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Understanding and Distinguishing between the First and Second Commandments

December 30, 2015 1 comment

Continuing through Tom Chantry’s “Ten Commandments” series, some interesting observations regarding the first two of the commandments: 1) You shall have no other gods before me; and the lengthier 2) You shall not make for yourself a carved 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.

In our modern age, with the historical reference and background of Judeo-Christian culture, these two commandments are often easily confused and even combined together. Chantry notes that the Catholic church does the latter – one lengthy 1st commandment, then other numbering and their own extra division in one of the later commandments to come up with the number ten. From our perspective it seems clear enough that anyone who worships idols IS worshipping other gods, false gods; the two go hand-in-hand in all pagan societies. The liberal, modernist scholars would also have us esteem the ancient pagans as sub-par in intelligence, “those stupid pagan idolaters who actually thought their god was that piece of gold or wood.” But no, the early civilizations well understood the concept of symbolic representation: the god existed apart from his idol; the idol represented that god. Though certainly false religions in some cases since have devolved even further, to actually believing that the idol = the god, yet generally those who worship the idol are affirming a “god” that exists beyond the idol itself.

The Exodus Israelites came from a culture with two important features: polytheism AND excellent artwork. Though they were but lowly slaves in that kingdom (Egypt), they could certainly appreciate the artwork—still enjoyed by people today, as evidenced by the multitudes who attend every “ancient wonders” type of museum exhibit, enamored by King Tut’s tomb and other finds from ancient Egypt. So, having experienced the power of Yahweh in delivering them from Egypt, to the Israelites it was very natural to consider the worship of this other God, the one God – Yahweh; thus, in the cultural style of Egypt: how should this God be represented? by what artwork/idol?

So to distinguish the two commandments: the First Commandment says Who to worship. The Second Commandment says How to worship. God tells us further, that He is not a fit subject for our artwork.

Israel’s later history also attests to this distinction between the First and the Second Commandments. Jeroboam’s great sin (1 Kings 12:28) harkens back to the golden calf of Exodus 32:4-8, even using the same language “these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” – a clear violation of the Second Commandment, worshiping the true God, but worshiping Him in the wrong way. 1 Kings 16:31 further makes this point, in reference to King Ahab: “as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat” – the Second Commandment violation – “he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal and worshiped him.” Thus Ahab is specifically connected with violating BOTH the First and the Second Commandments, introducing Baal worship in addition to the golden calf sin to the northern tribes. 2 Kings continues the story with Jehu, raised up by the Lord to destroy the house of Ahab – and commended for doing so, including Jehu’s destruction of Baal worship (2 Kings 10:18-27). Yet we are told in verse 29, “But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin-that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.”

Chantry’s lessons in this series, as with the section about the Second Commandment, include consideration of several Bible events which serve as illustrations for each commandment; see this lecture about the golden calf and this one about Nadab and Abihu’s Strange Fire. In the study of their experiences as examples for us in our age (1 Corinthians 10:11), we can learn more about the specific circumstances and background of the early Israelites, to relate to their way of thinking—and to understand where they went wrong.

The Ten Commandments and the ‘Greatest Generation’

December 18, 2015 3 comments

I’m now going through Tom Chantry’s “The Ten Commandments” series, a set of 81 available audio messages (the audio is missing from a few of the lectures), a Wednesday-night series he did several years ago as an in-depth look at Exodus 20 and related scriptures regarding the overall issue of the Ten Commandments as well as each individual command within the set.

The introductory messages include (message 2) “For Whom?,” a look at the people who received the Ten Commandments – two groups (Exodus 20, and the children a generation later in Deuteronomy) and the contrast between them, with a great point of application to us in our day.

The first generation, those who came out of Egypt, was a generally unbelieving group. As Paul later said, they were an example for us; and the law was given as a schoolmaster, to point out our sinfulness and our need of Christ, that we cannot obtain salvation by keeping the law.

Their children were a very different group: a generally believing group who had great faith and, abiding in the Lord, accomplished great things: the initial conquest of Canaan under Joshua – a generation in Israel unlike the preceding and unlike all the later generations, a group that could be called “the greatest generation.” Of course they were fallen, unglorified humans, with imperfect obedience – and yet they were believers–like us, part of the one people of God throughout all redemptive history.

Yet the law was also given to them–a point that Moses emphasized: this law is given to you, this covenant made with you. As Chantry points out, this group might have been tempted to think “we’re different than our parents,” and “we’ve arrived.” After all, the wilderness wandering is over; this group would soon be entering the Promised Land; no more following the cloud by day and the fire by night, but living in a settled land; no more miraculous daily feeding of the manna, but the “milk and honey” abundance of the land.

An interesting point, of great application to us in our day: the “third use” of the law. We recognize that God’s people never were saved by law-keeping but always by the “covenant of grace” which was progressively revealed, the atonement provided for God’s people in Christ’s death. Yet the law, the Ten Commandments, was given to both types of people in the Old Testament: the generally unbelieving group in Exodus, and also to the group of believers in Deuteronomy.

 

1689 Confession Study: Motives for Holiness (Progressive Sanctification)

December 7, 2015 4 comments

Continuing in the 1689 Confession series, the messages on chapter 13 (Sanctification) include a look at the source of sanctification (this message).  Yes, in an objective and general sense, we can all say that our sanctification comes from the Lord, it is He who works in us and continues the work of grace in our hearts and lives, and preserves and keeps us. The subjective side, though, includes our own personal experience and specific biblical motives for our continuing to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, in the synergistic aspect of sanctification.

Here are ten motives for holiness – as noted in the lecture, this list is not exhaustive (not in this list, for example: desire to keep one’s good name, seen in Joseph’s experience with Potiphar’s wife, one of several motives that Joseph had) , but ten major motives for the subjective aspect of sanctification.

The desire …

  1. To express love and thanksgiving to God. (1 John 5:3)
  2. To proclaim the excellencies of God. (1 Peter 2:9; our holy lives)
  3. To maintain a clear conscience before God and man. (Reference Acts 24:16, Romans 13, 1 Peter 3:16)
  4. To be more useful to God. (2 Tim. 2:20-21)
  5. To see unbelievers come to faith in Christ. (1 Peter 3:1-2, 3:15)
  6. To avoid God’s displeasure and discipline in our lives. We’re not always “up there” and so in love with God. (1 Cor. 11:29-32; the case of Ananias and Saphira, struck down for their lie)
  7. To seek greater, heavenly reward. (1 Cor. 3, 2 Cor. 5:9-10)
  8. To have a closer walk with God.
  9. To do what God commands simply because His commands are right, we delight in doing what’s right (as the psalmist delighted in God’s laws).
  10. To have peace and joy in our lives.

Some of these motives may be “higher” and more “spiritual” than others, but we should never discard the “lower” motives. In answer to those who would disdain the motive of being “more useful to God” by saying that we should always be thinking great thoughts and always be “up there” just wanting God’s glory—the reality of our Christian experience (reference Romans 7) is that we’re not always feeling such high thoughts of just wanting to praise and proclaim the greatness of God. The one who says that “I just want to glory in Christ and God can use me or not use me, it’s all about Him,” is really not being more spiritual—but rather being a hyper-Calvinist. Sometimes in our lives, only the “lower” motives will work, those times when God puts us in such conditions. As the apostle Paul told the Corinthians, “if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged”; so motive #6 above certainly is biblical and has its place, that we strive for holiness so as to avoid God’s chastening, such as some of the Corinthians had experienced.

A similar point is made regarding motive #7, to seek greater reward. Our salvation is not by works, yet God’s word plainly teaches that believers will have rewards for their level of faithfulness and their works done as believers. In Matthew 5:19 Jesus contrasts those who will be called “least in the kingdom of heaven” versus those who will be called “great in the kingdom of heaven.” Christ also told us to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth, and Paul contrasts those who build on the foundation with gold, silver or precious stones, versus those who build with straw. Some will enter into glory “as by fire,” with their lives–yet all their works burned up.  We don’t know what those rewards will be in the specifics, but again, this is a motive for holiness.  Our understanding here is a “both/and” regarding salvation and rewards.

[As a sidenote here, I note an inconsistency regarding understanding and applying the ‘both/and’ concept to various doctrines. The amillennialist rejects the teaching of premillennialism on the basis that “spiritual is more important than literal, therefore only the spiritual part is true,” not seeing the “both/and” aspect of premillennialism. Yet the same person who rejects this doctrine at least understands and gets some teaching right (better than those who are more consistent yet consistently come to the wrong conclusion on most doctrines), though not seeing their inconsistent handling of various biblical doctrines.]

In our continued walk with God, we should certainly aim for greater holiness and sanctification, including through the greater motives. Yet any motive to refrain from sin and to improve in our walk with God, anything that keeps us from sin, is something good.