Keep the Sabbath Commandment 4

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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. 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.”

The commandment to keep the Sabbath is given to God’s people as an act of grace. He does not want his people to spend their entire lives working and toiling, wearing themselves out day after day without break. Can you imagine life without a weekend? It would be just one endless march of school and work. That sounds maddening. But that is not what God wants for us. He cares about our mental and physical health, and he knows that the arrangement of our time is vital to both.

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Commandment 3: Do not misuse the name of God

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”

In one of the most profound moments in history, God revealed his name to Moses at the burning bush. “When people ask for your name, what shall I tell them,” a frightened Moses asked the voice in the fiery tree. The shockwaves of God’s response can still be felt today. “I am,” God replied. His name is I am. (The English transliteration of the Hebrew text is YHWH, or Yahweh with the vowels added.) The depths of God’s name cannot be plumbed by volumes of writings, so we must content ourselves to say that his name is a reflection of his character.

The New Testament expands our understanding of God by introducing us to God’s Son, whose name is Jesus. His name means “God saves,” and he saves everyone who calls out his name in faith. The first followers of Jesus have left us a testimony that his name is powerful and unique, and so we should treat the name of Jesus with the same respect that we should treat the name of YHWH. For Christians, then, this commandment applies to both the names YHWH and Jesus. We should not misuse either name.

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“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. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; For I, the Lord you 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, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This commandment is relatively simple: No images. The people of God are to make no images of YHWH whatsoever, whether for use in worship, public display, or private devotion. (And obviously, based upon the first commandment, they are not to have any images of other gods, either.) Within their cultural context, this is a somewhat strange command. All the other peoples had prominent images, or idols, of their gods displayed in their temples and the public square. The ancients believed that the image, or idol, of their god contained its power and presence, and that it was a real, physical manifestation of the deity. For them, a god without an image would be no god at all.

However, there are two reasons why YHWH will not abide this practice.

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“You shall have no other gods before me.”

The first commandment demonstrates YHWH’s expectation of exclusivity in his relationship with Israel. “No other gods” means he shall be the only god they worship. Not merely the first among many, but the singular deity, their God. (The capitalization is the key. YHWH is not merely a god, he is the God.) He will not share space, whether in their hearts or in their land, with any other deities. It is a simple and sweeping command with no room for misinterpretation. The first rule that comes out of YHWH’s relationship with Israel is clear: “It’s me, and no one else. I will share your allegiance, devotion, and worship with no other gods.”

This commandment, and the breaking of it, is the central theme of Israel’s history from Exodus to Exile. They just couldn’t seem to quit the other gods of their neighbors, and they paid the ultimate price for their unfaithfulness. God’s expectation of exclusivity is still in effect today. He doesn’t share his glory with other gods, real or imagined, and he won’t tolerate divided hearts and shared allegiances amongst his people. Idolatry and faithlessness continue to be the central theme of the history of God’s people, now running rampant through the Church. Some things never change.

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The Ten Commandments

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

The Ten Commandments begin with a reminder of the relationship history between YHWH and Israel. At this point in the story, God had just brought them out of Egypt and they had not yet taken possession of the Promised Land, so the history is short. Yet, one thing is certain: He is their God. He belongs to Israel and Israel belongs to him.

This exclusivity is essential to their relationship. He is their only God, the only deity who brought them out of Egypt. He did not cooperate with, or rely upon, any other gods to perform these miracles, and therefore he has an exclusive claim upon the lives of the Israelites. But he is also, at the time the Ten Commandments were given, only the God of Israel. He is not yet the God of Egypt, Canaan, or any other land. The Exodus event is the moment that YHWH appeared on the scene, so he was not yet known among the nations. The Israelites are his only people, the only nation that has even heard of YHWH. This exclusivity creates a sense of intimacy between God and Israel, and this intimate relationship is the foundation upon which the Ten Commandments are built.

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