Day 16

Israel at Sinai

from the Exodus reading plan

Exodus 19:1-25, Exodus 20:1-21, Matthew 5:17, Hebrews 8:10-13, Hebrews 12:18-24

BY Sharon Hodde Miller

Perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Old Testament is the law. It has been distorted and misapplied for thousands of years: It’s been used to fuel self-righteousness; to depict a judgmental and unforgiving portrait of God; interpreted so narrowly and harshly that its closest adherents didn’t recognize the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17), Jesus Himself, in their very midst.  

These misinterpretations still plague us today, so the question remains: How should we understand the law?

In Exodus 19, God provides Moses with the cornerstone of the law, the Ten Commandments, and He does so with these words: “Now if you will carefully listen to me and keep my covenant, you will be my own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation” (Exodus 19:5–6). Too often, we read these words as a threat, or a form of conditional love: I will only take care of you if you do what I say. 

However, there is another way to read these words, and the commandments that follow.

As a mom, I frequently warn my boys to obey me for their own good: 

If you don’t listen to me, you’re going to get hurt. 
If you don’t stop jumping on the bed, you’re going to fall. 
If you don’t slow down, you’re going to trip. 

These warnings are not threats. They are not signs of conditional love. I am not manipulating them into submitting to me. Instead, I am beckoning them toward safety, wholeness, and health. I am showing them the path to life, and warning them away from a path that leads to pain.

This, in many ways, captures the heart of the law. And this heart becomes all the more clear in the verse that precedes God’s warning: 

“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself” (vv.4). 

With this verse, God testifies to His own character, reminding the Israelites of His steadfast love, provision, and care. On that basis, God asked His people to trust and obey Him—not because the law was an arbitrary list of rules from a cruel and exacting God, but because the 

law was the path to life.

Too often, we miss this truth, that the law is beautiful, good, and a picture of humanity at its best. The first four commandments are, in essence, the pinnacle of “loving God.” The following six commandments are the fullness of “loving neighbor.” They instruct us on how to live, but more importantly, they clarify who we were created to be.

And yet, the law fell short. It showed us the destination without providing the ability to reach it (Romans 8:3). We can know the good, but find ourselves wholly unable to attain it. That is why the law condemns: the law is God’s blueprint for human flourishing, without the tools to achieve it. 

Enter Jesus. He did what no human was ever able to do. He was the perfect expression of the law. His life and words were the embodiment of God’s design for us. That is the point of the Ten Commandments, and the whole of God’s law: to point us toward God’s good plan for us, while revealing our inadequacy to accomplish it. The law points us to Jesus.

Post Comments (32)

32 thoughts on "Israel at Sinai"

  1. Jody Duncan says:

    Thank you

  2. Terri Baldwin says:

    I love ……”He was the perfect expression of the Law ; and His life and words were the embodiment of God’s design for us”

  3. Portia Strange says:

    The phrase ‘brought you to myself’ (19:4) really stuck out to me today. This is such a beautiful example of God’s steadfast love, provision, and care for a people that He knew would grumble/moan in the wilderness, be stiff-necked, be stubborn, didn’t deserve it, & weren’t even the largest or even the strongest people group. He didn’t just bring them out of Egypt & leave them to fend for themselves in the desert. He didn’t just abandon them post-rescue, leaving them to wander aimless & alone. As you did w/ them then, You are still doing for us today through Jesus! Thank you God for Your constant presence in the wilderness which may not be physical, but emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual.

  4. Janelle Heath says:


  5. Taylor Sullen says:

    I’m in TN

  6. LindaK says:

    Sue Dalos I can identify with your comment.

  7. Mercy says:

    The devotional today was so so so good! This is real food for thoughts. Usually Christians tend to be on the grace camp, or on the law camp. But this presents godly wisdom to draw such distinction between the two and pull out the complimentary ground for both, not being dismissive of either. We can’t dismiss the law truthfully. Applauding you Sharon Hodde Miller! As a mom to young kids (who are like wet cement), I am reminded that my footprints on them matter. I read somewhere that by the age of 8, kid’s personalities are about 80% set, and their life outcome depends on the already formed personalities which yield preferences, habits, actions, attitudes down the line when they are in their 20s, 30s, 40s and so on. So we (mothers) are the ones who shape these wet cement/ little disciples entrusted to us by the Lord, as mothers normally would spend far more time with kids than fathers. For not using the name of God in vain, I used to tell my kids not to say “oh my God” to express their surprise, frustration or disappointment/ negative emotions, for God will not hold that person guiltless to use His Name in vain, then I began to say “oh my word” instead, and now my little ones start using that phrase too. It worked! Hopefully this would rub off on my husband as well to rewrite some of the old habits that are not glorifying to God.

    @Gwineth52: I am in awe reading what you shared. I saw such strong passion and fire you carry and I am so encouraged by your boldness and zeal! As God says, don’t despise small beginnings, you never know how this might turn out. Praying for your continued journey and I am excited to hear more updates, including any setbacks you might run into and how you overcome them. God bless you.

    @Lynn from Alabama: praying for you and your dear husband Jack. You are so strong, and may you continue to fight the good fight of faith with the help of our God, the amazing Jehovah Nissi who never lost a battle. I remember a verse which we read not too long ago that the Lord impressed on me today to tell you specifically, “Lynn, Fear not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will show to you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall see them again no more forever. Exodus 14:13”. The sickness, the fear, the turmoil (aka the Egyptians of your battle now) you won’t see no more, forever. May this verse be fulfilled in your life, and to God be the glory.

    Be blessed dear sisters. Let us hold firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

  8. Sue Dalos says:

    @ SEARCHING, thank you for including me in your list. Just knowing that you knew I hadn’t commented in a while made my day. I am here every single day and after knowing our Lord all my life I feel so inadequate in my knowledge, therefore I am quiet. I am learning so very much from each study & each comment it is humbling. You all are in my prayers as Sisters.

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