and be changed into His image. Our heavenly Father did not want to leave us in our hopeless condition, but decided to save us and to renew us. He challenged us, “You shall be holy as I am holy“ (Leviticus 11:45). Fellowship with God means not only a mental faith, but it also results in a radical moral change. If we live with God our essence shall be changed since the eternal God has decided to bring His children up to His standard. Our Father wants us to be like Him, as Jesus stated, “Be perfect just as your Father in heaven is perfect“ (Matthew 5:48). The Ten Commandments are a stage in the process of being changed from lost people into children of God. In fact, they are the barriers that keep us from falling away by virtue of His grace.
Maybe you have felt that it is impossible to fulfill Christ's commandment. How can we be perfect as God is perfect? Does this claim not mean a repetition of the temptation of Eve in paradise when she heard Satan saying, “You shall be like God“? Man cannot save himself, nor can he become righteous by his own efforts. All self-righteousness is built on laws that awaken rebellion and lead to judgment. But our real sanctification is the good work of our heavenly Father in us. He leads us in the path of His righteousness. He calls us every day to deny ourselves and He grants our souls eternal power to overcome the evil in us. He prompts us to read His Word and act upon it. He gives us His love, which turns the selfish into servants and ministers. The spiritual gifts of our Father are so evident that even Muhammad acknowledged them and described the followers of Christ as special people who are not “proud, who received into their hearts compassion and mercy“ (Suras al-Maida 5:82 and al-Hadid 57:22).
4.02.8 - Accomplished Salvation
God wants to set us free from the bondage of sin. By his second statement in the introduction to the Ten Commandments, He tells us that we cannot set ourselves free from the bondage of sin. It is God who will do this through our obedience in faith. God delivered His people from bitter slavery through Moses and established a divine covenant with them. He did not accept them because they were righteous, but chose them by His grace. He declared, “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.“
The sons of Jacob emigrated from the rocky barren western mountains of the Jordan valley 3,600 years ago when drought ravaged their region. They were driven by hunger to the fertile Nile Valley, some 300 kilometers away from their home. They lived an easier life there. Every year the Nile flooded and nourished the land. The children of Jacob multiplied quickly and became a major threat to the people of Egypt. The pharaohs enslaved the foreign Hebrew workers and abused them ruthlessly. Some of them remembered the God of their fathers in their slavery and cried out to Him for help. They had forgotten their God in the good days, yet poverty and need brought them back to their Creator and Deliverer. Then God listened to their cries and sent Moses, His servant, whom He prepared in the pharaoh's palace and in the wilderness, to fulfill his calling. The Lord appeared to Moses in a bush that was on fire yet it was not consumed by the fire. God revealed Himself to Moses as the “I AM“; which means, “I am He that I am. I do not change but I remain faithful to you.“ Therefore, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart“ (Jeremiah 29:13).
The Lord sent Moses to the great pharaoh, considered to be an Egyptian god, in order to ask him to release the enslaved Hebrew workers. But the ruler of the Nile Valley did not want to set the cheap laborers free. He hardened his heart more and more. The pharaoh was not ready to set the sons of Abraham free until the Lord forced him to do so through the increasing plagues and calamities. They were freed from the slavery in Egypt, not for their own righteousness, but only through their obedience of faith. They did not have sharp weapons. They fled at night to the desert under the cover of the protecting blood of the Passover lamb which was slain for them. One lamb was offered for each family. They ate the meat of the lamb and fled in God's power. Crossing the Red Sea and the destruction of their pursuing enemies is the final evidence of their deliverance. Today we can see the mummy of the drowned pharaoh with algae from the Red Sea in his lungs in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
Muslims attribute their victory over their enemies to God's intervention in battle. However, Muhammad had victory over the merchants of Mecca in the Battle of Badr, not because of God's miraculous intervention, but because of their weaponry. His followers sacrificed everything they had. No wonder they beat their enemies! What Moses is identifying as miraculous, divine deliverance (with no drop of blood shed) is known in Islam as holy war (jihad), in which everyone is obligated to join. The justifying rule in Islam remains, “You did not kill them, but Allah killed them. It was not you who threw [the arrow] if you threw, but Allah threw“ (Sura al-Anfal 8:17).
After the Lord miraculously set the children of Israel free from slavery in Egypt, He led them into the blazing heat of the dry wilderness and prepared a feast for them. He wanted to finalize a divine covenant with them so that they would become sanctified in fellowship with Him. He called them to be a priestly nation serving Him. They were to be a reconciling ministry before His throne for all men. The Ten Commandments were the heart of the book of the covenant and the golden rule for communion with their Lord. God was enthroned above the two tablets of His law which were kept in the ark of the covenant.
4.02.9 - Salvation in the New Testament and the Objective of the Ten Commandments
If we meditate on the wonderful victory which God granted the children of Jacob 3,300 years ago and compare it with the salvation Jesus accomplished in the new covenant, we can summarize the beginning of the Ten Commandments as follows: “I am the LORD your God and Father; I have eternally redeemed you.“
Since Jesus came into our world and bore the sins of every man on the cross, dying as the Lamb of God for us, we proclaim the mercy of God to all nations and preach Jesus as Lord and Savior for all men. Jesus broke the chains of sin and conquered the authority of Satan through His sufferings and death on the cross. He quenched the wrath of God and bore judgement on our behalf. Our final salvation was accomplished only through Christ. That is why we need to thank Him and receive His redemption in faith.
God's salvation is ready and prepared for every man. We have been saved in a unique way that used no armor. True, blood was shed, but it was not the blood of a defeated enemy, rather the blood of the only Son of God, who sacrificed Himself for us.
We have not saved ourselves by keeping the Ten Commandments; that is not their purpose. Rather, they teach us, the saved ones, how we can give thanks for the salvation that has been freely received. Whoever thinks that he can save himself from sin, Satan, death and the wrath of God by his own human effort is utterly mistaken. In fact, he yields himself to the bondage of sin more and more. The Ten Commandments cannot lead us to our own sanctification. Rather, they lead us to repentance and to the obedience of faith, rejoicing over the salvation that has been accomplished. We can fulfill the purpose of the Mosaic law when we glorify the heavenly Father along with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. God does not want to condemn or curse us or make the Ten Commandments a heavy burden that would weigh us down. Certainly not! Our Lord planned our salvation long ago before the revelation of the Law. He gave His law in order to lead the saved to repentance and transform their rebellion into submission in the gentleness of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the objective of the Law is our fellowship with God our Father, not our destruction in the final judgment.
We would understand the Ten Commandments better if we had ever been slaves. As slaves, we would have toiled regardless of how we felt, sick or healthy, young or old. We would have been forced to labor under unbearable circumstances. As slaves we would have worn a number, and no one would have cared about us.
God set His people free from wretchedness and pain. For this reason, we regard the Ten Commandments as a handbook that guides the liberated Christians so that they can learn how to act soberly and wisely in their freedom. There are many temptations that lurk in freedom. If we live without God we soon become slaves of our instinctive desires and sin. Yet God created man in His image. Without God man cannot live a righteous life. There is no perfect freedom without God.
If man lives in sin, he is a slave to his sin. Drugs, sensual desires, stealing, laziness, rape and malice become his prison. Some are in the throes of subtle, unseen bondages like alcohol, smoking, drug addiction and habitual lying, to say nothing of divination and evil spirits. Satan plays with their minds. But Jesus sets free whoever believes in Him and releases them into the holy freedom of God's children. Christ is the real Victor, the saving Lord, the wise Physician, the good Shepherd and the faithful Friend. No one will ever come to Him without receiving help and advice.
The Ten Commandments are a protecting wall for those set free by grace. God has become their Father, Christ their Saviour, and the Holy Spirit their Comforter. They have understood God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit to be one God. They have experienced real deliverance in Him with gratitude and peace. No wonder the Ten Commandments have become a sign of God's guidance to them creating in them a song of praise across the desert of their lives (Psalm 119:54).