Tags: closing argument, commentary on Hosea, Hosea 5, Hosea 6, Hosea 7, Hosea 8, idolatry, Jesus the Advocate, Sunday School lessons on Hosea
In Hosea Chapter 4 God listed the charges against the people, and presented evidence of their idolatry. In Chapter 5 He makes His summation or “closing argument.”
They will not frame their doings to turn unto their God: for the spirit of whoredoms is in the midst of them, and they have not known the Lord.
God had withdrawn His Spirit from among them. It didn’t matter how Godly they sounded in their protests or professions, nor how fervently they celebrated in their feasts. They would show up at a festival ostensibly to honor God, and then behave like pagans, allowing their daughters to engage in pagan fertility rites and fornication.
Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in Ramah: cry aloud at Bethaven, after thee, O Benjamin.
With the term “Bethaven” God used Hosea to make a very effective legal argument. Bethel – where they were supposed to worship – meant “house of God.” The pun on the word “Bethaven” meant “house of evil” or “house of deceit.”
Then God had Hosea read the penalty attached to the crimes of which the people had now been convicted.
Therefore will I be unto Ephraim as a moth, and to the house of Judah as rottenness.
Moths eat away from the inside, and turn objects into rot.
For I will be unto Ephraim as a lion, and as a young lion to the house of Judah: I, even I, will tear and go away; I will take away, and none shall rescue him.
Moths work secretly for a long time before the destruction they cause is revealed, but Lions attack suddenly from the outside, and the damage they cause is quickly and obviously apparent.
In Chapter 6 the people attempted an appeal of their conviction and sentencing.
Come, and let us return unto the Lord: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth.
However, their appeal was a false repentance, and it was rejected and denied.
O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
The Lord had no use for a half-baked cake.
They are all adulterers, as an oven heated by the baker, who ceaseth from raising after he hath kneaded the dough, until it be leavened. In the day of our king the princes have made him sick with bottles of wine; he stretched out his hand with scorners. For they have made ready their heart like an oven, whiles they lie in wait: their baker sleepeth all the night; in the morning it burneth as a flaming fire. They are all hot as an oven, and have devoured their judges; all their kings are fallen: there is none among them that calleth unto me. Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned.
They have set up kings, but not by me: they have made princes, and I knew it not: of their silver and their gold have they made them idols, that they may be cut off.
These people would be cut off, and we all face a judgment in which God would be justified in cutting us off forever from His benevolence, kindness, and favor. However, for those of us who are in Christ Jesus – who have received His salvation – Jesus Himself stands as our Advocate. On the Cross of Calvary He was cut off from God so that we may be accepted.
Here are some previous highlights from Hosea:
Tags: 1 Corinthians 6, addiction, Biblical Parenting, Christian parenting, Christian parents, Ephesians 6, Exodus 20, idolatry, parenting, Proverbs 23
Don’t be an abusive parent. The goal of parenting is to train up disciples of Christ by trying to utterly convince the children that God has placed into our trust of His absolute supremacy, as we nurture them and teach them His Word. This lofty goal involves corporal discipline, but discipline is not punishment, and it is certainly not abuse. A parent who sinfully – whether physically or mentally – injures a child out of spite or loss of control is attacking God Himself, and this is a dangerous prospect to say the least.
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
Don’t be an angry parent. As Christian parents, we ourselves are the children of our Heavenly Father. He is angry with the wicked every day, but He is not angry at His Own children.
And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
Our job is to prevent our children from feeling and practicing the sort of sinful wrath that God hates to see in His creatures.
Don’t be an absent parent.
My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways.
We have to be present if our children are going to observe our ways. Too many parents spend so much time working that they rarely see their children, leaving them in the care of nurseries, daycare facilities, nannies, babysitters, and school systems. This is not God’s plan for child-rearing. Dads, especially, however, are even prone to being absent-while-present. Tuning in to a ball game on television and ignoring the kids elsewhere in the house (or right there in the room!), going hunting, fishing, golfing, remodeling old cars out in the garage, are all ways in which fathers unwind from the stress of their occupations while forgetting the important principle of being actively present in their children’s lives during crucial formative years.
Don’t be an addicted parent (unless it is an addiction to ministry that includes ministering along with your children!) Addictions to sinful activities – and addictions that are sinful not because of the object of the addiction, but because of the time, energy, money, and affection given to them – are closely akin to idolatry.
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
I Corinthians 6:12
Our children will not be utterly convinced of the absolute supremacy of the true God if we worship multiple gods.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.
In a pagan land like America today, the failure of Christian parents to transfer a belief in the One True God will lead to the destruction of society and to the loss of God’s blessings on His people.
Tags: atonement, capital punishment, commentary on Exodus, death penalty, Exodus 32, idolatry, Jesus Christ, Moses, Salvation, Sunday School lessons on Exodus
Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
“The gate of the camp” was just as significant as the location where Moses had chosen to smash the tablets. It was the official dividing line between God’s “chosen people” and just “people.” These were people who had forfeited their claim to God’s special protection and in fact had “exposed themselves” (both literally and figuratively) to God’s judgment and wrath.
Do you remember hearing or reading about the legendary incident from the Alamo when Colonel Buck Travis is said to have drawn a line in the sand to see who wanted to stay and who wanted to leave? Moses did something similar here – and the Levites made a wise choice in front of everyone. Imagine Aaron’s shame as he walked from the people over to Moses.
And he said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.
Moses used classic prophetic-command speech: “Thus saith the LORD God of Israel…” = “This is God’s idea, not just mine. Get your swords, go in and out, make inquiries about who wants to stick with the idolatry and who wants to repent. Kill the ones who won’t confess and repent.” This was an observance of the legal death penalty. It didn’t matter who – their neighbors, their friends, their own family members. It sounds barbaric to us, doesn’t it? I hope you don’t want to throw out your Bible and become a Liberal at this point, although, sadly, many have. You’ll have to reject the truth to do it – and you’ll also have to blame God for protecting your soul about 3000 years before you were even born. Remember, these were enemy combatants in a war – the war for truth – and those that chose to take the side of idolatry by refusing to repent are the ones who were willing to send everyone to hell for the sake of a pathetic bull-god orgy – even after waking up with their hangovers. I’m glad we don’t have to kill the apostates and the pagans today as New Testament Christians, but it would be good for us to remember that the stakes are just as high, in a sense.
And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses: and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.
3000 executed criminals sounds like huge number, but that is just a fraction of the number that had been partying, because some of the guilty ones apparently repented and were spared.
For Moses had said, Consecrate yourselves today to the LORD, even every man upon his son, and upon his brother; that he may bestow upon you a blessing this day.
This gives more insight into how the fathers and male leaders were given an opportunity to repent and survive the Levite purge.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said unto the people, Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the LORD; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.
You can see the heaviness that was on Moses the next day, but he knew the job was not finished. He still refused to sugarcoat their sin, because he knew there are consequences to even forgiven sin. In Exodus 32:30 the Holy Spirit has recorded the words of Moses – not as a prophetic revelation – but as a heavy sighing fumbling for the right word to describe what he knows he is going to have to attempt: atonement. “Peradventure.” What a terrifically descriptive word for the man who had been in the presence of this holy God – who knew His hatred for sin – but who also knew His mercy in response to confession and prayer. “I shall make;” “at one ment.” “Maybe I can somehow bring us back into loving fellowship with our God Who we’ve offended so greatly.” I hope you can hear that word “atonement” echoing all the way through the Old Testament into the New Testament and on into your life. I myself remember the estrangement from God – the horror of knowing He was completely beyond my sinful reach – when Jesus – the Rescuer – the Atoner – the AtoneMENT – brought me to Him!
Tags: Aaron, blame-shifting, commentary on Exodus, degrees of sin, Exodus 32, idolatry, Moses, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, the golden calf, true confession
And Moses said unto Aaron, What did this people unto thee, that thou hast brought so great a sin upon them?
Notice how Moses correctly attributed blame to both the people (it was their idea) and Aaron (he did “bring the sin upon them”). Notice also the designation “sin” and the attribution of a degree: “so great a sin.” Idolatry is indeed a great sin.
Moses was so bold as he stood alone among riotous sinners because he had been in the presence of God. You and I, as Christians, will wilt in the face of resistance, ridicule, and the threat of reprisals if we try to stand for Christ in our own strength. But if we have been alone with God – hearing His Word – forsaking earthly distractions – we will be as bold as a lion.
And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my lord wax hot: thou knowest the people, that they are set on mischief.
Aaron deferred to Moses (“my lord”), but then tried to blame-shift. God had told Moses “I have seen this people, they are stiff-necked.” Now Aaron tells Moses, “Thou knowest the people, they are set on mischief.” This did not fool Moses. He knew that God’s assessment trumped Aaron’s assessment.
For they said unto me, Make us gods, which shall go before us: for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And I said unto them, Whosoever hath any gold, let them break it off. So they gave it me: then I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.
Aaron’s statement started off sounding like a confession, until he uttered the phrase, “out came this calf,” as if it’s something that “just happened.” The Bible had already told us what really happened:
And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
And when Moses saw that the people were naked; (for Aaron had made them naked unto their shame among their enemies:)
This makes it sound like Aaron made them strip off their clothes, but I think it is really referring back to Aaron’s instructions to give him their earrings to make the calf-idol. Moses recognized the spiritual implications of their sin – they removed God’s protection by breaking the Covenant – and now, having foolishly pretended that the bull idol could lead them, they were conversely in a worse position: truly exposed to their enemies.
Tags: Christian music, Christian rock concerts, commentary on Exodus, Exodus 32, golden calf, idolatry, Law of God, Moses and the Ten Commandments, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, Ten Commandments
And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two tables of the testimony were in his hand: the tables were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.
The two “tables” (tablets) were identical – five “Words” on each side. Written documents in that day were: (1) papyrus (not very durable); (2) leather skins; (3) clay tablets; or (4) chiseled in stone (only the most important documents). These were the only documents in existence actually inscribed by God Himself without any human agency. Imagine the value!
And the tables were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, graven upon the tables.
The written Word of God is not a violation of Commandment No. 2 (against graven images). God is so associated with His Word that He allows us to have it “engraved.” This refutes the accusation (sometimes made by Roman Catholics and Pentecostals) that Baptists and other fundamental Christians who hold to the Bible as the sole standard of faith and practice are guilty of Bibliolatry.
And when Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said unto Moses, There is a noise of war in the camp.
Joshua was familiar with the sound of war. This sounded like war, even though it wasn’t. It was the first “rock concert” involving God’s people, but this type of loud boisterous worship was common in pagan idolatry – which Moses recognized when he discerned the singing amidst the din of revelry:
And he said, It is not the voice of them that shout for mastery, neither is it the voice of them that cry for being overcome: but the noise of them that sing do I hear.
You can meditate on this passage of Scripture and judge for yourself how loud and boisterous Christian worship music ought to be. I would submit that it ought not to be mistaken – even from afar – for carnal syncretistic worship – a combination of worshiping the performer while ostensibly worshiping God.
There is a certain irony or at least poignancy in Joshua’s mistaken assertion that a battle was going on, because there WAS in fact a battle going on – a battle between Truth and falsehood – between the real and the fake – between God and Satan the counterfeiter. Because of Moses’s anger, you can see that he grasped this:
And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp, that he saw the calf, and the dancing: and Moses’ anger waxed hot, and he cast the tables out of his hands, and brake them beneath the mount.
Moses had plead with God to turn from His anger, but now he saw with his own eyes, and heard with his own ears, and he too expressed righteous anger, breaking these unique, precious tablets in view of all the people “beneath the mount.” This was the exact same spot where the people verbally agreed to be bound by God’s gracious covenant. They broke the Covenant figuratively; Moses demonstrated it literally. We speak of breaking God’s law – but it is God’s law that will break the sinner – just as jumping upward off a roof temporarily seems to break the law of gravity, but ultimately breaks the jumper.
And he took the calf which they had made, and burnt it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and strawed it upon the water, and made the children of Israel drink of it.
This describes a longer process than just one verse makes it sound like, but Moses wanted to utterly desecrate this false idol.
Tags: Aaron, commentary on Exodus, Exodus 31, Exodus 32, golden calf, Holy Spirit, idolatry, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, syncretism, the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.
One of the key differences between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and the New Testament is that, under the Old Testament, certain people were periodically “anointed” or “filled” with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit permanently indwells born-again believers from the moment of salvation.
Bezalel, who seems to have been in charge of the construction of the Tabernacle, had certain talents – which are gifts from God – but not necessarily the same as the New Testament “gifts of the Spirit,” such as administration or evangelism or preaching and teaching or mercy or giving. Basically, Bezalel got an “upgrade” to his talents for working with gold and silver and bronze and metals and stone and wood, so that the work of the Tabernacle and its furnishings would be excellent, and would have a supernatural level of beauty, durability, and function.
Exodus Chapter 32 features one of the climactic moments of the Book of Exodus, and possibly even the climax of the narrative that runs through the entire “Hexateuch” (Genesis – Joshua). The events recorded here constitute in a key moment in redemptive history. The Old Covenant (which was then still a very new covenant) had just been given, confirmed, ratified, accepted, and sealed with blood. Moses had gone back up Mount Sinai to get the specifications for the Tabernacle and for Tabernacle worship. We know he was up there for 40 days, but, during that time, the people did not know how long he would be gone, and they were worried. They still lacked faith, despite everything they had experienced, seen, and heard.
And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.
What if, while Moses was away, they came under attack like they had from the Amalekites? Had Moses abandoned them or died? Had Yahweh left them here? (His presence could not be seen in the pillars of fire and cloud anymore at this point, because He was with Moses on the mountain.) They still had manna and water, but who was going to lead them now?
Exodus 32:1 says that “the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron.” Aaron was supposed to be in charge while Moses was away, and it is possible they did this in order to oppose him or coerce him. It is also possible they simply plead or demanded, but, either way, Aaron still felt the pressure of the crowd. He was older than Moses, but had been with Moses, and was known as a priest, so it was natural that they would seek his leadership or his endorsement upon their desires. Besides, who doesn’t like a “leader” that can be controlled by his people, rather than one who answers only to God?
The people said to Aaron, “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” What kind of “gods” have to be “made?” And it wasn’t, strictly speaking, “this Moses” who had brought them out of Egypt. It was really Moses’s God Who had done it. Maybe they wanted some help from the Egyptian gods, or maybe just something that they could see and touch to represent Yahweh for them. This was a definite violation of the 2nd Word, and probably the 1st, too.
And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me. And all the people brake off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron. And he received them at their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf: and they said, These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.
They asked for a “graving” tool, despite the specific language which warned them and forbade them from making “graven” images! The “calf” was supposedly to be the image of a young bull, which was a cultic god in Egypt, but which also would have been representative of their idea of what a powerful god should be like – a god that could drive out their enemies in the promised land. When the people said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt,” this was an instance of either outright lying, self-deceit, or a syncretisitc attempt to remake Yahweh into the images of another religion. What tragic, rebellious, disobedient, shameful, and sinful thinking!
Tags: bestiality, commentary on Exodus, Exodus 22, idolatry, sorcery, stealing, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, the Covenant Code, theft, witchcraft
The Decalogue’s 8th Word prohibited stealing, thereby promoting the principle of personal property. The Covenant Code further developed this concept by making application to specific “case law” examples, from which the proper enforcement and spirit of the law could be gleaned.
If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges, to see whether he have put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods. For all manner of trespass, whether it be for ox, for ass, for sheep, for raiment, or for any manner of lost thing which another challengeth to be his, the cause of both parties shall come before the judges; and whom the judges shall condemn, he shall pay double unto his neighbour.
Earthly judges are not omniscient like the Divine Judge, so the law made provision for cases where there was no proof of theft.
If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the Lord be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour’s goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good.
There is always this understanding under the Law that it can not be perfectly enforceable by finite humans, but God is all-knowing, so an oath of the Lord could be required, with the faith that God would ultimately accomplish true justice even when the magistrates got it wrong.
In Exodus Chapter 22, the Covenant Code speaks of three offenses other than murder which warranted the death penalty. One was witchcraft or occult practices.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
This was a serious crime because it evidenced such a brazen lack of trust in God.
The next one was bestiality.
Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.
Bestiality was singled out by God as especially heinous even though it was common among the pagans in ancient times, and was even part of pagan worship.
Finally, idolatry was once again addressed and made punishable by death.
He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed.
Idolatry is treason against the Creator.
Tags: commentary on Habakkuk, glory of God, Habakkuk 2, human wisdom, idolatry, idols, Sunday School lessons on Habakkuk, truth, wasting time
God is steadfast. He keeps His Word. He is also strong. He can stop iniquity at any time. He does not fret or tremble over the mightiest armies, weapons, or mass movements.
For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
God could flood the earth at this moment with His glory – even faster than He flooded it last time with natural water. He let Habakkuk know that Babylon’s powerful reign, although it seemed invincible, would one day be destroyed. This foreshadows the destruction of the new Babylon – the world system of the last days – which will be destroyed at the return of Christ (Revelation 17-18).
Compare the idols worshipped by the people of Judah to the idols that may be worshipped by God’s people today.
What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?
Therefore, things which use our time for purposes other than the Kingdom of God would seem to be idols. Wasting time is wrong, although many people think it’s harmless. Idols, even though they can’t talk, have a way of “speaking” lies. The “wisdom” of man – found in TV programs, books, magazines, or just regular traditions – if it doesn’t originate from God’s Word, not only sucks up our valuable time, but it lies to us and deceives us.
Tags: 4th Commandment, commentary on Exodus, Exodus 20, idolatry, Sabbath, Sabbath Day, Sabbath rest, Sunday School lessons on Exodus, the Decalogue, The Ten Commandments
The first Word of the Decalogue prohibits the attitude of idolatry.
Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The second Word of the Decalogue prohibits the “practice” of idolatry.
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;
Is this fair, that the descendants of idolators get punished for the crimes of their ancestors? What the Lord was describing was not the imputation of guilt. Rather, it was the (accurate) prediction of the outworking of sin through generations of sinners.
The next verse expresses God’s heart of love in the matter.
And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
The first three Words of the Decalogue are negative commands (thou shalt not). The fourth is the first positive command (thou shalt).
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
This helps us to see it as more than just a command to stop working. In fact, it is followed by a specific command to work – on the other six days of the week.
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
In other words, the Sabbath was a day set aside specifically for serving God, and not for the normal activity of serving God along with serving self.
Work could not be shifted off onto children, servants, or even animals. This was something the people were used to (or should have been) from their dealings with the manna (no gathering on the Sabbath, but gathering enough on the second-to-last day of the week to last two days). Why was the 4th Commandment such an important law?
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
The Hebrew word for “days” is yom, the same word used in the creation account, lending more evidence to show that creation took place in six literal 24-hour days. Then on the seventh day, God rested. Why did He rest? Not because He was tired, but because He was finished. And in order to show that everything that was made needs to stop – at least once a week for a whole day – in acknowledgment of Him. Everything needs to “glorify” Him for our existence. The Lord Himself had already blessed this special day. He had hallowed it – made it holy or separate – and decreed that it was dedicated to Him. It was not intended as a day for making money or a day dedicated to having worldly fun (unless it is fun that glorifies Him). It does benefit us physically to rest one day per week, but that is not the primary function of the Sabbath day. It was also a picture of our spiritual rest, which is Christ Himself, and so it is often said to have been fulfilled, making the Fourth Commandment the only word of the Decalogue no longer applicable in the New Testament, although this has been greatly debated and much disputed. Also, in the New Testament, we do observe the first day of the week as “the Lord’s Day,” and some if not all of the same principles apply.
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.