One of the primary reasons God communicated the Ten Commandments directly to the Israelites was so that there wouldn’t be any confusion or misunderstanding about his expectations of them. Afterwards, Exodus 20:22-23 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” The Hebrew word that is translated seen ra’ah (raw-aw’) means to see. Its basic denotation is to see with the eyes. It also has several derived meanings, all of which require the individual to see physically outside of himself or herself, such as to see so that one can learn to know, whether it be another person or God (H7200). The experience the Israelites had on Mount Sinai left them with the impression that being in a relationship with God might result in their death. Exodus 20:18-20 states, “Now when all the people saw the thunder and flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.'” Moses explained to the people that the fear they experienced when they saw God was meant to keep them from sinning against him (Exodus 20:20). The point being that the Israelites needed to take God’s commandments seriously and do what he told them to.
Underlying God’s communication of the Ten Commandments to the Israelites was the LORD’s desire to have a relationship with his chosen people. God’s holiness prevented the people from coming near him. The only way anyone could approach God was through a process of consecration that essentially took away the reproach of sin so that the barrier between God and his people was temporarily eliminated and he could be seen or you might say experienced through means of physical eyesight (Exodus 19:10-20). The tabernacle that the Israelites erected for God to live in so that he could travel with them to the Promised Land was patterned after a model that Moses was shown while he was on top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 26:30). God told Moses that he needed to make everything “exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle” (Exodus 25:9). The tabernacle was likely a bridge between the physical and spiritual realms, a place where both God and people could coexist in spite of their different natures. God said, “There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God” (Exodus 29:43-45).
The outcome of the union of God and mankind was that it enabled them to work together to achieve God’s divine objectives. Exodus 31:1-5 states, “The LORD said to Moses, ‘See I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood. to work in every craft.'” Bezalel’s unique position and role in constructing the tabernacle of God was similar to that of Christians today because he had the benefit of having God’s indwelling Spirit to guide him through the process of doing the work that he was called to do. Bezalel was given ability, intelligence, knowledge, and craftmanship that were not based on his human capacity to do things. The Hebrew word that is translated ability in Exodus 31:3, chokmah (khok-maw’) means wisdom or to act according to wisdom. Chokmah has to do with God’s gracious creation and is thus inherent in the created order. “God alone knows where wisdom dwells and where it originates (Job 28:12, 20); no other living being possesses this knowledge about wisdom (see Job 28:21). For humans, the beginning of wisdom and the supreme wisdom is to properly fear and reverence God (Job 28:21; Proverbs 1:7; cf. Proverbs 8:3)” (H2451).
One of the gifts that God gave Bezalel was the ability to “devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). To devise something means that you are able to invent new things (H2803) and an artistic design is anything that requires thought or intention to create it. The Hebrew word machashabah (makh-ash-aw-baw’) denotes the thoughts of the mind, either belonging to people or God; the plans or intentions that arise from these thoughts and the skillful inventions that come from the mind of an artist (H4284). Machashabah appears in Genesis 6:5 where it says, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” This proved to be true in the case of the Israelites because less that 40 days after they had heard the voice of God and received his command to not make any “carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath” (Exodus 20:4), we are told in Exodus 32:1-6 that:
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.
God wasn’t surprised by the Israelites quick abandonment of his covenant with them. He knew they were acting according to their sinful human nature. Exodus 32:7-10 states:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
God’s anger was justified because the Israelites intentionally broke his commandment shortly after they had received it. There was no way they could have forgotten or been unclear about what was expected of them. Moses intervened on behalf of the people of Israel in a similar way that Christ intervenes with God on our behalf. Exodus 32:11-14 states:
But Moses implored the Lord his God and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your offspring, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.
The dilemma that Moses pointed out was that the Israelites had clearly broken God’s commandments and deserved to be killed, but if God did so, he would be breaking the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants to make them into a great nation (Genesis 12:2). Moses appealed to God on the basis of his integrity and God’s holy character which caused him to always do the right thing. Moses pleaded with God to “Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people” (Exodus 32:12). Moses used three key words that combined together convey the essence of what it means to repent from sin. Turn, or in Hebrew shuwb (shoob), in the simple stem is used to describe divine and human reactions, attitudes, and feelings and indicates the possibility of changing one’s mind. The Hebrew word that is translated disaster, ra’ (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrong-doing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury both to himself and to everyone around him” (H7451). The Hebrew word that is translated relent, nacham (naw-kham’) means to be sorry. “To repent means to make a strong turning to a new course of action. The emphasis in on turning to a positive course of action, not turning from a less desirable course. Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose or action” (H5162).
Exodus 32:14 tells us that “the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” In other words, God was sorry that he had considered breaking his covenant with Abraham even though he was justified in doing so. When Moses returned to the camp of the Israelites, he confronted Aaron and the people of Israel. He said:
“You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.”
The problem with Moses’ plan to make atonement for the people of Israel was that he wasn’t perfect and therefore didn’t qualify to be their redeemer. God indicated that whoever had sinned against him would be blotted out of his book of life. The book of Revelation tells us that after God’s final judgment of mankind, anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about forgiving Christians that have sinned against us. Paul delayed his third visit to Corinth because he didn’t want to visit them too soon after having harshly criticized them because of the damage that had been done to his reputation there. Paul said, “For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained…For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Corinthians 2:1-2, 4). In the King James Version of the Bible, 2 Corinthians 2:2 is stated this way: “For if I make you sorry, who is he then that maketh me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?” Paul was evidently talking about having brought the people of the church in Corinth to a point of repentance and he wanted to restore his fellowship with them. The Greek word that is translated pain and sorry, lupeo (loo-peh’-o) means to be sad or sorrowful (G3076). Lupeo is used in 2 Corinthians 2:5 with the specific meaning of “to cause grief, offend.” Paul said, “Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow” (2 Corinthians 2:5-7).
Paul used the words forgive and comfort to show that repentance is not meant to be a permanent state. If someone expresses godly sorrow, the next step is to forgive and then, to forget the sin that has been committed against you. The Greek word that is translated comfort in 2 Corinthians 2:7, parakaleo (par-ak-al-eh’-o) means to call near, apologize (G3870). Paul used this word four times in his opening statement to the Corinthians. He said, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Paul pointed out that God is the source of all comfort and that we are expected to comfort others because God comforts us. Affliction is another word for all the troubles that go along with being a Christian. Paul said, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5). Paul indicated that comforting those that have repented of their sins is a sign of being a genuine believer in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 2:8-9).
Paul made the argument that forgiveness and comfort are necessary for us to defeat our enemy the devil in spiritual warfare. Paul said, “Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, so that we would not be outwitted by Satan for we are not ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:10-11). The Greek word that is translated outwitted, pleonekteo (pleh-on-ek-teh’-o) means to outwit or to take advantage of from a mental standpoint (G4122). The Greek word noema (no’-ay’mah) which is translated designs, means a perception. “A thought. That which is thought out, planned, devised, in a negative sense (2 Corinthians 2:11; 10:5). By metonymy: the mind itself, the understanding (2 Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; 11:3)” (G3540). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul talked about the fact that we are not fighting against a physical enemy when we engage in warfare with the devil. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12). The schemes of the devil have to do with the lifestyle that we become accustomed to (G3180). The Israelites decision to make a golden calf and worship it was based on hundreds of years of influence by the Egyptians who practiced idolatry. Even though God had specifically told them not to makes gods of gold (Exodus 20:23), it was easy for the Israelites to revert to their old behavior when they thought Moses had abandoned them (Exodus 32:1).
One way of looking at spiritual warfare is that it is a battle that goes on in our minds to either think the way God thinks or to think the way the devil wants us to. We are constantly being barraged with ideas that seem to be of our own making, but most, if not all of the time, these thoughts are coming from one of two sources, God or Satan. There used to be a popular saying, “the devil made me do it.” Although it’s true that Christians are sometimes unknowingly under the influence of Satan and his demons, we have the ability to resist the devil’s suggestions and do what we know to be right. God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments so that they would be clear about what they were supposed to and not supposed to do on a daily basis. If they were able to keep the Ten Commandments, the Israelites would have inherited God’s kingdom without Christ having to enter the world and die for their sins. The fact that the people of Israel turned away from God and broke his most important commandment just days after having received it shows that apart from Christ no one can keep from offending God and we all, both believers and unbelievers alike, cause him a great deal of sorrow when we choose to resort to our own devices.