Posted by Mark Herzer

The Larger Catechism

Questions 100-101

100 Q. What special things are we to consider in the ten commandments?

A. We are to consider in the ten commandments, the preface, the substance of the commandments themselves, and several reasons annexed to some of them, the more to enforce them.

Question 100[1]

This question serves as a brief introduction to what is to come. First, it tells us what is the biggest “division”[2] in the Ten Commandments, namely, the preface and the “substance of the commandments.” How we understand the two parts and how they relate serve as important keys to rightly understanding the purpose of God’s law. The second point reminds us that some of the commandments offer “reasons” for the commandment (e.g., second and fifth commandments). These reasons compel us to obey them that much more. For example, a mother can declare she is your mother and that should be reason enough to obey her. She could also add more details of her relationship to you (I sacrificed for you, gave up many opportunities to be with you, prayed for you, live as an example before you, etc.). This would make the son’s obedience that much more compelling.

 

101 Q. What is the preface to the ten commandments?

A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.[436] Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God;[437] having his being in and of himself,[438] and giving being to all his words[439] and works:[440] and that he is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people;[441] who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom;[442] and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments.[443]

[436] Exodus 20:2. I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. [437] Isaiah 44:6. Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. [438] Exodus 3:14. And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. [439] Exodus 6:3. And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them. [440] Acts 17:24, 28. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands…. For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. [441] Genesis 17:7. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Romans 3:29. Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also. [442] Luke 1:74-75. That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. [443] 1 Peter 1:15, 17-18. But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation…. And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers. Leviticus 18:30. Therefore shall ye keep mine ordinance, that ye commit not any one of these abominable customs, which were committed before you, and that ye defile not yourselves therein: I am the LORD your God. Leviticus 19:37. Therefore shall ye observe all my statutes, and all my judgments, and do them: I am the LORD.

 

Introduction

The important role of the preface to the ten commandments must be carefully understood. If we do not take it seriously or we relativize it, then the ten commandments will merely stand out as external laws from God having no real and personal relationship to us. The preface helps us to see that we obey a redemptive God and not some sovereign arbitrary deity who wields absolute authority as our creator (cf. like Allah). The preface sets the right context for the commandments.

Furthermore, people debate over the binding nature of this or that commandment (especially the fourth). That may be all well and good (though it is not) but those concerns cannot be rightly answered if the believer does not accurately grasp the role of the preface. In fact, unless one can affirm the preface for himself, the ten commandments will elude him. It is in the preface we learn of our specific relationship to the Law maker.

Unfortunately, some have used the preface to disregard the ten commandments. They argue that the preface automatically limits itself to the Israelites: “This law was given to Israel exclusively, which is seen in the opening word.”[3] The law should have been rejected, they argue.

It was a fatal thing, which all the people did when they answered together, “all that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” It was a presumptuous declaration, which sprung from self-confidence and showed clearly that they had no appreciation for that Grace, which had visited them in Egypt and brought them hitherto. They had received grace, they needed grace. With the vow they had made, they had put themselves under the law. The legal covenant had its beginning with the rejection of the Covenant of Grace, and the legal covenant ends with the acceptance of Grace.[4]

This sort of argument borders on being ridiculous because God’s redeemed people were not allowed to “choose” or reject God’s covenant of grace with them. God’s redemption bound them to Himself.[5] They did not stand before God at Mt. Sinai to “negotiate” the terms of their relationship with their Redeemer (who brought them out of Egypt). The sovereign God did not bring through the Red Sea and the desert to solicit their feedback and then broker a covenant relationship. Furthermore, this implies that God had less than perfect intentions. Did God give the law to “trap” them, to make it worse for Israel after He redeemed them? Gaebelein’s reasoning makes God look like a diabolical jinni who offered Israel something that would ultimately harm them.

We cannot see how this truncated view of biblical history does justice to the Bible’s overall redemptive teaching. It assumes what God commanded was only for the Jews. Rather, we should look at it in a way similar to Michael Horton. “The Old Testament is not merely the part of our Bibles that predicted a coming Messiah and was rendered irrelevant when that Messiah arrived; it is part of one full, complete, running drama of redemption, and beginning with Matthew’s Gospel is like walking into a movie halfway into the story. It is like thinking you are telling a good joke when all you can remember is the punch line.”[6]

Israel’s redemption from Egypt was not just for them but a “down payment on the great redemption to be accomplished” by Christ.[7] That is, it is just one act of redemption in the history of redemption signifying the ultimate redemption to come. Their “exodus” was our exodus and in their experience of God’s deliverance from Egypt, they began to experience the ultimate deliverance to come in Christ. The OT pointed to Christ and to what He would do (Lk. 24:25ff.) and the exodus pointed to Christ’s redemption.

The OT moved beyond the great deliverance from Egypt. Jeremiah announced that another deliverance would come: “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it shall no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the LORD lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ For I will bring them back to their own land that I gave to their fathers.” (Jer. 16:14, 15) But that deliverance gave way to the ultimate deliverance, namely, their deliverance from their sin. Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, blessed the Lord because “he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David…” (Lk. 1:68ff.) Each deliverance gave way to this final deliverance in Christ.

But the great deliverance accomplished through Jesus Christ would surpass every other deliverance. The old Passover is replaced by the new one, for which Christ Himself has become the sacrificed Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). The deliverance from Egypt became our deliverance from the power of darkness, from the slavery of sin, so that we might receive a place in the kingdom of Christ (Col. 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9).[8]

The interpretation we offered works on the fundamental assumption of God’s overall redemptive purpose in Scripture — the same God working out His covenant of grace in history in the OT culminates it in Christ. It is the same covenant of grace administered differently in the various covenants but the substance is the same in all. To discount the preface and the Decalogue chops off the redemptive flow of biblical history. We should be able to personally embrace Ex. 20:2, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

If this preface was sufficient to compel the Israelites to obey God then the reasons for our obedience are that much stronger. That is, if political and national liberation sufficed to bind Israel to God (though the liberation was much more than political and national), then our liberation from sin and our eternal redemption should bind us to Him that much more. The least we could do, as it were, is to obey the Ten Commandments. Greater redemption should not bind us to something less (which seems to be the general thrust of many who reject the Ten Commandments).

[1] Both Vos and Ridgley chose not to comment on this question. They listed the question and answer but neither one gave any explanation. This is not the most helpful question and the LC would have remained intact without it. Also, this question needs no “proof text” since it merely observes what is already plain in the ten commandments. It could say, “We find the ten commandments in these commandments of God.” This statement merely notes what appears to be evident.

[2] Division is not the best word because the ten commandments work as a whole.

[3] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Exodus: A Complete Analysis of Exodus with Annotations (New York: “Our Hope” Publication Office, 1912), 49.

[4] Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Exodus, 48.

[5] Sadly, even a Reformed NT scholar said something similar in his essay. See T. David Gordon, “Abraham and Sinai Contrasted in Galatians 3:6-14,” in The Law is not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant, ed. Bryan D. Estelle, J. V. Fesko, and David Van Drunen (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2009), 251.

[6] Michael Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1993), 28.

[7] Horton, The Law of Perfect Freedom, 28.

[8] Jochem Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life, trans. Nelson D. Kloosterman (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1996), 6.


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