Exodus 20 Commentary
Chapter 19 set off an important point in the story line. The location is Sinai. The LORD adds more details to the Abrahamic covenant. Obedience is required. Now the LORD unpacks an extended list of instructions called laws. The instruction to Abraham was simple: obey me. So here we begin to learn what it means to obey the LORD.
Details are important. The first law deals with idolatry. It’s a law aimed at erasing the thought of having many gods. Egypt had many gods and Israel has to erase that thought from their minds. There is only one God. Israel should know that. And there is no form or model or representation of the LORD that they have seen. So Israel is instructed never to make an image or picture of God. That is law number two. We observe that there are two sets of laws. The first set is deeply sacred and concerns Israel’s relationship with her God. The second and last section is man-centered.
The laws themselves reveal a background of interest to the saint today. In a world of competing gods , we call them interests today, there is need to repeat the first two laws on a daily basis. It is these laws that will help man interact with his God in the right way. The first law is a statement of faith while the second is the practice of the first – so important! Indeed the LORD is one.
Back in Egypt and all around Israel, everyone else has a god of one kind or the other. They have all sorts of shapes. Man no longer knows who the LORD is. These laws can be seen as a pathway back to the LORD.
Verse 19 is a key moment. The people now don’t want the terrifying presence of God. A human representative is preferred. In chapter 19 the LORD had put boundaries around HIMSELF so that man doesn’t get close because man is unholy. So the laws here can be seen as a bridge. These laws are an answer to the question of what it means to be righteous or blameless – an important condition in the Abrahamic blessing – Gen 17 verse 1. They also answer the question of what must be obeyed as demanded by the LORD at the beginning of chapter 19.
Just before the terrifying appearance of the glory of God up the mountain, the LORD had mentioned to Moses that the LORD wanted Israel to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. The condition set was obedience.
Since Israel doesn’t want the LORD to speak to them directly we now head in the direction of a tabernacle and the systems around the tabernacle. They will have a representation of God there. I guess it’s a compromise. So the tabernacle is something the LORD allowed Israel to have and it resembled existing worship systems as that was the only way Israel could understand heavenly things.
Man’s state is bad. Man’s bad state actually determines the direction of events. The blessing suffers setbacks. You would probably understand that the tabernacle and attendant systems were not part of God’s original plan but how else can dirty man reach God?
Both chapter 19 and chapter 20 present an important moment in the story line. The LORD who freely interacted with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob now doesn’t want people anywhere near His presence. The people also don’t want the deeply sacred and terrifying presence of God. They fear for their lives. How will this puzzle be solved?
Chapter 20 closes on a difficult note of ‘nakedness’. There is something about nakedness that is important but not exactly explained clearly. Adam sinned and saw that he was naked. The LORD clothed him. Ham saw Noah’s nakedness and was cursed. And here we see the LORD insisting on a structure that would not expose nakedness. Could this be telling its own story on pornography and nudity of today?
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