Home > Bible Study, Exodus, Israel, Old Testament, Ten Commandments > Understanding and Distinguishing between the First and Second Commandments

Understanding and Distinguishing between the First and Second Commandments

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In our modern age, with the historical reference and background of Judeo-Christian culture, these two commandments are often easily confused and even combined together.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.

  1. December 30, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging.

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