The First Commandment
Last time we looked at the preamble for the Ten Commandments and now it is time to move on to the commandments themselves. We should never read the commandments out of context and we should remember that even though we are Christians and we don’t have to obey the Law, we have a higher calling than the Israelis. They were saved out of the Land of Egypt, the house of slavery but we have been eternally saved from all the torments of hell.
- The heart and soul of Israel’s existence is tied up in the first commandments. You will have no other gods before me. This is still in the context of the Lord your God… The most important goal for any Israeli is to get this right before anything else. It would not be right to focus, say, on not bearing false witness if you have other gods.
- The word that the Lord uses in verse 3 is the same word that he uses in verse 1 and verse 2. God spoke these words to Moses and tells him that he is Israel’s God, the God who saved them from slavery in Egypt. If God has done so much for Israel then, surely, He should expect some loyalty in return. God is not asking Israel more than a person would expect of an animal. In Isaiah 1: 3 the Lord complains against Judah that even though an ox knows it owner and a donkey knows it master’s manger Israel doesn’t know who their God.
- In 34: 13 the Lord tells Israel that His name is Jealous and that He is a jealous God. When Israel took possession of the Land that God was giving them they were expected to cut down all the idols that the Canaanites had constructed so that they would never be tempted to look at their gods and worship them.
- "Jealous" in the OT is not one of the seven deadly sins that we are warned about today. It is word that implies strong emotion by a person who desires something strongly. Now when the word is used of God it cannot be a bad emotion because God is good. In fact, sin occurs when we take the sense of awe and wonder that we owe to God and give it to another person or thing. When God tells Israel that he is jealous, He is telling them that He loves them with a deep, deep love.
- Jealousy comes from a word meaning deep desire, in the context of the tenth commandment it means having a deep desire for something that isn’t mine by right but in the context of the first commandment it means having a deep desire for something that is mine by right.
- Most frequently, jealously relates to marriage. When two people are married they become one flesh in God’s sight so adultery was a form of murder when one body was torn apart and made into two bodies. The Law demanded that adultery be punished with death (Lev 20: 10; Deut 22: 22). God is Israel’s husband and God reminds them of that in Is 54: 5, He also asks them about their certificate of divorce in Is 50: 1 and tells them that there is no certificate of divorce. If Israel chose to follow other Gods then they would be committing spiritual adultery against God. In Deut 28, 29 the Lord reminded Israel of this commandment when he gave them the blessings and the curses. If someone chose to follow another God they deserved the death penalty because that person had rejected God’s pure and holy love and given the glory and devotion that belongs to him to another.
- There are two dimensions to this: the first is that God loves Israel with a deep love; the second is that God wants to use Israel as the means of passing that love on to all the families of the earth because God loves every person on earth with a deep love.
- God is jealous for every person on the earth. He created us in His own image so that we could have a relationship with Him and enjoy the goodness of His love. However, when this kind of love is given it must be returned. Not only does God love us with passion, He has also made it possible for us to increase our enjoyment of that love. This is the reason that God has given us the ability to choose. God loves us but in order to increase our enjoyment of His love and goodness he allows us to choose to enjoy His love so that we get what we choose and enjoy it even more.
- However, God is absolutely consistent, he gives us exactly what we choose. This has one overriding issue. The blessings and curses chapters give us an insight into the way that God works. Even though he is completely consistent, God is slow to curse and quick to bless. Israel sinned and slowly but surely God began to invoke the curses, in each case He is giving Israel the chance to be sure that they want to reject His love. Essentially God give Israel hardship just so that they are sure they want to reject his love. When we get to Deut 30 we find a different story altogether, as soon as they return to the Lord God and obey Him He will restore them immediately. This doesn’t mean that God is inconsistent, it is just in keeping with his passionate love, and his desire that all people should come under the protection of His great love. God may be Jealous but it is in the context of His deep love for His people.
As Christians we don’t have to obey the Law so what does the first commandment mean to the church? Do we have to worry about this at all. Christians may not have the Law but we do have a preamble. This preamble encourages us to remember that the Lord Jesus Christ paid a huge price for our salvation. The Law, however, gives a good example of our Maker’s instructions on how to live a rich and complete life.
There is another very important reason for us to consider the first commandment and its implications for our Christian lives. We find this reason in Phil 2: 5-8. The Lord Jesus Christ was in a position where he could do nothing to improve his own position. He was already God and could not become more God. He could not enrich himself more because he already owned everything in the Universe and the praise of all the people who ever lived was just something that God was entitled to anyway; as well as that, we learn from Psalm 19 that the heavens give praise to God without break throughout time. The praise of the human family is less than a mosquito buzzing next to the praise that the rest of creation brings to the Lord. Whatever Christ did for us when He came to this earth was entirely for our benefit and not for His.
The next question that could be asked is “why did the Lord Jesus humble Himself so completely when He became a man?” (compare Matt 8: 20). The major reason has to do with the first commandment. But, how would the Lord Jesus coming to the earth as a king or a mighty general affect the first commandment? If we look at the time when the Lord Jesus fed the 5000 we can see the major reason. In John 6: 14, 15 we are told that the crowd of people who were fed came to the Lord and tried to make Him their king. They wanted to do this because He fed them and they thought that He would become their servant and feed them all the time. However, he was here to die for our sins rather than feed us for nothing. The Lord Jesus had nothing because He was here as God and not as some populist figure to get fame for Himself. Had He come as an earthly king or a mighty general people would have followed Him for His position and not for who He was. This would mean that they were following another God rather than the God who had made them. The same is true today, we don’t follow Christ for personal advantage but to give all the glory to Him, if we believe in Him and give Him the glory then we will be given eternal life.
The second reason that the Lord Jesus humiliated Himself so much was so that He wouldn’t have any distractions to His work. If He had been rich He would have had to spend some time protecting His riches. But, He had nothing on earth to lose so He was totally dedicated to glorifying the Father in everything that He did (John 17: 4). The Lord Jesus is the perfect example of a person who lived the first commandment.