The Covenant Law
“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’ ” (vv. 1–2).- Exodus 20:1–17
Christ spoke of His suffering, death, and resurrection as the fulfillment of His messianic vocation (Mark 8:31), alluding to the fact that a specific divine plan was behind His coming. God unfolded this plan in history, promising to send the Savior who would succeed where Adam failed; to preserve the natural world so that people could experience salvation; and to do whatever it would take to ensure that redemption would come to pass, even being willing to assume the curse for our breaking the covenant.
We find God’s love and justice manifested in a special way in the national covenant He made with Israel, otherwise known as the Mosaic covenant. This covenant stands out for many reasons, not the least of which is the inclusion of a detailed legal code that includes statutes designed for the specific situation of Israel’s living in the land of Canaan as well as commandments that transcend even Israel’s ancient culture. The Ten Commandments serve as the center and foundation of this legal code, and it is to them that we briefly turn.
Today’s passage features the Ten Commandments, and we find the evidence of God’s love and grace to Israel in the preamble to these laws. Our Lord does not begin with the covenant demands; He narrates a very brief history of His dealings with Israel, reminding them of how He saved them from Egyptian slavery (Ex. 20:1–2). Of course, God was not obligated to provide such a redemption. In Adam, the Israelites were covenant-breakers, and so their slavery—and even worse—was ultimately deserved. But the Lord does not treat His people as they deserve; He redeems them from bondage.
God gave the commandments to Israel only after saving them from slavery, thereby demonstrating that the obedience He demands of His people does not merit salvation but is to be offered out of hearts grateful for the salvation He accomplishes before giving us the covenant requirements. The commandments themselves are a helpful reminder that although salvation is by grace alone, the Lord did not save us so that we would remain as we were—lawless and immoral. Instead, He saves us so that we will become holy. God’s law also makes it clear that although He shows grace to covenant-breakers, He does not thereby make optional His demand that we obey Him. The law endures even after grace is shown because God will not set aside His justice for the sake of saving us. Ultimately, He saves us by confirming His justice in the death of Christ.
God’s law serves His plan of salvation by reminding us of sin, pointing us to Christ, and showing us the kind of life that saved people should live. We need all of those things in order to experience the fullness of God’s blessing; therefore, the law of the Lord serves His gracious promise. Let us thank God for His covenant law and study it so that we will know how to please Him.
Passages for Further Study