Three Words about God: His Supremacy, His Image, and His NameNovember 12, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Posted in Exodus | 16 Comments
Tags: 1st Commandment, 2nd Commandment, 3rd Commandment, commentary on Exodus, Decalogue, Exodus 20, idolatry, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, Suzerainty Treaties, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20 contains one of the most well-known passages in the Bible. We usually refer to it as “The Ten Commandments.” Theologians call it “The Decalogue,” or “The Ten Words.”
The word “commandments” isn’t even used until Verse 6, but there is certainly nothing wrong with calling them the “Ten Commandments,” although they might be more properly thought of as the “sanctions” section of the Mosaic (Old) Covenant, which was in the form of a suzerainty treaty.
A suzerain is a greater king or overlord who enters into a covenant or agreement with a “lesser” king or nation, known as the “prince” or “lord” or “vassal.” A suzerainty treaty is a treaty – an agreement containing terms or conditions – between a greater king and a lesser king, ruler, nation, or group. The Decalogue itself is not a suzerainty treaty, but it is part of the suzerainty treaty that we call the Old Covenant. The Decalogue is similar to the U.S. Constitution, and the other 600 or so laws in the Old Covenant are similar to America’s federal statutes.
The first Word of the Decalogue is:
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
This prohibits idolatry. It does not mean that there are other divine beings, with God being the greatest one. It means that human beings are forbidden from thinking of any created thing or being, as being above, or equal to, God. “Before Me” doesn’t mean that God is number one, with some other god as number two. It means not to place anyone or anything (even anything fictitious) “in opposition to God” or to worship anything other than Him “in His presence” (which is everywhere).
The worship of any other being, or the ascription to any entity other than God of a status greater than or equal to God, would be considered by Him to be disloyalty, treachery, and an attack on His glory and His name.
We tend to think of the First Commandment as having a different application today from the application it had for Moses and the Israelites, but, actually, it applied to people in the ancient world in a very similar way. The little g gods that people worshiped in the ancient world were typically representations of their perceived needs or pleasures – their life-sustaining activities and their “fun” or distracting activities. In the First Commandment, God reminded them and us that He created us, and that He obviously “owns” us, but also that our activities, our joys, even our very thought processes, are to be exclusively centered around Him. If you are a parent, your two greatest responsibilities might be the clear teaching of the Gospel (which includes Who Christ is) to your children, and helping them to be utterly convinced of the absolute supremacy of God.
The second Word of the Decalogue is definitely referential to the first, but it is also definitely a separate Word:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
An overly literal, out-of-context reading of this commandment would seem to prohibit the representation of any creature. In that case, it would be sinful to have a toy fluffy pony or an army man or even a sculpture of a tree. However, when we recognize that the Second Commandment is tied to the idea of “worship” and therefore idolatry, then we get a truer perspective. The worship of false gods in ancient times always involved imagery – figures that in those days were “graven.” This is still being prohibited by the Second Word, but the command goes even further, as it prohibits us from making a making a mental image of God as being so loving as to be unjust, or as being so kind as to not really have wrath. In other words, we break the Second Commandment any time that we make up a god in our minds that is not revealed in Scripture. This happens frequently when professing Christians claim that God rewards the “good works” of unconverted sinners by counting them as righteous based on their deeds.
Additionally, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses (and liberal seminary students) are flagrant violators of Word number two. They concoct a false “Jesus,” or they profess to believe something about God based on what they “feel” He is like.
The Third Word is:
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Why would God not hold guiltless those that take His name in vain? Why is this such a serious crime? Because vanity is emptiness masquerading as fullness, and God’s name has great weight. It is empty of neither holiness, nor authority. Taking something “in vain” is ascribing negligible value to it. If there is anything in this universe that’s not vain, it is the Lord our God, and His name is a great gift and a great blessing, because it is a great revelation. God is providing the very air and breath that people are using to mock or to even curse His name.
This is one of the reasons why we shouldn’t flippantly exclaim, “Oh my G–,” or even say or type “OMG” or “gosh” or whatever else fills in for His name. Don’t say Jesus’s name like a curse word. One of the proofs of the depravity of man is the ubiquity of blasphemy and the complete absence of epithets such as “Adolf Hitler!” or “Muhammadd- – n!” or “Buddhad- – n!” I teach my kids not to use God’s name unless we are talking to, or about, God.