The Ten Commandments Sermon Series–Commandments #1 and #2

Here is the 2nd sermon in the Ten Commandments series I have been preaching. This sermon includes both the 1st and 2nd Commandments.

Again, I will not vouch for formatting, but want to get the content across.

Back to Basics, part 2

Commandments #1 and #2

November 12, 2006

Review from last week:

  • We reviewed the history of how the TC came into being…
    • The Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve and their perfect relationship with God—and how that was broken by sin.
    • Abraham was the man chosen by God to draw people back to Himself—He was sent to Canaan so that God could make Him into a great nation. This was the beginning of God making for Himself a people.
    • This family of Abraham became the Hebrews…and they grew and grew. Through a series of events, they landed in Egypt where eventually the size and strength caused the Pharaoh to make the Hebrews into slaves and for all baby Hebrew boys to be destroyed.
    • One of these baby Hebrew boys was spared though—his name was Moses. Moses grew up in Egypt and then fled a fugitive after he killed a man. But, after many years, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and sent him back to Egypt to free the Hebrews.
    • Moses does so…and the Hebrews begin their journey to the Promised Land. God was establishing a people…and societies need standards.

And the TC became the standard for this new people of God—these Hebrews.

And from last week, we saw that the TC are still relevant for us today.

The TC are the foundation…we saw that the first 4 Commandments deal with our relationship with God and the second 6 deal with our relationship with people. We boiled them down to the idea that we are to love God and love people. And Jesus says this:

Matthew 22:34-40 (TNIV)

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus says the entire Law can be summed up with 2 commandments: love God and love people.

We saw that the TC reveals God character…one that is holy. And we saw that the TC reveal our nature as well, as humans…one that is sinful since the fall in the Garden.

And finally, we saw that the TC are given for life.

God is not a cosmic killjoy who has a bunch of rules for His people to follow.

Remember, the Bible calls people sheep and God the shepherd. And a good shepherd will do certain things for his sheep. God, with the TC, has laid down some fence. And inside the fence, He has given us good grass to eat, water to drink, shelter from storms, other sheep to run and play with, room to roam…all within in the fence. He tells His sheep, ‘if you stay within the fence, I will take care of you, meet your needs.’ Inside the fence, He has promised life.

The TC are the fence He gave for His people…if they would “stay inside the fence”—obey the commandments, He would give them life.

But, sheep have the ability to go outside of the fence if they want. They can stick their heads out between the fences or jump over…but once outside the fence, God can no longer guarantee life. There are predators and rocks and less than lush pastures outside of the fence.

These TC were given for life. And Jesus echoes this when he says, while referring to himself as a shepherd:

John 10:10 (TNIV)

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

Today, let’s begin at looking at each of those TC that has been given to us, not to make life miserable, but to make life full.

But, before we look at the first one, there is something interesting and significant I want to point out to you about the TC. Let’s start by reading them:

Exodus 20:2-17 (TNIV)

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before [a] me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 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. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

During these days, treaties were made between a king and his people…and many have been uncovered and translated. And most of them follow a pattern and include certain elements. Often times these treaties were called “covenants.”

You can’t really tell it on the surface, but this passage, these TC, follow that pattern. These TC are a covenant between God and His people. And this covenant has the same elements…

Here are the elements:

The Preamble

In the preamble of a covenant, each of the parties making the covenant is identified. In the TC, he simple makes one statement:

Exodus 20:2 (TNIV)

“I am the Lord your God…”

God is the Lord…He says “you” are the people…this is a covenant between God and His people.

The Historical Prologue

In this part of the covenant, the history leading up to the making of the covenant is recited. Usually, like in the TC, the greater of the two parties would establish their right to make it. God, in the TC, is obviously the greater party between He and His people—so, in the TC, He says this:

Exodus 20:2 (TNIV)

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

The Requirements

Next, in a covenant, the requirements of the agreement are laid out. In the TC, they are the actual TC:

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourselves idols.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord.
  4. You shall remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
  5. You shall honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet you neighbor’s house.

Blessings and Curses

Keeping a covenant brought rewards and breaking a covenant brought punishment. These would be outlined in the covenant itself. In the TC, we see them in verses 5, 6, 7, and 12.

Exodus 20:5-7 (TNIV)

5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

Exodus 20:12 (TNIV)

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

The Summary Document

A document was created of the covenant for two reasons: 1) read and 2) stored. Because the summary documents were short, they could easily be pulled out and re-read to remind the parties of the covenant. And they could easily be stored.

The TC were given to Moses on Mt. Sinai in the form of stone tablets. These were the summary document. To be stored and to be read.

Isn’t that fantastic? This covenant would have been very special to the Hebrew people, as it signified a relationship between a king (God) and his people (the Israelites). It outlined what the king would do for his people and it showed the people how to stay in the favor of the king.

Let’s look at the first of these requirements as outlined in the covenant:

Exodus 20:3-6 (TNIV)

3 “You shall have no other gods before [a] me. 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall have no other gods before me.

Leroy Lawson says there are four positions about God we must consider:

1) There may or may not be a God.

a. This position is called agnosticism. It is not denying a God, yet it does not affirm one either.

2) There is no God.

3) There are many gods.

a. This is a fairly popular view today. You could view it as a bicycle wheel theory about God. God is in the center of the wheel and we are on the outside. There are several spokes which lead from the outside to the inside…people are on different spokes, but they all lead to the same God.

4) There is one God.

There is one God. God even makes this statement:

Deuteronomy 6:4 (TNIV)

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

And this one God tells us that there are to be no other gods before Him. Now, I don’t believe that God is admitting that there are other gods…He is the only one. But, what I think He is saying is that we have a tendency to put things as though they were god in front of Him.

We have to understand this commandment in the context of what we just learned…that the TC are a covenant made between God and man. The essence of the covenant was a relationship—between God and His people. And the essence of a relationship is faithfulness.

God’s faithfulness had been displayed…and now God was calling for His people to be faithful to Him as well.

We learn several things about God in this 1st of the TC:

  • God is powerful.

God says in this passage:

Exodus 20:2-3 (TNIV)

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before [a] me.

He reminds them, remember, in this covenant what He has done for them. They were made to be slaves…they were oppressed…there was little hope for freedom. YET—this God, this God who is powerful, showed up and brought them out of Egypt and out of the land of slavery.

And remember how He did it…it wasn’t like Pharaoh just let them go. God performed mighty sign after mighty sign. Here is some of what He did:

  • Aaron’s staff became a snake…and back again.
  • God turned the Nile river into blood.
  • God sent the plague of frogs on the land of Egypt, so that frogs were everywhere.
  • He sent gnats.
  • He sent flies.
  • He killed off all of the livestock of the Egyptians, but not one animal of the Hebrews was killed.
  • He sent boils on the Egyptians.
  • He sent hail over the entire land and it destroyed everything in its path—the only place that wasn’t touched was the land of Goshen, where the Israelites lived.
  • He sent locusts who devoured everything—so much that nothing green was left in Egypt.
  • God caused there to be darkness over Egypt—yet where the Israelites lived, they had light.
  • Finally, in one display of power, God struck down every firstborn of the Egyptians…firstborn children, animals.
  • And finally, Pharaoh had had enough—he let the Hebrews go.
  • BUT GOD—did one other amazing display of power in this story, one most of us are familiar with…the parting of the Red Sea.

Exodus 14:21-22 (TNIV)

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

God reminds His people of His power…

  • God is supreme.

“You shall have no other gods before me.” There shall be none who come before me, God says.

This has been hammered into the ground…and I don’t know of any other way to say it that would sound new. So I will just remind us of what we already know…

Whatever we place in front of God (big G) becomes our god (little g). This could be anything…our jobs, our families, our money, our hobbies, our dreams, our possessions. If they come before God, they become a god.

And God (big G) says there is to be no other god (little g) before Him. When we place something ahead of Him, we are breaking the first commandment.

God is supreme…He is God (big G).

The 1st C is:

Exodus 20:2-3 (TNIV)

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before [a] me.

I want to look at the 2nd today also, as it is closely related to the first.

Exodus 20:4-6 (TNIV)

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

God commands that we make no image and worship it…the idea is clear that we are not to “make” or “carve” or “handcraft” any idols that we then worship.

It was very common in these days and regions for people to handcraft some sort of idol that would represent their god. And then they would bow down and worship and serve that idol…God does not want this for Himself.

Why not? After all…isn’t creating something that is supposed to resemble God and then worshiping that thing honorable? Well, yes, I suppose it could be.

BUT—to make an image of God in the shape of anything in this world is to reduce the Creator into a creation.

For example…if we wanted to make God into a statue, what would it look like?

Well…we might say, He would be a man. So, we might carve a man, call Him God, and then worship Him. But is that right? NO—God created man, right? So, therefore, God is above man so we shouldn’t worship a man.

OK—well, God is in the mountains. So, let’s make a mountain statue and worship Him there. But—God created the mountains, so He is greater than the mountains are.

Water, air, planets, whatever…God created all of it.

WE CANNOT REDUCE GOD TO A STATUE OF SOMETHING.

And God does not want His people to try to reduce Him to a thing they can bow down to.

And this must have been very hard for the Hebrews…because in this region, during these times, carved or handmade images were very popular. And in our modern world today, we don’t have many carpenters who take out their power tools and turn a piece of wood into an idol to worship—but in the Eastern world, it still happens all the time. People are reducing their gods to a piece of wood to worship.

The One True God—the God of Israel—will not allow it.

Just to drive this idea home, we have a painting of Jesus there in the back. It’s a famous painting of Him—not very accurate, but famous anyway. We look at it. But—we have never had a moment in our services where we turn around, get our knees, bow down, and worship and pray to the painting. That wouldn’t be right…because Christ is not reduced to the painting.

One commentator said “reducing God into an image would be like sculpting Mt. Rushmore on a grain of sand. Or like playing Beethoven’s 5th on a referee’s whistle.”

Since most of us don’t have idols today that we actually bow down and worship—what do we learn for us from this 2nd Commandment?

It’s simple…God cannot be reduced. God is much bigger, much more powerful, much more amazing, much more faithful, much more beautiful, much more EVERYTHING than we ourselves could create. We cannot fathom all that God is—it’s impossible. There is no way we could paint a painting of God that would be God…He is more.

God cannot be reduced…He is more than even we can imagine.

INVITATION—

No gods before me.

No idols—He cannot be reduced.

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