This weekend, countless Americans are heading for the beach, tackling house projects they’ve been putting off, attending a few final graduation open houses, or dragging the grill out of storage. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and for many, the unofficial beginning of summer.
But there’s more going on this weekend than just Memorial Day. Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday, for one. And if that isn’t enough holiday excitement, this weekend also marks the Jewish celebration of Shavuot.
Shavuot isn’t commemorated by most Christians, but Christians are well familiar with the event it recalls: the giving of God’s Law to the Israelites at Mount Sinai. Those Ten Commandments—still recited each week in Christian churches around the world—defined for ancient Israel and for us today the standards to which God holds his covenant people accountable.
The giving of the Law is described in Exodus 19-20:
In the third month after the people of Isra’el had left the land of Egypt, the same day they came to the Sinai Desert. After setting out from Refidim and arriving at the Sinai Desert, they set up camp in the desert; there in front of the mountain, Isra’el set up camp.
Moshe went up to God, and Adonai called to him from the mountain: “Here is what you are to say to the household of Ya‘akov, to tell the people of Isra’el: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will pay careful attention to what I say and keep my covenant, then you will be my own treasure from among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you will be a kingdom of cohanim for me, a nation set apart.’ These are the words you are to speak to the people of Isra’el.” — Exodus 19-20 (CJB)
The Ten Commandments themselves are listed in Exodus 20. Jesus famously summarized them like this:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. — Matthew 22:34-40 (NIV)
Christians believe that Jesus has redeemed and forgiven our offenses against God’s Law, making us citizens in good standing of God’s Kingdom. But the Law remains important—not as just a list of rules to follow, but as a standard against which we can measure our lives. It is through this Law that we understand the importance of holy living. And it is the Law that illuminates our need for a Savior in the first place. For more about how Christians today understand God’s Law, see these two devotional articles:
- Limits of the Law: The Law Serves a Good Purpose—Up to a Point
- Legalism: Can We do Anything to Make God Love us More?
Between Pentecost and Memorial Day this weekend, you might not have the mental bandwidth to process a third holiday. But take a few minutes to think about the Law—what it meant to the Israelites who first received it, and what it means in your everyday life. It is through God’s Law that we begin to understand the character of God—and how we, as sin-haunted men and women in need of redemption, relate to Him.