What is the thing that Moses is most famous for? Cecil B. DeMille knew the answer and he named his movie about the life of Moses “The Ten Commandments”. Moses will always be associated with the Decalogue, the Ten Words, the Law of God. We are (sort of) using Moses’ life and actions, for good and ill, as gauge for our own lives and the experiences he had with the Children of Israel as a metaphor (or prefigurement if you prefer) for our own salvation experience. Naturally the question of the place for the law in all of that arises.
What were the events surrounding the giving of God’s Law? The giving of the Law is first recorded in Exodous 24:12-18 when God invites Moses up on the mountain alone to receive tablets with the Law. Now Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights talking to God about the law and most of what is recored about the conversation had to do with the place and manner God was to be worshiped and ends with an expanded command from God to keep the sabbath as a sign between God and the Israelites forever. Then in Exodous 31:18 the lawgiving concludes with the statement, “He gave Moses two tablets of testimony when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, tablets of stone written by the finger of God.”
Flush with his knowledge of the law, straight from the mouth of God, Moses descends from the Mountain and finds, well, he finds wholesale lawbreaking. After all the detailed descriptions of the tabernacle, the altar, priests clothing, incense, etc.; after the detailed description of how God was to be worshipped, we find his people have made another God and are worshiping it. God is mad and would have destroyed the Israelites but for Moses’ plea on their behalf. Moses, when he saw what the people were doing was fit to be tied. He broke the tablets of the law, he destroyed the idol, ground it to powder and forced the Israelites to drink it. But my favorite part was his confrontation with Aaron.
Here is the confrontation scene from Exodus 32:21-24:
Moses said to Aaron, What did this people do to you, that you have brought on them so great a sin? Aaron said, Do not let your anger burn hot, my lord; a you know these people, that they tend to evil. They said to me, Make us gods that will go before us, for as for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him. So I said to them, Whoever has gold, break it off. So they gave it a to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.
Is that not some of the funniest stuff you have ever read? “Well Moses, you know how these people just tend to evil.” Or,”We put in the gold and the calf just came out. Nothin’ we could do about that, I mean the gold just had a mind of its own.”
Think about that (this is a rabbit trail but, perhaps a worthwhile one). Are there any other people who “tend to evil”? Are there events in our lives that we now wish we could do over, that just seemed to happen on their own? Just exactly how do we wind up doing bad things when we really did not go into the day intending to do them?
But the major question is this: what part does the law play in sin? Had God not given the law, would what the Israelites did have been sin? That second is not really a question I propose to try and answer, but the first is because Paul has already answered it for us in Romans 7:7-13:
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Absolutely not! Certainly, I would not have known sin except through the law. For indeed I would not have known what it means to desire something belonging to someone else if the law had not said, Do not covet. But sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of wrong desires. For apart from the law, sin is dead. And I was once alive apart from the law, but with the coming of the commandment sin became alive and I died. So I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life brought death! For sin, seizing the opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it I died. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous, and good.
Did that which is good, then, become death to me? Absolutely not! But sin, so that it would be shown to be sin, produced death in me through what is good, so that through the commandment sin would become utterly sinful.
So did the giving of the Law create the sin the Israelites committed? No, but sin produced death through what was good so that it could become “utterly sinful”. The law then is seen as a bright light that shines on the world and illuminates all of our actions, in the light of the law they can be seen for what they are. And sin is so bad that is uses what is good to produce death. Can you imagine anything more evil than that which uses good to create death?
Here’s a big question, when you allow the light of the Law , a mere reflection of the holiness of God, to shine on your life what is it that you see and that God sees? What did God see when He saw the Israelites? Do we consider the law at all? Should we? What part if any does it play in your life and mine? What did Jesus have to say about the law? Read Matthew 5:17-20. What does that mean?