EXPOSITION OF THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Davis W. Huckabee
We now come to the actual exposition of the ten commandments, and it shall be our purpose to endeavor to learn what is taught and what is required in this set of Divine Laws. It is to be observed in the beginning that the Decalog falls into two natural divisions, which correspond to the two tables upon which they were written. These two divisions are also reducible to the "two great commandments" that our Lord made reference to in Matt. 22:35-40. Table One relates to man’s duty to God, while Table Two regulates man’s duty to man.
"There can be no doubt as to the significance of this primary number. In all languages it is the symbol of unity. As a cardinal number it denotes unity; as an ordinal it denotes primacy. Unity being indivisible, and not made up of other numbers, is therefore independent of all others, and is the source of all others. So with the Deity. The great First Cause is independent of all. All stand in need of Him, and He needs no assistance from any."—E. W. Bullinger, Number In Scripture, p. 50.
There is a restatement of the Decalog in Deut 5, although it is not repeated in the exact form that it is in Exod. 20. There are no contradictions in Scripture, as some have foolishly charged, but when there is a difference between two similar statements, it is always significant. The difference in wording may be explained by recognizing, First, that the text in Deuteronomy is an exhortation to Israel to keep the Decalog, and to teach it to their children. For after reciting the Decalog, and the giving the compressed form of the first four Laws, an explanation is given. "And these words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way. And when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates," Deut. 6:6-9. This is good advice for our day also. If there was more teaching of these Laws, there would be less rebelliousness and ungodliness among our young people, many of whom have never been taught even the basic facts about God’s requirements of all men.
But in the second place, the Deuteronomy account may be taken to be a more national form of the Decalog than that in Exodus, for many of the attendant statements relate specifically to responsibilities in the land of Canaan, and which had application to Israel alone. For our study, however, we will refer to the Exodus account of the Decalog, being that which is of universal application. And we consider first—
LAW ONE: "THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME."
This first commandment has to do with God, and naturally so, for one is the number of God, for it is written: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord," Deut. 6:4. And again, "Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and besides me there is no saviour," Isa. 43:10-11. "I am the first, and I am the last; and besides me there is no God…Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God; I know not any," Isa. 44:6, 8. "Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one," Gal. 3:20. There is a unity about the Godhead that makes the number one especially significant of God, but more of this in its proper place.
The first command starts where it ought to start, with the fundamental fact of all religion—that there is a God in the heavens to Whom all men owe allegiance, and to Whom they are all accountable. It is noteworthy that this first commandment assumes the religious nature of man. That is, that he must worship something because it is in his nature to do so.
"Of the whole family of man, existing in all ages, and scattered over the four quarters of the globe, and in the isles of the sea, there is scarcely one well-authenticated exception to the fact that, moved by an impulse of nature, or the force of circumstances, man worships something which he believes to be endowed with the attributes of a superior being."—J. B. Walker, Philosophy of the Plan of Salvation, pp. 26-27.
It is not natural for man to be an atheist. Indeed, he must overthrow the basic nature of his mind in order to be an atheist. For not only has God commanded man to worship Him, He has also put it into his nature to do so, and only because sin has perverted his mental and spiritual faculties does he worship anything else.
THE BASIS OF THIS COMMANDMENT
This first commandment is based upon the truth that there is but one true God, and while there is a plurality of Persons in this Godhead, yet there is also a unity therein. Unity may consist with plurality. The same Hebrew word rendered "one" of God in Deut. 6:4 (echad), is the very word used for the "one cluster" of grapes in Num. 13:23 that had so many individual grapes on it that it took too men to carry it on a pole between them. There can never be a legitimate worshipping of any other gods, for it is impossible to conceive of two Beings, each of which is Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Infinite, etc., for all of these terms are predicable of only one such Being. For instance, if one is omnipotent, or all-powerful, it follows that another cannot be, else the two of them would have to share this attribute, in which case neither of them would in any sense be all-powerful. Thus, because we recognize the truth that God is manifest in three Persons, we are compelled to recognize the unity of the Godhead. The objection that socalled Unitarians (Trinitarians are also Unitarians, for we believe that there is but one true God) that "Trinity" is not in the Bible, though a true statement, is not based to the point. For most of the hundreds of texts where "God" appears contradicts the denial of His triune nature, for this word generally represents the Hebrew word Elohim. The simpler form for God, which is relatively rare, is El or Elah, which means the mighty One. The suffix im makes this singular noun to be plural. In English the number of our nouns are either singular or plural, but in Hebrew this is different, for this language has singular—one, dual—two, and plural—three or more. That the true God is limited to three Personalities in the One God is shown in such texts as Isa. 44:6, where there are two Jehovahs (this is the personal name of the one true God, Isa. 42:8, and no other deities are ever called by this name), and Isa. 11:2 where we have a third Jehovah. Thus, if there are three Jehovahs, that claim that they are one, and that there are no other gods, then the doctrine of the Trinity is proven, whether man’s frail, feeble, faulty mind can grasp this grand truth or not. And this Triune God works in unity in most of His works.
This command is also based upon the Lord’s creation rights, for He that created man has the right of disposal of him, and the right to command him to do whatsoever He will. It is a truth recognized almost everywhere among men that whatsoever a man creates or makes, is, from that fact, his to do with as he pleases. Nor can anyone else challenge that right unless he can show a prior right or claim to that work or creation. But God created the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, Ps. 24:1; I Cor. 10:26, so that no one has superceding rights, but God can decree what man is to do.
Again, the basis of this commandment is to be found in the fact of God’s sovereignty, for while an earthly king may command something to be done, yet that command may be reversed because some superior king contravenes the order. But such can never be the case with the first commandment, for the One that decreed it is Himself sovereign over all and subject to none. This commandment is based upon God’s omnipotence, for not only does He have the right to command that all reverence and worship be paid to Him, He also has the power to enforce this command. It is true that judgment for disobedience does not fall at the moment of transgression or neglect of worship, yet every failure of man is recorded and shall in time be justly dealt with however man may think to have violated this law with impunity.
It is a popular teaching of this degenerate age that man has the right to choose to obey the command of God, or not, as he may please, but this is not so. He must be ready to receive judgment for every transgression and neglect, for like it or not, he is a subject of the great God of heaven, and he is obligated to worship Him according to the Divine revelation.
Observe another thing from this statement in Exod. 20:3. It decrees that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Literally rendered the Hebrew reads "before my face," which some might think only dealt with priority, as if it were alright to have other gods so long as Jehovah was given the priority of worship. But inasmuch as the Lord is omnipresent, then "before my face" is equal to "in my presence," as some render it, and so it is an absolute prohibition of any other god to be worshipped at any time, in any place or under any circumstances. Thus, it is not a matter of priority but of presence, and it is as much a sin to worship another god "after" Jehovah as "before" Him. In other words, it is not enough that the Lord has first place in man’s worship and religious affections. It has been truly said that, "The Lord is not loved at all if He is not loved above all." This first commandment touches upon one of the most fundamental truths of life—that God alone is to be worshipped, and he is to be worshipped in accordance with His revelation of His will. Will-worship is never acceptable.
But this commandment is not a one-way street, for while it is based upon God’s worthiness to be glorified, and upon man’s responsibility to glorify Him, yet we must realize also that this commandment has as a secondary fruit man’s ultimate well being. False worship has a degrading effect upon those that are caught up in it. For this reason, all the commandments of God, being based upon God’s omnisapience, will be for man’s ultimate good, however they may presently appear to work a restraint upon human desire. If man could but learn to trust God’s wisdom and concern for him, how much better off he would be.
THE EXTENSION OF THIS COMMANDMENT
When we read this commandment, we are made to ask, "What is meant by gods?" Many people think that this has reference only to small carved figurines, since no other real "gods" exist. But such is not the case at all. Neither is it the case that no longer is this prohibition needed at all, since so few persons in our "enlightened age" worship false gods any more. Paul said, "there be gods many, and lords many," I Cor. 8:5, for whatever claims our allegiance more than the Lord does, becomes a god to us. It may not even have a religious significance about it, yet if it has a higher place in our affections than we give the Lord, then we become guilty of the transgression of this first commandment. This is illustrated in Phil. 3:19 where it is said of some that made creature comfort their supreme object of desire, "whose God is their belly."
We see many examples of this very thing in every day life about us, and if we were honest, we would probably find many such faults in our own lives, for this is a very common sin. For example, a person may make a god out of his family, so that they become more important to him than the Lord. But at this point someone is likely to think, "Surely God does not expect us to think less of our family than of Him. After all, blood is thicker than water!" But this is exactly what the Lord expects and requires of us, for He says, "He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me," Matt. 10:37-38. And Luke 14:26 even extends this principle to one’s mate. Truly blood is thicker than water, but Christians are not redeemed with water, but with the precious blood of Christ, and that ought to be esteemed thicker than any human blood. There have been instances where a person had to be excluded from a church for ungodliness, and the kin folk of that person stood with the church in exercising that discipline, and this writer has always had a strong admiration for them for doing so. Not because they went beyond what was required of them, but simply because they gave evidence of where their strongest allegiance lay. In other instances, family has often stood with the ungodly person, and justified him in his wickedness and rebellion out of a mistaken idea of family loyalty. And in still other cases the family simply refused to take sides at all, which, though not as bad as justifying the wicked person, is still a refusal to stand with the Lord and His revealed standard of righteousness. When one of the Lord’s churches has to take a stand against ungodliness, it is needful that the whole church stand unitedly in this, otherwise those that do not do so make the church’s disciplinary actions to be ineffectual.
Money, and the things that it can buy, often become a god to people, and at no time in many centuries has this been so prevalent a sin as it is in our day, for a tremendous emphasis is presently put upon the possession of material things. Paul charged Timothy to warn the people that he pastored of the dangers of "wishing to be rich," I Tim. 6:6-10, and he concluded the subject by saying, "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy," I Tim. 6:17. If a person trusts in material things instead of in the living God, is this not idolatry, and therefore a violation of the first commandment? It can be nothing else!
But many people assume that this is a sin committed only by rich people. But as Paul shows in V9 of the above Scripture, there is danger merely in wishing to be rich, while in Col. 3:5, he pointedly tells us that this "covetousness is idolatry," and so is a transgression of the first commandment. It is most thought provoking to observe that the Greek word here used (pleonexia) literally means the desire for more. The poor person is thus, perhaps, even more susceptible to this sin than the rich person.
Another example of this idolatry is the emphasis that is given to personal comfort and pleasure. Almost all of the great world powers of the past that have fallen have followed a definite downward pattern, and one of the final steps before their utter destruction was an incessant pursuit of personal comfort and pleasure. This is another of the outstanding sins in our nation today (may our hearts tremble because it), for multiplied billions of dollars are spent every year on pleasure alone. It is a great tragedy that today there is probably more than a hundred dollars spent on pleasure for every dollar that is spent on religion of any sort.
But worshipping the god of pleasure is not a new thing, nor was it new in the first century, for we read that the ancient Israelites were guilty of this same sin, and it is denominated idolatry. "Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them: as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play," I Cor. 10:7. Note there that their sin of idolatry lay in their concern for the pleasures of life, which held a higher place in their affections than God did. On any given Sunday how many professing Christians are absent from worship as a result of the pursuit of personal pleasure? That is idolatry!
This first commandment does not simply prohibit polytheism, or the worship of many gods. It does this, but it also prohibits atheism, or the worshipping of no god, for no one is excused from the responsibility to correctly worship and serve the one true God. It is not enough that one does not worship false gods. He is also required to worship Jehovah, as the reading of the context of this command shows. Nor is it sufficient that one is a monotheist, for he may worship only one god, yet that one may be a false god. This commandment is "Thou shalt have no other gods before (or beside) me," which requires that one worship Jehovah, and Him alone. Many of those that do not worship many gods, at the same time are guilty of not worshipping any gods, and so they are guilty before Jehovah of slighting Him. A man robs God of the glory that is due Him just as certainly if he worships no god, as if he worships many gods. In either case, it is sin, and the man that does this is guilty of breaking the first commandment.
What then? As we said earlier, this first commandment starts with basic truths and responsibilities, and not only prohibits false worship, but also prescribes the correct worship of Jehovah, the one true and living God. It not only condemns the polytheist, but also the atheist, and even the monotheist that worships any other God than Jehovah. Therefore, before any of the other commandments are set forth, the groundwork is laid for several important truths. For: (1) The recognition and acknowledgment of the existence of the one supreme God. (2) The recognition and acknowledgement of Jehovah as that one supreme God. (3) The recognition and acknowledgment of the duty of all men to worship and serve Jehovah. This first commandment prescribes Who is to be worshipped, and prepares the way for the next commandment which is—
LAW II; "THOU SHALT NOT MAKE UNTO THEE ANY GRAVEN IMAGE, OR ANY LIKENESS OF ANY THING THAT IS IN HEAVEN ABOVE, OR THAT IS IN THE EARTH BENEATH, OR THAT IS IN THE WATER UNDER THE EARTH," V4.
This second commandment is more or less an extension of the first, for it goes on to show How God is to be worshiped. For after having been in Egypt for four hundred and thirty years, the Israelites would naturally have become imbued with the idolatrous practices of that nation that is said to have worshipped some twenty-two hundred deities, each of which had its own image or visible representation. How easy it would have been for them to think that the true God was represented by one of these, as they apparently did in fact. It is not enough that a man worships God; he must worship Him in the right way, for Scriptures says, "God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and in truth," John 4:24.
This commandment, prohibiting as it does the making of images for purposes of worship, is an antidote to man’s perverted tendency to worship some visible representation of God. It may be laid down as a rule that man’s need for a visible representation of God increases as his eye of faith grows weaker. And conversely, as he sees more clearly by faith, his need for a visible representation of God decreases. Too often the idolatry of worshipping of images is simply the deification of human characteristics, traits, etc. This is why this commandment is so very needful in all ages of man’s history—to prevent the deification of man.
But there are reasons for this commandment from the Divine side of the matter also. And the first of these is the fact that God has never manifested Himself in any visible form except when Christ walked the earth, and there is no copy on earth of what Christ looked like. The fact that the Israelites saw no likeness or similitude when God gave the Law upon Sinai is given as a reason for not making any graven image. "Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on that day that the Lord spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, the likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth; and lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the Lord thy God had divided unto all nations under the whole heaven," Deut. 4:15-19.
Since they saw no visible representation of God, how could they hope to make an image that would adequately represent to them what God was? The fact is, that nothing can adequately represent God except God, and any attempt to represent Him must necessarily fail, and with the failure there will certainly come false impressions and ideas about God that will lead into false worship.
The second reason for not making any such visible representations of God is the fact stated in this command. "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God," V5. God will tolerate no rivals, yet this is too often what the supposed visible representation that men make of Him become in due time. As the fleshly eye is fed, the eye of faith grows dimmer until in time man sees only with the eye of flesh, for the eye of faith has become blind. When this happens, the image alone is seen, and it becomes the sole object of worship. Conversely, if the eye of faith is fed it becomes the stronger, and the eye of flesh grows weaker, which is always the desired thing. It should be obvious that the excuse of those that employ images in their worship, namely, that "Images help our faith," is false, and so far from it helping faith, it actually is a substitute for faith, and thereby weakens faith by catering to fleshly sight. Faith grows, not by seeing with the eye of flesh, but by seeing things that are invisible to the eyes of flesh. Of Moses it is said that, "By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible." Heb. 11:27. Our Lord Himself showed that the blessings are on those that believe without seeing, John 20:29.
The tendency of image worship is to idolatry, and the Lord will not tolerate this. Therefore he prohibits it in the very beginning for man generally moves from worshipping God through visible representations of Him to pure idolatry by a series of such minutely graduated steps that the transition is never realized by man. But the God "whose name is Jealous" sees the latent tendency in the use of visible representations, and prohibits it in the very beginning lest it have its natural result.
A third reason is also suggested by V5 for prohibiting the use of images in our worship of God. This is the effect that it has upon one’s household. A man might use such images all of his life, and it never become an idolatrous practice to him, yet the members of his household might never see anything else but the worship of the material object. It takes at least two, and often three, generations to determine the full effects of a particular belief or practice. One may hold to some belief that is erroneous, yet, because of off-setting teachings that one has received early in life, that erroneous belief may never produce its natural fruit in that his life. But what about his children that perhaps did not have the benefit of that counteracting belief? And their children after them that will be two generations removed from the counteracting truth that the ancestor had? "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments," V5-6. By thus saying the Lord reveals how that it takes several generations for the full fruits of belief and practice to become obvious. Our worship will produce its proper fruit in the lives of our children and grandchildren. If our worship is erroneous it will produce an erroneous worship in them, except in a greater degree, for sin is always progressive. If our worship is right, that will also have its effects upon later generations.
Because man is possessed of a religious nature, he will worship something. But because his nature is a fallen one, he will worship erroneously unless he is directed otherwise by the grace of God, and therefore the necessity of this commandment is obvious.
By this we mean to inquire to what extent and in what way this commandment prohibits the use of visible representations of other objects. If it is an absolute prohibition of all visible representations then all men are hopeless idolaters, and we can never hope to be otherwise, for every home has the visible representations of some other objects. Most homes have photographs of members of the family that are visible representations of the real persons. If we are to take this commandment in an absolute sense, then we are prohibited from having such pictures in our homes. This would also prohibit having national flags, and many other things that are visible representations of other things. And a few people take this extreme position. But if one takes this ground, he will find that he has made Scripture to clash with Scripture, for, to cite only one or two examples out of many, every Bible in existence today is but a translation of the original, and therefore is a visible representation of the original. Are we to assume that this commandment therefore prohibits us from possessing a Bible? Again, Scripture asserts that man is made "in the image of God," Gen. 1:26-27, and therefore every inhabited house has in it that which is a visible representation of God, so that we are brought into hopeless and absurd confusion if we take this prohibition absolutely.
But when we recognize the context in which the Lord gave these commandments—in the context of worship of the Lord—then we must conclude that this is not meant to be taken in its absolute sense of prohibiting all visible representations of other objects. We know that God commanded Moses to make many things for use in the tabernacle that were representatives of other objects, and some of them were "patterns (literally copies—hupodeigma) of things in heaven," Heb. 9:23, yet these did not constitute a violation of this second commandment. What is prohibited here is the making of any visible representation for purposes of worshipping it, or worshipping God through it. Thus it is explained in Lev. 26:1: "Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God."
As the First Commandment prescribed who is to be worshipped, so this one prescribed how He is to be worshipped: i. e., He is to be worshipped directly and not through any graven images or representations. The seriousness of such a sin is to be seen in Deut. 16:22: "Neither shalt thou set thee up any image; which the Lord thy God hateth." Not only is the use of images and other visible representations hated by the Lord, but in Deut. 17 such is said to be an abomination to the Lord, V4, and the death penalty is decreed for those that violate this commandment, V5. Let no one think that this is a matter of no consequence. God hates images and there is no way possible to justify their use, Roman and Greek Catholicism, Anglican and other denominations notwithstanding to the contrary. Roman Catholicism, in order to justify its practice, ignores this prohibition, and instead of recognizing this as the Second Commandment, divides the Tenth into two so as to come out with Ten Commandments. However, it matters not whether this prohibition is counted as part of the First or recognized as the Second Commandment, it still prohibits the use of images or likenesses in worship.
It is also to be observed that this does not simply prohibit the making of a likeness of some earthly or subterranean being that it might be worshipped. It begins by prohibiting the making of the likeness of anything in heaven, so that the very first thing prohibited is the making of an image of Jesus, or saints, or angels. How then do men dare to make images or likenesses and hang them in their churches and bow down to them? It matters not that they may have a good motive, such as endeavoring to "help our faith" by their use. The only important thing is that God has interdicted the making of all such likenesses for worship purposes, and that He prohibits bowing down before them, and serving them.
Most people find it easy to believe that God would forbid the making of any image or likeness of things under the earth inasmuch as this is the domain of Satan. And many people could even see the wisdom of forbidding the making of likenesses of thing upon the earth, since this is primarily the realm of man. But most people find it hard to believe that God would prohibit the making of likenesses of things in heaven. But it has always been the tendency of man to worship the sun, moon and stars. And ancestor and hero worship has always been a common thing. Neither is it uncommon for men to worship angels, Col. 2:18. So that it is necessary for the making of the likenesses of things in heaven to be prohibited, for it is just as surely idolatry to worship the highest archangel as it is to worship the lowliest beetle on the earth.
Neither the size, shape, materials, position or motive in the use of images affects in the least degree the fact that the use of them in worship always tends to idolatry. God has decreed that "The just shall live by faith," Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38, not by sight. The use of images in worshipping the Lord is contrary to, and subversive of, this principle. He that must see in order to believe does not really believe at all, but must have some sort of material proof. Our Lord showed that faith based upon sight is a very inferior faith to say the least, when He said to Thomas, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed," John 20:29.
The fact that the Second Commandment begins with a prohibition of making of likenesses of things in heaven, and ranged down to things of the earth, and even prohibits the making of likenesses of things under the earth, shows us the broad extent of this Commandment. In effect, it is a prohibition of any image or likeness of any kind for purposes of worship. It is a standing condemnation of man’s attempt to worship God through the works of his hands and through the eyes of flesh. It is a prohibition against all mechanical worship and requires worship in spirit and in truth.
THE RESTATEMENT OF THE PROHIBITION
This commandment is not stated here alone then forgotten as though it were of no importance whether it was obeyed or not. But this, like the other commandments is restated and reemphasized in other places throughout the Scriptures. This one is restated in other places as much as, if not more than, any of the others. In her early history Israel was especially prone to be ensnared by graven images. "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. As they called them, so they went from them: they sacrificed unto Baalim, and burned incense to graven images," Hosea 11:1-2. Only after the severities of the Babylon captivity was Israel healed of her tendency to worship graven images. But even this was not a permanent healing evidently, for indications are that Israel will again be brought to worship graven images in the last days. Micah speaks of "the Assyrian" coming into the land, who is none other than the Antichrist. And he speaks of the Lord’s deliverance during which the Lord declares, "Thy graven images also will I cut off, and thy standing images out of the midst of thee; and thou shalt no more worship the work of thine hands," Micah 5:13. Nor does this passage stand alone in teaching this, for Zech. 13:1-2 declares, "In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness. And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land."
The purpose of this constant repetition of this commandment was doubtless to keep before the eyes of the people that not only was it unnecessary to have visible representation of God through which to worship Him, but that it was actually a detriment to the true worship of Him. In this restatement of this commandment in Deut. 4:15-19, already quoted, the reason for reminding Israel that she had seen no similitude when the Lord spoke from Sinai was, "Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image…" However sincere they might be in desiring such a help to their faith, there was still a dangerous tendency in it, and it more often led to the confounding of their faith than to the strengthening of it. This is perhaps the meaning of the Psalmist when he says, "Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods," Ps. 97:7. The word "idols" here means literally "nothings" or "nonentities," and is parallel with Paul’s statement that, "We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one," I Cor. 8:4. By "worship him, all ye gods," the Psalmist has reverence to angels, as Heb. 1:6, where this is quoted, shows. Thus, the Psalmist points up the fact that the Lord alone is to be worshipped, and the attempt to do so other than directly leads only to confusion.
Nor is it alone for man’s sake that these numerous restatements of this commandment are given, for the worshipping of idols and graven images is a provocation to the Lord. "For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images," Ps. 78:58. It was for this reason that the restatement of this law in Deut. 27:15 carried a curse with it, which was to be acknowledged by the people. "Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen." If the making and use of images is an abomination unto the Lord, then what folly is it for any person to attempt to justify their use?
This commandment isn’t arbitrary, for there is good reason for it, for the heart of man is naturally rebellious and unfaithful, and there is always the inclination to worship other things than God because of man’s fallen condition. It is, however, God’s rightful decree that none other will have the glory of man’s worship, for He says, "I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images," Isa. 42:8. When man sets out to render unto anyone or anything else that worship that is due alone to God, he is guilty of the transgression of this law, and puts himself under the curse of Deut. 27:15. Such is productive only of shame, and can never profit man. "They shall be turned back, they shall be greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images that say to the molten images, Ye are our gods," Isa. 42:17. "They that make a graven image are all of them vanity: and their delectable things shall not profit: and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be shamed. Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?" Isa. 44:9-10. The implication is that it is a mark of extreme foolishness for man to make a god from his own perverted imagination.
Against the whole Gentile world Paul brought the charge of the transgression of this commandment when he said, "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things," Rom. 1:21-23. This might well be called "Man’s history in a nutshell." In any case, it reveals the natural bent of man’s nature as downward spiritually, and not upward as is often asserted. From an original pure knowledge of God, man has degenerated to the point of worshipping the lowest form of the brute creation. This is what makes necessary the second commandment and the many repetitions of it.
This sin is not restricted to the pagan portion of the world, but is also common among many professed Christian denominations. Catholicism, as everyone knows, makes copious use of images in its worship in blatant defiance of this commandment. And many Protestant churches also make extensive use of images and representations of Jesus and the saints in their churches, and this is especially true at special seasons of the year such as Christmas. So that it is apparent that they also are verging very near to a violation of this second commandment.
Even some of the New Testament churches were guilty of practices that gave the appearance of condoning the use of images and the worship of pagan idols, as we see from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. "What say I then? That the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils [demons], and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils [demons]. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils [demons]: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils [demons]," I Cor. 10:19-21.
Though the Corinthians knew that an idol was nothing, I Cor. 8:4-6, yet when they accepted the invitations of their pagan neighbors to partake of the pagan feasts, they gave the appearance of putting these on an equal footing with the Lord. Is there not a like danger today if we give the appearance of recognizing the paganistic practices of some groups today simply because they claim to be Christians?
The second commandment reveals how God is to be worshipped, and shows that it must be a direct worship, without the use of idols or images. Faith sees not with eyes of flesh and the endeavor to make it do so, can only weaken it. Faith is never strengthened by the flesh.
The Third Commandment is similar to this one, in that it also relates to the manner of worship, but instead of showing the needlessness and even danger of interposing agencies to help one’s worship, it warns against the opposite extreme—that is, endeavoring to worship in too familiar a way.
LAW III: "THOU SHALT NOT TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD THY GOD IN VAIN," V7.
This commandment assumes that the individual will be acquainted with the Lord and His worship, and so prescribes that the Lord’s name is to be used in a way befitting His exalted being. Therefore, this commandment is a warning against over familiarity and careless use of the Lord’s name in our walk and worship. We doubt not that more people are guilty of breaking this commandment than is generally supposed. And we know for a certainty that there are many, many supposedly good Christian people that daily violate this law through ignorance.
This third commandment is a more specific instance of what we have generally stated in Eccl. 5:1-2. "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few." Man has a natural tendency to speak too readily. Not only so, but man constantly corrupts all spiritual things that he puts his hand to, and it is this that makes necessary this present prohibition.
While it is a blessed truth that the Lord by His grace has brought man into an intimate connection and fellowship with Himself, yet it is also true that He will not tolerate a profaning of His holy Name through an over familiarity on the part of man. God is not a doting grandfather type as men are want to characterize Him, but is jealous of His majesty and holiness.
THE ACT PROHIBITED
In order to a proper understanding of this commandment, we must first get what is intended by the words used. First, what is meant by "the name of the Lord thy God"? Some would reply that all that was signified was the name Jehovah, which is God’s personal name. This was the view that came to be held by the Jewish Rabbis, so that they soon came to excuse the most outrageous misuse of the name of the Lord, and condoned all sorts of false swearing, only so long as the express name "Jehovah" was not articulated. This, of course, was a most dreadful perversion of the meaning of this commandment.
First, almost all realize that cursing is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Especially is this so when God’s name is made a part of the curse. However it is not necessary to actually use "God" in a curse to take God’s name in vain. "Damn it" is also a violation, for while God’s name is not actually used vocally, it is implied, for none but God has a right to damn anyone. The same is true of words such as "darn," "dern," etc., for these are euphemisms for "damn" and imply the use of "God" with them. No one questions this application of this commandment, though many limit it solely to this meaning.
This was one of the first commandments to be broken, for which the transgressor was put to death, as we read in Lev. 24:10-14. So solemn a matter is it to misuse God’s name that the Lord decreed, "And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying Whosoever curseth his God shall bear his sin. And he that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him: as well the stranger, as he that is born in the land, when he blasphemeth the name of the Lord, shall be put to death," Lev. 24:15-16.
There has been, and continues to be, a great movement in our land to abolish the death penalty. And many nations have already done so. Yet God ordained that this should be executed on people for no less than nineteen different reasons. If it were consistently and quickly exercised, it would eliminate about ninety percent of crime in the land, partly because recidivism would be non-existent, and the presumptuous greatly restrained. Presently the chances of anyone being capitally punished are several thousand to one if the criminal is even caught, which many are not, and that makes for excellent odds for the wicked. For further comments on this, see the appendix on "Studies On Capital Punishment."
Any time you find any person that knowingly misuses the Lord’s name, you have a person that has taken the position of an enemy of the Lord, for it is written, "For they speak against thee wickedly, and thine enemies take thy name in vain," Ps. 139:20. And again, the misuse of God’s name puts one in the category of a fool. "Remember this, that the enemy hath reproached, O Lord, and that the foolish people have blasphemed thy name," Ps. 74:18. No one that really loves another will be party to the misuse of that one’s good name.
Second, this commandment is violated by false swearing. Thus, it is written, "And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord," Lev. 19:12. Oaths that were made in Old Testament times were made in the name of the Lord. "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name," Deut. 10:20. This was the common and accepted manner of swearing, but it had come to be perverted in New Testament times so that the Rabbis permitted swearing by many things, yet considered few of these binding. This was why our Lord was compelled to restate this prohibition concerning the making of false oaths. "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let thy communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil," Matt. 5:33-37.
That this was not an absolute prohibition of all oaths is clear from the context, though it appears so at first glance, and many take it to be an absolute prohibition of all oaths. However, this must be understood in the light of the abuses of the Jews’ practice, which was to swear by any and every thing, yet to not hold any oath to be binding. The operative word is "forswear thyself," which has to do with swearing falsely. The Greek word is a form of the word rendered "perjured persons" in I Tim. 1:10. Our Lord simply forbids the multiplicity of oaths, and the light and frivolous attitude of those making the oaths. "Swear not at all" cannot be compelled to contradict "[thou] shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths," which was the original duty. That it is right, and even necessary under some circumstances, to take an oath is shown in Heb. 6:13 and 16 by the example of God Himself, and by the frequent need for humans to confirm things. "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he swear by himself…For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." On this verse the following comments are very instructive.
"These words contain a reason why God swore by himself, and why his promise, having an oath annexed to them, ought to be believed...An oath is of a moral nature, what God has commanded, and he himself has taken. It has been used by Christ, and by the saints of the Old and New Testament: and is prophesied of the New Testament saints, as what they should practice: and is a part of religious worship. And an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife; it is used to confirm things that are doubtful, and in dispute; and to put an end to strife and contention."—John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, Vol. II, p. 709.
The Jews were not alone in the misuse of oaths, for in our day it is commonly accepted for men to use the expression "by God," which is as much an oath as any that can be made. Or if men do not speak so harsh an oath, they may be guilty of saying "by heaven," "by all that is holy," and by other equally offensive statements. Others are equally guilty of breaking this commandment by prefacing their remarks, which are often obviously jokes, by the words, "I swear it is the truth." All of these things are false oaths, and come under the condemnation of the third commandment. Those that do such things will be equated with idolaters, adulterers and oppressors, as says the Scripture. "And I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless, and that turn aside the stranger from his right, and fear not me, saith the Lord of hosts," Mal. 3:5.
In the third place, this commandment also forbids the making of vows and then not keeping them. Vows are closely related to oaths, except they are of a more personal nature. Yet they are equally binding. "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth," Numb. 30:2.
It is not necessary to expressly say, "I vow by the Lord to do…" such and so, nor is it required that a person even use the word "vow" for it to be binding upon him. It is sufficient if he determines in his own mind to do a thing, or if he voices that determination, then this takes the form of a vow, and it is a profanation of the third commandment to fail to perform that vow. It is both unprofitable and dangerous to go back on a vow made before the Lord. "When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thin hands," Eccl. 5:4-6. "When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee," Deut. 23:21-22.
From these two passages, it is clear that while God does not require that we make vows, yet if we do make them, we are bound to perform them. Vows are voluntary things that spring from devotion to the Lord. They are neither prescribed nor proscribed, but when once made, they must be kept, or one must suffer loss because of it. One should always remember that it is easier to sin with the mouth than in any other way, James 3:2. Therefore one ought to be very careful in making vows that he does not commit himself to do more than is possible for him to perform, and he thereby become guilty of breaking the third commandment.
Finally, this commandment prohibits the use of God’s name in one’s speech in a light or frivolous way. Indeed, the primary meaning of "to take God’s name in vain" is to use it in a light or pointless manner. How many times have we heard someone use the word "Lord" or "God" as a mere filler in his speech? We conceive the following as the only proper uses of the Lord’s name in our speech. (1) We may use it when we pray to God. (2) We may use it when we proclaim Him and His excellencies to others. (3) We may use it when we praise Him. But whatsoever is more than these is an empty, pointless, vain use of the Lord’s name, and it incurs guilt. Often we hear people use such expressions as "Lord, I’m tired!" Or, when something surprising happens they say, "Good Lord!" or, "My God!" Yet these are all vain uses of the Lord’s name, for they are not true prayers to Him, nor do they explain anything about Him, nor do they conduce to the glory of God, and so, they are vain, pointless usages of the holy Name of God.
Nor is this all, for there are many "slang" expressions that are also in this same category of vain usages of the Lord’s name. Let the reader consult any dictionary for words like "Gee," "Gosh," "Golly," and many other such words and he will find that they are all euphemisms for the name of God. A euphemism is a word that is supposedly less offensive or distasteful than another word but which has the same meaning. Thus these words and others such as "Gee Whiz," "jiminy crickets," "gad," and many, many others are simply attempts to get around the guilt of taking the Lord’s name in vain while still using words that sound like it. It will not work, for the very fact that these words are recognized as euphemisms for the names of God makes the person that uses them guilty of breaking the third commandment. Let the reader diligently consider the matter, for many otherwise good Christians are greatly guilty in this matter. Most people that do so have developed this habit in youth, having heard it from their parents or other influential people that were unmindful of the true meaning and origin of these words.
But as we remarked in the beginning of this exposition, these ten laws are not simply negative, but each one has a positive duty in it, either expressed or implied, and so it is here. Therefore we consider—
THE ACT PRESCRIBED
In saying, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," there is intimated the positive side of the matter, and this it is which our Lord emphasizes. Often where the Old Testament expressed a negative prohibition, it will be restated in the New Testament by a positive injunction, or at least in a broader form. Thus, when our Lord taught His disciples how to pray, He began the model prayer with the words, "Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name," Matt. 6:9. This is the very essence of the third commandment—to maintain at all times and in all places and circumstances, a hearty reverence for the name of the Lord. It appears from this that it is even possible for God’s people to be guilty of taking the Lord’s name in vain even in their devotional exercises. Indeed, this writer has heard men pray in such a presumptuous and demanding way that they appeared to think God to be nothing more than a giant lackey to run errands for them. This led him to wonder if their very addressing of God was a taking of His name in vain.
The word "hallowed" means, "to set apart for a holy purpose," and this ought to be our attitude toward the name of our God. If we do not have a holy and respectful attitude toward the name of our God, it is evident that we do not have a holy reverence for His Person either. Who dares to say, "I love the Lord," even while he is besmirching the name of the Lord by taking it in vain in his daily speech? If we truly "Hallow" the name of the Lord, we will never use it except for the holy purposes to which it is set apart.
But this commandment does not alone prescribe what our speech is to be, for an individual may maintain a correct speech, yet still profane the name of the Lord by his actions if he is known to be one upon whom the name of the Lord is called. As early as the third generation of men upon earth there was a distinction made between the people of God and the people of the world. We are told that after the birth of Enos, "Then began men to call themselves by the name of the Lord," Gen. 4:26, marginal reading. Prior to this there had been the worship of the Lord, but this was the time when the godly began to be known by some particular name to distinguish them as the people of God. And ever since then God’s people have been distinguished in some way by adherence to the name of the Lord.
But because this is true, any inconsistent action on the part of those that bear the name of the Lord will reflect back upon the God whose name they bear. For this reason, any false worship on the part of these is a profanation of the name of the Lord. This is why the Lord says, "And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord," Lev. 18:21. "And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name," Lev. 20:3.
Turning to the New Testament, we find this same truth set forth. "And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him," Col. 3:17. Whatever a person does, it will reflect either good or evilly upon his God, and thus this exhortation of the apostle, who expresses this even more explicitly in II Thes. 1:11-12. "Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
It is to be doubted that any true Christian would ever knowingly blaspheme the name of the Lord, yet careless Christians may be the cause of blasphemy by the ungodly if they are careless about their conduct. The name of the Lord may be vilified or blasphemed by the careless conduct of professed Christians. "Blaspheme" means simply to speak evil, or injuriously of someone, particularly of God. But the New Testament so applies this word as to show that one can be guilty of blasphemy by one’s ungodly actions. Thus, it is written, "Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you," Rom. 2:23-24. And Christians are warned against inconsistent actions that would result in this. "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed," I Tim. 6:1. And the showing of partiality to the rich is warned against, lest there be in it a connivance at the blasphemy of the rich men that by their greedy actions bring reproach upon the Lord’s name, James 2:1-7.
True Christians have a two-fold seal upon them that manifests their true character, for after speaking of those that are in error, and who overthrow the faith of others, Paul says, "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity," II Tim. 2:19.
In saying, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain," there is not only the explicit prohibition of the misuse of God’s name, but there is also the implicit prescription that the name of the Lord be hallowed. And no man has kept this commandment if he has not lived according to his profession, though he may not have cursed or sworn falsely. Practice cannot be divorced from profession without profaning the name of the Lord.
One other thing needs to be noted in connection with this commandment. It is something that is often overlooked or ignored, but which is of utmost importance so far as man’s welfare is concerned. It is a warning of—
THE ANTICIPATED PUNISHMENT
"For the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain." Man may ignore this part of this verse all he pleases, but here is predicated the certain punishment of all those that misuse that holy Name. This is but another way of saying that God will hold the man guilty that takes His name in vain. Guilt can not be escaped by simply closing one’s eyes to the commandment, nor does even a complete ignorance of the guilt remove the fact of it. This may mitigate the degree of guilt, but it cannot change the fact of it.
The warning is quite express in this commandment, and there are made no exceptions or qualifications to it. Therefore, it behooves every individual to consider carefully whether he is guilty of the transgression of this commandment, for neither ignorance nor willful blindness to it will change the fact of sin. It is to be remembered that sins of the mouth come very easy, and nothing needs more control than the human mouth, for James says, "For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body," James 3:2. Even so eminent a saint and apostle as Peter was guilty of transgressing this commandment in the most shameful way. For while standing about a fire in the courtyard of the palace of the high priest while Jesus was on trial, Peter was himself accused of being one of Jesus’ followers until he used language that convinced the people otherwise. "But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak," Mark. 14:71. Peter’s sin was a double-barreled one, for not only did he curse, but he also swore a false oath, which only goes to show that even believers are not immune to this sin, and so, must be on their guard against it. Peter had already lied in the course of his being interrogated by those other hand-warmers about the fire, so that his cursing and swearing was actually a second and third form of transgressing the third commandment. Thus is the progressive nature of all sin.
Man is a presumptuous and proud creature, and it is but natural and needful that the Lord should put certain safeguards around worship in order to prevent the natural inclination of man from running its course. The first commandment is designed to direct man’s natural tendency to worship into the right channel of worship, and the second command is designed to offset man’s perverted tendency to worship some visible representation of God. So this third commandment is given to prevent man’s proud and presumptuous nature from becoming overly familiar, and even abusing the privilege of calling upon the name of the Lord. Calling on the Lord is a distinct privilege given to the people of God, yet to what lengths of abuse it may be put may be observed in the case of the Jewish leaders in the time when our Lord walked the earth. That the abuse of this commandment is prevalent in our day is obvious to all that will read and accept this commandment in its literality. That a very solemn warning of assured guilt clings to it, is even more obvious, so that we ought to all "be swift to hear, slow to speak," James 1:19, for "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise," Prov. 10:19.
These first three commandments have all followed a pattern, the first showing Who is to be worshipped, the second and third showing How God is to be worshipped. Now we come to the fourth and last law upon the first table, and this one is no exception, but reveals When God is to be worshipped.
LAW IV: "REMEMBER THE SABBATH DAY, TO KEEP IT HOLY."
The reader will observe a difference in the way this commandment is expressed from that of the preceding three, for this one is expressed positively, whereas the first three were expressed negatively.
It is an interesting fact that this is the only one of the ten commandments that is not verbally restated in the New Testament, and for this reason some people have jumped to the hasty, but erroneous conclusion that this law is no longer binding upon God’s people. But we must either accept or reject these commandments in toto. Forasmuch as the New Testament declares that the law is a unity, we are not at liberty to accept some and reject others. See James 2:10. Not only so, but if we accept the first three laws as setting forth man’s responsibility to God, but reject the fourth, we have mutilated the first table of the Law so as to leave a definite gap in our knowledge of how God is to be worshipped. As already stated, Law One declares Who is to be worshipped—Jehovah alone, Exod. 20:1-3. Law Two declares How He is to be worshipped—not mediately, through images, but immediately, directly, V4-6. Law Three declares the manner of worship—not irreverently or with too great familiarity, but reverently and respectfully, V7. Now Law Four declares When God is to be worshipped—not necessarily on the seventh day of the week, but on a seventh day after six days of labor, i. e., on a regularly recurring cycle of one day out of every seven, V8-11. Much of the information for this present study is drawn from the writer’s article on "Studies On the Sabbath Principle," which was published serially in the issues of February, March and April, 1968, of The Orthodox Baptist (religiouspaper). The reader is referred to the appendix where this article is carried in its entirety.
In the course of our study on this commandment we will consider it from four different aspects, the first of which is—
THE EXPRESSION OF THIS LAW
The first statement that meets our eyes in this law is "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy," V8, which suggests the existence of this law prior to its promulgation on Mount Sinai. No one can "remember" that which has just been given as an entirely new and hitherto unknown principle. But we know certainly that this law existed from the very beginning in principle, for God Himself first set the example of keeping a sabbath of rest. "And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made," Gen. 2:2-3. It is self-evident that God did not do this because He was tired, but must have done it in order to teach man to observe this sabbatic principle. This application is made in Exod. 20:11. "For (the reason why man is to keep a sabbath) in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
But not only was the Divine example given of observing a sabbath day from the earliest, but also this example was followed by men, for a great number of the most ancient nations —nations that had no intercourse with the Jewish people—were in the practice of observing a sabbath. There is only one reasonable explanation of this fact, namely, that this was an original law, given to men at the very fountainhead of the race, and practiced for hundreds of years before the principle was finally corrupted and lost. This fact is substantiated by Jesus’ statement in Mark 2:27-28. "And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath." Note particularly that He said that the sabbath was made for "man," not for the "Jew," for the word used for "man" is the word that speaks of man generically, and deals with the whole race of men.
Man is commanded to "Remember" the sabbath because it is for his own best interests to do so, for "the sabbath was made for men, and not man for the sabbath," as the Rabbis thought. This law was God’s merciful provision for the physical need of rest for man and animal, and it was given that no master could work either his servants or his animals unmercifully. And even the poor man, who had no servants or animals would be greatly benefited by the keeping of this law, for his own health would be preserved by it.
This was not even the first promulgation of this law to Israel, for as the word "remember" intimates, they were already accustomed to the observance of the sabbath, as is shown by Exod. 16:5, 22-30. This law, being part of the moral law, is as old as man himself, and it was in earlier times practiced even more extensively than it is in the present dispensation.
But this law was not alone for man’s benefit, for the words "to keep it holy" show that there is, in the observance of it, that which conduces to the glory of God, and that this is what constitutes the sabbath as "holy." "To keep it holy" manifests that it already had a holy character, which was imparted to it by the Lord Himself when He blessed and hallowed it, V11f; Gen. 2:3. But man is obligated to maintain this hallowed character of the sabbath. He does this by making this day a time of definite worship of the Lord, endeavoring to learn of the Lord, become more dedicated to God’s service, and to acknowledge God’s bounty to him by returning the tithe to Him. Thus, we conceive at least five important purposes of the day of rest, which are as follows. (1) It is for Rest from labor. (2) It is for Reverence Of The Lord. (3) It is for Religious Instruction. (4) It is for Reviving of the Saint. (5) It is for Recognition of God’s bounty.
Man is to keep the sabbath holy in order that he might be kept mindful of his relationship to God; for no one who regularly observes the sabbath according to this injunction can ever lose sight of God. He may become cold and indifferent toward the Lord, but the very practice and observance of the sabbath will work to the spiritual betterment of the man by reviving him from his indifference. The regular observance of the sabbath is necessary to keep man conscious of his responsibility to God. As B. H. Carroll says, "Whenever you find a man that has no sabbath, you find a man that has no sensibility to God." (An Interpretation of the English Bible, Vol II, p. 152.)
But we must go further in our study on this fourth law, and consider how it applies to man. We note therefore—
THE EXTENSION OF THIS LAW
It is tragic that so many people misunderstand what is so clearly declared in this law. Many assume that the word "seventh" in this place means the seventh day of the week, and some will hear of nothing else. But "seventh" is an ordinal number, and all ordinals are relative terms. That is, they are used only in relation to some other number. This word could mean "the seventh day of the week" if this were stated, but such is not the case here. In this place, and generally elsewhere, the sabbath day is the seventh day after six days of labor, but what day of the week it falls on is nowhere even hinted at. In actuality, there is but one instance in the whole of the Bible where it can be definitely proven that the sabbath of rest occurred on the seventh day of the week, counting from the beginning of the creation, and this was the first week of the world, Gen. 2:2. In all other places where the sabbath is spoken of as the seventh day, it is seventh only in relation to six prior days of labor.
There is a principle involved in this. The day of the week is not so important as the principle itself, and this principle is what is here set forth. Six is man’s number. It is always associated with man in some way.
Sabbatarians may claim that they keep the scriptural sabbath, but it is an utter impossibility for any person to know if what is observed today as the seventh day of the week is in reality the seventh day of the week counting from the beginning of the creation. This is clear from the following facts. First, God changed Israel’s calendar radically when He brought the nation out of Egyptian bondage, Exod. 12:2. Second, Israel abused and even ignored her weekly sabbaths for a long period of time, Lam. 2:6; Amos 8:4-5. Third, the Jewish manner of reckoning time has always been a very complicated one. It was the practice of the rabbis to juggle the calendar at the end of each year in order that certain feast days would not fall on the sixth or first days of their week, and that certain others would not fall on the seventh. Fourth, even in reckoning time since Christ’s birth there is mass confusion so that the best scholars can only estimate the year of His birth, while sabbatarians presumptuously assume that they know the exact day of the week on which the original Sabbath fell. Finally, the apostle declares that Christians are not to let any one judge them in respect of the Sabbaths, Col. 2:16, which would hardly be the case if we could know what day of the week the original Sabbath fell on, and were required to keep it.
We repeat for the sake of emphasis. What is required in this fourth law is that man is given six days, but after each six days of labor, he is to render up to God a seventh day, and this is to be done in regularly recurring cycles. If a person does this, he has fulfilled the Sabbath principle, and is on safe ground, for the only way he could be certain of keeping the day of the week on which the original Sabbath fell would be if he kept every day as a sabbath.
Doubtless the harshness of the punishment for violation of the sabbath was due to the fact, as we will see shortly, that this sabbath rest typified the spiritual rest of salvation, as expounded in Heb. 3 and 4. Those that do not rest in Jesus for salvation shall enter into a state of eternal spiritual death, and so, in order for the type to be true to the antitype, death had to be decreed for violation of the sabbath.
In spite of the solemn prohibition and warning against violating the sabbath, this was perhaps one of the most common sins that Israel committed, for many times we find her accused of profaning the sabbaths of the Lord. It was their refusal to observe the land sabbath every seven years that brought about Israel’s seventy years of captivity in Babylon. But the Jews were not guilty alone of profaning the land sabbath, for they transgressed all of the sabbaths—weekly sabbaths, monthly sabbaths, annual sabbaths and the Jubilee sabbath every forty-nine years. But always when she did so, God punished Israel, for no one can profane the Lord’s Sabbath without, at the same time, holding the Lord that commanded it in contempt. At the same time, the Lord always held out the promise of blessing to those that would deny themselves in order to observe the Sabbath. "If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it," Isa. 58:13-14.
Here again, as we noted in connection with the previous law, this commandment is "exceeding broad" and covers a great deal. Doubtless many persons in our age are guilty of transgressing this commandment because they seek only their own ways and pleasures instead of sanctifying the sabbath and making it their delight. But we cannot really understand all that is involved in this commandment unless we understand what lies back of this commandment and the reasons why the Lord commands it. Note therefore—
THE EXPLANATION OF THIS LAW
The explanation of this law is to be found first of all in the example set by the Lord in the creation of the heavens and earth. "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it," Exod. 20:11. This law being based upon the original creation is another manifestation that this could not have application solely to the nation of Israel, which did not come into existence until many centuries after the creation. This is another of the many proofs of the universal application of this law.
Because it is based upon the example of God Himself resting when He had completed the creation, this law gives the highest reason to man to also observe a sabbath of rest after six days of labor. If God, Who cannot become tired, rested after six days of labor, it must have been symbolic and exemplary, and not from necessity that He did so.
Again, we find this command to observe the sabbath day was based, so far as Israel was concerned, upon the redemption from Egyptian bondage. "And remember that thou was a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commandeth thee to keep the sabbath day," Deut. 5:15. Here in Deut. 5 the Decalog is restated, but it is restated in a much more national form than in Exod. 20, for there it is intended to be universal in its application. This explains why here reference is made to the Egyptian bondage, but not there. In this we see that the sabbath was meant to be commemorative as well as memorial. Meditation would at once suggest to the individual how that the Lord had delivered the burdened Israelites from that cruel bondage into the land of rest wherein they could, like the Lord, rest from their labors. In Egypt the Israelites were not permitted to observe the sabbath as a day of rest, but were compelled to work as on other days. And so this privilege granted to them when they came into the promised land would be a constant reminder of that from which they were delivered by the Lord.
But more than being commemorative and memorial, the sabbath was given as a test of obedience to the Israelites, for the first mention of the word "sabbath" in the Bible, Exod. 16:23, is in this connection. The Israelites began to murmur because of hunger, as if they thought that God could not supply them with food, and this brought about the gift of manna, and God’s test of their obedience in connection with it. "Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily," Exod. 6:4-5. This had reverence, as V23 shows, to the sabbath day.
This seemed like a simply demand to make, and all went well until the sabbath came, and some would not obey God’s instructions concerning the manna, but went out to gather it as usual on the sabbath. But in this they were disappointed for there was no manna given on the sabbath, and they went hungry, Exod. 16:22-30. Actually, there were two tests connected with the manna. First, God had promised to give them a sufficiency each day, but some distrusted God, and attempted to store up extra for future use, and it promptly bred worms and stank. The second test was in connection with the prohibition not to gather the manna on the sabbath day.
The sabbath principle is still a test of men even in our day. For like the tithe, it tests whether we are willing to take what is allotted to us, and to trust the Lord to make that sufficient by His blessings, for our needs. Or whether we will steal that which God has reserved for Himself, and think that we can live better by our own wits and ways without God’s blessings. We have often heard professing Christians excuse their working on Sunday by saying, "Well, I’ve got to live," as if the Lord had made it impossible to make a living without violating His Law. Still others, who in the ordinary course of events keep this commandment but who will, in the time of harvest, or some other pressing circumstances, compromise and work on the sabbath. This writer ministered for some years mainly to farming people, and among these there were some that felt that in harvest time one could work on the sabbath without incurring guilt. But as one young convert sagely remarked, "If the Lord can take care of my crop all year long, He can surely protect it for one more day till Sunday is past." This is spiritual logic. The Lord makes no exception to this law in harvest time. "Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest," Exod. 34:21.
Once again, we see another explanation for this law. It is anticipative of rest of soul. This is the application that is made of the original sabbath of the creation week in Heb. 4, for believers are spoken of as entering in to rest in V3, then reference is made to God resting from his works, V4. In V5-8 it is shown that the Israelites did not enter into the true rest under Joshua because of unbelief and hardness of heart. Had this been so, then there would not have been another day, which is contrasted with the seventh day spoken of, but the writer concludes an important truth in V9. "There remaineth therefore a sabbathkeeping (Greek, sabbatismos) to the people of God," literal rendering. A likeness is therefore drawn between sabbathkeeping and salvation in that the individual soul in salvation ceases trying to save himself, and trusts wholly in the Lord’s finished work for his soul’s eternal welfare. Thus, this is parallel with Matt. 11:28-30.
This study upon this commandment, however, would not be complete unless we considered how our Lord repudiated the Rabbis’ harsh and often inconsistent explanations of this law, for they often laid great corrupting interpretations upon the sabbath law. We therefore observe—
THE EXEMPTIONS FROM THIS LAW
That this law was not absolute is evident from the New Testament where we find several notable exceptions made to it. And this is exactly what we would expect, for the Moral Law is not unreasonable, but is based upon the very best reason, and is always for man’s best interests. It works no hardship except upon the impious and selfish, for it conduces to right relationships between the individual and God, and between the individual and others of his fellow creatures.
The first exception to this law is set forth by way of example, for we are told, "At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?" Matt. 12:1-4.
The Mosaic law had decreed that none but the priests should eat of the shewbread, yet David and his men were in desperate straits and needed food for the sustenance of life, and therefore this need superceded the Mosaic enactment. This reveals that in cases of necessity, when to strictly obey the law would be to endanger one’s health, a higher law—the law of survival—takes precedence over the Moral Law.
Nor does this apply only to humans, for Jesus rebuked one of the Jewish rulers that had criticized Him healing on the sabbath by citing their own practice of being concerned for their livestock. "The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?" Luke 13:15. This again would be an act of necessity for the animal. The wonderful truth is that the Moral Law not only is in the best interests of man but even the beasts of him that keeps the Law are benefited by it. It is indeed hypocritical for a person, under the guise of religion, to make his livestock suffer for it. A puritan writer once said something to the effect that if a man had true religion, even his animals should be the better for it.
Again, an exception to this law is made in connection with acts of mercy, which is based to a certain degree in the foregoing case. The Lord again set the example in the matter. "And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand. And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth. And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? And they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other," Mark 3:1-5. On another but similar occasion, our Lord condemned the unmerciful attitude of the Pharisees in connection with acts of mercy by citing their own mercy toward their animals on the sabbath day. "And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things," Luke 14:5-6. Acts of mercy are always in order, either to man or to beast.
In arguing the legitimacy of acts of healing upon the sabbath, the Lord also cited the case of the Jewish priests performing circumcision upon the sabbath day without breaking the Moral Law. In this instance, the Mosaic Law and the Moral Law appeared to be contrary to one another, yet the Mosaic Law was given the precedence, John 7:22-23. All of this goes to show that the Law is not arbitrary. There are instances in which it may be superceded by a higher law, or for a higher end, or rather, it may be fulfilled in the spirit even while it appears to be broken in the letter.
Finally, an exception is to be seen in this law in the doing of ministerial works. "Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?" Matt. 12:5. In every dispensation it has been necessary for those that were the spiritual leaders to work on the sabbaths, else there could have been no spiritual services. In this dispensation, Sunday is often the preacher’s busiest day, for many preachers are on their feet for four hours or more, preaching a morning and evening message, teaching a Sunday School lesson, and bringing a Training Union lesson. Besides this, some have afternoon preaching services at a jail, rest home, etc., while others make hospital calls, or other visits. But even those whose schedule is not so full on Sunday still of necessity must perform much work, and thereby they violate the letter of this commandment, but there is no guilt incurred thereby, for a higher law takes precedence—the law of the Spirit’s call and leading.
Many preachers, because the regular day of rest is their busiest day, make a practice of taking off Monday from all regular work in order to rest up and refresh their bodies for the new week’s work. Such a practice fulfills the requirements of the Sabbath Law even though the day of rest is neither Saturday nor Sunday. In any case, who can indict men for doing what they are Divinely called to do? He that is the Author of the Law is surely its best interpreter as to how it is to be fulfilled.
This fourth law completes the First Table of the Law, which relates to and regulates man’s duty to God. These first four laws deal with man’s worship, and thus form a complete and universal expression of man’s duty to God. The second table deals with man’s responsibility to man. However, some people put five commandments on each of Two Tables of the Law, justifying it, perhaps by the idea that this fifth commandment forms a transition from duty to God to duty to man. There is a sense in which parents have a relation to their minor children that is almost like being God to them. Long before a young child has the mental ability to conceive of a great God that is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, etc., he can visualize from his relationship with his parents the idea of a loving authority Figure that takes care of him and directs him into right paths. This will have much to do with the way he will think of Divine authority when he gets old enough to understand the concept of God. However, we think it more logical to divide the Law into four and six commandments.
STUDIES ON THE SABBATH PRINCIPLE