“Then 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.” -Exodus 20:1-2
It was not “tongue in cheek” that led Rudyard Kipling to pen the poem “Lest We Forget.” One stanza goes like this: “If, drunk with sight of power, we loose Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe, Such boastings as the Gentiles use, Or lesser breeds without the Law – Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet; Lest we forget, lest we forget.” It was written at the time of the crowning of the Queen of England. Where I live, here in Pittsburgh, even though the Ten Commandments cast in brass greet those entering the County Courthouse, in general no one pays them attention. Our culture – western society – has seemingly cut the ties to its biblical background, and forgotten.
But what about the Church? When I was young we memorized the Ten Commandments, and perhaps you did too. But when the Scofield Bible became popular in western culture, the footnotes reflected the dispensational theology of the namesake. The outcome was a misconstrued understanding of “we don’t live under Law, but under Grace in this New Testament dispensation.” I once spoke to a group of evangelical Christian youth years ago – hundreds of them. When I asked, “How many of you can quote to me the Ten Commandments?” Two hands went up- the two young men I had brought with me. To be fair to those youth, I don’t think they had forgotten them. I’m more inclined to believe they were never taught them.
So, lest we forget, I will seek to review for you readers these Ten Commandments in the coming articles, God willing. And I’m reminded of the book by Francis Schaeffer, HOW SHALL WE THEN LIVE? These “ten words” answer that question. Check Matthew 5 if you have doubt about this. True believers in union with Christ care about God’s law. It is not passé to them! They follow Jesus…and He kept the Law perfectly!
But what about those words at the top of the page? They are often termed the “preamble” or the “preface” to the Ten Commandments. And they are very important. Remember, these words were spoken by the Lord to His people at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 20:2) For 430 years they had been in Egypt and under the Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph,” they came into bondage. And this preamble mentions their having been in bondage. What happened? God, according to His promise to Abraham, set His people free and began to lead them to the “promised land.” But what was involved in that deliverance from Egypt? Not only did Egypt suffer the nine plagues, but the tenth one brought death to Egypt’s firstborn. To escape that judgment conducted by God’s “death angel,” the Israelites were to kill a firstborn lamb, sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, stay inside, cook and eat the lamb. The death angel, seeing the blood on these houses, would “pass over” those homes and inflict no death there. Miraculously then, they left Egypt under Moses’ lead, crossing the Red Sea, and began the trek to Canaan, arriving en route at Mt. Sinai.
It was then that the Lord revealed to them how, as God’s saved, His delivered people, they were to live. The picture of the sacrificed “pass over” lamb was theological: it was an early picture of the Lamb of God, even Jesus, Who would shed His blood on the cross for the salvation of God’s elect people. The point is this: they were a “delivered” people, no longer in bondage to Egypt. They had been loved and rescued by God.
So this preamble to the Ten Commandments is very important. There never was any idea of their having to keep the commandments in order to be saved. They were out of Egypt, and now with God! And how should they then live? As God’s people, they would show their love to Him and to each other by obeying these Ten Commandments. And that’s why plaques and monuments of the Ten Commandments are found throughout my country, for example. We enjoyed our freedom “under God” with His pattern for our lifestyle. There is no suggestion at all in the Bible that by keeping these commandments we can be saved! Rather, the commandments summarize how saved people are to live.
Now it does not bother me at all that most – if not all – you readers know this. I am “reviewing” these fundamentals with you… “lest we forget.” We don’t preach the Ten Commandments to our culture as a “covenant of works,” though many tend to interpret them that way. No, we preach about that Lamb, about that blood, about Jesus’ cross to which it all points! And, we keep His commandments because we love Him for saving us! Hallelujah!
Ken G Smith