The Ten Commandments Examined: Part One

A Familiar Subject

When asking people about the Bible, the Ten Commandments are a subject that many people are familiar with, even if they are not familiar with the commandments themselves. The Ten Commandments can be easily divided into two groupings: the first four commandments describe offenses against God; the remaining six commandments describe offenses against man.

Each of these commandments is an absolute, removed from situation or “extraneous circumstance”. It is the purpose of this series of articles to examine each of the Ten Commandments individually:

Commandment #1

You shall have no other gods before Me.
(Exo. 20:3, NASU)

The phrase “before Me” can also be translated as “besides Me”, emphasizing the unique nature of God as God. There is no place for any other deity or object of worship and devotion because God is all in all. The Jewish people were familiar with the pagan gods of Egypt and the nations. What God emphasizes with these words is that His nation was not going to serve any other or multiple masters.

It was not uncommon in the ancient world for people to offer sacrifice to multiple deities. The concept of “regional gods” was common – a god of a particular people vs. a god of another people. Even in Israel, the attitude of “the God of Israel” as a “bigger and better god than the others” had become commonplace. While in a sense this is true (God is the greatest), it wrongly acknowledges that other gods exist. God would have no such acknowledgement among His people Israel, and the same remains true today.

Commandment #2

You shall not make for yourself an idol…
(Exo. 20:4a, NASU)

This admonishment is offered in a time of rampant idolatry. The creating of graven images was the norm in religious practice – within Egypt and the nations. Although connected in thought with the first commandment, the worship of idols is specifically targeted because of practice leads to the diminishing of Deity. Aside from the sinfulness of worshipping another “god” (prohibited before), the creation of an idol places the “god” within the power of the worshipper. The desire to make an “image” or likeness of a “god” (or even Yahweh Himself) is carnal in nature. God is not physical but instead Spirit – to make an image feeds man’s selfish desire to have something he can touch and handle.

God took such an offense very seriously. If one was found guilty of idol worship, the Law commanded such a person to be stoned to death (Deu. 17:2-5). A city found worshipping idols was commanded to be utterly destroyed and left as a heap (Deu. 13:12-16). God would accept no such practice among His people Israel, and the same remains true today.

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