Doctrines of interest Salvation Is Not By Works; The Angelic Conflict; The Confession of Sins, the Filling of the Holy Spirit; The Confession of Sins related to the Filling of the Holy Spirit; Alcoholism and Drinking – with Recovery.
Current Bible Studies
Ephesians Chapter 6,
The Doctrine of the Ten Commandments
Related to the Church Age
In this study, we will note each of the Ten Commandments, (also known as the Decalogue, which is part of the greater Mosaic Law given to Israel in the Pentateuch that also includes the Ordinances, and the Judgments), to understand them in relation to the Church Age in which we live today. The term “commandments” is found in and represents an integral part of both the Mosaic and Christian systems, but with widely different significance.
Although they can be applied by all members of the human race in a moralistic society as protection under Divine Establishment principles, commandments, (including the Ten Commandments), are addressed in the Scriptures to the Jew and the Christian, but not anyone unsaved, (Jew or Gentile). The reason is, Divine commandments serve only to direct the daily life of those who are in right relation to God.
The Ten Commandments were first given to the nation of Israel directly by God under His Divine counsels. They are found in the books of Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:1-21. The Divine counsels for Israel given to Moses remained in effect for the Israelites until the death and resurrection of Christ. That time period is what theologians call the Age of Israel, the Age of the Law, and/or the Jewish Dispensation.
These Divine counsels fall into three major divisions:
1. The Commandments, Ex 20:1-17, which directed Israel’s moral actions.
2. The Judgments, Ex 21:1 – 24:11, which governed Israel’s social activities.
3. The Statutes or Ordinances, Ex 24:12 – 31:18, which guided Israel’s religious activities.
These three forms of Divine requirement were interrelated and interdependent, that is, one could not function fully apart from the other two. Therefore, the modern notion that the Mosaic Commandments are still in force, but that the Judgments and Ordinances have been abolished, can be contemplated only when a lack of understanding exists regarding the form and nature of the Mosaic commandments. When you understand Scripture such as Num 15:32-36, you see that the penalty of death was Divinely imposed for the breaking of the Ten Commandments. Regarding the severity in the penalty for transgressions of the Mosaic Law, it is written in Heb 10:28, “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
“L.S. Chafer noted, “That the entire Mosaic system is not now in force is evident from the fact that not all its conditions are applicable, for example; The Sabbath enjoined by the Mosaic Law is superseded for the present age by the Lord’s Day, and the promise of long life in the Promised Land, which God had bestowed on Israel, has no relation to the Church, (as we have noted in Eph 6:3). In fact, scriptures directly declare that the Commandments of Moses are to be abolished and done away for the present age, John 1:17; Rom 6:14; 7:1, 3-4; 2 Cor 3:6-11; Gal 3:23-25.”
If you fear that the voiding of the Commandments of Moses involves the loss of their great principles of righteousness, please note that every truth contained in the Mosaic system of morals, except the Sabbath day, has been restated and is adapted to grace and not to law. In fact, the first of the Ten Commandments of Moses appears nearly fifty times in and adapted to the new relationship of the believer with God in the Church Age under grace. Therefore, most of the Ten Commandments have been restated in the New Testament and are applicable to the Church in living the unique spiritual life for the Church Age, yet under grace and not under law. In the Church Age, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law, which begins with the Ten Commandments and then goes much further in regards to the societal and spiritual life of the Israelite during the Age of the Law, also known as the Jewish Dispensation.
Because Jesus Christ has fulfilled the Law, we are no longer under the Mosaic Law. The relationship which the nation Israel held to YHWH should not be confused with the high and holy relationship which Christians now hold toward God by reason of being in Christ. Therefore, things like the laws of separation between clean and unclean, of ceremonial defilement, of Sabbath observance, etc., are set aside during the Church Age by Jesus Himself in the pursuit of his ministry to reach the sinner.
Jesus said in, Mat 11:13, “For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John (the Baptist),” indicating that a new reality had entered the scene and was replacing the old order, Mark 1:15; cf. 2 Cor 5:17.
Gal 3:10-12, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall life by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them’.”
Gal 4:9-11, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”
Gal 5:18, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.”
Rom 6:14, “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under Law, but under grace.”
Gal, 5:1, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery, (the Law).”
Eph 2:15, “By abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.”
Rom 7:6, “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
Rom 10:4, more strongly than any other passage, raises the question of the place of the law and its continuing validity for the Christian.
Rom 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Cf. Luke 24:44
Here we are confronted with the affirmation that the law no longer determines our relationship with God. Many think this opens up a life style of antinomianism, the rejection of any and all laws and regulations, especially absolute norms, for the moral life.
For Paul, the Law “was our custodian until Christ came,” Gal 3:24. Its temporary function has now been accomplished; and Christ is therefore also the terminus, the cessation of the Law. He is the end of the law for righteousness “for everyone who believes.” For it is only in the response of faith to Christ, in the humble submission to God’s righteousness, Rom 10:3, that the bondage of the law, (consisting of its revelation of sin and its inability to help us beyond it), can come to its end. Cf. Mat 5:17-20; Rom 5:20.
Rom 5:20, “And the Law came in that the transgression might increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.”
In Fact, all the Mosaic Law is fulfilled by the Holy Spirit, Gal 5:16-24.
Yet, regarding the Ten Commandments, as noted above, most of them have been restated in the New Testament and therefore, are applicable to the Christian way of life.
God’s purpose for the Decalogue in regard to Israel is given in Exodus Chapter 19, and 20:1-2, called The Preamble to Israel’s Constitution. In vs. 3-6, we have the specific purpose of the Law.
Ex 19:3-6, “Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 4’You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. 5Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; 6and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel”.”
From the mountain, God spoke some of the most significant words found in the Old Testament, words which Moses was to proclaim to the Israelites. Here we note several principles:
1. Israel’s history is proof of God’s faithfulness to His covenant, for He distinguished the Israelites from the Egyptians, delivering them and making them the special object of His care.
2. Israel’s deliverance was for the purpose of being brought to God, so that the nation could be His prized possession and to serve Him as a priestly nation. God purposed to bless the nations by establishing Israel, His servant, as a mediatorial people, who would be a “light to the Gentiles,” sharing with the nations the way of entering into fellowship with God.
3. In order to maintain this privileged status, Israel had to keep God’s covenant, (as defined by the Law). Israel’s calling was to a position of both privilege and of responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required. Thus, in order to enjoy fellowship with God and to serve Him as His representative to the nations, Israel must reflect His holiness and purity. Israel was thus given the commandments, so that Israel would be distinct from the nations and God-like, so that they could fulfill their priestly calling.
4. The Law was Israel’s corporate covenant with God and her constitution as a nation. Repeatedly, the Law which God gave Israel through Moses was referred to as a covenant, Ex 19:5; 24:7-8; 34:10, 27-28; Deut 4:23; 5:2. The three principle covenants of the Old Testament were:
a. The Abrahamic covenant, Gen 12:1-3. The promise of an eternal people.
b. The Davidic covenant, 2 Sam 7:11-16; 1 Chron 17:10-14. The promise of an eternal kingdom with an eternal King.
c. The Mosaic (or Sinaitic) covenant. The giving of the Law for Israel.
The first two covenants are unconditional, yet the Mosaic covenant is different from the other two covenants. This was a covenant which was provisional, conditional, and which was to be replaced by a “new covenant,” which would be an eternal covenant, Jer 31:31-34; cf. Isa 55:3; 61:8; Ezek 37:26.
The Mosaic covenant was never given as a means of earning righteousness by Law-keeping. The covenant was given to the Israelites after God had delivered them from Egypt. The Law could not be kept, except by God’s grace, and provisions were made, (the sacrificial system), for men when they would fail to abide by the Law. The New Covenant was promised because the Mosaic covenant could not be kept by Israel, Jer 31:31-34.
Therefore, the Law, (in its broadest form; found in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible), was intended to serve as a record of God’s faithfulness to His promises and to His people. The Ten Commandments, along with the rest of the laws of God, were given to serve as the covenant between God and His people, and as their national constitution, by which the nation would be guided and governed.
Next we note that there are four things to observe about the Decalogue.
1. The first thing is that the Ten Commandments, and the entire Law, was a direct revelation from God. God dictated these words, they were not mediated through any man.
2. The second thing to notice about the Ten Commandment is that they are all, with two exceptions, negatives. Why negatives? Because they are given in legal format and they were designed to expose sin.
They utilize a construction in the Hebrew known as the “absolute negative.” There are two kinds of construction in Hebrew, the “relative negative” and the “absolute negative.” The relative negative would mean, “do not do that,” as you would say to someone. The relative means, “just do not do it now, but maybe you can later.” But if you said, “never do that,” you would be using the absolute negative. In other words, under no condition will you ever do this thing. The absolute negatives are given because legal format is designed to expose sin.
3. The third thing to notice about the Ten Commandments is that they are based on mental attitude, not overt activity. This is explained in the Tenth Commandment. Look at Deut 5:21. That is not an overt activity.
Deut 5:21, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, and you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field or his male servant or his female servant, etc.”
All of this is an inner mental attitude, which proves that the entire complex of the Ten Commandments is mental. This is what Jesus was trying to explain in the Sermon on the Mount, Mat 5. At that time, the Pharisees had made the Law totally external, yet Jesus says, “No, you misunderstand this, you totally misunderstand this.” The legalists, (Judaizers), decided they were going to get saved by keeping the Law, so they had to make the Law easy enough so that they could get saved. Therefore, the Pharisees said look, “Do not murder, because if you do, the policeman might get you.” That is basically what they said and Jesus came along and said isn’t that sweet, “You have heard it said that ‘you shall not murder’, and that is when He launched into this, “if you hate your brother you have already murdered him.” What Jesus was trying to show them was, you cannot externalize these things; they begin on the inside, in your mind, in the mentality of your soul.
4. The fourth thing to notice about the Decalogue is that it is given in itself in treaty format in the suzerain manner, (a treaty between a powerful king and his vassals). The whole book of Deuteronomy is outlined in treaty format, and this little block of material in the Ten Commandments is a treaty within a treaty, because here it begins, “I am the LORD, your God,” that is part of the preamble, “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage,” that is what I have done for you, the historical prologue; and the rest of it is the stipulations. Therefore, the Ten Commandments are not just a moral code; they are a code that is controlling a relationship that is legally defined. It is not an absolute code that just anybody obeyed. No, the Ten Commandments are given for the people within this covenant; the whole thing is set in a covenant format.
Not only was the Law God’s corporate mandate for the people of the nation Israel, but it was also God’s personal revelation to individual saints. In addition to the public, corporate role of the Law as Israel’s collective covenant and constitution, the Law also had a private role to play in the life of the Old Testament saint. This role of the Law is readily seen in the Psalms, specifically, Psalms 19 and 119. Notice the crucial role the Law has in the life of the individual saint, as reflected by the psalmist in Psalm 19:
Psa 19:7-11, “The Law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. 8The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. 9The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. 10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.”
Some of the specific ways which the Law applied to the individual saint:
1. The Law was seen as a source of personal edification, through which God spoke personally to the individual saint: Restoring his soul, Psa 19:7; Making the simple wise, 19:7; Rejoicing his heart, 19:8; Enlightening his eyes, 19:8; Providing guidance, Psa 119:105; Reviving him, 119:154; and Convicting him of sin, 119:80, 126, 133; Psa 19:11-14.
2. The Law was a revelation of God’s character, Psa 119:138, 156.
3. The Law was a promise of future salvation, Psa 119:166, 174. The psalmists never view the Law as the standard they must keep in order to be saved. In fact, they viewed salvation as something which the Law anticipated, but did not produce itself. Thus, the Psalms look forward to a future salvation, one which the Law itself will not bring about.
4. The Law was a consolation to the sufferer, but it was not viewed as a means by which one could earn blessings or avoid adversity, cf. Psa 119:67, 71, 75. Rather than seeing the Law as the means to keep him from suffering, the psalmist saw suffering as God’s means of bringing him to the Law.
5. From the Law, the psalmist learned that he could neither understand nor apply this revelation apart from God’s grace, Psa 119:68, 73, 124-125, 144, 169. The psalmist understood that the Law required God’s grace to understand and to apply.
6. The Law was simple, yet profound. It would not be grasped quickly and easily, but only through study, prayer, and meditation, Psa 119:114, 123, 147.
The New Testament Perspective of the Mosaic Law.
1. There is great continuity between the NT and the Old in terms of their perspectives of the Law. Paul defended the Law as that which was “Holy,” “righteous,” “good,” and “spiritual,” Rom 7:12, 14.
2. Paul also speaks in demeaning terms regarding the Law, yet only in contrast to the New Covenant, which was implemented by the death of our Lord. In 2 Cor 3, Paul contrasts the glory shown forth at the giving of the Law with the greater glory associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit. This is not a contrast between what is evil and what is good, but rather between what was good and that which is far better. For example:
a. In the first covenant, God’s majesty and might were manifested to all, but a select few could draw near. In the New Covenant, all who wished could draw near, but only a few beheld His majesty, (transfiguration).
b. The first manifestation of God on Mount Sinai portrayed the marvelous truth of the holiness of God, and the separation which that demands. The second manifestation of our Lord on Mount Calvary revealed the marvelous grace of God, by which He drew near to men and by which we may draw near to Him.
Therefore, we must be careful to keep both the holiness and the grace of God in perspective.
a. There are some that stress the grace of God to the point of diminishing the truth of His holiness, and of our need for purity.
b. There are others who so emphasize the holiness of God so that men despair of ever having intimate fellowship with Him.
The barriers which were of necessity constructed to keep men from God at the giving of the old covenant have all been taken away by the institution of the New Covenant. The veil which kept men from the presence of God has been torn in two. The barrier of our sins has been broken down. This is because the holiness which the Law requires has been fulfilled by the Lord Jesus Christ, just as the penalty of death which the Law pronounces on every sinner has been born by the same Savior, on the cross of Calvary. As a result, God gives greater glory to the New Covenant than the Old.
3. In this regard, the Law was also viewed by the apostles as that which was prophetic; it foreshadowed the better things to come, Col 2:16-17; Heb 10:1, and that which was provisional and preparatory, Gal 3 – 4.
a. We are now the kingdom of priests, having been given that holy task which Israel was given and failed to fulfill.
b. Therefore, we should understand that the standards for God’s kingdom of priests would be the same. The means of reaching this standard is not that of human effort at Law-keeping. It never was, and it never will be. We can never fully meet this standard, but in Christ it has been met and given to us. We can never achieve it on our own in this life, but since Christ lives in us, we can expect evidences of righteousness, because He is at work in us to will and to do His good pleasure.
4. Finally, when Paul speaks absolutely disparagingly of “the Law,” it is not of the Law as given by God and properly interpreted and applied, but the Law as interpreted and applied by the Judaizers, who sought to pervert the Law into a system of works-oriented righteousness.
Therefore, the Law is spoken of in the NT: 1) As being holy, righteous, good, and spiritual; 2) In demeaning terms in contrast to the better New Covenant; 3) Prophetically of Christ’s work and accomplishments; 4) Disparagingly, in the way it was applied by the Judaizers.
The 1st Commandment.
Ex 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Deut 5:7, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
“Gods,” is the Hebrew Noun ELOHIM, אֱלֹהִים that is also used for the One true God in vs. 2 and elsewhere in the OT. The “IM” ending makes is a plural noun speaking of the many other “gods” that existed in ancient societies, Ex 20:23, such as Egypt, Philistia, Canaan, Amor, Sidon, Moab, Milcon, Ammon, Syria, Babylon, etc., and ones that would come with the Greek and Roman empires. Whether these societies believed in one or many gods, which is also known as a Pantheon, they all were false gods put before the One true God of Israel. Pantheon
When ELOHIM is used of the One true God of Israel, it is singular in meaning, (as it sometimes is used for singular pagan gods of other nations), yet, subtly pointing out the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as in the great SHEMA of Israel in Deut 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! 5You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
“Before Me,” is the Preposition AL, עַל with the Noun PANIM, פָּנִים that literally means, “face.” This word can also function as a Preposition and literally means, “facing,” and is often translated “before” or “in front of.” Likewise, it can mean in the presence of. Therefore, it means, “in opposition to Me,” as well as, “in My presence.”
This is not an admission that other gods exist. The simple fact is there are no other gods beside God, Isa 45:21; 45:6; cf. 42:8. So, if any are worshipped, they are nothing more than man-made fallacies.
This commandment not only means other gods being worshipped to the exclusion of God, but also prohibits other gods from being considered to be in the presence of God. As noted above, most religions of that day had a pantheon, a divine assembly that ruled the realm of the gods, the supernatural, and ultimately, the human world. In their systems, there would typically be a deity who was designated head of the pantheon, and he, like the other gods, would have at least one consort; female partner. Therefore, this commandment forbids Israel to think in these terms. God is not the head of a pantheon, and he does not have a consort. Therefore, there are no gods in His presence, meaning above Him or worshipped alongside of Him.
Therefore, this first mandate, upon which all of the subsequent commandments are based, means that God was to be their only object of worship, and they were to live in blessed fellowship with Him as their glory and their guide. Unfortunately, Israel often disobeyed this very first command by worshiping the idols of other nations. This eventually resulted in her being exiled to Assyria and Babylonia.
Therefore, this was a mandate for pure monotheism that presented a theology completely at variance with the pagan nations all around them. Though the Israelites had grown up in a grossly polytheistic culture in the land of Egypt, where idols were erected to a large array of imaginary deities, (some of which were bulls, hawks, vultures, crocodiles, snakes, and beetles), nothing could have been more opposing to the cultures of the then Gentile world than the statement that there is only one God, the living and sovereign Lord of all creation who also sustained all things in their order.
The delusion of polytheism began in the antediluvian culture and was continued post flood as demonstrated at the Tower of Babel which was a monument to the greatness of the human race, irrespective of God. The various representations of deity, embodied in anthropoid statues or birds or beasts or crawling creatures, flourished especially in Egypt, from where the Israelites had emerged as the only ethnic unit that retained a knowledge of the One true God. As such, the One true God was in polar opposition to the beliefs, practices, and customs connected with the polytheistic superstitions of the ancient Gentile world. The Jews lived in a world of blind and superstitious nations that worshiped many gods. As such, Israel was to bear witness of the true and living God, Psa 115, and invite their neighbors to trust Him.
Conclusion: This commandment prohibits every species of mental idolatry, and all inordinate attachment(s) to earthly and sensible things.
New Testament usage:
We see this command reiterated in the NT, when Jesus railed against Satan after his third temptation in Mat 4:10; Luke 4:8; Cf. Rev 14:7.
Mat 4:10, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY’.”
Our Lord also reminded the Pharisees of the greatest commandment given in the Law, Mark 12:29, the “Great SHEMA.”
Mark 12:29, “Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD’.”
Mark 12:32 (NKJV), “So the scribe said to Him, ‘Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He’.”
Other passages include:
1 Cor 8:6, “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”
Eph 4:6, “One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
1 Tim 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
James 2:19, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.”
Having other gods before God, means to worship falsely any other man-made god, whether it be of human image or animal or of creation. Worshiping the One true God was still a shocking thing in Paul’s day to the Gentile world. Paul spoke of this in Rom 1:21-23.
Rom 1:21-23, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”
In ancient times and even today, there have been made many wooden, metallic, or clay images of false gods like totem poles, the Buddha, or various paintings of presumed deified beings that people pray to and worship. Even inside “Christianity,” there are many statues of “saints” that are erected and prayed to by their followers, which are nothing less than false pagan idols.
Finally, there can be many other things or objects in your life that become a false god to you, when you trust and rely upon its presumed power to protect you. This can include, but is not limited to, your President or country, a bottle or drug, money, hobbies, sporting events or sports stars, entertainment stars, etc., as our Lord stated in Mat 6:24; Luke 16:13; cf. Gal 1:10; James 4:4.
Mat 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Gal 1:10, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”
James 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Committing adultery against God is worshipping or prioritizing other things in life rather than God, including false pagan god worship.
For us today, Alexander Maclaren puts the 1st Commandment like this, “For what is it but the declaration that at the center of things is throned, not a rabble of godlings, nor a stony impersonal somewhat, nor a hypothetical unknowable entity, nor a shadowy abstraction, but a living Person, who can say ‘Me,’ and whom we can call on as ‘You,’ and be sure that He hears?” (Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture)
He goes on to say, “The first commandment enjoins, or rather blesses us by showing us that we may cherish, supreme affection, worship, trust, self-surrender, aspiration, towards one God. After all, our God is that which we think most precious, for which we are ready to make the greatest sacrifices, which draws our warmest love; which, lost, would leave us desolate; which, possessed, makes us blessed.” (Ibid)
The 2nd Commandment.
Ex 20:4-6, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Deut 5:8-10, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
This prohibition is in regard to the making and worshipping of false gods. They were instructed to not make images of other “gods” or worship or serve them, Deut 4:15-20. The word “make” is the verb ASAH, עָשָׂה that means, “to make something out of something.” It is used of God for His creative acts of the earth, sun, moon, plant life, etc. in Genesis as the Creator. Therefore, by way of comparison and contrast, we are not to be creators of other gods.
This commandment also discusses the “mode” rather than the “object” of worship. It has two parts: the precept, vs. 4-5a, and the penalty or blessing, vs. 5b-6.
The emphasis remains upon monotheism as absolutely essential for the salvation of the covenant nation Israel. The Lord clearly spelled out to them that there was to be absolutely no concession to popular sentiment in favor of cultic images of any kind, whether in heaven above or on earth below, or even in chthonic deities residing beneath the earth itself, (for example those described in Greek mythology).
No likeness or representation of these man-invented deities could be tolerated, for this meant betrayal towards their Divine Lord and Redeemer.
There was not to be even an image of God. Why? Because, an image degrades God and damages men. The worship of God was to be spiritual, not material. His uniqueness, Ex 20:3 requires unique devotion.
“Idol” is the Hebrew Noun PESEL פֶּסֶל and is the most general term for the manufactured image, (usually of wood, stone, silver, or gold), of a god used in the OT. Cf. Isa 40:20; 44:15-17; 45:20; Nah 1:14; Hab 2:18-20. This word comes from the verb PASAL meaning, “to hew or to cut,” which was done to create an idol. The Greek equivalent is EIDOLON, εἴδωλον that means, “idol or image.”
This is reemphasized in the second phrase, “or any likeness,” which is WE KOL TEMUNAH, literally “and all likeness,” that carries the negative LO from the beginning of the sentence. So we have two common words for “idol,” PESEL and TEMUNAH, the use of the two synonyms suggests, “any sort of idol,” is prohibited.
An idol is a substitute for God and therefore not a god, for there is only one true and living God. In the OT, idols were formed by mankind in the image of any object created by God, including a man, woman, animal, bird, fish, the sun, the moon, stars, or anything else peoples’ wicked imaginations could conceive, Lev 26:1; Deut 4:16-19, for they were an abomination to God, Deut 27:15.
Idolatry is an entire elaborate religious system and lifestyle running counter to what God desired and desires true worship to be. The attractions of idolatry were very powerful and tended to draw even the Israelites away from true worship and covenant obedience to YHWH in most generations.
The presence of these idols were indicative of the sin and rebellion of the people, Deut 4:16, 23, 25; 2 Chron 33:7. Interestingly, while God was giving Moses this commandment, the people down below were already breaking it. Psa 106:19-21.
Psa 106:19-21, “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped a molten image. 20Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. 21They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt.”
King Manasseh placed an Asherah pole, representative of the Canaanite goddess of love, in the Temple, resulting in Jerusalem’s eventual destruction by the Lord, 2 Kings 21:7.
Even things that represent God and His plan were banned, for example a Micah, (not the prophet of renown), set up detestable idols in a shrine in Dan, apparently in order to represent the presence of God, Judges 17:5. We also see that Hezekiah had to destroy the Bronze Serpent used by Moses in the wilderness because of false worship towards it, 2 Kings 18:4.
2 Kings 18:4, “He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.”
God calls them dead, deaf, and dumb as they have no life, strength, or power, Jer 10:14; Hab 12:18-20, and they could not save, Isa 45:20.
In vs. 5, we have a figure of speech called hendiadys, when two expressions are used to convey a single idea. The phrase “worship and serve” means, “to offer religious adoration, veneration, and reverence to someone or something.” This is prohibited regarding any other god, and is held only for the One true God of Israel.
“Worship” is the Verb SHACHAH, שָׁחָה in the Causative Reflexive Hithpael, Imperfect that means, “to bow down, to worship, to prostrate.” The Hithpael means the subject is willingly bowing to the ground in worship of a false god and the Imperfect means an incomplete or ongoing action. Cf. Ex 23:24; Deut 4:19; Josh 23:7; 2 Kings 17:35.
Ex 23:24, “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces.”
Deut 4:19, “And beware, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.”
When someone prostrates themselves before a god, it represents the powerlessness of the worshiper, who lies prone before the being possessing power and authority over them.
“Serve,” is the other prohibition in this commandment, which is the verb ABAD (avadh), עָבַד that means, “to work, serve, or be a slave to.” It is in the Causative Passive Hophal stem, Imperfect. The Hophal is always translated as a completed action, yet with the imperfect, it is a repetitive action. The causative passive means they are led to worship these false gods due to their apostate mental attitude towards the true God of Israel. So, we could say, “caused to serve or be enslaved to” the false gods “over and over again.” Cf. Deut 12:2, 30; Joshua 24:2, 14.
Deut 12:2, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.”
Deut 12:30, “Beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?”
Joshua 24:14, “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.”
Israel was not to serve pagan gods, Deut 7:16; 11:16; 28:14; 29:18; Josh 23:7; 2 Kings 17:35; Jer 25:6, but only the Lord, Ex 4:23; 7:16; 8:1; 10:26, and they were to be judged if they neglected this command, Deut 8:19; 30:17; Josh 23:16; 24:20; 2 Chron 7:19, 22, because He was “a jealous” God, Ex 34:14; Deut 5:9; 6:15; 32:16, 21; Josh 24:19.
Ex 34:14, “For you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
God is a “jealous God,” not in the sense that He is envious of other gods; for He knows that all other “gods” are figments of the imagination and do not really exist. The word “jealous” expresses His love for His people because He wants the very best for them. Just as parents are jealous over their children, and spouses over their mates, so God is jealous over His beloved ones and will not tolerate competition, Zech 1:14; 8:2. Therefore, He is zealous that devotion be given exclusively to Him. This is not as an envious egotism of any sort, but rather a firm insistence upon exclusive commitment to the Lord Himself. Because of His deep love, the Almighty insists that no other loyalty or attraction to any rival suitor of the believer’s heart ever be tolerated.
Such idolatry also involved serving Baal, Judges 2:11; 3:7; 10:6, 10, serving idols 2 Kings 17:12; 21:21; Ezek 20:39, and serving the Asherim, Deut 7:5; 12:3; 16:21; 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 21:7; 23:4; 2 Chron 15:16.
Baal was the lord of Canaanite religion and seen in the thunderstorms. He was worshiped as the god who provided fertility. His worship was as diverse as the communities in which he was worshiped. Each locality had its own Baal, who was named after the city or place to which he belonged, such as Baal-peor, Num 25:5; Deut 4:3; Psa 106:28; Hosea 9:10, Baal-hermon, Judges 3:3; 1 Chron 5:23, and Baal-gad, Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5. Baal was considered the owner or possessor of the land on which his followers lived.
Baal was both the sun-god and storm-god. He was worshiped as sun-god when the people wished to express thanks and gratitude for light and warmth and fertility. Worship of Baal as storm-god took place to appease the destructive nature of Baal, demonstrated by drought and storms that devastated the vegetation of the worshipers. The efforts to appease Baal whenever adverse conditions prevailed culminated in the sacrifice of human beings, usually the firstborn of the one offering the sacrifice. The victims were burnt alive, a practice in the Old Testament termed “to pass through the fire,” 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel, under the leadership of Ahab of the household of Omri, was led to worship Baal as the state god, 1 Kings 16:31. The prophets Elijah and Elisha delivered the condemnation of God concerning Baal worship and tried to rid the land of the idolatry, 1 Kings 18:17-40; 2 Kings 1:9-16. The worship of Baal infiltrated the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The reform movement of Hezekiah was reversed when Manasseh became king, 2 Kings 21:2-16, as he reinstated Baal worship, along with worship of Assyrian gods and other gods.
The conflict between Baal worship and the worship of the Lord God is described in the Book of Hosea. The judgment of the people of God for their idolatry, and their restoration is given in Hosea 2. The Bible writers affirmed the supremacy of Yahweh and condemned the worship of any other gods beside Yahweh.
Asherim is the plural of the fertility goddess, Asherah, the mother of Baal, whose worship was concentrated in Syria and Canaan. According to ancient mythology, Asherah, the mother goddess, was the wife of El and mother of seventy gods, of whom Baal was the most famous. Asherah was the fertility goddess of the Phoenicians and Canaanites. She was called “Lady Asherah of the Sea.” Her worship included the wooden object that represented her and the Asherim pole. Cf. Deut 7:5; 12:3; 16:21; 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 21:7; 23:4; 2 Chron 15:16.
Deut 12:3, “And you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods, and you shall obliterate their name from that place.
The Lord foretold that Israel would turn away from Him to serve pagan gods, Deut 31:20. He warned that pagan wives would entice Israel to serve pagan gods, Deut 7:4, and anyone who enticed an Israelite to commit such sins, Deut 13:6; 17:3, would be put to death, cf. 13:9; 17:5. At the time of the conquest, Israel promised not to serve pagan gods, Josh 24:16, but to serve only the Lord, vs. 18, 21, 24, and they did so throughout the days of Joshua and the elders who outlived him, Josh 24:31; Judges 2:7. However, during the period of the judges, Israel frequently turned away from the Lord to serve pagan gods, Judges 2:11, 13, 19; 3:6f; 10:6, 10, 13; 1 Sam 8:8, which resulted in judgment; but when they repented and returned to serving the Lord, Judges 10:16, He gave them deliverance. As judgment for false god worship, Israel would be exiled and serve pagan gods in a foreign land, Deut 28:36, 64; 29:26; Jer 16:13.
The Lord commanded that Israel’s kings serve only Him; and if they turned away from Him to serve pagan gods, 1 Kings 9:6, He would cut off the nation, vs. 7. Israel did turn away from the Lord to serve pagan gods, Jer 11:10; 13:10; 16:11; 22:9; 35:15, which resulted in their exile and in serving the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar.
As noted above, pagan worship included serving the sun, moon, stars, and the hosts of heaven. Israel was not to serve these, Deut 4:19. Yet, King Manasseh worshiped and served them, 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Chron 33:3, and the people followed his example, Jer 8:2.
This commandment was accompanied by both a warning and a promise of blessing.
Ex 20:5b, is the warning, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”
Notice the last phrase of the warning, “of those who hate Me.” The word “hate” the Hebrew verb SANE, שָׂנֵא that means, “an emotional attitude of one towards someone or something which is abhorred, disdained, or opposed, and with which a person desires to have no relationship or amiable reconciliation.”
In other words, idolatry is a demonstration of one’s hate, abhorrence, disdain, and/or opposition towards the One true God of Israel. It is someone who has no desire to have a relationship with God.
In fact, God hates the abominable acts people perform in idolatry or false pagan worship, which He absolutely prohibits in the worship and service of Him.
Deut 12:31, “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”
The Law, as given in Lev 18:21; 20:2-5, described child sacrifice as a capital offense and was tantamount to murder.
Lev 18:21, “Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.”
God’s judgment or Divine discipline on the people and nation of Israel for participating in these heinous acts meant that not only would that generation be punished, but subsequent generations as well; “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations.” That means they, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could suffer as a result of breaking this commandment.
On the other hand, God promises blessings in Ex 20:6, “But showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” We previously noted this general promise of blessing by God to those who would follow His commandments.
The blessing here is for God to show His, “lovingkindness,” which is the Noun CHESED, חֶסֶד that means, “kindness, mercy, grace, loyalty, faithfulness, goodness, or steadfast love.” In other words, God will uphold His end of the bargain, (Mosaic Covenant), by protecting and providing abundantly for Israel, if Israel upholds her end by keeping the Law.
This is reiterated in Deut 7:9, “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
To love God is to keep His commandments. Obeying His mandates is the expression of love towards God. For the OT saint, it meant following the Mosaic Law as best they could. For the Church Age, it means obeying the mystery Doctrines for the Church Age with its 300+ mandates.
Remember, keeping His mandates does not provide you with salvation, but salvation is demonstrated through the keeping of His mandates. Cf. Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20-21, 27-28; James 2:18-20.
New Testament usage:
This commandment is also reiterated in Mat 4:10, by our Lord when tempted by Satan, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY’.” Cf. Luke 4:8.
He was quoting Deut 6:13; 10:20; 13:4.
Deut 6:13, “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship (ABAD) Him and swear by His name.”
Deut 13:4, “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve (ABAD) Him, and cling to Him.”
Present-day religious pluralism, “You worship your god and I’ll worship mine, because both are right,” is both unbiblical and illogical. How can there be more than one god? If God is God, He is infinite, eternal, and sovereign, and cannot share the throne with another being who is also infinite, eternal, and sovereign.
Mat 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
1 Cor 10:14, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
Gal 5:20, the prohibitions against, “…idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.”
Col 3:5, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”
Idolatry is the Greek noun EIDOLOLATREIA, εἰδωλολατρεία, used in 1 Cor 10:14; Gal 5:20; Col 3:5; 1 Peter 4:3, that is held to be a Christian formation, as it is not found prior to the Christian period. It is a compound word from EIDOLON, “image,” and LATREIA, “service.” It is linked to monetary greed in Ephesians and Colossians. It is defined as: The worship of idols or false gods, blind admiration of or devotion to something or someone, excessive admiration or love shown for somebody or something, and an active rejection of God by willful participation in sin, including allegiance sworn to sin rather than to God.
In 1 Cor 10:10-22, the idol worship of the pagan nations was not only illogical and unbiblical, but it was intensely immoral, (temple prostitutes and fertility rites), inhuman, (sacrificing children), and demonic.
Paul also notes the powerlessness of idols in 1 Cor 12:2, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.”
John warned against worshipping idols, 1 John 5:21; Rev 2:14, 20; 9:20.
1 John 5:21, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
Rev 9:20, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.”
This false worship is related to demonism and a false communion table by Paul in 1 Cor 10:21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” Therefore, idol worship amounts to demon worship.
In Rev 2:14, 20, when the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were rebuked, it was because their eating of sacrificial meat to idols was done in the worship of those idols. Cf. Num 25:1-5; 31:6. As opposed to the great discussion in both 1 Cor 8 and 10, regarding things sacrificed to idols and the mature believer’s attitude towards them and their fellow man. To the mature believer there are no idols that exist, so it is ok to eat the meat sacrificed to them, as long as that eating does not cause an unbeliever or immature believer to sin by judging your eating. If so, the mature believer is to abstain for the sake of the brother, but not for the sake of the idol.
The idols that entice God’s people today are things like money, recognition, success, material possessions, (cars, houses, boats, collectibles, etc.), sex, knowledge, or even other people.
Therefore, like the people of Israel during the Jewish Dispensation, the Church during the current Age of Grace is to not make, serve, or worship any other gods, in image or fashion. Therefore, this commandment warns us against having the wrong object of worship and against worshiping the wrong way.
Isa 42:8, “I am the Lord: that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another, neither my praise to graven (carved) images.”
Jesus said of the Church Age in, John 4:23-24, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (That is, not in or by an image).