When I was a kid I remember learning about the ten commandments. When we studied the ten commandments we always started with Exodus 20:3, “You will have no other gods before me.” We never started back a verse where God said, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” That is an important starting point because it couches the rules right in the middle of God’s saving acts of deliverance carried out on their behalf. I don’t know who came up with the phrase that is the title of this post, “Exodus came before Sinai” but it is an accurate and important statement that helps us understand what God does and how what we do is only a response to what He has already done and is doing in the world.
In order to put this statement in perspective, let’s back up a bit. When Moses saw the burning bush in Exodus 3 what God didn’t tell them was that he was to assemble the people, give them the 10 commandments and the whole book of Leviticus, follow it perfectly and then God would deliver them. Nope. Instead, God rescued them first before he put requirements on them. Why? Because that is how relationships work. For example, imagine the first time you met the person you would eventually marry the first thing you said was, “I know you don’t know me but I have certain expectations for how I believe a husband/wife should treat their mate…so starting today I have some expectations for this relationship and the obligations you have to uphold in it.” Do you think that would go over very well? Of course not! Why? Because relationships don’t start with obligations and requirements. Those don’t come until after the relationship is solidly formed and even then they are the natural outflow of two people who are deeply committed to and in love with one another.
Back to Israel. God delivered them. God brought them into the wilderness where he provided food and water and guidance for them. What was he doing before any rules were laid down? He was establishing a relationship with them. And when the rules came, they were willing to choose to follow them because they knew the One who was setting the rules and how He had their best interest at heart in the matter. So Exodus comes before Sinai. That was true of them and it is true for us. Romans 5:8 says, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Over and over again Jesus showed this principle through his ministry. One of our men mentioned the woman caught in adultery. He rescued her first and then told her how she was to live. There are so many other examples but the point is the same – God loves us enough to rescue us. He is not interested in us robotically following a list of do’s and don’ts. But He knows that if we will willingly choose to follow Him that the boundaries He sets for our lives will be willingly followed because we know Him, love Him and trust Him.