The Ten Commandments are the epitome of "the Law," and the Law we are told was done away with when Jesus arrived. No more Law, just the grace offered by God through Jesus. Often then, we simply avoid or read over these sorts of passages, relegating them to a bygone age that is no longer applicable to the church.
We are wrong to do so. The Exodus version of the Law comes shortly after Israel's escape from Egypt. But not just that. It comes after complaints and the provision of food and water by God, and after the battle with Amalek. During this battle, Israel gains the upper hand as long as Moses' hands are held up. If he lets them down, Amalek gains the upper hand. This is an odd arrangement, but it is intended to demonstrate that it is Israel's God that wins this battle. And it must be because Israel is not a cohesive nation. She is simply been led out of captivity and fed in the wilderness; she does not have fully trained army and cannot defeat Amalek on her own. She needs God for sustenance and military security.
It is time for her God to form her into a real nation, a cohesive people with an identity. A people who will truly be the people of her God; who will in at least some concrete sense, be His incarnation among the nations. He begins this process here, by giving what appear to be rules.
But these are not real rules for rules sake. These expectations are given to Israel for two reasons which may in fact be reduced to one. The first reason is that this God, YHWH, is the God who has brought Israel out of captivity, who has fed her, provided water, and has now defeated her first enemy in the wilderness. He has done all this because of his steadfast fidelity to Abraham to form a people, to bless them, and to use them as a blessing for the world.
The list begins with YHWH reminding Israel that it is He who has formed her and brought her out; who has nurtured her and continues to nurture her. She shall have no other gods before Him precisely because He has done these things for her. She can appropriately do no other and it is right that she pay homage to YHWH.
The directive to remember the Sabbath is not arbitrary but here is based on YHWH's own resting. Work and then rest is fitting for people and this rest will remind them whose people they are. Later the reason for keeping the Sabbath will shift to remembering that YHWH has brought them out of slavery, out of Egypt. The Sabbath becomes not just rest from work, but rest from slavery - an entry into rest. In the New Testament, this rest becomes the freedom and rest we find in God. Remember the Sabbath because it represents YHWH's rest. This is not a worship day although it will become that in Israel. The Sabbath is for you, not YHWH and it represents your entrance into His rest.
There is another aspect of the Sabbath. It is necessary that no one and no thing work. You are not allowed to work and you are not allowed to let - or direct your servants, children, or even your livestock to work. The mention of livestock here reminds us that the Noahic covenant applies to "all flesh" including animals. YHWH's concern is not just for Man, but the greater creation.
The remaining rules are not flat arbitrary rules either. They are all based on the need to form a people, and a people who will live as the image of YHWH. All of these rules reflect a people who care for others, who refrain from taking advantage of their neighbors. Why do we not murder? Because we cannot so hate or take advantage of our neighbors.Why do we not covet? For the same reason. Why do we not commit adultery? Because our God is steadfast and if we are to be His image, so must we be. The same considerations support the other specific rules.
We find then that these rules reflect the values and character of YHWH and if we are to truly be His image, they must reflect our values as well. These are not rules either for God or for us. Rather they are expressions of who is our God, and who we are expected to become. Israel then is intended to become YHWH's people, to incarnate His image in this world.
And this is the calling of all disciples of the Creator.
To be Him in this world.
When we read these commandments then, we read them not as arbitrary rules but as expressions of who our God is and who we are made to be. Our calling is the same as Israel's - to be the incarnation and presence of YHWH among the nations.