The following is taken from Ellen G. White’s Manuscript 126, published in 1901.
Adam was required to render perfect obedience to God, not only in his own behalf, but in behalf of his posterity. God promised him that if he would stand the test of temptation, preserving his allegiance to the Creator during the great trial to which he would be subjected, his obedience would insure his acceptance and favor with God. He would then be forever established in holiness and happiness, and these blessings would extend to all his posterity.
But Adam failed to bear the test. And because he revolted against God’s law, all his descendants have been sinners.
God’s law had once been written in the hearts of men and women. But their cherished sins dimmed and nearly effaced that writing. The impressions made by sin gradually wore away the impressions of the law.
The Lord wrought wonderfully in delivering the Israelites from Egypt. He revealed Himself to them as the living God, the Lawgiver.
The tabernacle was the dwelling-place of God upon the earth. It was divided into two parts. A vail separated the holy place from the most holy place. Here after the fall God met with man. Here the voice of God was often heard.
The cloud that guided Israel stood over the tabernacle. The glory of the cloud emanated from Jesus Christ, who from the midst of the glory talked with Moses as He had talked with him from the burning bush. The brightness of God’s presence was enshrouded in the darkness of the cloud which He made His pavilion, that the people could endure to look upon the cloud, as seeing Him who is invisible. This was God’s plan whereby He might approach man.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes” [ Ex. 19:10]. They were commanded to wash their clothes. Sanctification to God admits of no untidiness or uncleanliness of the body or of the clothing. Concerning those who are engaged in the service of God it is written, “Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the Lord spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me, and before all the people I will be glorified” [Lev. 10:3]. [Exodus 19:11-13, quoted.]
The Lord gave special directions to the Israelites regarding the preparation they were to make for this occasion when He was to talk to man. That He might fill the people with awe and lead them to realize the sacredness of the declarations He was about to give them, He expressly commanded them to take heed to themselves, and not to break through the barrier placed round about the mount.
If the mount where the Lord manifested His glory and majesty, and from the summit of which the glory of the Lord appeared, was so sacred that one who merely touched it would have been punished by death, how sacred must be the law which the Israelites prepared to hear proclaimed from Mount Sinai! How can anyone treat it indifferently! Shall it be trampled upon, scorned, and derided?
In connection with religious services and our worship of God, we should consider the directions that He gave to the Israelites. All those who come into His presence should give special attention to the body and the clothing. Heaven is a clean and holy place. God is pure and holy. All who come into His presence should take heed to His directions, and have the body and the clothing in a pure, clean condition, thus showing respect to themselves and to Him. The heart must also be sanctified. Those who do this will not dishonor His sacred name by worshiping Him while their hearts are polluted and their apparel is untidy. God sees these things. He marks the heart-preparation, the thoughts, the cleanliness in appearance, of those who worship Him.
The ten commandments were spoken from Mount Sinai. With awful grandeur the King of kings, the infinite God, declared His law and enjoined obedience to it. The commands, “Thou shalt,” and “Thou shalt not,” are plain and positive. He who has given life and preserves life, has the right to command and control those who are dependent on Him for every breath they draw.
The first words that God spoke were, “I am the Lord thy God.” By this declaration He asserted His authority to present His claims before the people. He had freed them from their bondage, and they owed their service to Him.
The first commandment is a requirement in reference to man’s worship.
The second commandment prohibits man from worshiping the true God through any creature or image. It forbids the making of any image which man might try to liken to the Creator. It forbids the making of an image of any creature to represent God or to be associated in any way with the worship of God. [Isaiah 40:18-28, quoted.]
The Lord urges His supremacy. But Satan well knows that the worship of the living God elevates, ennobles, and exalts a nation. He knows that idol-worship does not elevate, but that it degrades man’s ideas, by associating with worship that which is base and corrupt. He is at work constantly to draw the mind away from the only true and living God. He leads men to give honor and glory to objects that human hands have made or to soulless creatures that God has created. The Egyptians and other heathen nations had many strange gods–creatures of their own fanciful imagination.
The Jews, after their long captivity, would not make any image. The image on the Roman ensign or banner, they called an abomination, especially when these emblems were placed in a prominent place for them to respect. Such respect they regarded as a violation of the second commandment. When the Roman ensign was set up in the holy place in the temple, they looked upon it as an abomination.
The use of images by the Roman Catholic Church is antichristian. Those who worship them are commandment-breakers. Image worship is contrary to God’s positive commands. The second commandment is entirely opposed to such practices. But the popes have tampered with the commandments. In all the books of devotion given to the people the second commandment is omitted. The third they call the second, the fourth the third; and the tenth they have divided into two. Thus in the place of conforming their practices to God’s commands, they have altered His commandments to harmonize with their practices. To suit their worship they have taken away from and added to God’s Word.
By their treatment of His Word, the popes have exalted themselves above the God of heaven. This is the reason that in prophecy the papal power is specified as the “man of sin.” Satan is the originator of sin. The power that he causes to alter any one of God’s holy precepts, is the man of sin. Under Satan’s special direction the papal power has done this very work. Although those standing at the head of the papacy claim to have great love for God, He looks upon them as haters of Him. They have turned the truth of God into a lie. Tampering with God’s commandments and placing in their stead human traditions, is the work of Satan, and will divorce the religious world from God; for He declares, “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me.” God will fulfill this word. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Pharaoh sowed obstinacy, and reaped obstinacy. He himself put this seed into the soil. There was no more need for God by some new power to interfere with its growth, than there is for Him to interfere with the growth of a grain of corn. All that is required is that a seed shall be left to germinate and spring up to bring forth fruit after its kind. The harvest reveals the kind of seed that has been sown.
When light from God, strong and convincing, came to make known the great I AM, Pharaoh was compelled to yield. But as soon as the pressure was removed, his unbelief returned, and counteracted the great light which God had given. When he refused the evidence of the first miracle, he sowed the seed of infidelity, which left to its natural course produced a harvest after its own kind. Afterward the king would not be convinced by any working of God’s power. The monarch hardened his heart, and went on from one step to another of unbelief, until throughout the vast realm of Egypt the firstborn, the pride of every household, had been laid low. After this he hurried with his army after Israel. He sought to bring back a people delivered by the arm of Omnipotence. But he was fighting against a Power greater than any human power, and with his host he perished in the waters of the Red Sea.
The despisers of God’s law are practicing the same sin that Pharaoh practiced. They are hardening their hearts. The voice of God is rejected for human theories, for Satanic suggestions and delusions. The Holy Spirit is resisted and set aside. The iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the children. The seeds that they sow by precept and example are reproduced in their children.
The Spirit of God keeps evil under the control of conscience. When man exalts himself above the influence of the Spirit, he reaps a harvest of iniquity. Over such a man the Spirit has less and less influence to restrain him from sowing seeds of disobedience. Warnings have less and less power over him. He gradually loses his fear of God. He sows to the flesh; he will reap corruption. The harvest of the seed that he himself has sown is ripening. He has a contempt for God’s holy commandments. His heart of flesh becomes a heart of stone. Resistance to truth confirms him in iniquity. It is because men sowed seeds of evil that lawlessness, crime, and violence prevailed in the antediluvian world.
All should be intelligent in regard to the agency by which the soul is destroyed. It is not because of any decree that God has sent out against man. He does not make man spiritually blind. God gives sufficient light and evidence to enable man to distinguish truth from error. But He does not force man to receive truth. He leaves him free to choose the good or the choose the evil. If man resists evidence that is sufficient to guide his judgment in the right direction, and chooses evil once, he will do this more readily the second time. The third time he will still more eagerly withdraw himself from God and choose to stand on the side of Satan. And in this course he will continue until he is confirmed in evil, and believes the lie he has cherished as truth. His resistance has produced its harvest. By his example he leads others to follow the same course of resistance against God.
Those who transgress the law of God are teaching their children to show disrespect for this law and to rebel against the Lawgiver. They place their children in the enemy’s ranks, where they are cut off from the blessings of God’s covenant and are brought under His judgments. If parents die while they are transgressors of God’s law, their children will be inclined to do as they have done. By precept and example children of ungodly parents receive an education in evil-doing. When their measure of disobedience and transgression is full, God reckons with them. Both parents and children are held accountable for their idolatry. God bears long with perverse resistance, but He will surely punish iniquity.
God announces Himself as “showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.”
Those who obey these precepts, sow seed for a bountiful and glorious harvest; for the mercy of God is shown to their children and their children’s children to the third and fourth generations. This principle is of as much force today as it was when God spoke the words from Mount Sinai. The Lord loves and honors obedience now just as much as when He gave His law.
All false worship is spiritual adultery. The second precept, which forbids false worship, is also a command to worship God, and Him only serve. The Lord is a jealous God. He will not be trifled with. He has spoken concerning the manner in which He should be worshiped. He has a hatred of idolatry, for its influence is corrupting. It debases the mind, and leads to sensuality and all kinds of sin.
To make an image of God dishonors Him. No one should bring into service the power of imagination to worship that which belittles God in the mind and associates Him with common things.Those who worship God must worship Him in spirit and in truth. They must exercise living faith. Their worship will then be controlled not by the imagination, but by genuine faith.
Let men worship and serve the Lord God, and Him only. Let not selfish pride be lifted up and served as a god. Let not money be made a god. If sensuality is not kept under the control of the higher powers of the mind, base passion will rule the being. Anything that is made the subject of undue thought and admiration, absorbing the mind, is a god chosen before the Lord. God is a searcher of the heart. He distinguishes between true heart-service and idolatry.
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” Those who are brought into covenant relation with God are pledged to speak of Him in the most respectful, reverential manner. Many refer to God and mention His name in their religious conversation much as they would mention a horse or any other common creature. This dishonors God. By precept and example parents should educate their children on this point, lest by irreverence they grieve away God’s Spirit from their hearts and the hearts of their children.
Ministers, by carelessly introducing the name of God into their conversation, may teach lessons of irreverence. By mingling His holy name with common matters, they show that they are not spiritually-minded; for they mingle the sacred and the common. They are not living up to their holy profession. While claiming to be worshipers of God, they walk contrary to His law.
Swearing, and all words spoken in the form of an oath, are dishonoring to God. The Lord sees, the Lord hears, and He will not hold the transgressor guiltless. He will not be mocked. Those who take the name of the Lord in vain will find it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
In a special sense the first four commandments reveal the duty of man to his Maker. These four precepts were written on the first table of stone. Man has a God who is the Author of his being–a God whom he must love and obey with heart, mind, soul, and strength.
The last six commandments, written on the second table of stone, point out man’s duty to his fellow man. He who is true to his God, loving and obeying him, will be true to his neighbor. Those who keep the first four commandments will keep the last six.
After giving the ten commandments, the Lord more explicitly enlarged upon them, laying down the principles that should be carried out in the practical life. These specifications are called judgments, or statutes, because the magistrates were to give judgment according to them. God did not speak them with an audible voice to the Israelites, but gave them to Moses, who communicated them to the people. In several instances difficult cases had arisen upon which Moses felt incapable of rendering a decision. He had supplicated the Lord to decide them for him. The Lord now gave general statutes that would govern decisions in these particular cases.
The Lord desired to guard the interests of servants. He commanded the Israelites to be merciful, and to bear in mind that they themselves had been servants. They were directed to be mindful of the rights of their servants. In no case were they to abuse them. In dealing with them they were not to be exacting, as the Egyptian taskmasters had been with them. They were to exercise tenderness and compassion in the treatment of their servants. God desired them to put themselves in the place of the servants, and deal with them as they would wish others to deal with them under the same circumstances.
Because of poverty, some were sold into bondage by their parents. Others who were sentenced for crimes by the judges were sold into bondage. The Lord specified that even these were not to be held as bondservants for more than seven years. At the end of that time every servant was given his freedom or, if he chose, he was allowed to remain with his master. Thus God guarded the interests of the lowly and the oppressed. Thus He enjoined a noble spirit of generosity, and encouraged all to cultivate a love for liberty, because the Lord had made them free. Anyone who refused liberty when it was his privilege to have it, was marked. This was not a badge of honor to him, but a mark of disgrace. Thus God encouraged the cultivation of a high and noble spirit, rather than a spirit of bondage and slavery.
God desires Christians to respect the liberty that He has in so marvelous a manner given them. In Christ is vested the ownership of every man. Man should not be another man’s property. God has bought mankind. One man’s mind, one man’s power, should not rule and control another’s conscience. In the sight of God wealth and position do not exalt one man above another. Men are free to choose the service of God, to love the Lord, and to keep all His commandments.
How carefully God protects the rights of men! He has attached a penalty to wilful murder. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6). If one murderer were permitted to go unpunished, he would by his evil influence and cruel violence subvert others. This would result in a condition of things similar to that which existed before the flood. God must punish murderers. He gives life, and He will take life, if that life becomes a terror and a menace. Mercy shown to a wilful murderer is cruelty to his fellow men. If a wilful murderer thinks that he will find protection by fleeing to the altar of God, he may find that he will be forced from that altar and be slain. But if a man takes life unintentionally, then God declares that He will provide a place of refuge, to which he can flee.
“He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 21:17). Thus God expressed His mind in regard to rebellious children. He made it a capital crime for children to curse or to smite their parents. And He will punish the parents, if they do not govern and control their children. How many children are lost to all virtue! How many are abandoned to vice and iniquity! How many abuse their own parents!
It was Jesus Christ Himself who gave special directions to Israel. Do these specifications testify of a Christless dispensation? Is this code of statutes of a lower order than are the statutes which are given in this age? The Lord guards the interests of His people. He gives special directions concerning the poor. How impartial are His ways! How exalted are all His requirements.
The Lord gave many other statutes or judgments, which were to be strictly obeyed. These are recorded in the twenty-first, twenty-second, and twenty-third chapters of Exodus.
The Lord also specified the conditions on which his people, the Israelites, would receive the promised blessing: [Exodus 23:20-33, quoted].
These promises are given on condition of obedience. God will bless and honor those who honor Him. The living God pledges Himself by promises to those whom He lays under obligations to Himself. His people must take Him as their Ruler. They must obey the laws of His government. They must not only refrain from worshiping all other gods, but overthrow them utterly, thus evidencing their great abhorrence of idolatry.
After God had given Moses various laws and ordinances, He directed him to go down to the people and acquaint them with these laws. Moses was instructed to read them to the people. While in the mount he had written them just as they had been spoken by the Son of God. “And Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the Lord hath said will we do” (Ex. 24:3). Preparation was now made for the ratification of the covenant, according to God’s directions. [Exodus 24:4-8, quoted.]
Here the people received the conditions of the covenant. They made a solemn covenant with God, typifying the covenant made between God and every believer in Jesus Christ. The conditions were plainly laid before the people. They were not left to misunderstand them. When they were requested to decide whether they would agree to all the conditions given, they unanimously consented to obey every obligation. They had already consented to obey God’s commandments. The principles of the law were now particularized, that they might know how much was involved in covenanting to obey the law; and they accepted the specifically-defined particulars of the law.
If the Israelites had obeyed God’s requirements, they would have been practical Christians. They would have been happy; for they would have been keeping God’s ways, and not following the inclinations of their own natural hearts. Moses did not leave them to misconstrue the words of the Lord or to misapply His requirements. He wrote all the words of the Lord in a book, that they might be referred to afterward. In the mount he had written them as Christ Himself dictated them.
Bravely did the Israelites speak the words promising obedience to the Lord, after hearing His covenant read in the audience of the people. They said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” Then the people were set apart and sealed to God. A sacrifice was offered to the Lord. A portion of the blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled upon the altar. This signified that the people had consecrated themselves–body, mind and soul–to God. A portion was sprinkled upon the people. This signified that through the sprinkled blood of Christ, God graciously accepted them as His special treasure. Thus the Israelites entered into a solemn covenant with God.
As representative of the fallen race, Christ passed over the same ground on which Adam stumbled and fell. By a life of perfect obedience to God’s law, Christ redeemed man from the penalty of Adam’s disgraceful fall. Man has violated God’s law. Only for those who return to their allegiance to God, only for those who obey the law that they have violated, will the blood of Christ avail. Christ will never become a party to sin. Bearing the penalty of the law, He gives the sinner another chance, a second trial. He opens a way whereby the sinner can be reinstated in God’s favor. Christ bears the penalty of man’s past transgressions, and by imparting to man His righteousness, makes it possible for man to keep God’s holy law.