Summary: First of a two-part series on the Ten Commandments and how they relate to our lives
ONE GOD, ONE NAME, ONE DAY
A young woman brought her fiancé to visit her parents. After a nice dinner, the father invited the fiancé to the library for a talk. "So what are your plans?" he asked the young man. "I am a seminary student," he replied. "A seminary student. Hmmm," said the father. "Admirable, but how will you provide a home for my daughter?" "I will study," the young man said, "and God will provide for us." "And how will you buy her an engagement ring, such as she deserves?" "I will focus on my studies and God will provide for us."
"And how will you support your children?" "Don't worry, sir. God will provide." The conversation continued like this; each time the father questioned, the young man insisted that God would provide. Later, when the mother asked about their conversation, the father sighed, "Well, he has no job and no plan, but the good news is, he thinks I'm God!"
Despite the identity crisis of some, there is only one God and all our loyalty must be to Him. This is the premise of the declarations found in Exodus 20 that we commonly call the 10 commandments. A more literal translation of Hebrew makes them the 10 words or the 10 statements. They were addressed directly to the people of Israel from the mouth of God. Though they are often thought of as negative statements, there is no punishment stated. Obedience was to be motivated not by fear of punishment but by God’s absolute authority and the peoples’ desire to live in accordance with His will.
As negative statements, they helped shape the community’s recognition of those kinds of conduct that simply ruined life in community and so could not be allowed. They are not intended to be legalistic in character or in effect. God is understood to be the author of these commandments, whereas in other nations it was the king who made the laws. Thus the law of God was elevated above practicality and became sanctified.
The categories of the commandments are intentional. The first four represent theology, concerning the reverence we owe to God and the religious service we should render to Him. The last six represent ethics and moral duties which we owe to our fellow human beings. Together, these divisions represent love for God and love for neighbor, which is how Jesus was able to construct two great commandments from the original ten. The first five are accompanied by explanations, but the thought behind the last five are so universally noted that no explanation was necessary.
First and foremost God called for recognition of Himself as supreme and solitary, sovereign and sacred. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” This statement was the basis for allegiance and obedience to God; the reason for the covenant He made. The deliverance from slavery in Egypt would be a constant reminder of the people’s need for God and His righteousness.
“You shall have no other gods besides Me.” There is some debate as to whether this meant no other gods in the presence of the one true God or if it meant instead of or in place of God. Either way, this was a unique position in a polytheistic world like the environment of Egypt they had just left. One author stated, “This very first commandment of the whole series is divinely calculated to prevent man’s misery and promote his happiness by taking him off from all false dependence, and leading him to God himself, the fountain of all good.”
We should understand God’s position, for we want the same thing. We all want to be number one in someone’s eyes. No one ever really comes out and says, “You shall have no other spouse before me, or no other parent before me.” Our children don’t caution us to give all our attention to them, but deep down, this is what we all really want. We want to be important to someone, we want commitment, and we detest superficiality. We can’t blame God for feeling the same.
Number two was spoken directly out of the Israelites’ experience in Egypt. “You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image.” The practice of idolatry was rampant in Egypt and other pagan nations. Worship of nature, worship of animals and even human deities was the norm. The idol worship of the pagan nations was not only illogical and unbiblical, but it was intensely immoral with temple prostitution, inhuman with child sacrifice, and demonic.
Worship was the primary concern of this commandment, for only God was to be worshiped. His jealousy was never hidden, nor was the consequences of it. God’s disfavor would come to rest on third and fourth generations of those who rejected Him, but His kindness would stretch to thousands of generations.