As I conclude my series from Exodus, I have a couple of goals:
- To demonstrate the continuity between the Old & New Testaments, and the continuing relevance of the Old to the church today.
- Emphasise the relationship between loving God, and obeying His rules.
Both of these points rely on reading Exodus 19 & 20 together, as I discussed in my previous post. The covenant of chapter 19 represents the culmination of God ‘courting’ the nation of Israel and here ‘marrying’ them. Israel unreservedly commits to the God who has rescued, protected, and provided for them in the preceding months. But now they are are ‘married’ God shares how Israel can express her love: how the nation can adopt the same values as Yahweh already has. So the relationship begins with love and only then moves to law.
A close examination of the Ten Words (Commandments) reveals that the first four relate to the nation’s relationship with God, while the last six establish standards for horizontal, or interpersonal, relationships. This division follows the identification of the Two Greatest Commandments identified three times by Jesus in the NT (Mt. 22:34-40; Mk. 12:28-31; & Lk. 10:25-28.) Love God. Love Neighbours.
The chart above illustrates that Jesus didn’t develop these Two Greatest Commands on his own. (start at the bottom left and read it clockwise) He adopted them from Jewish teachers who identified them in the OT. In Mark 12, Jesus teaches, “Love God. Love Neighbour.” But in Luke 10 we see that the Jews were already familiar with this summary. A quick survey of basic Bible reference tools quickly identifies both of these commands as simply quotes from the Pentateuch.
So these commands that Christians through the centuries have rightly quoted as divine summaries of Christian obligations, are in fact divine summaries of the Jewish Old Covenant given at Sinai. This is why in Matt. 22:40 Jesus says that All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. This doesn’t mean that the church should discard these commands as vestiges of the old covenant, but that we should reconsider the degree of continuity between the two covenants.
Having reached the top of the second column and understanding that the rest of the Law hangs on The Two Greatest Commands we see that dividing the Ten Words into vertical and horizontal commands is consistent with Jesus’ teaching. It’s also important to recognize that the Ten Words also provide context for the detailed instructions that follow in the rest of Exodus as well as Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy.
All of these laws derive from two: Love God. Love Neighbour. And all of the laws relating to loving our neighbours derive from the Greatest Commandment: Love God. This is the sequence found in chapters 19 & 20, first relationship, then law. It’s also the sequence found within the Ten Words themselves, first love God, then love neighbours.
The apostle John in His writings explicitly makes this connection. If you love me, keep my commands. John 14:15 see also Jn 14:21, 31; 15:9-15; 1 Jn 5:2-3; and 2 Jn 1:6. I believe this is another succinct summary of Exodus 19 & 20.
The relationship God intends between Himself and His people begins with God demonstrating His love for humanity. People then have the opportunity to respond to His love and commit to Him. As a consequence of that commitment, we also commit to adopt his values and to express our love in ways He finds meaningful. So we commit to keep His laws. When we try to either love God while ignoring His laws, or observe His commands with out understanding His love, we step outside of the full relationships God intends for us.
- I recently reviewed the Bible class subjects that have been taught at Lawson Road between 2004 & 2009. During those 5 years only 5 OT books had been studied compared to 16 NT books (some twice!) and numerous other topics. Are Churches of Christ the only ones who have difficulty finding value in the OT? What do you think are our barriers?
- Do you agree that it can be difficult at times to appreciate the connection between loving God and keeping His commandments? Have you seen examples of people over-emphasising one or the other?
- I’ve often heard people say, “You can’t love others unless you love yourself”, but I think these passages teach that, “You can’t love others unless you love God”. What do you think?
PS. A friend just blogged on a similar topic here.