Reverence as a Warning Against Idolatry

January 30, 2015 at 3:38 pm | Posted in Exodus | 6 Comments
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When the people received the Decalogue – these “words” from God – they were not curious, amused, or entertained. They were not joyful, peaceful, or excited. They were terrified – scared to death!

And all the people saw the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the noise of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking: and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. And Moses said unto the people, Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not. And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was.

Exodus 20:18-21

They were afraid the Word of God would kill them. I don’t think we need to be superstitious, nor even reluctant, to get our Bibles out, but we do need to approach the Bible with reverence. “What is God saying to me in this Book?” is a relevant question. “Do I need to take this seriously?” is not. Taking it seriously is a given. We need to “fear” the Word of the Lord, too.

We may see the Words of the Decalogue as regular guidelines for how we would expect to see Christians living, going along with what Moses said in Exodus 20:20, that God will use these to “test” His people. Obedience to these commands is what should be “normal” for true Christians.

The next section of the Law is sometimes called the “Covenant Code.” It probably begins in Exodus 20:22, although many scholars think it begins in 21:1.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.

Exodus 20:22-23

This is the first reminder that God impresses upon Moses to warn them about, although it was abundantly clear before, because this would be their first big temptation. It is precisely what they would soon be doing with the golden calf.

An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it.

Exodus 20:24-25

A material altar would be necessary for sacrificial worship, but, in contrast to the heathen practices, it would not be elaborate or ornate – or man-made. They would use God’s materials and keep it simple – partly because it couldn’t be permanent for people on the move – but also to illustrate that their works were not impressive to God. His works are superior, and He is more interested in the condition of our hearts than our man-made surroundings.

However, this did not mean that worship of Yahweh was to be less reverential than pagan worship. It was to be more so.

Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness be not discovered thereon.

Exodus 20:26

Almost all pagan worship was sexually-charged and immoral. Yahweh-worship was to be chaste and modest – in the extreme – to highlight the difference and the comparative purity.

The Horizontal Words

January 7, 2015 at 10:25 am | Posted in Exodus | 15 Comments
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The first four “Words” of the Decalogue are the so-called “vertical” words or commandments. They deal with the relationship between God and man. Starting with number five, the commandments are “horizontal.” They deal with our relationships with each other. Remember the summation of the Decalogue: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength – and your neighbor as yourself.

The horizontal words begin with the relationship between children and parents.

Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Exodus 20:12

The provision, “that thy days may be long upon the earth,” is not really a promise that if you obey your parents you will live longer. It’s really more of a reference to “the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” meaning Canaan, the promised land. It expresses the idea that, if the elderly are not honored and respected, then in three or four generations the nation will lose the blessing that God gives it. It is also a reference to caring for the elderly.

Thou shalt not kill.

Exodus 20:13

The “killing” that is prohibited in this Word is unjustified killing, so that, depending upon circumstances, war, capital punishment within government-sanctioned laws, and self-defense are still permissible.

Thou shalt not commit adultery.

Exodus 20:14

Notice that adultery is listed right after murder. It is a sin that is a reflection of the loyalty to God that His people are supposed to have. It is the most extreme kind of unfaithfulness. It is worse than talking bad about your spouse, insulting your spouse in public, refusing to provide food and shelter for your spouse, even worse than physical abuse – everything but killing your spouse. Sex is only for married people, and it is only to be done within a one man-one woman marriage relationship.

Thou shalt not steal.

Exodus 20:15

The eighth Word highlights God’s endorsement of private property – which would have held special significance for former slaves such as the Israelites.

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

Exodus 20:16

The ninth Word prohibits perjury, but, by extension, all other forms or lying or deceit as well. In the Bible, a “neighbor” is more than the person who lives next door to you. It is anyone with whom you deal. The commandment also prohibits spreading lies about others to damage their reputation.

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.

Exodus 20:17

The examples in the commandment against coveting are intended as an illustrative, not an exclusive, list of things not to covet. Covetousness is a desire to have for myself what God has given to another. It includes the sins of greed, dissatisfaction, discontentment, ingratitude, scheming, and envy. It is the only “word” that is unenforceable by the government, but it is not listed last because it is a lesser sin. It is listed last to highlight the idea that it is the sin that can cause us to break all the others. The greatest remedy to covetousness is contentment, and the only way to true contentment is faith that God really does know what is best.

A Fourth Word about God: His Rest

December 10, 2014 at 2:51 pm | Posted in Exodus | 8 Comments
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The first Word of the Decalogue prohibits the attitude of idolatry.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:3

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;

Exodus 20:4-5

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.

Exodus 20:6

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.

Exodus 20:8

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:

Exodus 20:9-10

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.

Exodus 20:11

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.

The Other Ten Commandments

November 12, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Posted in Selected Psalms | 4 Comments
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Psalm 105 was probably written after the remnant of the Jewish people returned from Babylonian exile. They needed an encouraging reminder of what God had done for the Jewish people in the past. Many people are familiar with “the” 10 Commandments – from Exodus 20 – although most Christians aren’t as familiar with them as we should be. Here in the first five verses of Psalm 105, though, are what I like to think of as “the other 10 commandments.”

O give thanks unto the LORD (1); call upon his name (2): make known his deeds among the people (3). Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him (4): talk ye of all his wondrous works (5). Glory ye in his holy name (6): let the heart of them rejoice that seek the LORD (7). Seek the LORD, and his strength (8): seek his face evermore (9). Remember his marvellous works that he hath done; his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth (10);

Psalm 105:1-5 (parenthetical numbers added)

1. Give thanks to the Lord.
2. Call upon His name.
3. Make His deeds known among the people.
4. Sing unto Him.
5. Talk of all His wondrous works.
6. Glory in His holy name.
7. Let your heart rejoice as you seek Him.
8. Seek the Lord and His strength.
9. Seek His face evermore.
10. Remember the marvelous works that He has done, and His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth.

How many of these commandments are you keeping?

O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen.

Psalm 105:6

In verse 6 God begins to go into the history of His people. We are reminded that Abraham did not choose God – rather that God chose Abraham. “Covenant” is the name of the agreement which God enters into with people whom He chooses.

Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance:

Psalm 105:11

People love to boast about their free will, but God’s will overrides our will.

He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant:

Psalm 105:17

Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies.

Psalm 105:23-24

God wanted Joseph in Egypt to prepare a place for God’s people in the time of famine. Ultimately, Joseph accomplished God’s mission, but what happened in between? Joseph suffered. In God’s economy suffering almost always precedes glory.

-God parted the Red Sea – which was glorious. But what came before that? Suffering in Egypt.
-God led His people into the Promised Land – which was glorious. But what came before that? Suffering in the wilderness.
-David was anointed King when he was a boy – which was glorious. But what did he go through before he actually assumed the throne? Suffering.

If you are suffering right now, take heart. God may be preparing you for glory.

But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.

I Peter 5:10

Suffering is the preparation for glory, but suffering is also the climate of fruitfulness. The pains you are experiencing in your life today might be labor pains. No reasonable mother says, “Oh no! I did all that suffering for nine months, and all that suffering for nine hours – and all I got was a baby!” The typical response of a brand new mother – even a worn-out, sweat-drenched, tear-soaked, hoarse-from-screaming mother – is overwhelming joy the instant she sees the fruit of all that labor: her newborn baby.

https://i2.wp.com/www.cdc.gov/groupbstrep/images/mom-newborn.jpg

Or maybe your suffering is not as intense. Maybe you feel alone or trapped or depressed. Take heart, God may have you buried in the dark like a seed. A seed dies a type of death and experiences a type of destruction before it springs up into life and light and fruitfulness.

http://poetrydispatch.files.wordpress.com/2009/03/seed2.jpg?w=510&h=408

When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it.

Psalm 105:12

God took Jacob and his family of only about 70, and in Egypt they suffered – but they became a great nation.

He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes.

Psalm 105:37

They worked as slaves without pay, but God made sure they ultimately received their wages. If you feel like you are slaving away in life without pay, take heart! If you belong to God, you may not get paid for your labor now, but God will reward you later!


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