First Mennonite Church
September 15, 2019
No Other Gods or Using God’s Name In Vain
Text: Deuteronomy 5:1-11
Today, we are going to consider the second and third commandments, according to the Jewish list of the commandments.
Before I go any further, let me restate the reason why I am using the Jewish list of the commandments. The commandments as we see them in plaques and posters contain a list of “You shall nots . . . .” As such, the commandments appear to be a list of prohibitions and even as arbitrary requirements given by God. They seem to be as coming from a selfish God who is only interested in giving out rules to be obeyed. As they often appear, they do not say who is giving them, nor the reason they are given. The Ten Commandments, as we commonly know them listed, fail to take into consideration the Giver of them and his reason for giving them.
The first commandment is: I am the Lord your God who saved you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. In this commandment, not only the identity and character of the Giver are presented, but also the reason why Israel was supposed to obey the commandments. As we saw last Sunday, God’s giving of the commandments was not arbitrary nor without moral authority. God proved himself to be the Creator and Savior of Israel and who was absolutely committed to their cause. We should remember the words of God in Exodus 19: Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” (v. 5, 6) Yahweh claims ownership of the entire world. All peoples belong to him. But of all the nations and peoples of the earth, God set his eyes, heart, and saving power towards one particular people: the children of Abraham. God’s complete dedication to Israel—its creation, his seeking its wellbeing, and salvation, should be a reminder to Israel that God was thoroughly devoted to them as a people. God did not deviate his attention away from the plight of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and neither of their descendants. We are told in the early chapters of Exodus that God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them. (Exodus 2:24, 25). From then on, God persistently intervened on their behalf, securing their deliverance. As the psalmist writes: (The Lord) struck Egypt through their firstborn . . . and brought Israel out from among them, with a strong hand and an outstretched arm, for his steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 136:10-12).
Therefore, the Ten Commandments were the basis for reciprocity on the part of Israel to what God had done on their behalf. The Ten Commandments, and particularly the first four regarding faithfulness, wholehearted devotion, and absolute loyalty to God were ways in which Israel was to show that reciprocity toward God. God’s giving of the Ten Commandments had the purpose to assist Israel on how to respond to God’s saving work. The Commandments were not arbitrary demands, but the pathway on which Israel was to walk in response to God’s favor.
The first four commandments are strictly cultic in nature—that is, they are commandments related to worship practices.
The second commandment is:
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol to bow down to them or worship them. And the third: You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain.
God demanded loyalty, complete and wholehearted devotion from his people. Israel was supposed to set itself apart for God alone—that is to be holy for God. Israel was not supposed to flirt with the gods of its neighbors. Regardless of how appealing the other gods would be, Israel was commanded to honor and worship the One who rescued it from slavery. Israel should not create any representation of anything in heaven, earth or under the waters and to bow before and worship it. Just as God devoted himself completely to the wellbeing of the Israelites, the commandments of not having other gods and the prohibition of creating images for the purpose of bowing before them in worship, were ways in which Israel would show its complete devotion to God alone.
But as the Bible tells us, Israel wanted to be like the other nations. Israel asked for a king to rule over it, rejecting the Lord as their king. Israel went after other gods who did not care if Israel was called to be a special possession, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. But the Lord kept reminding Israel through his prophets not to turn its back to the Lord. But as Jesus said, Israel then turned against God’s prophets, sending them into exile or killing them. And Israel kept using the name of the Lord in vain, going against the third commandment.
When Micah, Jeremiah and other prophets of the Lord condemned the sins of Israel and announced God’s impending judgment, Israel said, “Is not the Lord with us?” Or as Micah says, “They (Israel) lean upon the Lord and say, “Surely the Lord is with us! No harm shall come upon us.” (Micah 3:11.) See also Jeremiah 7:3, 4; 8:8. Israel claimed to be God’s people and to have God’s protection, but the prophets reminded Israel their claims were empty. They were taking the name in vain.
In the Hebrew culture, a name is more than an identity marker. A name represented character, presence, and authority. A name represented the essence of the person bearing it. Also, to be named after a person or in Israel’s case, a God, it implied that the bearer of the name resembled the character of the one whose name it bore. Thus, for Israel to call itself “God’s people,” yet without reflecting the character, presence, and essence of God was, in fact, using the name of the Lord in vain.
Therefore, the commandment: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, does not necessarily mean, that people should not say, “Oh my god/gosh!” although it can be. The commandment goes deeper than that. Although Jesus does not specifically say it, when he says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21) he includes the idea of taking the name of the Lord in vain. When we claim to be Christians and yet if our values, conduct, and way of life do not reflect a Christ-like way of life, that is taking the name of the Lord in vain. It is no wonder why Paul constantly wrote to his fellow brothers and sisters: I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (See Eph. 4:1; Philippians 1:27; Colossians 1:10; 1Thess. 2:12; 2Thess. 1:11).
We are Christians, that is, we belong to Christ or we follow Christ. We carry the name of Christ. Let us be diligent that we do not take his name in vain for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Let me close by going back to the second commandment: you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol. The Lord has done everything to rescue us from the grip of sin and death. In the words of the apostle Paul, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7). God’s love was so great that he set his heart to redeem us at all cost. Again, Paul writes: [This God] did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32). Or, in the words of John:
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1John 4:9, 10)
Our devotion to God should be in response to the great love with which he loved us. He did not spare his own son. He did not wait for us to love him first. Therefore, let us worship him alone. Let us give God our complete loyalty, love, and devotion. Let us surrender to him our lives. He is the God who came to our rescue, so that we may correspond to him out of gratitude and love. Amen!