Exodus 20: 1-6
20Then God spoke all these words:
2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Last Sunday I asked a question:
Can any of us list all the Ten Commandments?
My purpose in asking that question was not to embarrass anyone, because I have to confess, whenever I try to list them, even when I have Exodus 20 in front of me, I have trouble.
What is the first, second third, etc. …?
Apparently, Catholics and Jews list them differently than we Presbyterians do.
Jews split Exodus 20: 1-6 into two.
God’s proclamation that God is the Lord God alone as the first commandment and a demand that only God, and no idols, be worshipped is the second.
Catholics list all of Exodus 20: 1-6 as the first commandment.
We Presbyterians note that these are “commandments”, and so look for “commands”.
We might be tempted to just list the commandments as those statements that contain the word “shall”.
But we can’t do that because two commandments have two “shalls” in them, while two commandments have none.
This is all very confusing to me at times and maybe to you.
So, you will be happy to hear that I will use the list of commandments we find in our Book of Common Worship:
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
- You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
- Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
You will fine this list in the bulletin this morning after the Order of Worship.
You might put it on your refrigerator as a means of a reminder and for encouragement.
Today we start with the first two, basically because they are so interconnected.
We are to worship only God, and nothing, and no one, else.
Number one and number two.
They are so interconnected because they follow right after what is called the “Prologue”:
God spoke all these words saying, I am the Lord your God.
God’s first words to Israel.
I am the Lord your God.
God seems to anticipate a question.
Which God is that?
(Because Israel had many in Egypt.)
God said, “The one that brought you out of Egypt, so you are obliged to me because that makes me your God.”
So, here’s what you have to do:
First, you shall have no other gods before me.
No other gods before me.
The Hebrew word translated as “before” can be translated in different ways:
Before (in front of) me.
Beside (alongside of) me.
Besides (instead of) me.
Against (opposed to) me.
No other gods, period!
So, when we put the first commandment together with the Prologue, we have the essence of the covenantal relationship between God and Israel.
Israel is God’s only chosen people.
God brought it out of Egypt.
Israel’s only God is the one who took it out of Egyptian slavery.
God will continue to bless Israel.
And Israel is to worship that God.
Does this imply that there are other gods?
Not real ones.
That is what the second commandment is about.
We are not to make and worship idols.
What is an idol?
It is anything we put before, beside, besides or against God.
Those are the “other” gods.
And we are not to worship them.
For two reasons.
The first commandment, obviously.
You shall have no other gods before me.
But the second reason contains some logic.
Idols are things we create ourselves.
We create them.
They are not really gods, but inventions of our minds, and they have no power.
Worshiping or praying to them accomplishes nothing.
Even if we say we are praying to our God, that we are actually speaking to an something we created disrespects God.
We are prohibited from creating images of God because to do so allows us to put God in a box.
There is a little children’s song that is kind of cute.
If I had a little bitty box, to put my savior in.
I’d take him out and kiss- kiss- kiss and share him with my friends
If I had a little bitty box to put that Satan in
I’d take him out and smash his face and put him right back in.
Good song, because that is what we are supposed to do.
Share the Good News.
Making an idol to represent God makes it a different song.
If I had a little bitty box, to put my savior in
I’d take him out and kiss- kiss- kiss and put him right back in.
That is what happens when we create an idol of God.
We want to keep God in the box, our box.
We let God out when it suits us.
Then we put God back when it doesn’t.
We try to be the one in charge.
That is idolatry.
That is prohibited.
The reality is this.
God is in no place.
God is in no form.
God cannot be owned or controlled.
Giving allegiance or credit to anything or anyone else puts that thing before, beside, besides and against God.
It might look a bit like this.
This scene from the movie, Remember the Titans.
Coach Herman Boone is the first African American coach of the first integrated football team in Virginia.
Boone is challenged by Gary Bertier, the captain of the previously all white team.
Bertier approaches Boone as the team is boarding the busses that will take them to pre-season training camp.
Bertier demands a particular racial make-up of the team.
In effect, he is saying to Boone, you are not in charge here, I am.
Everyone who gets on the bus becomes a member of a family.
And the Titans have a “daddy”.
Boone asks Bertier: “Who’s your daddy?”
Bertier hesitates but finally says to Boone: “You are.”
Boone smiles and tells Bertier, then put on your coat and get on the bus.
Why does Bertier backed down?
Because Bertier and Boone both knew the same thing.
When a community seeks to succeed in something never done before, there must be someone in charge.
On a football team, that is the head coach.
And there is only one head coach.
And that coach is the “daddy”.
The one who cares.
The one with the team’s best interests at heart.
The one who leads.
If you want to be on the team, that is who you owe your allegiance to.
Want to be on the team?
Put on your coat and get on the bus.
I saw something like that in real life once.
When my daughter was playing summer travel softball, I heard a coach from another team tell us why his best pitcher was no longer with his team.
It seems that when she pitched, she ignored the signs he gave for her pitches and instead would glance at her father who sat behind the team.
He was calling the pitches.
The catcher did not know what was coming and so there were several passed balls, advancing base runners.
More importantly, the coach was just better at it.
When the coach found out, he confronted the father and told him that there was only one coach, and if the girl was to pitch, she had to do what the coach wanted.
Put on her coat and get on the bus.
When the father refused, well, she was no longer on the bus.
That is what is happening between God and Israel.
You want to be on God’s team, Israel?
Who’s your daddy?
There is only one and I am that one.
I am YHWH.
I am the one who freed you from Egyptian slavery.
I have your best interest at heart.
I have the power to save you.
If you want to be my people, I am your “daddy”.
You will have no other.
You will have no other person or thing in charge but me.
If you want to be on my team, put on your coat and get on the bus.
Follow someone else and you are off the bus.
What does this have to do with us today?
I mean, we were never slaves in Egypt, right?
We are slaves to different masters.
What are our idols today?
To what do we give our allegiance and worship?
We put these things before, beside, besides and against God.
And God does not hide God’s feelings on this point.
God is a jealous God.
God will not tolerate any competition.
In some ways, it is like marriage.
When two people get married, there is an understanding that there will be no competition for their mutual commitments.
The loyalty and love of each for the other is reserved for the spouse and the spouse alone.
In this respect, we, like God, are allowed to be jealous for that love and loyalty.
To give love and loyalty to another is a breach of the covenant and will lead to unpleasant consequences.
When Israel did these things, there were expressed consequence.
Under the old covenant, to do this (and the Old Testament is the story of how Israel could not it either) was punished to the third and fourth generation.
Only those who followed the commandments were received God’s steadfast love.
The problem for Israel and us is that none of us qualify for the thousand generation of steadfast love that is earned only by strict compliance with the commandments.
We simply cannot comply.
That is why Thomas Aquinas, and Paul for that matter, believed the commandments to be accusations of infidelity to God and proof that we needed a savior.
Which brings us to Jesus.
Jesus is the divine commandment follower – for us.
Jesus is the new covenant.
The New Testament.
The incarnate God who continues to free us from slavery and demonstrates God’s steadfast love by living the life we are called to live and forgiving us when we do not.
All we need to do is accept this great gift.
Proclaim God to be our “daddy”.
Then we put on our coats and get on the bus.
So, what does that mean for our daily lives?
How are we to live?
Jesus tells us in Mark 12: 29-31 in response to being asked what the greatest commandment is.
‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’
Those are the terms of the covenant.
Loving each other.
Living the Jesus way.