THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: Manual for the Christian Life - Rev. William DeJong
God spoke all these words, saying: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.Are There Other Gods? Idol gods are ‘nothing’ (cf. Isa.2: 8,18,20). Does the first commandment beat air then? The New Testament also warns against idols (1 Jn.5: 21). There are certain realities and powers in the world which must never be ‘idolized.’ Baal did not exist, yet the powers he represented, e.g. fertility, growth, rain, etc., were real powers, creative powers that must never be divorced from the Creator. Estranged from the Creator of rain and thunder, people began to worship the creature rather than the Creator. People worship powerful forces within creation as if they were deities. They are not gods therefore, but gods falsely so-called (1 Cor.8: 4-7). Consider also these creative realities which can be idolized: sexuality, alcohol, love, authority, intellect, money, covetousness, the stomach, tradition, etc. In their right place, these things serve people, in their wrong place they master them. God will surrender fallen men to their desires (Rom.1: 24-25). Addiction, says Michael Horton, is simply a euphemism for idolatry (44).
1. You shall have no other gods before Me. [Exodous 20]
Choosing God. In the covenant ceremony recorded in Joshua 24:14ff. , we learn that the choice FOR God is a radical and decisive one. It's a matter of either/or, not both/and. We cannot serve God and mammon (Mt.6: 24). See also Dt.27: 11ff; 31:9ff, 24ff. Consider the Shema (Deut.6: 4ff. cf.Mt.22: 37). Choosing God means loving Him. This love is emotional, but not merely so. To love is to stick by your choice. When a marriage gets into trouble, the only path to resolution is the choice of love. The emotional element may then be wholly or partially absent, but faithfulness and commitment must come out. Love is commitment. No third party may interfere. In the New Testament this commandment comes to us in terms of Jesus Christ. ‘Whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me,’ Mt.10: 37ff.). It is important to ‘keep’ God's words (Luke 8:15; 1 Tim.6: 20; 1 John 3:24; 1 John 5:2-3). One who keeps God's words is equipped to guard against idols. This is how we abide in Christ and he in us (1 John 3:24).
With an Undivided Heart. The first commandment must be obeyed with whole-heartedness. When Jesus proposed to the rich young ruler that he sell his possessions in order to be "perfect," he showed half-heartedness. Our love must be undifferentiating: we must love friend and foe alike, as our Father in heaven does (Mt.5: 43ff.)
Fortune Telling and Witchcraft. Read Deut.18: 10-14 and Lev.19: 31. The Bible takes mediums, witches and soothsayers seriously. Whoever gives his heart wholly to YAHWEH cannot listen to witches and soothsayers. Their words fall under the category of false prophecy (cf.Jer.29: 8; Ezek.13: 9; Acts 13:6). Consider Deut.18: 10-22. Today this means spiritism, fortune telling, palm reading, and horoscopes. Because witchcraft and unconventional abilities and ‘powers’ are to be judged by the category of false prophesy, going to Benny Hinn for a ‘faith healing’ would be a no-no. Going to a chiropractor who will put pins in your back, but has no intention of indoctrinating you or impressing upon you some alternative lifestyle or world view, would not be wrong necessarily. Clairvoyants can be used to solve murders — they have nothing to do with false prophecy. Voetius distinguished between (1) the magia bona — the art of knowing hidden properties of natural things. This is not the occult, says Voetius, Geesink and Schilder; (2) the magia vana — playful, non-verbal magic. No hidden forces are employed; simply manual dexterity (sleight of hand) and; (3) the magia superstitiosa — superstitious sorcery. This must be rejected in line with Deut.18 and Lev.19.
The One God and our Suffering. The first commandment requires us to accept suffering from God’s hand. Ursinus explains patience. Patience is to obey God in submissively enduring the various evils that he sends upon us, from a knowledge of the divine majesty and from an assurance of God’s assistance and deliverance. Many deny that suffering comes from God’s hand. If the devil isn’t real, than Fate is. This denies the one true and all-powerful God. To deny or limit God’s sovereignty is to break the first commandment. Though suffering is a consequence of man’s sin, it comes from God’s hand. Guilt for suffering and death must not be laid at God’s feet. The catechism highlights ‘humility’ — modesty when it comes to evil and suffering, looking first to oneself (1 Pet.5: 6) and ‘patience’ — learning how the Lord blessed Job for his patience (James 5:11).
The One God and the Many Religions.What do you think of the Christ (Matt.22: 42)? Christ is the exclusive access to the Father (Jn.14: 6). He shows us the Father (Jn.1: 18).
The First Commandment as Liberation. For
Babylonians and Philistines, etc., danger lurked on every side — in the
lightning, the water, the sun, the storm, the heat and the cold. Certain
rituals were necessary for protection — as means of placating the gods.
Contrast this with the Creator. Under God, a tree is only a tree. Technology
is unthinkable without the first commandment. It made possible the lightning
rod and Hoover Dam. If divine power lives in a tree, it would be hazardous
to cut it down. Everything in creation is useful, created good and not
to be refused, if used with thanksgiving to God (1Tim.4: 4). It was liberating
for the Corinthians to hear that even meat sacrificed to idols was permissible
food, since the earth belongs to the Lord (1 Cor.10: 25ff; Psalm 24:1).
Without the first commandment people become enslaved to money, to intelligence,
to work, etc. To be free of idols, you must live with God. Otherwise you
remain in slavery. It makes no fundamental difference whether you kneel
in terror before images of deities or stand arrogantly on your own two
feet. You glorify either creature or Creator (Rom.1: 21-32).
2. You shall not make for yourself a 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 to them or 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 generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.The Unique Place of the Second Commandment. Roman Catholics and Lutherans wrongly lump the first two commandments together. They deal with different subjects: the first commandment deals with the object of worship — no other gods, the second deals with the form of worship — no images of God. The first opposes other gods; the second opposes self-willed worship. If you stand with your back to the idols, you must still learn to kneel properly before the Lord. The first command points to the true God, the second to true worship.
This distinction is warranted on the basis of Scripture. In many places, the people of Israel did not want to worship other gods, but they did want to make an image of Yahweh (see Deut.4: 15-18; the golden calf, Exod.32: 4; 1 Kings 12:28, etc.)
The Significance of an Image. Is this commandment still important today? Do we find images? Not like there were in Bible times, except in museums. But we do know that the sinful heart does not change. Why then did God not want representations of himself? For what sinful inclination did he command this? Well the image in Bible times represented deity. One who has an image meets the deity himself in it. The power of the deity is collected and channeled by means of the image. The comparison with electricity can be made. High voltage is dangerous. So is divine power. An image functions like a transformer — dangerous high voltage is reduced so we can use it with far less risk.
Why no Images? Three reasons:
2. To capture Yahweh in an image is to misunderstand His majesty. You cannot make images on account of God’s majesty. When the Lord spoke to the Israelites on Mt. Sinai, he spoke while the mountain burned with fire ‘to the midst of heaven’ (Deut.4: 11-12). Images, by contrast, do not hear, eat nor smell (Deut.4: 28). Image worship evokes ridicule and sarcasm. "To whom will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to him? Do you have to nail him down so he doesn’t fail over (Isa.40: 18; 41:7). The majesty of God is indicated in Scripture by the metaphor of darkness, by which he is covered (Deut.4: 11; 5:23) or unapproachable light, in which He dwells (1 Tim.6: 16). Darkness and light are opposites: God is so majestic he cannot be brought within man’s reach. Both are impenetrable.
3. To capture Yahweh in an image is to misunderstand His covenant (intimacy). You need not make images on account of God’s covenant. God is unapproachable, but for His people He is near. You don’t have to go far to see what he is doing (Deut.30: 12-14; cf. Rom.10: 6-9). God is not tangible, yet he is closer than any other god.
The Spirituality of God and the Prohibition of Images. Many would argue in the past against images based of God’s spirituality. God is non-physical. He is Spirit and therefore he cannot be portrayed physically. But images were crafted — consider Aaron and Jeroboam — not always to make God visible, but to make the Incomprehensible one, comprehensible — to manipulate his power. In these older arguments, also, spiritual was exalted over material. Thinking is greater than seeing. But this ‘spiritual’ interpretation makes the second commandment something of a tautology — self-evident. Why then such a severe blow?
But also, what does it mean that God is Spirit. We should not portray God physically, but we do read that God has a form (cf. Num.12: 8). That God is Spirit certainly includes the message that God is power. In contrast to weak flesh, God has divine power (cf. Isa.31: 3). The contrast is not with the physical, but with what is weak and fleshly, transient and transitory. Therefore in John 4:24, when Jesus says, ‘God is Spirit’ he means that God bestows new power because the Messiah will bring an end to temple worship. The worship of God must be done in spirit and truth, in fellowship with the Messiah’s life-giving power and in fellowship with the truth that the Messiah proclaims.
God’s Own Image. Images of God may not be made, but that does not mean that Israel worshiped without images. Consider the tabernacle, the ark, the ephod, the bronze serpent, etc. The bronze serpent was not to manipulate the power of the deity, but simply a means of healing. When the bronze serpent was used idolatrously, Hezekiah had it destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). No object remains holy if used in a pagan manner. The ephod was a legitimate way of consulting the Lord, but when Gideon and Micah (Judg.8: 24-27; 17:5-13) made their own, theirs were both in the service of idolatry. God could not be contained in a temple (1 Kings 8:27-53), yet the glory of the Lord departed from the temple when Judah broke covenant (Ezek.1 and 10).
Man as Image of God. In the image of deity, the deity is represented. This doesn’t mean resembled, as in a good likeness, but the image is endowed with the power of the deity. So with Adam and Christ — they do not resemble God (the Father), but in their actions and authority, they show forth God Himself. The temple of God is similar to the image of God. The ‘temple of God’ is applied to both the congregation (1 Cor.3: 16) and to us bodily or personally (1 Cor.6: 19). The image of God, therefore, indicates God’s desire to dwell with man and to have His power radiate through man. There are conditions for this image — man must be endowed with understanding and volition, exalted over the animals, thereby in a position to exercise dominion. These conditions are not the image itself. Fallen man does not retain the image. When God’s wrath rests upon man, we can hardly say that His Spirit continues to dwell in him. Just as God can withdraw from his ark, so he can from man — who was created as His temple and image. The image of God can be restored to man. But although fallen man no longer bears the image of God, he was still has the conditions to have that image. No matter how estranged from God and His service man becomes, he remains a temple. The temple may be empty, but it still exists (see Gen.9: 6 and Jas.3: 9). That man functions as the image of God is not decisive for us in ethical deliberations (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, etc.), but that God wants him to function as His image.
No Cultic Images, but Visual Arts.Images were not uniformly prohibited; it came down to the purpose behind their use. Samuel erected a monument to the triumph of the Lord (1 Sam.7: 12), Jacob placed a memorial pillar on Rachel’s grave (Gen.35: 20), etc. Even the tabernacle and temple enjoyed the benefits of the visual arts — the candlestick, golden bells and pomegranates, etc. Visual arts are in no way condemned by the second commandment.
Sanction and Blessing. To the second commandment are appended a sanction and a blessing. If the head of the family turns away from Yahweh to worship images, his entire family will be swallowed up in his self-willed worship. His sin becomes their stumbling. The opposite is also true. All the way to the most extended generation imaginable, God will show his favor to those who are faithful to Him and keep His commands. David’s house continued for generations, even though they were punished for Solomon’s sins (1 Kings 11:34, 38-39). That this blessing and curse are added to this commandment is significant. Lying and stealing are serious crimes, but turning your back on the Lord to practice self-willed religion is most serious. But these blessings and curses don’t hold true automatically. Pious Jehoshaphat had a godless son Jehoram (1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 8:16-18). Three godless sons and a godless grandson (2 Kings 22-23) succeeded God-fearing Josiah.
Iconoclastic Campaigns. Historical Information
Images Today. Is this prohibition relevant today? Yes, because behind the image lies a perspective. People suppose that by means of an image they can control and manipulate divine power. People imagine they can fashion gods in images in such a way that they automatically enjoy divine favor on their own plans. So the image gives from to a mental image and you cannot eradicate mental images through an iconoclastic campaign of any kind. There is one small step from ancient image worship to modern self-determined worship, in which God is worshipped in a way different from what he has commanded in His word.
What about books for the laity? On many French cathedrals, you will find important stories from the Old and New Testaments carved in stone. The people were illiterate and would receive limited understandings of the Bible from these murals. But the laity in the sense of illiterate people do not exist anymore. We must advance the reading of Scripture. Illustration and image can stimulate that reading, but can never be a substitute for it. What is decisive is that the preaching of the Word and the congregation’s response to that preaching continue to capture the congregation’s attention. Living preaching can be contrasted with fixed images. An image fixates something. A sermon is moving. What a minister says wrongly one Sunday, can be corrected the next. Religious art should develop, but outside the walls of the church. And what may be portrayed is whatever Scripture shows. (What about Jesus in the stable or the apple in Paradise?)
Rigid Forms. The image fixates more so than the word that can be corrected. Many things, besides statutes and paintings, in the church can conflict just as much with the second commandment. Take liturgy: KJV only, only Genevan tunes, a particular style of preaching, etc. The decisive element no longer is the living preaching, but the things that make us safe and secure. But then, fixed forms are not wrong, much less fixed formulations. The Apostles Creed has been around for thousands of years, but because it echoes Scripture, it is good. The confessions are iconoclastic — they remove images, not introduce them. At critical points in her history, the church has thrown out images of God by saying to the heretics: God is not as you portray Him, because He has revealed Himself in His Word differently.
Mental Images. John Calvin stated that human understanding is a perpetual idol-making factory. The mind and spirit of men begets the idolatrous image — regardless if it subsequently takes the shape of wood or stone (1.11.8). We fashion God according to our own understanding. Psalm 50:21 — "We imagined that God was just like them." A person leads his own life, imagining that God bestows His approval automatically. Man creates God in His image, ready to serve Him — evangelism. Consider Psalm 94 — Yahweh does not see... Then we begin to justify sin - e.g. homosexuality. We imagine God to be a Santa Claus figure, when really it is fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. We can also make him into the image of Scrooge — someone who prefers the death of the godless (cf. Rom.4: 5).
As long as human understanding serves as
the workshop where images of God are crafted according to our own imaginations,
we are summoned by the second commandment to return to God’s Word — the
image that continually destroys our images.
3. 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.
Speaking the Name. The prohibition of the third commandment involves, first of all, speaking the Name of God. God’s name must not be spoken without meaning or with deceitful intentions. There are basically three errors that lead to a misusing of the name of Yahweh:
2. The name is misused in false prophecy. False prophecy involves predictions which do not come in the name of the Lord, but pretend to (Deut.18: 22; 1 Kings 22:11; Jer.14: 15).
3. The name is misused in false oaths. False oaths involve using the name of God to pass off a lie as if it were true (Lev.19: 12).
We now understand God’s name to be His revelation in the works of creation and redemption (Ps.8: 1,9; Prov.17: 5). Yahweh made a name for Himself as Creator and as Redeemer of His people Israel. Precisely for that reason, He has made Himself known by the name YHWH. These four letters mean, "I am who I am" (Exod. 3:14) — that is, I exist as Saviour and Liberator, I make real what I say, I do what I have promised. This is demonstrated by the entirety of salvation (Ps.106: 8).
On this basis, the Lord may demand that people reverence His name. We are to give it glory, kabod, weight. The opposite would be to minimize the name of the Lord, to underestimate, despise and scorn that name. Lev.24: 10-23 unveils a story in which an Egyptian father blasphemes God’s name — not by merely saying it, but by dragging it through the mud. Whoever blasphemes shall be put to death (Lev.24: 16). God’s own people could blaspheme. The Israelites scorned God in the wilderness (Num.14: 11) and when they enjoyed plenty, they turned to other gods (Deut.31: 20). When this happens, the pagans have reason to blaspheme the God of Israel (2 Sam.12: 14; Ezek.36: 20-32). What constitutes the essence of cursing/blasphemy is when someone thinks, speaks & acts disparagingly in regard to God.
The Name of Jesus Christ. Christ ‘glorifies’ the Father. What kabod represents in the Old Testament, doxa represents in the New: the weight, greatness and honor due to the name of God. In Christ, the Father stands before us (John 14:9). We must take into consideration here, therefore, the name of Christ. Glory and honor are also due to Christ (John 1:14; Rev.5: 12-14). In addition to glorifying, we must also deal with blaspheming. A wicked lifestyle on the part of Christians can be the occasion for outsiders to blaspheme the word of God (Titus 2:5). Christ warned against a specific form of blasphemy, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. When Jesus healed a demon-possessed man, the Pharisees insisted with vehemence that this was the work of the Devil and then introduced the unforgivable sin (Matt.12: 31-32). The blasphemy against the spirit is willfully misunderstanding and branding as devilish what in fact comes from the Holy Spirit. What is clearly from the Holy Spirit, you ascribe to the devil. Heb.10: 26-31 indicates something similar. Again we see willfulness and self-conscious declaring what is holy to be unclean. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is directed against the work of the Son, both in Matthew 10 and in Hebrews 10. We can see how serious it is when the name of Jesus Christ is despised.
Modern Cursing. This is the form of cursing we find in expressions like, "my God," "Jesus," "to hell with you," "damn you," etc. This is generally different from the biblical examples. Modern profanity is not usually intended to be blasphemous. Yet it is still an echo of biblical cursing. People mention God without thinking about him. Cursing is not a self-conscious demonstration of unbelief, but a symptom of unbelief. It is only natural that they use God’s name without thinking. We should say, "Isn’t this the Creator of your very life whose name you use so lightly?" The vocabulary of the unbeliever exposes his emptiness. Swearing with God’s name is also becoming more common among Christians. We must regard it highly. Just as you wear an expensive article of clothing only for special occasions and you take care to keep it in good condition, in the same way we must use the name of God and of Christ.
Abusing God’s Name with a Show of Power. God’s name can be abused in different ways by different cultures. That was true of cursing. To what degree do the abuses of God’s name in sorcery, false prophecy and false oath exist today? Well you can have sorcery without sorcerers. Sorcery appears whenever we say that something is God’s will when in fact it is not. We use God’s name to lend force to our plans. People now have to follow us because we have God on our side. Sometimes this is accompanied by noble intentions. Crusades were organized under this slogan "It is God’s will." You must ask the question, are you communicating what God’s will or are you pressing your own will and using God’s name to accomplish your goal. Sometimes in prayers, people display a show of power pretending to have God in hand by their incessant use of God’s name. Jesus warned against excessive verbiage (Matt.6: 7). Reciting the "Our Father" fifteen times adds no force to your prayer. If you say God’s name to often by falling into repetition, you are not treating it reverently. This is different from false prophecy, which says, "Thus says the Lord," when in fact it isn’t.
The Oath: Meaning and Misuse. The forms of oath swearing have changed, but the substance is the same as in the Bible. The oath is swearing with appeal to the name of God, who serves as witness that a person is speaking the truth or intends to fulfill a vow. There is, therefore, a double application. We can swear an assertory oath in court, to confirm the truthfulness of our statements (I swear to the tell the truth, the whole truth . . .). And we can swear a promissory oath, a oath of office, obligating us to a careful exercise of our office or calling (e.g. presidents, members of parliament, judges, etc.).
This double use of the oath is highlighted by the Heidelberg Catechism (Lord’s Day 37). There are oaths which confirm ‘fidelity and truth’ and those of necessity. What is meant by necessity can be determined from Calvin and his distinction between public and private oaths. The public oath is one sworn before officials or superiors. The private oath is sworn by individuals before (an) other individual(s). Calvin provides this example: If a brother accuses you of some breach of faith and will not be persuaded by your arguments because of his thickheadedness, you may appeal to God’s judgment. Calvin points to Jacob and Laban (Gen.31: 53), to Boaz, who confirmed his intent to marry Ruth under oath (Ruth 3:13). Today, most oaths and contracts are regulated by legislation — they involve lawyers. Has the oath between private individuals fallen into disuse? Hopefully not. It can serve a positive purpose not only in the world, but also in the church, before the office-bearers (see Calvin’s example above).
Oaths serve a double purpose:the honor of God and well being of my neighbor. When we swear an oath by God’s name, we appeal to Him in order to end all counter argument (Heb.6: 16). God knows our hearts and is in position to punish falsehood. Swearing an oath then is an exercise of faith — no one can function as the verifier of our souls. We must take oaths in his name, for He is our God (Deut.10: 20-21). Swearing oaths also serve our neighbor. In a society where the oath is upheld, people recoil from lying and exercise their offices faithfully. Oath-bound physicians are committed to healing, as oath-bound officers are committed to the preservation of order in society. In court, witnesses are restrained from declaring the innocent guilty or vice versa.
We must consider also the consequences of misuses of the oath, i.e. perjury. This is a sacrilege of God’s name (Lev.19: 12). Even among pagans, perjury is a serious misdemeanor. Christians who swear oaths must realize that they always do that before God and that if they perjure they do so risking not only a prison term, but also the displeasure of God. That’s what the catechism rightly points out (Lord’s Day 37). We may not swear unnecessary oaths — those formulated to lend force to our words, "So help me God." The exceptional and serious character of oaths corresponds to the preciousness of God’s name.
Misunderstanding the Oath. Numerous sects and groups believe the Scriptures require us to do away with all oaths, among them the Hussites and Anabaptists. In so doing, they appeal both to Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12. Consider these four points:
2. Jesus permitted Himself to be placed under oath before Caiaphas (Matt.26: 63-64) and employed assertions which went beyond simple yes's and no's (e.g. ‘Truly, truly..." cf. Matt.5: 18, 26). The apostle Paul also summons God as his witness in a number of places, e.g. Rom.1: 9, 2 Cor.1: 23; 11:23. Hebrews 6:13-20 speaks of the oath used among people. Therefore, not every oath is forbidden.
3. Jesus is forbidding Jewish casuistry and superficial swearing in Matthew 5:33-37. People were using oaths in clever ways, not spiritual ones. To escape the tightness of swearing by the name of Yahweh, people swore ‘by heaven’ or ‘by Jerusalem’ or ‘by my head.’ Jesus and James were forbidding this kind of swearing. Do not swear at all in this way.
4. Anyone wishing to make Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 into a law code for the world will have to institute a different court system. It is interesting to note that the Anabaptists have done precisely this in their own ecclesiastical kingdom. This is surrendering realism for idealism. In paradise, no oaths would be necessary, but in a fallen world, people are confronted with the seriousness of what they are about to say (assertory oath) or of what they are about to do (promissory oath).
Difficulties with the Oath of Office.How can a Christian politician pledge fidelity to a Constitution that presents him with choices that go against his convictions (e.g. Sunday shopping or permission of sexual promiscuity)? Must we become Anabaptist? No, when someone swears an oath to uphold the constitution, he is not thereby declaring agreement at every point. If he were, no one would be able to swear an oath. Any number of laws lack unanimous consent. His oath does obligate him to respect the laws in place. He may employ all his efforts to change bad laws or introduce good ones, but he may not block the implementation of evil laws. A politician must vote against the selling of pornography in the stores, but he may not go into such stores and ‘clean them out.’ Difficulties in the oath of office become insurmountable only when laws compel participation in godlessness.
Dishonoring God’s Reputation.What value does God’s name have in our lives and in our relationships with others? Theologians can dishonor and blaspheme God’s name by the false doctrines they promote. Reformed theologians have always insisted that heresy is a transgression of the third commandment. But there is more. Orthodox conviction must be clothed with a Christian lifestyle preoccupied in giving glory to God. The degree to which we fall short here is two fold. The Heidelberg Catechism, in question 100, teaches that God is angry with those who, insofar as in the lies, do not oppose and forbid cursing and swearing. That’s obvious — He should expect His followers to defend His name. But often we are more afraid of our neighbor’s anger than God’s. Secondly, we fall short when we see those Scripture passages which speak of cursing in a holy manner (e.g. 1 Cor.16: 22; Gal.1: 8). This teaches us that God possesses a unique name and unique honor that must remain exalted, even when it leads to a sharp condemnation of enemies.
Abraham Kuyper once noted that the Scriptures rarely ask us to show our gratitude by doing something for God. Rather, the emphasis is always on being something for the Lord. Religion must not be reduced to morality. Obedience to the third commandment requires earnestness in our living. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we must do everything to the glory of God (1 Cor.10: 31).
Speaking is Silver, but Silence is Sometimes Golden. In contrast to blasphemy stands confessing God’s name. Nevertheless, there are times when silence is golden. There are inopportune times to defend God’s name (Prov.19: 7; cf. Matt.7: 6). Christ was silent before Pontius Pilate (Matt.26: 63; 27:14). The question should not be, will I be ridiculed? But, will the Word of God be damaged? Silence, therefore, can be a matter of prudence, but it can also be a matter of laziness. A silent Christian is no Christian. Speaking is silver, but silence is sometimes golden.
Dice and the Third Commandment.Formerly, our Reformed fathers argued against rolling dice in games on the basis of Proverbs 16:33 and the idea that lots were used for prayers and therefore that playing with dice involved ‘playing with God’ and violating fear and reverence for Him. The outcome in rolling dice proceeds only from God and immediately so (the notion of immediate providence is at work here). Three things can be said in response:
2. The distinction between mediate and immediate providence representing a distinction between distance and nearness to God is dangerous. We should fear and revere God regardless of the manner of his providence.
3. God is involved in everything. Various doses of the incalculable and unpredictable provide the excitement needed for every healthy form of relaxation.
Not the Third, but the Tenth Commandment. There is such a thing as a wrong use of risk in various games of chance (e.g. many forms of gambling), but that will be discussed in the tenth commandment.< Return to the top >
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.Difficulties. There are four apparent difficulties in understanding the fourth commandment’s authority and relevance in society today:
2. The Sabbath’s observance. Was observance of the Sabbath required in Paradise? Seemingly not, because no mention is made in Gen.2: 2-3 to man.
3. The Sabbath’s abiding validity. Nowhere do we read that Christ transformed the Sabbath into Sunday.
4. The early church’s inattention to the fourth commandment. They often worshiped on Sunday, but they worked too. Constantine proclaimed Sunday a day of rest in AD 321. Sunday was isolated for worship, but apparently not on the basis of the fourth commandment.
The Sabbath was not observed as ‘restrictive’ by Jesus who performed a variety of works on the Sabbath, including a variety of healings (Mk.3: 2-5; Lk.13: 11-17, etc.). Such works were in obvious conflict with the Jewish interpretation of the law (Halacha), but in accord with the joy and restoration characterizing the Sabbath day prescribed in the Old Testament. "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath!" (Mk.2: 27). The Sabbath is a gift, to be commemorated without burdensome hindrances. Christ restored the Sabbath to its original beauty and luster.
Filling the Sabbath. Relaxation was not the only purpose for the Sabbath. The Sabbath was made for man, but was identified by Yahweh also as His Sabbath (Ex.31: 13; Lev.19: 3; Isa.56: 4) etc. The fourth commandment describes it as a "Sabbath consecrated to Yahweh your God." Israel was to praise Him (Psalm 92), to exercise fellowship with Him, to bring sacrifices to Him (Num.28: 9-10), to honor His sanctuary (Lev.19: 30; 26:2) and to hear His word (2 Kings 4:23). Resting therefore was accompanied by holding sacred assemblies and praising Yahweh. These two activities are combined in some passages (see Lev.23: 3; Num.28: 25). During the Exile synagogue worship was introduced — something Jesus customarily attended. Jesus also made use of the opportunity in this worship for extemporaneous sermons. The Sabbath is a joy for man, but man finds His deepest joy in pleasing the Lord.
Distorting the Sabbath — The Gross Distortion. The temptation often arose in Old Testament Israel to work on the Sabbath (see Amos 8:5; Isa.58: 3; Neh.13: 15-22). The Sabbath, therefore, would often be trampled underfoot by profit-driven entrepreneurs. For people looking to please themselves, the law of God became a law of limitations rather than a law of liberty. Transgression of the fourth commandment in this way bore a special character. Why? The Sabbath was a sign of the covenant between Yahweh and His people (Ex.31: 12-17). The Sabbath day showed who Israel was: a chosen and liberated people who could relax for a day in view of the Lord’s providential provision. The relationship between the Sabbath and liberty is highlighted in the so-called sabbatical year and the Year of Jubilee: the land was given rest and the slave freed (Lev.25: 8-9). Observing the Sabbath required faith. Where faith is destroyed, the Sabbath is destroyed. One who violates the Sabbath violates the covenant. Sabbath violation in Israel was often the source of calamity (Neh.13: 18; Ezek.20: 13).
One More Distortion — The Refined Distortion.The Jewish authorities distorted the Sabbath "in garments of piety" by immersing it in countless precepts. This may have been motivated by respect for the law, but eventually the traditions became more authoritative than the Scripture. In the development of this expanded casuistry, freedom was placed in bondage. The Mosaic Law, however, did required careful observance. While the feast days prohibited ‘servile labor,’ the Sabbath prohibited all work (cf. Lev.23: 3 with 23:7-8). But as a whole, the Sabbath was positive for the life of the Israelites (see Ezek.20: 18-30). The following two proofs confirm that the Israelites were not in straitjackets on the Sabbath: Joshua led Israel around Jericho seven times on a Sabbath (Josh.6: 15-20) and the Shunammite woman consistently walked 20 miles to see the man of God on the Sabbath (2 Kings 4:23 — the command in Exod.16: 29 forbidding Israelite’s from exiting the camp was designed only for their trip to Canaan and was not a perpetual regulation.).
Preliminary Assessment. From the above, we can locate these similarities between Sunday and Sabbath:
2. Both days are feast days. Sunday celebration, which commemorated Christ’s resurrection and deliverance from sin, extends and expands Israel’s deliverance from Egypt.
3. Both days have worship in a central place. From ‘holy assemblies’ to synagogue worship to modern church services.
4. Both days can be violated in similar ways. People become enslaved to their own work and are unable to set aside a day for celebration.
Calvin’s understanding, first of all, over-spiritualizes the Sabbath in emphasizing only our spiritual rest from evil works, thereby neglecting the external features, such as rest from physical work. The spiritual essence of the fourth commandment does exist apart from the physical rest, but within it. The ‘ordinary’ physical rest, by which we catch our breath and praise God, is in itself a spiritual enjoyment. Calvin’s understanding, secondly, eliminates the special character of weekdays to do God-glorifying, though perhaps menial labor. We have six days to do our work — that is Yahweh-serving too!
Ceremonial and/or Moral? Calvin’s understanding of the Sabbath is rooted in an earlier theological distinction between the literal and allegorical meanings of biblical expressions. Allegorical interpretation seeks deeper, spiritual meanings for ordinary, earthly events — e.g. Rahab’s red cord foreshadows Christ’s blood. For the most part, Calvin denounced this tradition with his sober exegesis. But here he capitulates, perhaps under the influence of Augustine, who interpreted external rest simply in terms of signifying the future rest Jesus identified in his gospel offer (Matt.11: 28). But how significant then, is resting from physical labor? Are we left then with but nine commandments?
The distinction between literal and allegorical was later accompanied by the distinction between ceremonial and moral, where ceremonial refers to what is no longer binding and moral to what remains binding. The term ‘ceremonial’ can have at least three different meanings, all of which promotes confusion, rather than clarification. Aquinas argued that the Sabbath is ceremonial (1) in that it fell on Saturday — something has disappeared, (2) in that it adumbrates Christ’s rest in the grave — something now fulfilled is foreshadowed and (3) in that it points ahead to our heavenly rest — something unfulfilled is foreshadowed. The term ceremonial, therefore, is confusing. The distinction between permanent and provisional is much more helpful.
Hebrews 4. Hebrews 4 is often appealed to, to demonstrate the provisional character of the Old Testament Sabbath. The question of the Sabbath day in this passage is only indirectly present. What are in view are Sabbath places, more so than Sabbath days. Often we could translate the word ‘rest’ simply by ‘resting place.’ This activity of resting is not an exclusively Old Testament phenomenon — therein lies the mistake — it is also a New Testament phenomenon since we too rest on the Sabbath in anticipation of the heavenly and definitive rest. The relationship between the Sabbath of old and the Sunday of now is analogous to the Passover of old and the Lord’s Supper of now — we are still awaiting something: the eternal rest and the great banquet feast.
Once More: the Difficulties.We wish to affirm that the fourth commandment remains intact for today. To do so, the objections mentioned in the beginning must be dealt with:
2. The observance of the Sabbath. Since the Sabbath was not instituted at creation, it was not intended to be observed then either. God sanctified the seventh day of the creation week for Himself. He set apart this day to rest. Later, He required the Israelites to do the same. The fourth commandment doesn’t say the Sabbath was instituted at creation, but simply grounded in God’s creation rest. Again, the question we ask is, why couldn’t a gift and a mandate that originated at a later time become so universally significant that it embraces our Sunday?
A. It is true that nowhere is the fourth commandment explicitly maintained, but even more so, nowhere is it explicitly done away with.
B. Jesus, though resisting the pharisaical understanding of the Sabbath, upheld the Sabbath in His life, even emphasizing its festive character. Would this gift of refreshment and celebration and praise not be fitting for the new dispensation?
C. Paul’s remarks must be understood in terms of their context and his audiences. Such an investigation will lead to our conclusion that Paul is not disposing of the fourth commandment.
II. Gal.4: 10. Paul here, in addressing the Judaizers, is not rendering an isolated judgment about the fourth commandment, but is discussing the Sabbath in the context of matters like circumcision and the entire Jewish festival cycle. This entire cycle was established by the Judaizers as an indispensable condition for sharing in the salvation of Jesus the Messiah. The Jewish Sabbath has ceased to be replaced by Sunday. The fourth commandment has abiding validity.
III. Col.2: 16-17. Paul here is addressing a legalistic-ascetic religiosity of a Jewish-pagan brand. He explains that the Sabbath was a shadow — a vague outline of what Christ would bestow upon His church. With the coming of Christ, it is not longer possible to travel the old paths of circumcision, feast-days, Passover and Sabbath. Their shadows have disappeared and something more Christ-apparent has appeared it its place — baptism, the Lord’s Supper (no shedding of blood) and Sunday.
The question remains, why didn’t these early writers make the connection between Sunday and the fourth commandment? A number of reasons are possible: (1) the tension between Christians and Jews would have resulted in an aversion to attach a Christian activity to a Jewish precept; (2) the allegorical understanding of those, such as Augustine, who held that the significance of the fourth commandment for us today was purely spiritual — rest from our evil works. The early church may have been weak in this, but she no doubt received Sunday as a day of joy in line with the original intention of the Sabbath.
1. Sunday looks back, like the Sabbath, to God’s seventh day rest — one day rest in seven;
2. Sunday looks forward, like the Sabbath, to our definitive rest from our evil works (Heb.4: 10).
The following elements were provisional:
1. The Sabbath is no longer observed on Sunday
3. Capital punishment for Sabbath desecration has passed away. This sanction too was tied to Israel’s separate existence as a special people wholly dedicated to Yahweh, a people for which civil and ecclesiastical discipline was blurred.
4. Many limitations of Sabbath observance have also passed. Such carefully formulated prohibitions were fitting, whereas the New Testament is characterized as a period of freedom (Gal.4: 1-5).
Celebrating Sunday. Enjoying Sunday presupposes a few important realities, such as:
2. Loving neighbor—cherishing other people. In the Old Testament, everyone was equal in that everyone rested — family members, slaves, work animals and the stranger. The celebration of the Sabbath is not an individual activity, but requires the communal celebration of our liberation through Christ Jesus. We must be, and act like, a communion of saints.
3. Serving God—devoting the day to God. Sunday was created for man, but it remains the Lord’s Day. We must do things on that day for the Lord that we can’t do normally on other days — going to church, but also singing and praying as a family and discussing our obligations as Christians.
Filling Our Sunday. On Sunday we celebrate the fact that we are free from ourselves because we are free for God. Excessive casuistry can downplay, even eliminate this celebration. Karl Barth suggested that we must always be in a position to celebrate Sunday as a true day of joy. And Christians cannot defend a uniform celebration of Sunday. Yet there is uniformity to the degree that we all seek to obey the same commandment. We must have uniformity in denying Sunday as a workday, for example, and in upholding Sunday as a ‘church-day.’
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us not to forsake assembling together. That alone will give shape to our Sunday observance. School assignments, attending sporting events, long trips, etc. are not fitting exercises for Sunday. Wanting to spend the day in communal celebration will also give shape to our Sunday observance. We won’t want to spend it with pagans watching a ball game. We must always be asking the question, what kind of Sunday celebration are we pursuing?
Sunday is a day of consecration and rest. Precisely how we enjoy the Sabbath is a matter of Christian liberty. But Sunday boredom within families is often the result of the inability of families to celebrate Sunday together. Sunday may have a recreational dimension, enjoying things you are not enslaved to which allow for meaningful acknowledgment of the day as the Lord’s day.
Working on Sunday. Christians have always recognized that certain works are permitted on Sunday: works of necessity (pulling an ox out of the pit, Luke 14:5), mercy (healing, Mark 2:31) and religion (Matt.12: 5). The work of necessity is the most difficult. Wouldn’t a farmer’s work of baling hay that might otherwise be destroyed by forecasted bad weather be a work of necessity? How about working for utility companies? Two points need to be mentioned: (1) Secularization increases Sunday labor; (2) Many work activities need not be done on Sunday. A nurse’s hours, for example, can be restricted. It would be better to speak of those tasks which might be necessary — work in the health care sector, in service and safety sector (police, telephone operators), work in industrial sector (round-the-clock shifts, long-distance trucking, perishable goods). We must be careful, however, that necessity and mercy don’t become economic productivity and profit. Some jobs simply must be refused in the confession that one who keeps the commandment keeps his soul (Prov.19: 16). A refusal to work on Sunday may be scorned, but it may also be admired.
A Few More Comments. Four questions:
1. Does the fourth commandment require us to work six days?