THE ORIGIN OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Davis W. Huckabee
This is necessarily a very important matter, for it is held by many that the Decalog is nothing more than a mere human code of laws, delivered by Moses to the Israelites while in the wilderness. If this is so then naturally the Decalog has no more authority than any other human document, and infraction of its laws cannot carry any heavier penalty than any mere human legislation. Doubtless this is the unconscious reasoning of those that so view the Decalog, and is the reason why this view is held. Those that hold this view, in their own minds effectually remove themselves from under the Law of God by their reasoning. With what tragic suddenness and certainty will these learn the folly of their reasoning in the great day of the Lord!
The origin of anything goes a long way in explaining the nature of that thing, for even as the Lord declared in John 3:6: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." So we may say that whatsoever originates of man is human in origin, and whatsoever originates of the Lord is divine in its origin. This latter is certainly the case with the Decalog, for Exod. 20:1 says "And God spake all these works, saying…" It was not the mere thoughts, to be expressed as Moses saw fit, but were the very words to be recorded.
OBSERVE THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF THE DECALOG.
The Decalog was instituted as an expression of the nature of God as being wholly contrary to all forms of sin, and not only as an expression of this, but as a standard by which men might be shown their sinfulness and by which they might be judged for it. W. N. Clarke shows the relationship of Nature, Law and Grace in the moral nature of God when he says:
This is not to say that God did not make use of means in the giving of the Decalog, for we find the Scripture testifying to the contrary. "This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spake to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers, who received the lively oracles to give unto us," Acts 7:38. "Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it," Acts 7:53. "…it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator," Gal. 3:19f.
It is uncertain just what part the angels played in the giving of the Law, yet it is clear that they played some part. It is equally certain that God Himself wrote the Decalog upon two tables of stone. Possibly the explanation is to be found in Heb. 2:2: "For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience receive a just recompense of reward…" From this, it appears that, while God Himself wrote the "ten words" upon the two tables of stone, the actual words were spoken by angels in Moses’ hearing. God is not confined in His methods of doing things.
However, all this has no particular bearing upon the central thought, which is, that these commandments were of Divine origin, having come directly from the Lord Himself. This is why the Decalog is called "the Law of God," Rom. 7:22, 25; 8:7, and to distinguish it from "the Law of Moses," which, while also being of Divine origin, was limited. It was limited in extent—being for the Jewish nation—limited as to time—being in force only until the crucifixion of Christ—limited in purpose to typical and didactic purposes.
Another manifestation of the Divine origin of the Decalog is to be seen in the events of the delivering of it as recorded in Exod. 19:16-19. "And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of the trumpet exceeding loud; so that all the people that was in the camp trembled. And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount. And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice."
If we could conceive of an earthquake, a volcanic eruption and a violent thunderstorm all happening at once, we might have a small idea of what transpired here at this time. It was a manifestation of the awful majesty of God. Little wonder then that "all the people that was in the camp trembled."
In Gal. 3:19f we read that the law "was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator," which reveals the steps involved in the giving of the Law. From God the Author of the Decalog, it is delivered to the angels, who in turn commanded it to Moses, who stood between the people and God as a mediator, or go-between. (The Greek word here translated "ordained" appears sixteen times in the New Testament, and is more commonly translated "commanded" or "appointed.") This explains the statement in John 1:17: "For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." Moses was merely the agent through whose hands the Decalog passed when it was delivered to the people. The same is true of the angels. Yet how many people, looking upon the agent used, ascribe to that agent the origin of the Law instead of going all the way back to the primal source—the origin—of the Law, God Himself? When men do not go back to the final authority, they will naturally have a distorted view of the authority of the Law. Perhaps this is intentional in many instances, that they may feel free to challenge the presumed human authority of it.
Once we recognize the Divine origin of the Decalog, we are also impelled to recognize its Divine authority, and we are left without excuse for every transgression and disobedience of it, for any just conception of God must include His sovereign right to command what He will of men. If man disobeys as it is in his nature to do, then let him not try to excuse himself by specious arguments, but let him honestly admit his willfulness and rebellion, and take the certain consequences of it.
The Decalog is Divine in its origin, but as we have before stated, God has not disdained the use of means in the delivering of it, and therefore it is needful for us to consider—
THE MOSAIC INSTITUTION OF THE DECALOG
The Decalog, while not originating with Moses, nor at the time of the delivering of the ceremonial Law to Israel, was nevertheless incorporated into it at this time, yet all the while it is manifestly shown to be distinct from it. It is observed by A. W. Pink that—
The giving of the Law to Moses was a great deal more than a mere promulgation of a code of laws for a new nation. It was the entering into a covenant by the Lord and the Nation of Israel. Here a change took place in the way that Israel stood, for up to this point, she had stood under the Abrahamic covenant which was all of grace (there were no conditions attached for Israel to keep in order to enjoy its promises). But now God proposes another covenant, one more suited to the proud self-sufficiency of this people, and one calculated to show them their inability to stand upon the ground of works. Thus the Lord told Moses to say to Israel: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel," Exod. 19:4-6.
Here was Israel’s opportunity to recognize and confess her inability to obey and to perfectly keep this covenant, but this she did not do, but rather replied in her pride and self-sufficiency, "All that the Lord had spoken we will do," Exod. 19:8. This was but natural and expected, for mankind cannot have a right view of its sinful state and spiritual inability until the Law of God has first wrought its work of testimony and condemnation. This is one of the principle purposes of the Law. "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin," Rom. 3:19-20. "Moreover the law entered that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound," Rom. 5:20. "…that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful," Rom. 7:13.
Years of contact with Egyptian idolatry had imbued Israel with many of the idolatrous ways of Egypt, so that Israel now had but a hazy realization of the righteousness of God that had been so clearly known by Abraham. Thus the giving of the Decalog to Israel in a written form was necessary both that the nation might have a just conception of the righteousness of God, and that she might also view her own great shortcomings in a clearer light. Otherwise she would degrade the worship of the Lord to the basest form of idolatry, as indeed she did even before Moses came down from the mount with the Decalog. Oral law never long stays uncorrupted, but written law remains true so long as the original is not tampered with and careful copies are made of it.
The first copy of the Decalog was entirely the work of God, both the tables and the writing thereon. "And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables," Exod. 32:15-16. "And the Lord delivered unto me two tables of stone written with the finger of God." Deut. 9:10. But Moses broke this first copy. "And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount," Exod. 32:19. This was not merely a fit of anger on Moses’ part, but had a deep significance. It was meant to testify to Israel that they had broken the Law, even from the time that it was first given. This is intimated in the recount that Moses gives of the whole transaction. "So I turned and came down from the mount, and the mount burned with fire: and the two tables of the covenant were in my two hands. And I looked, and, behold ye had sinned against the Lord your God, and had made you a molten calf; ye had turned aside quickly out of the way which the Lord had commanded you. And I took the two tables and cast them out of my two hands, and brake them before your eyes," Deut. 9:15-17. Immediately after the giving of the Law, it begins to make sin appear exceeding sinful, and to make the offence to abound.
One other thing may be noted about the Decalog in passing; this is its natural division. There were two tables upon which these "ten words" were written, and the Law falls into two natural divisions, so far as content is concerned. The first four of these commandments related to man’s duty to God, while the second six are concerned with man’s relationship to man. Moses compressed these two divisions into two concise statements that sum up the two duties. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," Deut. 6:4-5. This is a summary of the first table—man’s duty to God. "…thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself: I am the Lord," Lev. 19:18f. This is a summary of the second table—man’s duty to man. Our Lord made reference to these two compressions of the Decalog, saying: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets," Matt. 22:37-40.
Thus both Moses and Jesus show that the keeping of the law does not consist just in abstaining from certain bad things, but rather in the positive duty of loving God supremely and one neighbor equally to oneself. Tragically, many people are flattering themselves that they are destined for glory simply because "I’ve not committed this or that sin." But such often have not a grain of love for God or for their fellow beings, but are utterly selfish. We have only to consider these positive duties honestly to recognize that there never has been a single one of Adam’s fallen race that has even come close to keeping the Law of God, and so, all are under the curse of Gal. 3:10. This verse puts all under the curse that do not continually and completely keep all of the Law, and keep it in the spirit as well as in the letter of it. Hence the statement of Rom. 3:20, before noted.
This reduction of the Decalog into two supreme laws strengthens the teaching that is elsewhere set forth, viz., that the Law is meant to make sin appear in all of its garish awfulness, and to show man his inability to measure up to God’s high and holy standard. Two is the number that is associated with witness in Scripture, and these two commandments testify to the inability of man to fulfill his duty either to God or to his fellow men, and so, show him to be a sinner before God.
If this is the purpose of the Law, then we see the need for the Decalog to exercise its ministry in every age and nation, otherwise man would not be accountable for his actions, for Scripture testifies that "…where no law is, there is no transgression," Rom. 4:15f. And again, "For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law," Rom. 5:13. And yet again, "For without the law sin was dead," Rom. 7:8f. We must necessarily ask, therefore, if the Decalog was extant in the world before it was given at Sinai. To this we note the following—
EVIDENCES OF THE ANTEMOSAIC EXISTENCE OF THE DECALOG
We feel compelled to agree with John Gill in this matter when he makes the following observation.
Another evidence of the existence of the Decalog from the earliest of man’s history is that immediately after Cain had slain his brother Abel he voiced the fear that he would be slain by anyone that found him. This fear cannot be explained except by the fact that there existed the law of capital punishment for the murder of a fellow human. In Gen. 4:14 Cain’s statement that "it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me," indicates that this was already a universally known law. If there was a universally known prescription for punishment of murder, there must have also been a universally known law against murder. This is clear evidence of a law corresponding to the sixth law of the Decalog —"Thou shalt not kill." And Lamech comforted himself that his killing of a man would not be avenged upon him because he had done so in self-defense, Gen. 4:23-24. This is another evidence of the early existence of the sixth commandment. And as we will later show, the fact that the Decalog is Moral Law makes it certain that it is a necessary thing in every age and nation in order to maintain order among rational beings.
The essence of the Decalog is an innate part of man’s make-up, for Paul is inspired to speak of the Gentiles having the Law written in their hearts, which makes them inexcusable for their sins, Rom. 2:14-15. But this Law in the heart is not to be thought of as an acquired knowledge of the Law, but rather as a basic and natural sense of right and wrong. And it is true that one’s sense of right and wrong can be perverted, and always is to the extent that one goes into false religion, but this still in no way excuses man.
However, when we consider the statement quoted earlier that "where no law is, there is no transgression," Rom. 4:15, and recognize that there were many and various transgressions from the very earliest history of man, we are again compelled to recognize the existence of law also. This is Paul’s argument in Rom. 5:12-14. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come." Paul expressly declares that "all have sinned," which in itself proves that there was law else there could have been no transgression, for "sin is the transgression of the law," I John 3:4. But further, he says that sin is not imputed (charged against one) when there is no law, yet these sins were evidently imputed for "death reigned from Adam to Moses," claiming each victim as its just due because of sin. We cannot get around the fact that universal death proves universal sinfulness and that proves the existence of the Law. If there had not been some form of Law, there could not have been transgression and its subsequent punishment—death. Again the word translated "nevertheless" (Greek alla —more commonly translated "but") is an adversative. This shows that contrary to the supposition that there was no law, and consequently no imputation of sin, V13f, death reigned from Adam to Moses, and proved that there was sin imputed, and therefore Law existed, else they would not have died.
In Job’s time, which is thought to have been prior to the time of all of the patriarchs except Abraham or possibly Isaac, and so, prior to the nation of Israel existing, God’s Law existed. This is clear from the fact that Eliphaz admonished Job to "Receive, I pray thee, the law from his mouth, and lay up his words in thine heart." Thus it was a known fact that God’s Law existed and was known, not only to godly Job, but even to his less than ideally godly friends.
There are many other things mentioned incidentally in the Scriptures that give evidence of the existence of the Law from the very beginning of man’s history. And if we view the Decalog as a manifestation of God’s righteousness, His hatred of sin, His standard of conduct for men, and the criteria by which they shall be judged for their conduct, then we are necessarily compelled to believe that the Decalog existed from the first.
The Decalog, being as it is, a fetter upon man’s willfulness, and a constant testimony against his wickedness, it is easy to understand why man will adopt almost any theory necessary in order to remove the authority or applicability of the Law of God. However, the inventions of man will never remove the Decalog from its place of authority. Better it would be that man should let the Law lead him to Christ for justification, and then be the standard for his conduct in the world.
Though the essence of the Law is inscribed in man’s heart, Rom. 2:14-15, so that he is without excuse before God, yet God never gave to any other nation a written copy of the Law but to Israel only. All other nations were allowed to go on in their sinful self-will, Acts 14:16-17, as all men naturally desire to do. This refutes the foolish reasoning of man that God owes an equal chance to be saved to all people. We must remember that no one is saved by chance, but only by the sovereign choice of God, II Thes. 2:13-14. Nor does God’s election do any harm to anyone, for those that are not chosen by God are only given what they all naturally desire, and what they will, without exception fight with all their vigor to retain—their supposed freewill. But man’s will always ultimately takes all that retain it to perdition, and only God’s gracious overcoming of man’s reluctance saves any from their own self-chosen destruction.
THE NATURE OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS