The Ten Commandments
(Part 1 – the first 4 commandments)
God had recently freed the Jewish people from their oppressors, the Egyptians. The Egyptians had been mistreating the Jews with hard labor and keeping them in cruel bondage as slaves. But now the whole nation of Israel was finally free, free at last from the heavy bondage of slavery! And the two to three million Jews- the whole nation- was on the move! It must have been quite a sight back then to see millions of people fleeing Egypt and traveling in mass across the endless desert to the Promised Land.
God was leading the Jewish nation across the desert. They knew that God had performed mighty acts in order to miraculously free them from slavery in Egypt and now they were trying to follow God wherever He would lead them. God would speak to Moses, their leader, and then Moses would speak back to the people for God. And the people would listen. Along the way God told Moses to stop and wait for more instructions. So the traveling Jewish nation all stopped and pitched their tents and waited while Moses climbed up Mt. Sinai (a mountain in the desert) to wait and listen for God. Moses stayed on the mountain top with God for forty days while the whole Jewish nation waited in the desert below.
And there up on Mt. Sinai, God gave Moses a Covenant or promise to the Jewish people. Along with Gods’ promises to be with His people and give them salvation and blessings, God also gave His people ten laws on how to live their lives before Him. God wrote these ten laws Himself on two tablets of stone and gave the two tablets of stone to Moses to take back to the people. These ten laws which are recorded in Exodus 20 were eventually called the Ten Commandments.
The Ten Commandments were given to Gods’ people – to the Jews four thousand years ago- and they are also given to all of the people who belong to God down through the ages: so that includes us. Since we have been given the Ten Commandments we can always know how He wants us to conduct our lives. We never have to wonder what is right or wrong. So here they are - the Ten Commandments (not the ten suggestions!) as they are given to us in the Bible (Exodus 20). Today we will just cover the first four.
We will look at the first four commandments in this blog and the last six commandments in next weeks’ blog. The first four commandments cover our relationship with God. And the last six commandments are laws concerning our relationships with our neighbors. So today we will be looking at how God wants us to relate to Him.
(1) The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” (Exodus 20:3)
The very first command that God gives His people is to put Him first – to love Him most, and to put Him ahead of all of our other interests and affections. He doesn’t want to be second place in our lives.
Before God even gave this first commandment, He reminded His people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) He had to remind His people that He was the One who was taking care of them and leading them out of bondage. So He had the right to command their worship, to ask to be first place in their lives. And God may have to remind us too that He is the One who created us and leads us out of our own modern day bondages. We forget that God is taking care of us. It’s so easy for us to think that we are in control of our own lives!
(2) The Second Commandment: “You shall not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them: for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:4-5)
All of the peoples of the ancient world- all of Israel’s neighbors- worshipped idols. God was commanding Israel not to do that, not to follow the crowd. God was jealous for their worship and He did not want to share that worship with useless idols. He didn’t want them to bow and sacrifice to idols that they made with their own hands. Most of the other nations at that time were polytheistic – they worshipped many gods. God was teaching His people to worship only One God – Himself.
Because in this second commandment God commanded His people not to create and worship anything in the form or likeness of anything on the earth or in the heavens or under the sea, the Moslem religion does not permit drawings or statues or artwork depicting nature or statues or pictures of humans. The Moslem religious leaders long ago commanded that all artwork be Mosaic art so that there will never be a drawing or statue or copy of anything resembling nature. Of course we Christians believe that in this second commandment God was commanding us not to create these objects resembling nature and then worship them.
(3) The Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)
Gods’ name is holy and we are always to use it with respect. I believe that we are breaking the third commandment when we swear or use bad language and include Gods’ name. If we do evil in the name of God would He consider that as breaking this third commandment?
(4) The Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your servants, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
God made us for Himself. And we need to learn to rest in Him. We can let the Holy Spirit lead us, listen for His voice and let go and let God. When Jesus was on earth the legalistic religious leaders criticized Jesus because He picked grain and healed people on the Sabbath. Jesus replied that people were not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for people. God made this spiritual rest day as a gift for us. It should not become a burden.
Let’s face it, we have all fallen short and broken some of these commandments! But when we believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior we are forgiven. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us new desires and helps us want to obey. So the burden of obeying is light. We will never keep the Ten Commandments perfectly on our own, but Scripture tells us that Jesus is our righteousness. He will forgive us when we mess up and be our covering. We won’t ever pass the “test” by living up to Gods’ commands, but Jesus will pass it for us! Aren’t you glad we don’t have to do it on our own?