When you start a book, do you read the preface? Or do you get right into the meat of the writing? I have usually found prefaces interesting, but not crucial to understanding the author. The preface to the Ten Commandments, Exodus 20:1-2, however, gives you the crucial perspective you need to understand what God is saying here. It reminds you of the covenant relationship between you and God–and it is through that relationship that you hear the Commandments.
“In the Old Testament already it is God who, immediately after the fall, out of grace, puts enmity between humanity and the serpent and brings humanity to his side (Gen. 3:15). It is he who elects Abraham and the people of Israel born of him to be his possession (Gen. 12:1; Exod. 15:13, 16; 19:4; 20:2; Deut. 7:6f.), who makes a covenant with them and gives his laws to them (Gen. 15:1; 17:2; Exod. 2:24-25; Deut. 4:5-15), who gives the blood of the altar fore atonement (Lev. 17:11), and does all that is needed for his vineyard (Isa. 5; Jer. 2:21). But in virtue of that election and on the basis of that covenant, that people is also obligated now, on pain of the law’s curse (Deut. 27:26), to walk before God’s face with integrity and to keep his commandments (Gen. 17:1; Exod. 20: Deut. 10:15-16; etc.).” (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3, pp. 493-494).
“The people were to realize how majestic, glorious, holy, and awesome their Yahweh, the true God, really was. They were simultaneously to realize that he had specific orders and guidelines for them so that they could live, serve, and worship in a living and loving fellowship with him. “ (Gerard Van Groningen, From Creation to Consummation, p. 332).
“The Decalogue strikingly illustrates the redemptive structure of the theocracy as a whole. It is introduced by the summing up of what Jehovah has done for Israel in delivering them from the house of bondage.” “The preamble brings the affection to Jehovah, in view of what he has redemptively done for the people, to bear through a responsive affection upon their conduct.” (Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, pages 145, 147-148).
(From reflections, in preparation for a message at Trinity Presbyterian Church, OPC)