The Hebrews’ journey reaches its climax at Mount Sinai. Here, in Exodus 19 and 20, God reveals Himself to His people, and, here also, God unveils His eternal law. What comes to your mind when you think of the “Ten Commandants”? Respect? Awe? Discomfort? Fear, perhaps? How sad that so often we react to God’s law from a position of obligatory compliance or even fearful obedience… That’s never how God wanted it to be. James 1:25 identifies God’s commandments as the “perfect law of liberty.” Psalms 19 calls them “perfect,” “sure,” “true and righteous altogether.” God knows what will bring us ultimate peace and happiness in this life, and so He reveals the formula to us in ten principles of relational integrity and love.
As we explore these ten eternal principles, let’s notice that, before telling us anything about our part in all this, God first introduces His law by making a statement about who He is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). Our God has redeemed us from the slavery of our past. He has rescued us from certain death and claimed us as His very own — that is why He is worthy of our worship and obedience.
The first three commandments define the safeguards of our relationship with our Heavenly Father. The first forces us to reckon with a God who simply won’t settle for anything less than to be the supreme priority in our lives: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (verse 3). There are many competing “gods” in our world today – financial success, career prestige, even relationships. Anything that we begin to look to as a source of fulfillment, meaning, or security above our Creator is a false god in our lives.
The second commandment is not so much a warning against running after other false gods (a mere repetition of the first commandment) as it is a warning against creating God into our own image. Pastor John Lin summarizes it this way: “Worship God according to who He is, not according to who we want Him to be. In other words, do not worship false gods and do not worship God falsely.” We can be in danger of breaking this commandment when we relate to God based on how we believe He ought to act or what we believe He ought to give us: relationship stability, health, job security, lifestyle comfort, etc. When we do this, we have, in fact, imposed our conception of “God” onto the throne of our hearts. We’ve created our very own “custom designer God,” as Lin puts it. But as God told Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.” He is YAHWEH, the Self-Existent Eternal One. God, in His very name, defies any sense of boundary or restriction. When we attempt to put God in a box and constrain Him to who we want Him to be, then we have broken the second commandment. We’ve duped ourselves for an idol molded after our own image.
The third commandment also has profound implications on how we live our lives and how we worship our Creator. This commandment goes so much deeper than merely addressing how we should use or not use God’s name in our sentences. Remember that God’s name is a representation of His character, a reflection of who He is at His core Being. When we accept Christ’s rulership over our lives, we become Christ-ians, don’t we? We take God’s holy name onto ourselves, and we become representatives of His character and kingdom to the onlooking world. To take God’s name in vain, then, is to misrepresent Him to those around us. It’s to treat a waitress rudely. It’s to flip someone off on the freeway. It’s to make a back-stabbing comment about a coworker. This gets uncomfortable real fast, doesn’t it? The implications on our daily lives reach far and deep…
In His law, God isn’t trying to make a big list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” He is outlining timeless principles of relational love. These first three commandments each deal with the place God is to hold in our hearts and how we are to reflect that relationship to the world around us — our worship, in other words. And why does God make these demands on us? Is He trying to be an arbitrary dictator over our lives? No. Our God is a Father of indescribable love. He knows that only He can provide the fulfillment and satisfaction that our hearts yearn for. He knows this because He designed us. And so, it is only when we place God–and only God–on the throne of our hearts, and when we worship Him as He really is, and when we take His name and character onto ourselves to let it rule over every facet of our lives… Then THAT is when our heart will satisfy its longing and fulfill its ultimate desire. Augustine sums it up this way: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”