September 12, 2021/On the Second Commandment

The Ten Commandments  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  43:18
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If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn to Exodus 20
Series Overview // Pause for Ordination Service Next Week
Why Study the Ten Commandments?
They are Foundational to Biblical Ethics
They are central to Christian discipleship
They are neglected
They reflect the character of God
That the commandments reflect the character of God brings us to the second overview question I wish to address in our series, and that is “who spoke the ten words?”
At first blush, the answer to this question is kind of on the nose, isn’t it? The short answer is so abundantly obvious. It is stated right there in verse 1 of the text:
Exodus 20:1 ESV
1 And God spoke all these words, saying,
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and start addressing the nature of God’s relationship to the people of Israel, and the gospel pattern found in Exodus 20:2 of how Israel was saved to obey. They were redeemed to be holy. They were not told to get their act together and obey these ten commands before God would rescue them from slavery, rather, he because of his special grace and love set them free and then delivered these commands.
No, instead I want to focus on four particular aspects of the indication that it is God himself who spoke these words.

Four Considerations About God Himself Speaking These Ten Words

First of all, they are unique.
Second, they are complete.
Third, they are permanent.
Fourth, they reflect the character of God.

They are unique

Let us consider the unique nature of their delivery. We are told that GOD SPOKE these words audibly for all to hear.
He told Moses this would be the case.
Exodus 19:9 ESV
9 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.” When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord,
And later we can confirm that the hearing of God’s voice in this revelation was dreadful to the people:
Exodus 20:19 ESV
19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”
There could be no doubt in anyone’s mind about the source of these commands. And this is why the are unique. You see, throughout the rest of Scripture, God generally speaks to his people through a mediator. It is not unique that God speak to us. He does so through his prophets and mediators like Moses. The unique thing was that the entire Israelite community could hear these ten words.
The ceremonial and civil law did not come with an audible voice from heaven. These ten words did! That’s significant.

They are complete

But then secondly, we see that these ten words are complete. They have a wholeness to them.
In Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy 5:22 ESV
22 “These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me.
He added no more. This suggests a completeness to this particular set of instructions. When he spoke these ten he didn’t add anything to it. As one commentator states, “It was the original law of liberty.”
Have you ever been in a Class, gone to a Camp, that has a set of rules?
Can you imagine a world in which everyone obeyed these ten commandments? We wouldn’t have to lock our doors, we wouldn’t have to fear. The world would flourish with love for God and love for others.
But then the third thing we should note is that in addition to God speaking these words he inscribed them with his finger, indicating that...

They are permanent

Exodus 31:18 ESV
18 And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.
A. W. Pink says:
“The revelation of God at Sinai was to serve for all coming ages as the grand expression of God’s holiness and the summation of man’s duty… Those Ten Words, and they alone, were written by the finger of God upon tables of stone, and they alone were deposited in the holy ark for safe keeping. Thus, in the unique honor conferred upon the Decalogue itself we may perceive its paramount importance in the Divine government.”
God spoke these words, and he kept a permanent record of them in the place where his holy presence would dwell among his people.
Deuteronomy 10 records how Moses kept the tablets in the ark of the testimony...
Deuteronomy 10:5 ESV
5 Then I turned and came down from the mountain and put the tablets in the ark that I had made. And there they are, as the Lord commanded me.”
The ark was placed in the holy of holies and the high priest would know that every time he entered into the presence of God, THIS was the GOD who spoke these words. The presence of the Decalogue in the Ark reminded the priest of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness. Which is why there must be blood sprinkled on the mercy seat that was above the ark. Blood would need to atone for the sins of the people to cover God’s wrath toward us for failing to live to his standards and failing to keep HIS HOLY commandments.
This leads me to the fourth point, and time is short today to express this in its fulness, but I want to nail down this point as briefly as I can. The ten commandments were not unique to Sinai, they existed before Sinai and they exist after Sinai. They are simply the best summary of God’s unchanging law (what theologians call the moral law), because God himself is an unchanging God.

They reflect God’s character

Listen carefully to these three statements:
The law is not good because God spoke it.
The law is not good because it is objectively good and God recognized it as such.
The law is good because GOD is GOOD. And correctly understanding that keeps us from significant error.
You might be the type who says, “God says it, I believe it and that settles it.” That kind of faith is commendable - especially when you know from other parts of Scripture that God is good.
But what if God had commanded something morally detestable? I won’t fill in the blanks for you. But surely you could imagine some capricious and whimsical deity commanding the absurd to fulfill his despotic desires? This paradigm is what theologians call the authority over law paradigm. You might understand it better by calling it “might makes right.”
But that is not why the law is good. Because then things we know to be evil could have good merely because God had all the power. The end result of this paradigm is legalism - where we obey dutifully because we have no other legitimate choice. Like going along with a dictator’s rules because you see no better alternative.
The other side of the coin is equally troubling. The authority under law paradigm is just as fraught with problems. It would say that the commandments are true and right and good objectively, and what makes God authoritative is that he had such wisdom in loving and commanding what is good and right outside of himself and pointing us to those external set of commands. It places the law ABOVE God as a greater reality that exists outside of himself to which he can only point us and say - do that because it is good, right and true.
The end result of that line of reasoning is that God is not really sovereign or powerful.
If you want to read more about this dilemma, I commend to you David Jones’ book “An Introduction to Biblical Ethics” in which he explains the classic dilemma we are considering - which is called “Euthyphro’s dilemma.”
So how does one split the horns of this dilemma? By recognizing that the law is holy and right and good because GOD IS HOLY and RIGHT and GOOD and he commands that which reflects his character. This is why breaking one of the commandments is to sin against GOD - as David rightly says in Psalm 51.
The unchanging nature of these ten words is due in large part to the unchanging character of the God who spoke them, and we should keep this in mind when we consider these ten words.
Theologians call this the “Authority IS law” paradigm - and it simply means the law is good because GOD IS GOOD! AMEN?
Stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
Staying with ESV
Each Sunday I’d like to read all ten of the commandments.
Exodus 20:1–17 ESV
1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 3 “You shall have no other gods before me. 4 “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. 5 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 on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 “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. 8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”
Be seated. Each Sunday after we read the ten commandments, I’m going to ask you a series of questions, for which I’d like you to read the answer out loud together. We are going to do a little catechism work! I hope you maybe spent some time on question 8!
Question 6
Q. How can we glorify God?
A. By loving him and by obeying his commands and law.
Question 7
Q. What does the law of God require?
A. That we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love our neighbor as ourselves.
Question 8
Q. What is the law of God stated in the Ten Commandments?
A. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Honor your father and your mother. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not give false testimony. You shall not covet.
Question 9
Q. What does God require in the first, second, and third commandments?
A. First, that we know God as the only true God. Second, that we avoid all idolatry. Third, that we treat God’s name with fear and reverence.
Dollar Tree
Question 10
Q. What does God require in the fourth and fifth commandments?
A. Fourth, that on the Sabbath day we spend time in worship of God. Fifth, that we love and honor our father and our mother.
Question 11
Q. What does God require in the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments?
A. Sixth, that we do not hurt or hate our neighbor. Seventh, that we live purely and faithfully. Eighth, that we do not take without permission that which belongs to someone else.
Question 12
Q. What does God require in the ninth and tenth commandments?
A. Ninth, that we do not lie or deceive. Tenth, that we are content, not envying anyone.
Question 13
Q. Can anyone keep the law of God perfectly?
A. Since the fall, no human has been able to keep the law of God perfectly.
Question 14
Q. Did God create us unable to keep his law?
A. No, but because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, we are all born in sin and guilt, and unable to keep God’s law.
Question 15
Q. Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?
A. That we may know the holy nature of God, and the sinful nature of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior.
These questions and answers are the kids version of the New City Catechism. Every parent can find one of these at the door when you leave, and if you would like the adult version (with fuller answers along with scriptural references, those are available for purchase in the book nook.
Now in the time that remains today, I’d like us to turn our attention to verses 4-6 of Exodus 20. In them we consider

The Second Commandment

The first thing I want us to see about the second commandment is that

The prohibition is comprehensive

Look with me at verse 4.
Exodus 20:4–5 (ESV)
4 “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.
5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them...
No carved images or ANY likeness of ANY thing...
In Heaven ABOVE
on earth BENEATH
or in the water underneath.
That kind of seals it up neatly doesn’t it. There is no wiggle room for this. The second commandment shows that God is very concerned with HOW we worship, and apparently God knows we are pretty good at finding ways to worship created things rather than him. One might say the prohibition against idolatry is so comprehensive, because down through the ages, the human heart’s propensity to idolatry has been and continues to be so all-encompassing.
For a little historical background, let me share with you some of what Duane Stuart wrote in his commentary about idolatry in the when these commands were given. As I share each of these aspects of idolatry, I’ll also try and demonstrate that the temptations to idolatry are not only a thing of the past or something you find in a country far away. J. I. Packer helpfully reminds us, ““You do not have to make a graven image picturing God as a man to be an idolater; a false mental image is all that is needed to break the second commandment.”
So here are some characteristics & temptations of idolatry:
Idolatry was and still is guaranteed - meaning, if you had the idol/image/statue, you had the presence of that god - guaranteed. It meant you were in control. In our day, I think of the idea of name it claim it theology - where we have idolized our own control over God rather than recognizing his freedom and sovereignty.
Idolatry was and still is selfish. “Idolatry was an entire materialistic system of thinking and behavior, sometimes called the “fertility cult,” built on the idea that the gods could do virtually anything but feed themselves. The one sort of “hold” or advantage humans had over the gods was the ability to feed them. Accordingly, it was felt that if one fed a given god, that god was in turn obligated to use his power on behalf of the feeder-worshiper. Not much else was required; if you fed a god adequately and regularly, that god would, in “quid pro quo” fashion, bless you in return with abundance of crops, fertility of cattle.” This sort of reminds me of our tendency in our culture to believe we can buy social status. So long as I keep up my dues at the country club…or so long as I can afford the right car or the right clothes, I will be considered as successful by others or even in my own eyes. So we keep feeding that idol - chasing a sort of satisfaction that it can never provide us.
Idolatry was and still is ubiquitous. Idol shrines allowed worshipers to take a sacrifice to the god or goddess of their choice virtually any time of day, any day of the week, and at a location nearby any place they happened to be. This reminds me of our “smart” devices. What do they call it, an iPhone? Any time of the day or night, I can give vent to my inner desires of worship. Is my heart craven for approval? Do I want to escape? Do I want to satisfy lust? Am I coveting a new toy, new clothes, new shoes? Through these ubiquitous inanimate objects, our hearts can wander toward idolatry any time of day or any day of the week.
D.L. Moody was right when he said: “Satan doesn’t care what we worship, as long as we don’t worship God.”
Idolatry was and still is normal. Stuart writes, “Idolatry was the common way of religion—without exception outside Israel—in the ancient world.” This reminds me of the tidal wave of cultural secularism that will sweep Christians up with it if we are not careful to worship the one true God and to do so the way he has commanded.
Idolatry was and still is attractive to the senses. Idolatry provided worshipers with images of divinity pleasing to the eyes, and spawned a whole, entrenched industry of image making (think of Demetrius the silversmith in Acts 19), and appealed to the sensual, even, broadly speaking, to the “artistic” in the people.
Now before you think God is anti-art, remember that he gave instructions for the tabernacle that included incredible artistry and craftsmanship. But although God appreciates artistry, he will not tolerate idolatry.
This reminds me of any number of ways in which we are drawn into the theater of sports or the allure of fashion or cinema - stimulated by our senses and allured into sinful thoughts because the packaging is so appealing.
Idolatry was and still is indulgent. The more frequently one ate meat (since it was always eaten in connection with worship) and the more meat one ate (since thereby the god’s portion was increased), the more likely one could curry favor with the gods. “Pigging out” thus typified pagan sacrifices, in contrast to the more clearly symbolic value of an orthodox Israelite’s worship. Heavy drinking and drunkenness also were considered proper in idol worship feasts because debauching oneself was simply part of being generous to a god. This reminds me that the food and alcohol industry are always happy to oblige our idolatrous instincts toward gluttony and drunkenness. How many people do you know personally that are chasing satisfaction at the bottom of a bottle only to find that it disappoints them every single time.
Idolatry was and still is erotic. Ancient pagan worshipers were taught that if they, taking the symbolic role of, say, Baal, would have sex with a temple prostitute symbolically portraying, say, Asherah, this act would stimulate Baal and Asherah to have sex in heaven, which in turn would stimulate things to be born on earth: the young of flocks and herds, as well as the seedlings of all desired plants. This may be the most prominent aspect of idolatry in our culture today. The whole-hearted commitment to one’s own sexual pleasure is the mantra of our society, and it seems the demands of the god of the sexual revolution will brook no other rival gods.
In all these various we see the breadth and depth of our proclivity toward idolatry. John Calvin said the human heart is “a perpetual factory of idols.” Rather than worshiping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), we reshape and remake him until he is safely under our control.
And this is why God so comprehensively prohibits the making or worshipping of ANY likeness of ANY thing - because he knows even good things can be manipulated into a “god” thing by our sinful and rebellious hearts. Whether it is in replacement of him, or in an effort to manipulate or control him, God will not permit idolatry in any form or fashion.
And he gives us the reason why…

The reason is jealousy

Look at the second half of verse 5
Exodus 20:5 (ESV)
5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God...
God has a zealous love for his people. This is the kind of jealousy you would expect in a loving husband. If he were not moved at all by his spouse cheating on him, you would question whether or not he actually loved his bride. In the same way, the Bible teaches that God loves his people with a jealous love.
I love the passage in Zephaniah 3 that says
Zephaniah 3:17 ESV
17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
God’s command to avoid all idolatry is grounded in his incredible overwhelming LOVE for us - he desires our faithfulness to him because he knows that only HE can satisfy our deepest longings and fulfill the purpose for which we were created.
But then notice as we keep looking at verse five that

The consequences of disobedience are sweeping

Exodus 20:5 ESV
5 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 on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
At first glance, you might think this seems a little harsh and unfair. That God would punish seemingly innocent children and grandchildren for the sins of their fathers. But a closer examination makes it plain that God visits this iniquity on those who hate him.
An idolatrous person will not be able to say - it’s my parent’s fault - I only learned this sinful behavior from them.
No, God never condemns the innocent but only the guilty. And the guilt of the fathers has become the guilt of the sons, because it is plain that the passing along of idolatrous practices has been accepted by the sons as well.
And note very clearly, that someone may claim that their idolatrous practice is out of love for God! The Israelites wanted to worship Yahweh when they asked Aaron to make the golden calf and proclaimed a feast to the LORD. They would have said they LOVED the Lord, and they were worshiping him by bowing before these idols.
But God’s WORD in this second commandment is very clear - that idolatry is really an expression of HATRED toward God. Hear me clearly - to kneel before an image of a saint, a relic, a crucifix, or statue and pay homage to it or venerate it is so far from loving God, that he himself has declared that it is an act of hatred.
And the consequences for you and your family after you who continue in the practices you teach will be sweeping.
We all know how idolatrous addictions and worldliness can impact families for generations.
But here is the good news. As soon as we would be fearful of the consequences, Scripture teaches that

The mercy God shows is unending

He says in verse six:
Exodus 20:6 ESV
6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The footnote in my Bible says “thousands of generations.” That is the correct translation here. For those who love God, the mercy of God is overwhelmingly greater than the just punishment he metes out. He longs to flood our families and offspring with mercy and kindness.
Dane Ortland writes in his book, Gentle and Lowly, “God’s goodness will be passed down in a way that inexorably swallows up all our sins. His mercies travel down to a thousand generations, far eclipsing the third or fourth generation.”
And this doesn’t mean that God’s goodness shuts off with generation 1,001. It is God’s own way of saying “There is no termination date on my commitment to you. You can’t get rid of my grace to you. You can’t outrun my mercy. You can’t evade my goodness. My heart is set on you.
Our sins they are many, HIS MERCY is more.
And as I close, I want you to hear this clearly:
“God’s mercy swims to us as through Christ’s blood.”
Thomas Watson reminds us that the mercy of God that propitiates the wrath of God for sinners to enter the presence of holy God, ALL OF WHICH IS PREFIGURED IN THE HOLY OF HOLIES WITH THE ARK OF THE TESTIMONY, THE TABLETS AND THE BLOOD SPRINKLED ON THE MERCY SEAT...
The mercy of God SWIMS to us as through Christ Jesus’s blood.
You see, brothers and sisters...

The image of God is crystal clear in Christ

Christ is the fulfillment of the second commandment.
There was never a need for us to fashion something in the image of God, because GOD had already done that.
Genesis 1:27 ESV
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
The image of God can never be crafted by human hands, because God had already designed us to BE his image bearers.
Listen: humans can never MAKE the image of God, we can only BE the image of God.
However, the first Adam failed to image God and reflect his glory, and ever since his disobedience, we have all been born in sin and guilt unable to keep the law of God and reflect his character therein. So God the father in his loving kindness, sent Jesus - the co-eternal, second person of the trinity to take on human flesh and fulfill what Adam failed to do.
Jesus, we are told in Colossians 1 IS the image of God.
Colossians 1:15 ESV
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
THat word for image in Greek is the same word from which we get our word ICON.
Jesus makes the image of God KNOWN by living in obedience to the law of God which reflects the character of GOD all to the GLORY of God.
Romans 8:3–4 ESV
3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Conceived by the Holy Spirit, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly and his righteousness can become ours by faith.
Romans 5:19 ESV
19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Friends, you were created for a purpose. To glorify GOD and enjoy him forever. Glorifying God means reflecting his character. We’ve learned today that these commands reflect his character. Jesus obeyed these commands perfectly. We know we have not. But the reason I am preaching to you today is to make it known that by faith in what Jesus came to do in his obedience, and the death he died to pay with his blood the death-price for disobedience we deserved to pay, we can be put in a right relationship with God and others and begin to be transformed into his likeness - having the good design of God’s image in us restored, renewed and recreated. The promise of hope that we have is that we will be forever glorified and as the Scripture says, the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God - reflected in millions of image bearers like you and like me - who have been redeemed, restored and recreated into the likeness of Jesus Christ who is the crystal clear image of the only God.
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