Editor’s Note: Welcome to our second week in the Ten Commandments. We got a good start last week with a look at the introduction to Jen Wilkin’s book Ten Words to Live By and discussed the beauty found in the law of the Lord. This week we’re excited to discuss the first full chapter — and first commandment. If you haven’t signed up for a conversation group yet, it’s not too late. Check out the link here. Now, join us as we Pause, Ponder, and Pray in Exodus 19 and 20 and Colossians 3:5-17.
Pause to Read or Listen
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “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. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “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 his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”
Just 50 days after God delivered His people from 400 years of Egyptian slavery, He instructed them to pause at Mount Sinai because He was about to give them an incredible gift. Keep in mind that He didn’t just walk them out of Egypt. No, He sent down 10 plagues upon the polytheistic nation that were so terrible the Egyptians gave the Israelites vast riches and begged them to leave. Of course, a moment did come right after they left when Pharaoh changed his mind about losing his slave labor, but God brought another mighty rescue for His people by orchestrating a dry path through the Red Sea.
So, the Israelites camped out, and Moses prepared them to hear a mighty message from God. It was so important that for two days they prepared their bodies and their hearts for this meeting with Him. Then, on the third day the LORD descended on the mountain in the sight of all the people. The description from Exodus 19:16-20 is powerful:
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.
Thunder. Lightning. Thick clouds. Loud trumpet blasts. An earthquake. Smoke. God put on an incredible show to get the attention of His people, so they would grasp the importance of the words He was about to write with His finger on two stone tablets. We, too, are forgetful people prone to distractions, who need to be roused to hear His every word.
How has God gotten your attention in the past?
Next, we come to our key chapter this summer, Exodus 20, and we read in verses 1 and 2:
And God spoke all these words say, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
These men, women, and children had been forced to work all day every day by a people who had conjured up and crafted hundreds of deities to worship. The Egyptians had a god for just about everything, and at the foot of Mount Sinai, God reminded the Israelites that He, the LORD God, is the self-sufficient one. He reminded them of who He is and of their costly deliverance to make them His special people. We, too, need that reminder.
What has God rescued you from?
The Israelites were walking toward a promised land that was home to idol-worshipping people, who would tempt them to stray from the path of God’s best for them, and they needed to cling to what was true. So, with words that even a small child could understand, He declared: You shall have no other gods before me.
Sadly they were impatient people — just like we are today — and broke that commandment individually and corporately in a matter of days as they had Aaron craft a golden calf for them to worship. In that one disastrous act, they learned quickly that they needed not only a physical deliverance from slavery but a spiritual one, too. They could not save themselves, and they needed their self-sufficient Yahweh to provide the way.
Most of us in this study today have claimed allegiance to God, and we don’t have a plethora of physical idols displayed in our homes like the Egyptians and Cannanites of biblical times. We, however, are a people prone to adding something to our worship of the one true God, to thinking we need something more than Him alone to satisfy us. As Jen Wilkin says in her book Ten Words to Live By, “…to cease to worship God alone is to corrupt any worship still offered to him.” As Jesus reminded His disciples in Matthew 6:24, “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
What are you tempted to add to the blank “God + _________ is enough”? Hint: For some people, idolatry comes in the form of an -ism.
From Colossians 3:5-10, what does the apostle Paul tell us to put to death?
What on that list is especially hard for you to rid from your life?
While we are often a people trying to resurrect what has been put to death, we forget that God has given us a new identity in Him. As His followers, we have been buried and resurrected with Him.
How are we described in Colossians 3:12?
This chapter continues with a beautiful instruction manual for what we should put on instead of the –isms of our old selves. What does Paul list for us in verses 12-17?
Dear God, You are great and do wondrous things. You alone are God. Forgive us for all the times that we have added something to our worship of You. Thank You for giving us Your law to reveal our inability to save ourselves and for sending Your Son to take the punishment we deserve. Thank You for reminding us of the costly deliverance You gave to make a way for us to be reconciled to You. Teach us Your ways, O LORD, that we may walk in Your truth. Unite our hearts to fear Your name. We give thanks to You, O Lord our God, with our whole hearts, and we will glorify Your name forever. Amen. — Praying Psalm 86:10-12