I just finished going through Exodus in my personal reading time, and it seems that every time I go through the Bible, especially the Old Testament, I keep turning over new stones of insight. I truly appreciate the fact that God grants me those little nuggets of newness in His Word, because so often I can read the exact same Scripture multiple times and not even notice the depth that was waiting to be discovered.
This most recent insight came when I was starting chapter 20 of Exodus, where the Ten Commandments are first mentioned. At the start of the chapter, God had just told Moses on Mount Sinai to be the intercessor between the Israelites and Himself, and to communicate His purposes for them in the Mosaic covenant (Exodus 19:3-8). God did this specifically by speaking to Moses in the hearing of all the people of Israel so that He would be trusted as their God (Exodus 19:9). After giving Moses more directions about consecrating the people to meet Him (Exodus 19:10-11), God came down onto the mountain and revealed Himself in great smoke and fire (Exodus 19:18). After descending onto the mountain God had to tell Moses to warn the people to not approach the mountain or they would perish (Exodus 19:21). And after sending Moses back down to tell the people to beware, God begins to reveal to Israel the Ten Commandments, or “words”, of the covenant. However, it was in verses 1 and 2 of chapter 20 that this new insight was revealed:
“And God spoke all these words, saying, I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
The insight that was hidden beneath the proverbial “mountain” of Sinai was that verses 1 and 2 are the most important verses in the chapter, maybe even the whole book. And I really believe that my awe and wonder of the famous Ten Commandments in the past caused me to miss this insight for so long. These verses are not the Ten Commandments themselves, but everything that justifies the Ten Commandments is found in these often overlooked verses. And here is the importance of these verses: They reveal to us that the primary importance in our lives is to know first who God is and what He has done for us.
Verse 1 tells us that it was God speaking directly to the Israelites. God set the priority of what they would hear first, and they heard it directly from Him. And verse 2 is what they heard first. To begin, It tells us that this God, YHWH, relates to them primarily and of first importance as their Lord and their God. Who God is, is “the Lord your God.” Secondly, in verse 2, God reminds them exactly what He has done for them. He brought them out of Egypt and He brought them out of the house of slavery. These verses are the preamble of the Ten Commandments! Everything that God tells Israel to do in the Ten Commandments should be the response that comes from a person that truly sees who God is and what He has done for them. Why do we not have any other gods? Is it an arbitrary commandment? No! It is because this is who God is and this is what He has done for us. Why do we love our neighbor and why do we not murder, steal, and covet? Because this is who God is and this is what He has done for us. These two truths should drive us to obedience, fill us with thankfulness, and win us to worship. And ultimately, this passage is but a shadow of what was to come in our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God in the flesh, who came to bring His people out of the house of slavery to sin. And this is of first importance.
May the truth of who God is and what He has done for us continue to encourage us to keep the greatest commandment, to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Reese Hammond is a member of Faith Community Church and a recent graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to the beautiful Lisa Hammond and is the proud father of Malachi.