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Thou Shalt Not Minimize (Exodus 20:1-7)

February 10, 2013 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: The Ten Words

Topic: Exodus Passage: Exodus 20:1–20:7

The Ten Words

Thou Shalt Not Minimize
Exodus 20:1-7
(One Lord: No One Like You)
Pastor Bryce Morgan


I. Minimizing “Minimizing”

When you think about the word “minimize”, you may be in danger of minimizing just how often we use that word in our everyday conversations, or even hear that word in the media. Think about it…

“You are minimizing my feelings by saying “Oh, you’ll get over it.”…You are minimizing the role our gun laws played in these tragedies…Sure seems like they’re minimizing the dangers of concussions in football…I think she’s trying to minimize her guilt in the failure of the marriage…Let’s find a way to minimize the pain associated with this kind of procedure…the campaign was minimizing the role college students played in getting out the vote…” [and the list could go on]

But this morning, I believe God wants us to think about a kind of minimizing that, very often, we are tempted to minimize in terms of recognizing its real danger.

I'd like you to turn to Exodus 20. This morning we are picking up where we left off last week. Last time we talked about the incredible significance of what the Old Testament calls, literally from the Hebrew, the Ten Words. We learned from Exodus 19 that these Ten Words were the stipulations, the conditions, which God himself, at Mount Sinai, through Moses...that God himself made a part of His covenant with the people of Israel.

Of course most people know these covenant expectations by another name, the “Ten Commandments”. Last time, not only did we talk about the importance of these commandments for the Israelites of the Old Testament, but we also learned that these Ten Words have continuing significance for followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus has, in fact, fulfilled the Law! And now through Him, by grace, through faith, so can we.

So if we are disciple of Jesus, we look at these commandments not in the context of that covenant from Sinai, but through the lens of the “new covenant”, our covenant with God through Jesus.


II. The Passage: “I am the LORD Your God” (20:1-7)

This morning, let's begin this exploration of the Ten Words by looking at the first three “Words” in 20:1-7. But let's begin by looking at just the first two verses of this chapter.


A. The Commander of the Commandments (vs. 1, 2)

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.
One of the most important things to understand about the Ten Commandments is how they begin. Both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 contain a record of the Ten Words. And both of these lists begin with what we find here in verses 1 and 2.

And what is so significant about these verses is what they tell us: that behind the commandments there is a Commander, and that what we understand about that Commander is critical. Now, in the last 50 years, when people talk about the Ten Commandments, those conversations can easily present the commandments in isolation from God’s identity; that these are simply a set of regulations for living the moral life, or as an important part of our legal heritage.

Even if God is talked about in a generic way, what we see here is God using three key terms as He introduces the commandments AND Himself as the Commander:

First, he is “the LORD”, which is really the Hebrew word for the name of God, Yahweh. Remember in Exodus 3, when God is speaking to Moses from the burning bush, He makes an explicit connection between this name and His identity as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. So He is not a new or unknown God. He is the God of their ancestors. And more importantly, He is the God of the promises given to those ancestors.

The second key term here is the word “brought”. This God was the One who brought them out of Egypt. This was sure to remind them of what they had just witnessed: that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had manifested His power in judgment and brought Egypt, the world superpower to its knees. Not even the Red Sea could hinder the power of this God!

But third, notice the final word of verse 2: slavery. Not only was God's work in Egypt a work of judgment, but it was first and foremost a work of liberation. Even though the Israelites, in tough times, had a bad habit of minimizing how bad things really were in Egypt, they had suffered immensely in their bondage: beaten, bullied, burdened. And remember, the Egyptians had even murdered their baby boys.

So why is all of this important? Because when it comes to obeying these commands, it is essential that we know our Commander is also our Redeemer. This is what we saw last time. The Ten Words are a picture of what it means to live the redeemed life. They are an answer to the question, “How shall we now live as those who have been delivered from bondage by grace because of God's promises?”

Is that true in your life? Have you been delivered from bondage by grace because of God's promise? Do you know that God still redeems slaves? He is still THE Liberator. We search for liberation in so many places, but the freedom we desperately need is freedom from sin and self; freedom from the idea that we can play God over our own lives, that we know what is best; and freedom from the judgment that such a mindset inevitably brings.

And only Jesus Christ can give us that freedom. And if we have been set free by the grace of God through faith in what Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection, than we should be asking, “How now shall we live?” We listen to how God answers that question?


B. Minimizing Allegiance To (v. 3)

The first word of the Ten Words is short and sweet. Look at verse 3:
[this is what your gracious Redeemer says] “You shall have no other gods before me.”

If you know what comes before this, from the beginning of Genesis onward, then you know the Israelites lived in a world populated by many different gods. Of course, none of these gods were real outside of people's imaginations. But these gods were still snares.

You see, one of the temptations in the ancient world was the temptation, not necessarily to replace one's own god, but to create a collection of gods that a person could turn to in times of trouble. If one god doesn't answer you, then just go to the next one. And, in fact, the Hebrew of verse 3 may mean precisely this: you shall place no other gods in my presence.

God has already identified himself as their God. And so, in some sense, the first word here is really, “Thou shalt not minimize!” In fact, the first three words, the first three commandments, are variations of that same idea, “Thou shalt not minimize!” What exactly do I mean?

Well notice that what God is really telling them here is “you shall not minimize your allegiance to me”. God was the only one worthy of their absolute devotion and loyalty. He wanted all of them for himself, and all of all of them. He had not redeemed them from slavery in order to win 60 percent of their hearts. No, he had won them for Himself, exclusively!

But He knew they would still be tempted to look to other gods. Even if they did not replace Yahweh, it wouldn't be long before the memory of their rescue had begun to fade. It wouldn't be long before doubts filled their minds. It wouldn't be long before other options, other solutions, other deliverers, other saviors began to look appealing.

Isn't that true for as well? Aren't we just as tempted to minimize the absolute allegiance to God for which Jesus has set us free? No, we are not surrounded by false gods of the ancient kind. But we are surrounded by false saviors: pleasure, power, possessions, position, prescriptions, prestige, pride in performance, even religious performance. [list goes goes on]

But the first word of the Ten Words is the first word for a reason. If we fail to be committed to God alone as God, if we give in to the temptation to place other things and other people on the same level of God, then every other commandment is jeopardized. Instead we need to make the same confession David made in Psalm 86. Listen to these words

There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. [9] All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. [10] For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God. [11] Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart [give me an undivided heart] to fear your name. [12] I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. (Psalm 86:8-12)

We never want to minimize the importance of our absolute allegiance to God and God alone. But look at how the second word, the second commandment continues this same theme.


C. Minimizing the Greatness Of (vs. 4-6)

Look at verses 4-6. This is the second word:

“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...now let's stop there.

Notice that this is not simply restating the first commandment. Yes, the people could be guilty, and eventually would be guilty, of creating images of false gods. But they would also be tempted to fashion an image of Yahweh himself, to represent him as a bird, or snake, or a calf. In fact, this may be exactly what was happening twelve chapters from now in Exodus 32.

And so in word number two, God was warning them about the danger of minimizing His greatness. At some point, they would be tempted to pride themselves on their exclusive allegiance to Yahweh. But that allegiance would be meaningless if the God they claimed to serve was really a god of their own making, a god shaped by their own imagination.

But the God who had redeemed them from slavery was not a god who could be reduced to a convenient, to a manageable, to a safe size. The true God is a great God, isn't He? Psalm 145:3 says Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

Like the Israelites, we also have been and will be tempted to shape God according to our own desires; to make Him safe, to make him into a comfortable deity who does what we want Him to do, who approves of what we want Him to approve of; who either conforms to our desires or keeps His distance; a God who, in the end, allows us to keep playing God.

But notice the warning God gives at the end of verse 5, and into verse 6: [don't make and bow down to idols] ...for I the LORD your God am a jealous God [not envious, but dedicated to their exclusive allegiance], 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 [that is, to a thousand generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Now, this is a statement that has been and can be easily misunderstood. We have to remember the context here to make sense of what God is saying. The context here has everything to do with the covenant embodied by these Ten Words. And therefore, this is a covenant warning.

Notice the contrast here: God will not ignore, God will deal with, those who minimize His greatness, and He will do so in way that has serious consequences for decades. But at the same time, this God will also shower down His steadfast love to those who love Him and obey these commandments. And that blessing will have consequences, not simply for decades, but for hundreds and thousands of years! Isn't that amazing?!

What does that mean in the context of this covenant? Well the best example is one we find later in the Old Testament. When God finally kicked the people of Judah out of the Promised Land and sent them into exile, he did so for about seventy years (i.e. “to the third and fourth generation”). But because of His love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because of His love for David, He eventually brought them back and He eventually brought them the Messiah.

So I think what we need to take from these verses is 1) that clear picture of how much better it is to obey God and enjoying the blessings of His love, but also 2) to rest in grateful humility for the fact that God visited our iniquity upon Jesus Christ, as He hung on that cross.

D. Minimizing Reverence For (v. 7)

But there is one more commandment, one more word we need to consider this morning. Look at verse 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.”

To take God's name in vain is not simply blaspheming or using God's name as a cuss word. In this context, it means to use God's name for one's own empty or worthless purposes. It might mean swearing falsely in God's name, or using God's name to curse others, or as part of some kind of magical spell. At its heart, it comes from a heart that is minimizing true reverence for God.

Someone might believe himself or herself to be committed to God and God alone, AND he or she might even confess the greatness of God. But even then there can be a desire to exploit God’s greatness for our own selfish purposes. Aren’t we also sometimes guilty of using God’s name to justify our own self-centered agenda? Don’t we, at times, invoke His name to look holy, or prove OUR point, or to judge others, to religiously manipulate others, or to ‘validate’ our misguided thinking or our worldly crusades?

But to truly revere God as God alone, to stand in awe of the greatness of God, is to honor His name. Remember, in the ancient world one’s name represented the essence of that person. Brothers and sisters, as those redeemed, we should only take the name of God, even the title of God, we should only take the name of Jesus onto our lips in a spirit of truth and love and praise and humility and reverence.

God is not a tool to be used for our agenda. No, He has redeemed US, that we might be tools in His hand, for His agenda.


III. The First Commandment

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, His answer was directly related to what is often called the first tablet of the Law, that is, the first four words of the Ten Words that deal with the worship of God. Jesus said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. [38] This is the great and first commandment. (Matthew 22:37, 38)

What a beautiful summary of what God has shown us this morning from the Ten Words. Jesus also said in John 14:15: “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” If you have been set free from the slavery of sin and self by the liberating work of Jesus Christ, if you have been redeemed by accepting the truth that all we can do is believe that Jesus did it all, then God is calling you to live the redeemed life. And the Ten Words were given to guide us in that very thing.

And they begin where they have to begin: they begin with three words that help us maintain a right perspective on who God is. The essence of sin is to doubt God who says He is; to twist the truth about God; to minimize. Let’s ask God to use these three Words to us this morning, to help us guard our hearts and to unite our hearts to love and fear Him alone.