Scripture: Exodus 20:1-11
Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 You must have no other gods before me.
4 Do not make an idol for yourself—no form whatsoever—of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. 5 Do not bow down to them or worship them, because I, the Lord your God, am a passionate God. I punish children for their parents’ sins even to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me. 6 But I am loyal and gracious to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 Do not use the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance; the Lord won’t forgive anyone who uses his name that way.
8 Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 9 Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Theme- God’s People carry God’s name into the world and their lives bear out what they believe.
- What does it mean to have other gods before God, in God’s presence, ahead in priority, or something else?
- What is the purpose of making an idol and why would it be appalling to God?
- What does it mean to treat God’s name as if it had no significance?
- What is the point of the Sabbath day and why does it receive so much more attention and description than the other commands?
Related texts: Deuteronomy 5: 1-21, Mark 12:28-34, Acts 11:22-26
This section is about maintaining a unique relationship with God and how it will be constructed.
There is a division in the instructions listed in Exodus 20, verses 1-11 are about Israelite religious practice and verses 12-17 are laws common to most societies.
The Bible doesn’t call these the “Ten Commandments” in fact there is no clear designation of ten specific ideas this passage is divided into ten to provide a symbolic number.
Unlike most places in the Bible, here God addresses the entire people not simply their representatives.
Idols are inappropriate because God is present with the people and will remain present with them.
Upholding God’s name is associated with faithfulness and abuse of God’s name is connected with a poor reputation of the people and ultimately God.
For a great book on the themes in Exodus 20 read Carmen Joy Imes “Bearing God’s Name”.
For more background see my video here
Growing up I thought, like so many people do, that “using the Lord your God’s name as if it were of no significance” (v7) meant using some divine title or name as a generic curse word. I am not going to say that oath’s or cursing involving the divine are good, but I think this verse is pointed in an entirely different direction and when properly understood helps frame this entire section of Exodus 20. Carmen Imes is very helpful on this issue pointing out that to carry God’s name on one’s lips is a signal for being a worshiper/follower of God. So this verse is saying that a person should not behave in a manner that makes God’s name or the person’s commitment to God look trivial, false or deceptive. God’s words to Israel are a reminder that their actions, words, and lifestyles reflect to others who God is and/or the level of commitment the people have to serving God. The easiest comparison I can think of is to athletics where coaches will tell players that the name on the front of the jersey means more than the name on the back. We have come to associate athletes with the teams they represent, both in their performance on the field and their conduct off it. If Israel accepts God’s covenant they are putting on the jersey that represents God and they must understand that they are never betray that fact.
The other instructions about worshiping other gods, making idols, and celebrating Sabbath are all reflective of Israel’s recognition that they are God’s people who bear God’s name and are committed to bearing it well. Recognizing that God has brought them out of Egypt should lead the Israelites to exclusive praise and worship of God and to a desire to be exemplary representatives of God’s name, through how they worship and live. This means they will recognize that God speaks to them without the need of idols and therefore purge them from society and that God wants a land that is committed to trusting God to create and provide during their weekly Sabbath.
Today those who follow Jesus identify and are identified as “Christian” which literally implies one who acts like Jesus. Jesus’ followers literally take on his title as an identifier and how they behave for good or ill impacts how people see the Church. Of those who choose to visit churches and become Christians 86% say it is because of a fellow believer. That is people choose to follow Jesus because the truth of Jesus’ message is lived out in those called by his name. Likewise many who reject Jesus echo Ghandhi’s famous quote, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”. We may feel this sentiment is off base because God’s truth should not be determined by our actions, but we are the representatives of God’s ability to change lives and create a just society. Christians may not enjoy having this light shined upon them but in taking up the name of their God they become the representatives and ambassadors of that God.
God’s promise to Abraham was that he would be a blessing to the nations of this world, by mediating God’s presence to the world. All of his biological and theological descendants have the same responsibility to provide an example of God’s presence in the world so that those who do not know God may see God’s activity. To the Israelites who bore God’s name they were the witness and the blessing to the nations around them for a way to live that transformed the world. Yet, if they bore God’s name as if it were of no importance then they would fail to offer the nations around them any new blessing. Christians today offer the same blessings to the communities we inhabit. We offer a new vision for the world, one based in love and justice, a way dedicated to peace and wholeness. Yet if we do not live these qualities out in our daily lives and relationships with others we are bearing the name of Jesus in vain. Israel was to focus on the instructions that God was to provide because they all pointed toward the society that God wanted to create, but even in this they had to be a people of grace because God began their relationship in grace. This logic applies to us today, focus myself on being the best possible representative of God, while providing grace and blessings for others so they can experience God.
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