Since we left Moses at the burning bush, much has happened in the life of the people of Israel. They continued to be persecuted as slaves in the land of Egypt and Pharoah's heart was consistently hardened against God's people. The first Passover was instituted by the Lord (Exodus 12) and ultimately the people of Israel were led out of Egypt. This exodus from Egypt took the Israelites to the Red Sea, where they miraculously crossed over on dry land, while Pharoah and his armies were thrown into the sea. As God's people continued their quest for the promised land, God handed down his Law, which was an essential component of the ongoing covenant relationship between God and his people.
Now we come to one of the most well known passages of the Bible - The Ten Commandments. It is difficult to read the ten commandments and not think of Cecille B. DeMille's epic motion picture or the more recent debates over the politcal correctness of displaying the commandments in public buildings. Yet for the people of Israel these commandments were a central part of their covenant relationship with God. The ten commandments, also known as the decalogue ("ten words"), represent the core of the covenant stipulations revealed to Moses.
When we read the ten commandments and the rest the law that is recorded in scripture, it is important that we recognize that adherence to the law was not a prerequisite for entry into the covenant community. Rather, the keeping of the law was an outward and visible sign that a person was already a member of the community. The keeping of the law was the defining characteristic of the Israelites over against the Gentiles. Therefore, the law was not a burden that weighed the people of God down, but rather the law was a joy and a blessing, because it defined the boundaries of their covenant relationship with God. Psalm 19 says, "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul [...], more to be desired than fine gold, sweeter than honey."
However, although the law was a source of blessing and spiritual nourishment, the breaking of the law had significant consequences. Since the law was an outward and visible sign of the covenant relationship between God and his people, the breaking of the law was tantamount to breaking relationship with God. The language often used in the Old Testament to describe the breaking of relationship is the language of adultery. When the people of Israel chose to rebel and break God's law, they were fundementally being unfaithful in their relationship with God, whom they had vowed to love with all their heart, strength, and mind.