Commandments: commands, demands, imperatives, rules, or orders. While the Hebrew Torah contains 613 commands, the tablets given to Moses contained ten. These rules set literally in stone were to be the basis of the laws and social order of the nation of “chosen people.”
“If God would have wanted us to live in a permissive society He would have given us Ten Suggestions and not Ten Commandments.” Zig Ziglar These same rules have set the basis of the Jewish faith, and have left an indelible mark on Christian belief and practice as well. Jesus did indeed sum up the teachings of the scriptures in a short two point model, “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’ (Matthew 22:37-39).” It is on the first of these (covered by Commandments 1-4 of the Tablets of Moses which I will focus on today.
The First Commandment recorded in Exodus chapter 20 reads, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me (verses 2-3).” God’s call here is clear. He wants and expects an exclusive relationship with His people. Martin Luther (1483-1546) commented on the command’s purpose, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.” God, therefore, wants our focus and hearts to be with him.
The Second Commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God (Exodus 20: 4-5),” was reflected on by Thomas Watson (1620-1686), “In the first commandment worshiping a false god is forbidden; in this, worshiping the true God in a false manner [is forbidden].” The true worship of God is to be spiritual (as He is), bowing down to images, or sub-par replacements is onerous to Him.
The Third Command reads, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” We live in an age where you can hear seven-year-olds on the street uttering “OMG.” Yet, this flippant disregard to God’s dignity is prohibited by the Creator. I have a great respect for the Jewish practices of avoiding the use, much less misuse of His name. He is often addressed as “Ha Shem” (The Name), and even when the English word in which we entitle Him is used, it is often rendered as “G-d.” [See my post on Moses’ name and the relation with YHWH]. Psalm 139:20-21 even goes so far as to equate those who misuse God’s name with murderers and God’s enemies. Yet in our society, “Swearing and praying are the two most common ways to use God’s name (Ray Fowler).” What a sad reflection.
The Fourth Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God (Exodus 20: 8-10),” rounds out our commands relating to our relationship with God. It really is straight forward. He rested, He calls us to rest to refresh and to then go on.
The effort to honour this was evident in my hotel in Jerusalem. The “kosher lifts” or “Sabbath Elevators” made it so no one would cause a spark to be made by pushing the electric button of Sabbath. While some Christians have commented that the rabbinical interpretations of the 4th Commandment exceed the intention, it is nonetheless noteworthy in its attempt to uphold God’s edicts.
What is more practically impressive in this age of open 24-7-365 is the sign I saw on a shop door in Tennessee next to its Sunday: Closed notification. It read, “The day is worth more than the dollar.” What a wonderful application of god’s principles!
I hope that we all can take some time to reflect on the message of the “Love the Lord your God” commandments. I pray that we seek to practice them, and show our appreciation of Him who gave them.
I hope to post on the “Love your neighbour” commands in the future.