I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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 to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In ityou shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:2-11)
In today’s reading, I want to talk about the first table of the law. Traditionally, the law has been understood to be divided into two tables. Those divisions and the enumeration of each law has differed depending on the tradition of Christian theology. For the Reformed, the division has been as follows:
Commandments 1-4: First Table (Duty Toward God)
Commandments 5-10: Second Table (Duty toward Man)
This distinction comes from Christ’s summation of the commandments, that you shall love the Lord your God with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).
Today’s reading will be a summary of points regarding the first four commandments.
The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods before Me.
God alone is the only true and living God. As such, He does not allow his worship to be mingled with any other. Thus, this commandment rejects any worship directed toward any other than the Triune God. This duty wasn’t particular to Israel; as Paul us in Romans 1:18-25. All men are duty-bound to worship God; yet, apart from regeneration of the heart, they have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and serve “the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen”. This commandment forbids, generally speaking, atheism, idolatry, worship of self, heresy, and speaking falsely or the omission of any duty toward Him. Purity in worship becomes vital for all the above to be realized. Calvin comments on this commandment in the following way:
Hence, again, it follows, that the one God is not rightly worshipped, unless He be separated from all figments. Wherefore it is not enough to make use of His name, unless all corruptions opposed to His word be laid aside; and thence we arrive at the distinction between true religion and false superstitions; for since God has prescribed to us how He would be worshipped by us, whenever we turn away in the very smallest degree from this rule, we make to ourselves other gods, and degrade Him from His right place. – Calvin, Commentary on Exodus 20
The Second Commandment: You shall not make for yourself a carved image
The substance of this commandment not only worshipping images of God (since they are necessarily false) but also rejects any form of worship that God has not prescribed in his Word. It is from this commandment (and other texts of Scripture) that the Reformed have derived the Regulative Principle of Worship. You can see my post on Calvin and the Regulative Principle for this. God not only reveals who He is but how He is to be worshipped.
The Third Commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
This commandment prohibits vain speaking about God, swearing oaths falsely or deceitfully, abuse of the lot (calling on God to make a determination about something of a non-religious manner). It also calls us to speak of God reverently, not using his name, attributes, or description of His works in a vain or joking manner.
The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.
Under this commandment, we see that God requires that we set aside a due proportion of time to worship Him. One in seven days is set aside for rest from our employments and recreations and focused on the worship and reverence of God. I have written elsewhere on the Sabbath and commend that article to you.
What do we learn, overall, from these commandments?
- God allows that only He be worshipped.
- That He be worshipped in a manner pleasing to Him.
- That He be spoken of and reverenced in a holy manner
- That time is set aside for the doing of the above.