The Ten Words – or commandments – of the Bible begin not with civil laws concerning man’s rightful treatment of his fellow man, but three laws concerning who God is and how man owes, firstly, his first and foremost allegiances to God. It’s worth noting that this list very closely resembles the suzerain-vassal treaties of the Ancient Near East between a nation’s citizens and her god-king. As such, these regulations in Exodus 20:1-7 are not a crude laundry list of ‘do-s and don’t-s’, but a structured outline of the terms of God’s COVENANT with Israel, His redeemed people. These expectations apply not just to the Jew, but all mankind, since everyone is made in God’s image:
- You shall have no other gods above, or before, Yahweh (Him first);
- You shall not make a graven image of anything in all creation and worship it (How [not] to worship Him);
- You shall not falsely use God’s name.
It is important to emphasise that these laws are not merely a crude list of ‘do-s and don’t-s’, but the basis of God’s relationship with Israel – and that relationship was governed by laws, as one commentator has observed: “The revelation [that the Ten Words] contain is nothing less than an epitome of the covenant granted by Yahweh, the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, to His elect and redeemed servant, Israel. Not law, but covenant. That must be affirmed when we are seeking a category comprehensive enough to do justice to this revelation is its totality” (‘Treaty of the King: The Covenant Structure of Deuteronomy’, by Meredith G. Kline, Wipf and Stock, p. 17).
This codification of laws to structure Israel’s worship of God is to help that relationship, not to strip it of relationship and merely be a crude set of laws, contrary to what many people may say today. The magisterial Reformer, John Calvin, said as much: “It is vain, therefore, to talk of righteousness apart from religion. Such righteousness has no more beauty than the trunk of a body deprived of its head” (Book II, chapter 8, section 11).
God bless, Pastor Haydn.