Q43: What is the preface to the Ten Commandments? Q44: What doth the preface to the Ten Commandments teach us?
A: The preface to the Ten Commandments is 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 (Ex. 22:2). A: The preface to the Ten Commandments teacheth us, that because God is the Lord, and our God, and Redeemer, therefore we are bound to keep all his commandments (Deut. 11:1; Lk. 1:74, 75).

I. The preface to the Ten Commandments, or “preamble” (Ex. 20:2), was common to state treaties in the second millennium BC .

A. The Sinai covenant (Ex. 19:1-20; 20; 24) resembles other treaties: preamble and prologue (Ex. 20:2), stipulations (20:3-17), ratification (24:1-11; cf. Matt. 26:28), deposition (Ex. 24:5), witnesses, and blessings and curses (Lev. 26; Deut. 28).

1. The preface stands to the commandments like a magnificent entry way into a palace decorated by the arms of its owner.

Relevant quote from Robert Reymond:
And far from Israel “rashly accepting the law” at Sinai and thereby “falling from grace” when the nation promised its obedience to God’s law (as the dispensational school alleges) since the very preface of the ten commandments (Exod. 20:1–2) places these “ten words” within the context of and represents them as the anticipated outcome of the redemption that they had just experienced, it was to be through Israel’s very obedience to these commandments that the nation was to evidence before the surrounding nations that it was God’s “treasured possession,” his “kingdom of priests,” and “a holy nation”—precisely the same way, it should be pointed out that the church of Jesus Christ today evidences before the watching world the gracious relationship that it sustains to God. Peter informs Christians that they, just as Israel in Old Testament times, are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, in order that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet. 2:9). And Christians, just as Israel was to do through its obedience to God’s laws, are to show forth his praises before a watching world as “aliens and strangers in the world” by “living such good lives among the pagans that … they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:11–12).
Robert L. Reymond, Contending for the Faith: Lines in the Sand That Strengthen the Church (Fearn, Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2005), 102.

II. The reasons for keeping the commandments: God’s Name, covenant, and redemption.

A. The Name of God, His sovereignty: “I am the Lord.”

1. Yahweh: the covenant, personal name of God, denoting His self-existent, eternal, and unchangeable nature (cf. Ex. 3:14), from whom all beings derive their existence. “I am who/what I am” or “I am who/what I will be.” The latter preferable, as the historical and theological context of these early chapters shows God is revealing to Moses and the people His active redemptive intentions on their behalf and not His intrinsic nature.

a. Infinite excellence and perfection of His nature as Lord of all creatures: “none like you” (Jer. 10:7).

b. Lord-Creator that gave us our being, and therefore we are pots of the Potter (Ps. 100:2-3; Jer. 18:6).

c. Lord-Lawgiver (Jam. 4:12).

d. Lord-Preserver (Rev. 4:11).

B. The covenant relation to His people.

1. The Sinai covenant was made in confirmation of the Abrahamic covenant (Ex. 2:24; 3:16), and was not legalistic, as Israel was already adopted (Ex. 2:25; 4:22; 6:6-8).

2. The covenant made with Abraham and his seed (Gen. 15:18; 17:7).

a. Deliverance from Egypt based on covenant promise to Abraham (Gen. 15:13-14).

(1). All Israel according to flesh were externally included.

(2). All Israel according to the Spirit were under in saving manner (Rom. 4:11-13).

3. The covenant binds to obedience, not as condition, but by consenting to it one takes on the yoke of the commandments to be His people wholly, only, and forever (Isa. 44:5; 2 Cor. 8:5; 1 Jn. 5:3).

Relevant quote from Walter Marshall:
I know they object, that the ten commands of the moral law, the ministration of death, written and engraven on stones, are also done away by Christ, 2 Cor. 3:7. But this maketh altogether against their conditional covenant: for they are the ministration of death, and done away, not as they commanded perfect obedience, for even Christ himself commandeth us to be perfect, Mat. 5:48; but as they were conditions for procuring life, and avoiding death, established by a promise of life to the doers, and a curse to the breakers of them, Gal. 3:10, 12. The covenant made with Israel on mount Sinai, is abolished, by Christ, the mediator of the new covenant, Heb. 8:8, 9, 13. And the ten commandments bind us not as they were words of that covenant, Exod. 34:28. I mean, they bind us not as conditions of that covenant, except we seek to be justified by works: for the law, as, a covenant, doth still stand in force enough to curse those that seek salvation by their own works, Gal. 3:10; and, if abolished, it is only to those that are in Christ by faith, Gal; 2:16, 20; Acts 3:22–25; 15:10, 11. But the ten commandments bind us still, as they were then given to a people that were at that time under the covenant of grace made with Abraham, to shew them what duties are holy, just and good, well-pleasing to God, and to be a rule for their conversation. The result of all is, that we must still practice moral duties, as commanded by Moses; but we must not seek to be justified by our practice. If we use them as a rule of life, not as conditions of justification, they can be no ministration of death, or killing letter unto us. The perfection indeed maketh them to be harder terms to procure life by, but a better rule to discover all imperfections, and to guide us to that perfection which we should aim at. And it will be our wisdom, not to part with the, authority of the decalogue of Moses, until our new divines can furnish us with another system of morality, as complete as that, and as excellently composed, and ordered by the wisdom of God, more authentic than that is.

Walter Marshall, The Gospel-Mystery of Sanctification (New York: Southwick and Peluse, 1811), 104–105.

a. The covenant: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:10; cf. Jer. 31:33).

b. The privileges of the covenant (Lk. 1:74-75), which the Christian is more indebted by (Lk. 12:48).

C. The redemption and deliverance.

1. The deliverance is here commemorated to show God’s faithfulness to His promise and covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:13-16).

a. Great benefits of this deliverance: from cruel tyranny, hard labor, male child appointed to death or drowning, afflictions so great their cry went heavenward, Egypt a place of pollutions and abominations.

(1). Egypt called “the iron furnace” (Deut. 4:20).

2. The deliverance typifies the spiritual deliverance by Jesus from sin, Satan, and hell.

a. Jesus, by price and power, delivers His elect from the state of bondage to sin and Satan (Heb. 2:14-15), and from the wrath to come (2 Thess. 1:10).

3. The deliverance furnishes great reason for obedience.

a. Obedience was the purpose for the deliverance (Lk. 1:74-75), as Pharoah would not set Israel free to worship (Ex. 4:23).

(1). Men freed by Christ are enabled to serve Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20; Col. 1:13).

Relevant quote from Ben Witherington:
C. H. Talbert seeks to argue that Paul is opposing legalism, by which he means that Paul is opposing “doing works of the Law” as a means of striving to stay in the people of God and then obtain final or eschatological salvation. But this hardly plumbs the radical nature of Paul’s argument. Paul is not merely opposing a legalistic way of approaching the Mosaic Law or the Mosaic covenant. And in any case, he is all for his converts keeping the Law of Christ and tells them that they must avoid the deeds of the flesh and do the Law of Christ if they want to enter the kingdom (Galatians 5–6). In other words, Paul is an advocate of just what Talbert thinks Paul is critiquing. Paul affirms a sort of covenantal nomism, though it is grace-empowered and Spirit-driven. It is just not the Mosaic covenant that he wants Gentiles to keep. It is a mistake to call any demand or requirement to obey a law “legalism” in a context where salvation is by grace and faith. The obedience that necessarily must follow from and depend on living faith is not legalism. Paul’s problem is not with obedience or good works, or laws per se. Those are all seen as good things by him. His problem is with anachronism in a fallen world where the Mosaic Law cannot empower fallen persons to keep it and where Christ has brought it to an end as a way of righteousness, especially when Christ and the Spirit can empower obedient living.

Ben Witherington III and Darlene Hyatt, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004), 265–266.


III. Application.

A. Use, of knowledge.

1. The Ten Commandments are not given as a covenant of works, but in the way of the covenant of grace. The way to attain to obedience is first to believe that God is our God in Christ and then to set about the keeping: first faith, then practice.

B. Use, of testing.

1. True obedience can only run in the channel of grace, being directed to our covenant God.

2. Contrasts: obedience is not performed for righteousness, but to testify our love to the Lord of righteousness; not in our own strength, but in the grace of our Redeemer; not to be accepted in its own worth, but in the Redeemer’s merits; not out of fear of hell, or hope to purchase heaven, but out of love and gratitude to Him who has delivered us from hell, and purchased heaven for us.

C. Use, of exhortation: sinners and saints.

1. Sinners. All men are obliged to keep the commandments, for God is the Lord of all. Keep them perfectly or close in faith with Him who has.

2. Saints. Reflect on the great salvation wrought for us by Jesus, saved from all the horrors of sin, hell, the power of Satan, and delivered from the pollutions of the present evil world, and let hearts glow with the fire and love of gratitude towards Christ, doubling your diligence and laboring with your utmost might.

Relevant quote from Arthur Pink:
Reader, suffer us please to make this a personal issue. Have you ever experienced anything which corresponds, in substance, to what we have said above? Have you ever heard the thunderings and felt the lightnings of Sinai in your own soul? Have you, in your conscience, been brought face to face with your Judge, and heard Him read the fearful record of your transgressions? Have you received by the Law such a knowledge of sin that you are painfully conscious that every faculty of your soul and every member of your body is defiled and corrupt? Have you been driven out of every refuge, and relief and brought into the presence of Him who is ineffably holy and inflexibly just, who “will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:7)? Have you heard that dread sentence “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal. 3:10)? Has it brought you down into the dust to cry, “I am lost: utterly, hopelessly lost; there is nothing I can do to deliver myself”? The ground must be ploughed before it can receive seed, and the heart must be broken up by the Law before it is ready for the Gospel.

Arthur Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews, Hebrews 12:21.

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