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Moses 22 – Proclaiming The Law


What an amazing privilege to study the laws given by the Law Giver Himself. The ten commandments are an expression of the character of God. And the more we study these laws, the more we will appreciate God’s goodness. Let’s have another look at the second commandment.

Verses 4-6 You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Graven image.

As the first commandment emphasizes the fact that there is but one God, in protest against the worship of many gods, the second places emphasis upon His spiritual nature (John 4:24)

Why? It shows His disapproval of idolatry and materialism.

This commandment does not necessarily prohibit the use of sculpture and painting in religion. You don’t have to remove all your pictures or get rid of your children Bible. Why?

Because of the artistry and representation employed in the construction of the sanctuary (Ex. 25:17–22), in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6:23–26), and in the “brasen serpent” (Num. 21:8, 9; 2 Kings 18:4). These illustrations clearly prove that the second commandment does not proscribe religious illustrative material.

What is condemned is the reverence, the worship, or quasi worship, which multitudes in many lands give to religious images and pictures.

The excuse that the idols themselves are not worshiped does not lessen the force of this prohibition. Idols are not only not to be worshiped, they are not even to be made.

The folly of idolatry lies in the fact that idols are merely the product of human skill, and therefore inferior to man and subject to him (Hosea 8:6). You and I can truly engage in worship only by directing our thoughts to One greater than ourselves.

Any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

The threefold division here and elsewhere (sky, earth, and water) covers the entire physical universe, from which the heathen drew and fashioned their deities (Deut. 4:15–19; Rom. 1:22, 23). In archaeology you can view some of these idols

Not bow down.

This strikes at the outward honor given images in the ancient world. They were not looked upon as emblems, but as real and actual embodiments of deity. It was believed that the gods took up their abode in these images.

Those who made them were not esteemed; they might even be despised. But their idolatrous handiwork was reverentially adored and worshiped.

A jealous God.

God refuses to share His glory with idols (Isa. 42:8; 48:11). He declines the worship and service of a divided heart (Ex. 34:12–15; Deut. 4:23, 24; 6:14, 15; Joshua 24:15, 19, 20). Jesus Himself said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).

Visiting the iniquity.

This seeming threat has disturbed the minds of some who see in it the manifestation of a vengeful spirit. A distinction should be made, however, between the natural results of a sinful course of action, and punishment inflicted because of it.

God does not penalize one individual for the wrong deeds of another (Ezekiel 18:2–24). Each man stands before God, responsible only for his own acts. At the same time God does not interfere with the laws of heredity in such a way as to protect one generation from the misdeeds of its fathers.

It would be inconsistent with His character and His principles of dealing with men. It is only through these laws of heredity, which were of course ordained by the Creator in the beginning (see Gen. 1:21, 24, 25), that divine justice visits the “iniquity” of one generation upon the next.

No one can escape completely the consequences of dissipation, disease, profligacy, evil doing, ignorance, and bad habits handed down by preceding generations.

The descendants of degraded idolaters and the offspring of evil and vicious men generally begin life under the handicap of physical and moral sin, and harvest the fruit of seed sown by their parents.

Juvenile delinquency proves the truth of the second commandment. Environment also has a decided effect upon each rising generation. But since God is gracious and just, we may trust Him to deal fairly with each person, making due allowance for the disadvantages of birth, the inherited predispositions, and the influence of previous environment upon character.

Psalms 87:6 The LORD shall count, when he writes up the people, that this man was born there

Luke 12:47 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

Luke 12:48 But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For to whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.

His justice and mercy require this (John 15:22; Acts 17:30; 2 Cor. 8:12).

At the same time our aim is to be victorious over every inherited and cultivated tendency to evil.

God “visits,” or “appoints,” the results of iniquity, not vindictively, but to teach sinners that a wrong course of action inevitably brings unfortunate results.

Them that hate me.

How does a person hate God?

Those who, though they know God, refuse to serve Him. To set one’s affections upon false gods of any kind, to place one’s trust in anything besides the Lord, is to “hate” Him.

Those who do so inevitably bring trouble and suffering not only upon themselves but also upon those who come after them.

Those parents who think most of God, think most of their children. The use of the strong word “hate” is characteristically Oriental, expressing as it does the most intense disapproval.

All a man need do to classify himself among those who “hate” God is to love Him less than he loves other persons or things (Luke 14:26; Rom. 9:13).

Verse 6 And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments

It is through obedience that true love for God is shown.

Since God Himself is love, and His dealings with His creatures are motivated by love (1 John 4:7–21), God does not wish us to obey Him because we must but because we choose to do so (John 14:15, 21; 15:10; 1 John 2:5; 5:3; 2 John 6).

Exodus 20:7 You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.

The word vain means “iniquity,” “falsehood,” “vanity,” “emptiness.”

To inculcate reverence is the chief purpose of the third commandment (see Ps. 111:9; Eccl. 5:1, 2), which is an appropriate sequel to the two that precede it.

Ecclesias 5:1,2 Keep your foot when you go 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 your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter anything before God: for God is in heaven, and you on earth: therefore let your words be few.

Those who serve none but the true God, and serve Him in spirit and in truth, will avoid any careless, irreverent, or unnecessary use of the holy name.

They will not indulge in profanity. Profanity, or any careless language for that matter, not only violates the spirit of religion but indicates a lack of breeding and gentlemanliness as well.

“Immodest words admit of no defence,
For want of decency is want of sense.”

This commandment applies not only to words we should avoid but to the care with which we should use those that are good (see Matt. 12:34–37).

The third commandment also condemns empty ceremony and formality in worship (see 2 Tim. 3:5), and exalts worship in the true spirit of holiness (John 4:24).

It shows that obedience to the letter of the law is not sufficient. None ever reverenced the name of God more strictly than did the Jews, who to this day will not utter it.

As a result, no one now knows how it should be pronounced. But in their extreme devotion to the letter of the law the Jews offered God an empty honor.

This false zeal did not prevent the tragic mistake of the Jewish nation 2,000 years ago (John 1:11; Acts 13:46).

The third commandment also forbids false swearing, or perjury, which has always been considered a serious moral and social offense deserving of the most severe punishment.

The careless use of God’s name denotes a lack of reverence for Him. If our thinking is on a spiritually elevated plane, our words will also be elevated, and will be dictated by what is honest and sincere (Phil. 4:8).

Someone wrote the following words:

“All should meditate upon His majesty, His purity and holiness, that the heart may be impressed with a sense of His exalted character; and His holy name should be uttered with reverence and solemnity.” {PP 306.6}

Exodus 20:8 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

The Sabbath commandment goes back to the very beginning of human history and is an inseparable part of the creation week. To enter fully into the spirit of the Sabbath is to find a valuable aid in obeying the rest of the Decalogue.

The special attention and devotion given on this day of rest to God and to things of eternal value provide reserve power for victory over the evils against which we are warned in the other commandments.

The Sabbath points us back to a perfect world in the long ago (Gen. 1:31; 2:1–3), and reminds us of the time when the Creator will again “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).

It is a reminder also that God stands ready to restore within our hearts and lives His own image as it was in the beginning (Gen. 1:26, 27).

It is our happy privilege once each week to forget everything that reminds us of this world of sin and to “remember” those things that draw us closer to God.

The Sabbath may become to us a little sanctuary in the wilderness of this world, where we may for a time be free from its cares and enter, as it were, into the joys of heaven.

If the Sabbath rest was desirable for sinless beings in Paradise (Gen. 2:1–3), how much more essential it is for erring mortals preparing to re-enter that blest abode!

Verse 9 Six days shall you labour, and do all your work:

This is a permission rather than a command. What work is to be done should be performed on the first six days of the week, so that the Sabbath, which comes on the seventh day, may be free for the worship and service of God.

Verse 10 But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates:

No unnecessary secular labor is to be performed on that day. It is to be spent in religious reflection, worship, and service for God. It provides, as well, an opportunity for physical rest. This feature of the Sabbath is peculiarly important to man in his sinful state, when he must earn his bread by the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:17–19).

The Sabbath of the Lord.

The command divides the week into two parts:
(1) “six days shalt thou … do all thy work,”
(2) “the seventh day … thou shalt not do any work.”

And why this prohibition of work on “the seventh day”?

Because it is a “sabbath of the Lord.” The word Sabbath is from the Heb. shabbath, which means “rest.”

Thus the command prohibits work on “the seventh day” because it is a rest day of the Lord. This takes us back to the origin of the Sabbath, when God “rested on the seventh day” (Gen. 2:2).

That “the seventh day” is uniquely God’s rest day is made evident in the opening words of the command: “Remember the Sabbath [rest] day, to keep it holy.”

Not do any work.

This does not forbid acts of mercy or work essential to the preservation of life and health that cannot be performed on other days.

It must be a holy rest, in which there is communion with God.

Nor your cattle.

God’s care for dumb animals is repeatedly stressed by OT writers (Ex. 23:5, 12; Deut. 25:4). He remembered them in the ark (Gen. 8:1). They were included in His covenant following the Flood (Gen. 9:9–11).

He claims the cattle as His own (Ps. 50:10). The presence of “much cattle” provided one reason why Nineveh was spared (Jonah 4:11).

Your stranger.

That is, a foreigner who of his own free will joined himself to the Israelites. A “mixed multitude” left Egypt with Israel (Ex. 12:38) and accompanied them in their wilderness wanderings.

So long as they chose to remain with the Israelites they were to conform to the requirements God set for His own people.

Verse 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.

It is significant that Christ Himself, as Creator (John 1:1–3), rested upon the world’s first Sabbath day (DA 769) and spoke the law at Sinai

Those who are re-created in His likeness (Eph. 4:24) will choose to follow His example in this as in other matters (1 Peter 2:21).

The Creator did not “rest” because of weariness or fatigue (Isa. 40:28). His “rest” was cessation of labor at the close of a completed task (Gen. 1:31 to 2:3).

In resting He set us an example (Matt. 3:15; cf. Heb. 4:10). The Sabbath was made for man (Mark 2:27), to satisfy a need that was originally spiritual, but which, with the entrance of sin, became physical as well (see Gen. 3:17–19).

One of the reasons the Israelites were delivered from Egypt was that they might observe the divinely appointed day of rest. Their oppression in Egypt had made such observance most difficult (see Ex. 5:5–9; Deut. 5:12–15; PK 180).

After the break we will continue to look at the other codes of love that God has given us. May He empower us to obey them so that our love for Him could be increased.

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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