"I, The Lord"
(The Ten Commandments, Part One)
1. The Israelites left Egypt and on the third month they came to the wilderness of Sinai. There they set up their tents and made camp facing Mt Sinai. Then on Mt Sinai the Lord gave through Moses his commandments, which the people were supposed to keep. These commandments are known as "The Ten Commandments." They are written in Exodus chapter twenty. I would like for us to study the ten commandments in two sessions, this week and next week.
I [Am] The Lord Your God
2. First, before we go into the contents of the ten commandments (the Decalogue), I would like for us to take a look at the section before it which could be considered a preamble. There we find the text written as follows: "I [am] the Lord your God, the God who lead you from the land of Egypt, the house of slaves," (verse two). The ten commandments then come next after this.
3. Before the Lord gave them his commandments, he did not say, "I will save you if you keep them. I will be your God if you keep these commandments." God's salvation is before the commandments. The Lord's grace precedes his commandments. In The Heidelberg Catechism, this is given treatment in the third section. That section is entitled "Regarding Thankfulness." Thus, what is shown in the ten commandments is a life style of thankful responses for the grace of God that came first.
4. So, how then does a person live in response to God's grace? At one time a scribe of the law asked Jesus, "Among all of the different laws, which is the greatest?" Jesus answered him as follows according to Mark 12:29-31: "Jesus answered, ''The first commandment is this, Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one and only one Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your thoughts, and with all your strength. The second commandment is this. Love your neighbor like you love yourself. There is no other commandment superior to these two."
5. An appropriate response to God's grace is that we love God. And also it is that we love our neighbor. In addition, these two laws obviously correspond to the first and second halves of the ten commandments. In the first half of the Decalogue which we read today the scriptures speak in regard to loving God with all your heart, with all your mind, with all your thoughts, and with all your strength. In the second half the scriptures speak in regard to loving your neighbor just like you love yourself. In other words, in the ten commandments we have written in it how we should love God and how we should love our neighbor all in response to God's love.
We Are To Worship God Properly
6. So, how should we love God? As is clear from today's passage of scripture, it is not merely an emotional matter. As the first half of the Decalogue shows, if we put it in a single phrase, it would be "We are to worship God properly."
7. The Lord said, "There shall not be to you any other gods beside me," (verse three). "Other gods beside me" has the meaning of "putting other gods along side of me." To properly worship God as God means that we do not deify or absolutize that which is not God and place it along side of God.
8. Such deification and absolutization does occur in various objects and targets of worship in this world. The heavens and nature are given godlike status. Even some people are made into gods. Humanly made systems, nations, authority, wealth, ideology, high ideals, in certain cases the arts are also deified and absolutized. People put their trust in these things and then they start to control the people.
9. But, God is not willing to hand us over to the power of any thing else. The order that "There shall not be to you any other gods beside me" is based on God's strict assertion that "I [am] the Lord your God." God is not half-hearted about his relationship with his people, [but] says "I am your God." And he takes the ones to whom he speaks that message as totally his own. He is not willing to hand them over to the power of any other person [or thing]. So, when we love God it is the same as delivering ourselves up to only the power of God and into his hands. That is indeed the true worship of God. It is in this that we relativize [and put in their proper places] all that is not God, including our own selves.
10. Secondly, the Lord said, "You shall not fashion any image," (verse four). As the text says in verse five, image is defined as an image that becomes an object of worship to which we bow down and serve. It is an image used for worship. The Lord says not to build them.
11. In the ancient orient, an image of God meant a residence for God. They thought that where there was an image God was, and where there was not an image God was not. The construction of divine images is nothing but an activity that puts a limitation on God. It is equivalent to an act that puts God under human ideals or puts God under human ownership and power.
12. The desire to possess God or make God do what we want is probably a fundamental desire that stretches back in the human heart from of old. Put in opposite terms, like gods people don't like to admit a life that can't possess God as their own or a life that doesn't go their way. Some people reading the Bible have said, "That's way different from the God that I conceptualize." And it is. The God in the Bible cannot be apprehended within human hands or our ideals no matter how much we conceptualize the divine. When humans bow down before an image of a god as expressed according to human fancy, they are no longer in God's presence. They are bowing down to a godless thing.
13. Faith doesn't mean we turn God into our property. We become God's. In the Bible the will of God, who is impassioned to make us completely his, is expressed in very harsh terms. "I [am] the Lord your God. I am an emotional God," (verse five). "Emotional God" is usually translated as "a jealous God." He doesn't want to hand his people over to any other. Unless his people are completely his, he is not satisfied.
14. And thirdly, the Lord says, "You shall not recite the name of the Lord your God recklessly," (verse seven). "To recite recklessly, without authority, arbitrarily, indiscriminately, in vain" means magical applications of the name of the Lord. Examples of using the names of gods in incantations is found any number of times in ancient society. Why would people practice magic? They do it to use supernatural powers as they see fit. This too is a fundamental human wish. The Lord God has commanded that we do not use his name in such a manner. To put it another way, it means that we should not try to use the Lord's power any way we want just for ourselves.
15. Whatever form it may take, the Lord finds being possessed by man or woman repulsive. The Lord takes people unto himself for his own. Said some more, what the Lord is looking for is a face-to-face personal relationship as seen in the words "I" and "you." A personal relationship is what leads to love. This is really what worshipping God as God is. If we don't understand God in the sense of his being a "You" to us, then understanding him as an "It" just any old way we please is not acceptable with God.
Make The Sabbath Day Holy
16. After that the fourth commandment of the Sabbath Day comes next. "Remember the Sabbath and make it holy," (verse eight). What the Bible calls the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. It is a set day. Thus, the fourth command has to do with "time." In having to do with time, it means that it directly concerns our specific every day lives.
17. The three commandments that we've already looked at state that in worshipping God properly, we are to turn ourselves over into the hands of God and only into his hands and none other. I am being repetitious but, we live not by God becoming ours but we becoming His. And living that way is not an abstract thing to do. Neither is it a simple emotional thing we do like a "My heart is all yours" kind of thing. This has specifically to do with this business of "the hours of time" in which we live.
18. The Lord said, "Make this holy." Make it holy is the same as saying make it God's. We make one day out of seven God's alone. This is linked directly to living as God's people. Anybody will understand this if they just gave it a little thought. If we don't make one day of seven for God, then in using all the time of those seven days based on our own fleshly will and convenience, or in living our lives racking up such [selfish] hours like that can we really claim that "I love God. I am His?" I don't think we can. This matter of loving God and living a life of worshipping Him is quite specific, dealing with the very hours of time in which we live.
19. But we mustn't forget here that it is based on God's grace which first preceded these commandments as we saw at the beginning. The word "Sabbath" is derived from the word "stop." This is not a command to "move" but to "stop;" it is not a command to "work" but to "rest." The reason we can stop is because God is working ahead of us. If we can rest, it is because God is already at work for us.
20. So, the Bible makes us focus on the creative work of God. We didn't do any thing in regard to the creation of the heavens and the earth. Even though we didn't do anything the universe did get built. Therefore, everything will work out all right if we take a rest. We should be at peace making our time belong to God.
21. Instead of making Saturday the seventh day as the holy Sabbath, Christians have kept Sunday as the Lord's Day, which is the first and eight days. That's because we believe that a most decisive act related to our salvation had been completed on the first day of the week, on that resurrection day. So then, we are at peace and make the Lord's Day as God's day. Thus, we live in peace as the Lord's and we love the Lord and live in worship of our Lord.