Moses and the Ten Commandments - Bible Story Summary

The Ten Commandments Story Reveals God's Holy Standards for Living

Moses and the Ten Commandments
Culture Club / Contributor / Getty Images

Scripture Reference

Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Moses and the Ten Commandments Story Summary

Shortly after God delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt by crossing the Red Sea, they traveled through the desert to Sinai where they camped in front of Mount Sinai. Mount Sinai, also called Mount Horeb, is a very significant place. There God met and spoke with Moses, telling him why he had rescued Israel from Egypt. God had chosen the people of Israel to be made into a holy nation of priests for God, his treasured possession.

One day God called Moses to the top of the mountain. He gave Moses the first part of his new system of laws for the people--the Ten Commandments. These Commandments summarized the absolutes of spiritual and moral living that God intended for his people. For a modern-day paraphrase visit the Ten Commandments Paraphrased.

God continued to give direction to his people through Moses, including civil and ceremonial laws for managing their lives and their worship. Eventually, God called Moses to the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. This time he gave Moses instructions for the tabernacle and the offerings.

Tablets of Stone

When God finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him two tablets of stone inscribed by the very finger of God. The tablets contained the Ten Commandments.

Meanwhile, the people of Israel had become impatient while waiting for Moses to return with a message from God. Moses had been gone for so long that the people gave up on him and begged Aaron, Moses' brother, to build them an altar so they could worship.

Aaron collected offerings of gold from all the people and built an idol cast in the shape of a calf. The Israelites held a festival and bowed down to worship the idol. That quickly they had fallen back into the same type of idolatry they were accustomed to in Egypt and disobedience to God's new commands.

When Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets of stone, his anger burned as he saw the people given over to idolatry. He threw down the two tablets, smashing them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. Then Moses destroyed the golden calf, burning it in the fire.

Moses and God proceeded to discipline the people for their sin. Later God instructed Moses to chisel two new stone tablets, just like the ones he had written with his own finger.

The Ten Commandments Are Important to God

The Ten Commandments were spoken to Moses in God's own voice and then later written on two tablets of stone by the very finger of God. They are extremely important to God. After Moses destroyed the tablets inscribed by God, he made Moses write new ones, just like the ones he had written himself.

These Commandments are the first part of God's law system. In essence, they are a summary of the hundreds of laws found in the Old Testament Law. They offer basic rules of behavior for spiritual and moral living. They were designed to guide Israel into a life of practical holiness.

Today, these laws still instruct us, expose sin, and show us God's standard. But, without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we are utterly helpless to live up to God's holy standard.

Moses destroyed the tablets in his anger. His breaking of the tablets was symbolic of the laws of God being broken in the hearts of his people. Moses had righteous anger at the sight of sin. Anger at sin is a sign of spiritual health. It is appropriate to experience righteous anger, however, we should always be careful that it does not lead us to sin.

Questions for Reflection

While Moses was away with God on the mountain, why did the people beg Aaron for something to worship? The answer, I believe, is that humans are created to worship. We will either worship God, ourselves, money, fame, pleasure, success, or things. An idol can be anything (or anyone) you worship by giving it more importance than God.

Louie Giglio, founder of Passion Conferences and author of The Air I Breathe: Worship as a Way of Life, said, "When you follow the trail of your time, energy, and money, you find a throne. And whatever or whomever is on that throne is the object of your worship."

Do you have an idol that is keeping the one true God from being on the center of your throne of worship?