Lecture 04: Preamble and First Commandment
Lecture: Preamble and First Commandment
III. The Ten Commandments (Part 1)
A. Reasons that the Decalogue is Significant
Another key passage for me is in Exodus chapter 20. This is the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments and the implications of the Ten Commandments for worship. This is an important place to go in regards to worship. This is important because of the historical background. In Exodus 19, Israel has arrived at Mount Sinai and they are going to be there for a long time. They are the newly redeemed people who have been taken out of bondage from Egypt. Remember what Moses said to Pharaoh when he returned to Egypt; he said, let my people go so they may worship the Lord. This is their worship gathering; their first official worship gathering as a redeemed people. So, the Decalogue is important in regards to worship and formation. This gathering is the most formative experience in this nation’s early history. The second reason that the Decalogue is significant to me; properly understood, it has always been thought to be a summary or exposition of the double command of love. This double command includes loving the Lord your God and love your neighbor. Many of the passages we looked at the other day suggests that this is the substance of real worship. Worship is loving the Lord your God and loving your neighbor as yourself. To understand real worship, this is a fundamental and critical place to consider. In a sense, the whole of the Decalogue is related to worship. As we have seen, worship involves justice and mercy. Sometimes, we look at the second half in terms of ethics with the first half dealing specifically with worship. Those first commandments that teach us about how to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. I think these two divisions have merit but as we have seen, worship is ultimately a lifestyle; loving your neighbor is even a critical part of worship.
B. Numbering Systems
We want to focus especially on the first four commandments and perhaps some on the fifth commandment and the implications of these for worship. Unfortunately, most evangelicals don’t know the Ten Commandments anymore, so I can’t assume that we know them here. In Gordon Conwell, less than ten percent knew the Ten Commandments. I am using the reformed numbering system because the commandments aren’t numbered in the text of Exodus 20 or Deuteronomy 5. The 1st Commandment is about not having any more gods before you whereas the 2nd Commandment says that you shall not make any graven images. The 3rd Commandment involves no misuse of the name and the 4th commandment is about keeping the Sabbath. Then the 5th Commandment tells us to honor our parents. The 6th Commandment says that we are not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bare false testimony and not to covet. This is the reformed numbering system and also the Orthodox Church. In the Catholic Church and Lutheran Church, these two are combined into one commandment against idolatry. So, the first two commandments under the reformed numbering system become one commandment under the Catholic and Lutheran Church. These are prohibition of idolatry and keeping the Sabbath becomes the third commandment. Then the coveting commandment is divided into two. You shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions and spouse. I don’t like this very much because I think there is a distinction between the two in this first commandment. And when Paul makes reference of coveting in Romans 7; he doesn’t make a distinction between two. The commandment already has, you shall not commit adultery.
A common Jewish numbering has the first commandment not being a commandment; instead, it is a statement. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt out of the house of bondage. Then the second commandment corresponds to the combined Catholic and Lutheran number into one
prohibition to idolatry and the rest of the numbering follows the reformed numbering system. So that is the Jewish numbering. I actually like to combine the Jewish idea with the reformed idea and make the first commandment: I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt out of the house of bondage out of the house of slavery. He shall have no other gods before me. And I would follow the reformed system. The one that most of us use in our churches has the first commandment: I am the Lord you God and you shall have no other gods before me.
C. I Am the Lord Your God
Whether you call it the first of the ten words as in the Jewish tradition; we call it the preamble to the Ten Commandments. I want to look at these specifically in terms of using these words for worship both individually and congregationally. I am the Lord your God who brought you all out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. This is a significant feature in the Ten Commandments which reminds us of the Decalogue as being a covenant. It reminds us again as God’s initiation. More than anything that before God requires anything of us is to remind us of what he has done. Before he requires anything of Israel, he reminds us of what he has done. We have two references: one in 1st John 4:10 and then in 1st John 4:19; these remind Israel that he is their God and he reminds Israel of what he has done. I am the one who has redeemed you and brought you out of the house of bondage. The commandments are rooted in love and initiated by God. It reminds us again that worship is God invitation to us and it is God’s initiation. I will add that it is also an invitation into the very life of God. It reminds us again that we are not the lovers in the first sense but in the second sense, instead. 1st John 4:10 says that this is love, not that we love God but that he loved us and gave his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is the prior love which we need to remind ourselves of. 1st John 4:19 says that we love because he first loved us. Again, we have revelation and response. The preamble is a safeguard against any of this plangent thinking that worship is anything that we do for God; it is God’s invitation to worship him. It should also be a safeguard in the whole ethical understanding of the Ten Commandments. We are misguided if we try to put on to the Old Testament the concept that God is a God of Law and anger and wrath.
In good Jewish understanding of the Ten Commandments, people were not the covenant people of God because they kept the commandments. It was because of the grace and faithfulness of God. In recent years, some Jewish thinkers have critiqued the Christian interpretation of the Jewish interpretation of the Ten Commandments. They have criticized Christian thinkers for coming forth with this idea that Judaism is a religion of Law. They say, no, that isn’t the spirit of the Ten Commandments. The spirit of the Ten Commandments is a covenant document. Some Jewish people would say that this is such a covenant document that gentiles have no place reading the Ten Commandments. There was even a death penalty sometime back in Jewish history threatened on those non-Jews who would dare study the Ten Commandments and even the Torah. They regarded it as a gift of God to them. We need to remember that worship is always a gift of God to us as we enter into that as well.
D. You Shall Have No Other Gods
This is the first commandment which flows naturally from the preamble. This is why I think that it is good to put these two together. This is because of who God is and because of what God has done. I am the Lord; I am your God and I am the one who has redeemed you. I claim the right; therefore, you shall have no other gods before me. It reminds me of the shuma very much in Deuteronomy 6:4 coupled with verse 5 again. Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This is because of who he is and because he is exclusively God. He is the only true God and he is the one who has created us and redeemed us. There are a number of verses that bring out this central idea from the 1st commandment that God is one. For example, there is Isaiah 42:8 which is a verse that is repeated in several different forms throughout this passage of Isaiah. It says a number of ways: I am God, there isn’t any other God. There never has been and never will be; I am God alone. Here it says that because I am the only true God, I will not share my glory with another. Joshua 23:6-8 raises the same kind of issue; Joshua takes this idea and challenges his people with it as they settle into the promise land. In chapter 24, it says that you have to choose this day whom you are going to serve; whether the gods your fathers served in Egypt or the gods here. You have to choose and we have Joshua’s famous statement: as for me and my house, we will choose the Lord. So, the commandment is that we recognize the one true God; that we serve and worship him only.
The first command is concerned with the object of our worship. It makes the point that our worship is only as valid and as its object. Everybody is a worshiper but what do we worship? There is a sense that we have to make choices. Interestingly, the 1st Commandment is spoken not to pagans, but to
covenant people. In worshipping other gods; when we think about this kind of idolatry, our first thought is to think of all the bad people out there in the world who are worshipping false gods. But we need to remember that this is a covenant document. It is spoken to covenant people as they are prone to fall into idolatry. In 1st John 5:21, the last verse of the first letter of John. Some people think that this is the last verse written in the New Testament. It says, my little children, keep yourself from idols. We aren’t sure what was the last written book of the New Testament; perhaps Revelation is the most likely choice. But it could have been 1st John. It is an interesting way to end the letter; little children, covenant people, Christians, keep yourself from idols.
In speaking about other gods; what other gods are there? Are there other gods! Our theology tells us that there are no other gods. We just read this in Isaiah 42 and we could read it in a host of other places. There are no other gods, but on the other hand 1st Corinthians 8:1-6 says that in the world around us, there are countless gods. A god in this sense is anything that we worship or prioritize above everything else in our lives; in other words, whatever sits on the throne. It is whatever that drives us; it is whatever is on the throne of our hearts. In the ancient world, there were those that were identified as gods; the idols of the nations and every nation had their god, gods or goddesses that they worshiped. They were competing gods. In that spirit, Moses and Joshua challenged the people continually in Israel to choose their gods. In our world, there is a fresh rise in paganism today, especially in North America and Europe. In other parts of the world there are still gods that are identified as such. Perhaps in the church today, we need to be more concerned about the gods that are more subtle that are not identified and labeled as gods. Nonetheless, they compete for our worship and devotion and service. Paul says that there are many gods and lords and masters. These include comfort, money, science and technology and many more. There is also self-fulfillment and all the isms in the church today, especially the pronoun, me.
There is also self-image and self-worth and self-actualization. We saw from Micah 6:8 the pairing of these concepts. We have justice, mercy and a humble walk with God. Any form of altruism or do-goodism that take the focus from God and places it back on our goodness. There are people who become the object of our adoration and affection, whether sports heroes or music heroes. It is the way our culture venerates the beautiful people; the rich, the wealth and the successful. There is success which is in many forms and pleasure, even sexual fulfillment. How many people’s whole life is wrapped around the precious resource of time, for example. Family may be another one along with prestige and popularity, especially for a teenager. All of these things can become threats to our worship. The Bible has some interesting tales where the 1st Commandment is put to the test. I sometimes think about Genesis 22 when Abraham has received even something beautiful; this can compete for our affection. It was the test that he went through with Isaac which in some ways relates to the 1st Commandment. He received this promised child after years and years of waiting and the way this story opens has always been very striking. God tells Abraham to take his son, his only son that he loves and sacrifice him. We are not told whether Abraham wrestles with this or whether he sleeps that night; we are just told that he obeyed. There is a passing of the test here. In the New Testament there is a story on the opposite side in Mark 10 where the rich young ruler who comes and throws himself at the feet of Jesus, spiritually hungry and spiritually knowing that there is something missing in his life. Good teacher, what must I do to be saved? An interesting verse follows: why do you call me good, there is none good but God. Jesus told him to keep the commandments which he had done. One thing that he lacked; give everything you have to the poor and come follow me and you will have treasure in heaven. Jesus looked at him and loved him. I think the whole story is about the 1st Commandment. He claims to have kept the commandment but he has something more important in his life. This is a case where the man fails the test.
We think about our individual life; all of us have a throne and we are all bowing down before something. We need to watch out in getting overly spiritual about some of these things. There are some people who thought that loving their family was idolatry. I think one of the ways that we love God is by obeying him in loving our family with the love that he gives us to love them. It is potentially true that even good things can take priority over faithfulness to God. What about on the congregational level? Perhaps we take some aspect of the churches’ ministry and magnify it in such a way. For example, our music ministry or our church facilities. How might the church place the pastor in such a way? We could focus on all the great things that the church is doing as in the numbers attending our church and the size of our budget and the programs that we have established. This is something that I have seen a lot of; there is the charismatic tradition where the experience is taken out of proportion. There was a creation of a kind of gnostic spirit in the church where there were second class citizens; whoever didn’t have the experience were not truly spirit-filled Christians. It became like us against them. Often to be filled with the Holy Spirit is to be able to speak in tongues. Then when I became reformed in my theology, I saw this all the time. Only we reformed people really understand theology; nobody else really does. All of the commandments, whether stated negatively or positively need to be thought through very deeply.
The faithful Jew to this very day delights in nothing more than meditating of the Torah, deeply. Jesus meditated upon the Torah in the Sermon on the Mound. You have heard that it was said, you shall not commit murder but I say to you and he tells us the result of deep mediation. We should handle all of the commandments that way as well. Not only the superficial understanding of what the commandments mean, but a deep understanding. We can see from any of these things that there are ways that we violate the commands in our hearts. So, the 1st Commandment says negatively, you shall have no other gods before me, but positively you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. The one God; hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one, so therefore, give him everything that you have; all of your obedience and all of your acknowledgments to the one true God.