In Mark 12, Jesus tells a scribe that the greatest of all the commandments of the old covenant is “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The response given by Jesus comes from Deuteronomy 6, and it summarizes the first eleven verses of Exodus 20.
How does one love God in such a way? Practicing the words of Exodus 20:1-11, that’s how.
God’s first four of his Ten Words (usually called Commandments) to the people prescribe exactly how they can make him the primary, all-consuming thing in their lives. Where a couple getting to know one another often discovers each other’s likes and dislikes through trial and error, and perhaps through things like premarital counseling, God here lists four specific ways.
First, the people worship no other gods. The wording bearing the most familiarity reads something like, “Have no other gods before me.” We generally use the word “before” in a sense of ordering objects. “Before you arrive at the red light, turn right into the parking lot.” Our use of the word could lead us to believe if we pay homage to other gods, but render the Law-giving God of Sinai our first and best, we rightly relate to him. Not so. The word “before” here would have a usage more like, “Have no other gods in front of my face.” God communicates the proposition of non-cooperation with other gods. He has no fellowship with the pagan deities of other peoples.
Second, God prohibits the worship of idols. If his first word to them had not possessed clarity (which it does), the second word renders the first in high definition. No images representing anything shall receive the worship of the people. The prohibition includes objects standing in the place of God himself. The people must not prostrate themselves to visual representations of supposed divine beings as their polytheist neighbors do. A man-made representation of God takes one far from his presence, not closer to it. God needs and desires no statuesque proxy.
Third, should the people desire God as primary in their lives, he cannot become something of no meaning to them. Therefore, they do not throw his name around meaninglessly. While the usual application of God prohibition of flippantly using his name stands as not shouting any names associated with him upon some sort of misfortune, the command possesses broader application. God must not become the guarantor of trivialities, no matter what sanctimonious language dresses the statement. Claiming real estate and vehicles in faith flippantly speaks of the Creator as a sort of Western genie, not the Almighty who appears in raging storms. Sarcastically referencing him when situations prove unfavorable also communicates a reduction of God’s glory to a triviality, implicating him in pettiness.
Fourth, God provided a means of rest: the Sabbath. He himself had engaged in the activity of rest, and the people already learned he harbored the serious desire they do the same. While we would refrain from stating God needed to rest from his creative activities in Genesis, we certainly recognize his choice to do so. Apparently, he intended to set a pattern for creation to follow. He fashioned and formed humanity to require time away from its work to rejuvenate itself by returning to the fountain of life: God, the Creator and Sustainer. Rather than a mere cessation of activity, the Sabbath promoted a time of habitual worship, devotion, and meditation on the God who saved his people.
In next week’s post on Exodus, I shall offer explanation about the Ten Words/Ten Commandments existing as a part of the Law transferring easily into the life of the Christian after the total fulfillment of the Law in Christ. However, for now, three short application of these first four words of instruction from God warrant attention.
The Law-speaking God of Sinai became a man, Jesus Christ. All our command-keeping and obedience must occur with him in view. We have no other god than the Triune Almighty Above All, who revealed himself in Christ Jesus. Therefore, to faithfully keep the first of these commands, meditate upon or memorize a thick Scriptural text relating the identity of Jesus. John 1:1-18; John 10:1-42; Colossians 1:15-20; or Hebrews 1:1-4 all provide a wealth of understanding for the one seeking to put Christ first.
Regarding the instruction against vainly speaking of God, recall the most meaningful way you can speak of him. Reveal him to others as the Savior, the sent Son of the Father who bore the cross for the salvation of his people. Those around us know what we value most because what we speak with our words reveal what we treasure in our hearts. Your neighbor will see the value of Christ to you when you speak of him as the saving one.
In reference to the Sabbath, much room for conscience exists on the particulars of its keeping. However, our ethic must bear consistency. We cannot tell our children on the one hand to refrain from working on Sunday and then demand someone wait our table at lunch. Whatever our convictions on the particulars of Sabbath-keeping, recall our sustenance remains Christ. The work of our hands will establish nothing but that which passes away. Submit your pride and pressures to the Prince of Peace. Use regular, habitual time to regard him highly in your head and heart with others who do the same.