All but two of the Ten Commandments are expressed in negative form, but the negative form implies the positive. Thus, when God says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” that’s the negative. The positive form implied in that is, “You shall worship me only and exclusively.” Jesus handled the commandments the same way. When Pharisees came to Jesus on one occasion, they asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus, quoting from Deuteronomy, replied that the first commandment is this: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:36-37). That’s the positive side of what the first commandment requires.
If we are going to do this we have to see everything from God’s point of view. We have to begin to think biblically and act that way as well. We have to make His moral will our guide and His glory our goal. We have to put Him first in our thoughts and in our relationships, as well as in our work, leisure and recreation. It means exercising responsible stewardship of all the money, time and talents he’s given to us. That’s the first commandment.
The second commandment says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Although some of the communions of the church link that commandment with the first, as I said previously, it’s really better to take it separately because it’s dealing with a second thing entirely. In this division, the very first commandment deals with the object of our worship. We are to worship God and God only. The second commandment deals with how we worship God. We are not to worship God by images.
That’s a very important matter. When people worship images, especially if they have some smattering of Christianity, they don’t pretend for a moment that they are worshiping another god. They say, “No we’re worshiping God, but we’re doing it by the images because the images help us worship.” Yet this second commandment takes this matter very seriously, going on to provide an explanation for why we should not worship God by images. Why is that? Why is that matter so important?
In J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God, he has two good suggestions. First, images dishonor God because they obscure His glory. Now that’s not what the worshiper thinks. The worshiper thinks that the image brings out some aspect of God. But God is above anything material. Anything material is less than God, so if you try to represent God by something material, your representation is always less than God, and to that extent it dishonors God because it brings His glory down to a level which is greatly inferior to what He really is. That’s what happened a little while later, when Aaron was prevailed upon to make the golden calf. He thought probably that he was making a bull and the bull would represent the strength of God. But it didn’t do anything of the sort. It dishonored God.
That brings us to the second suggestion Packer makes. Not only do images dishonor God by obscuring His glory, but they also mislead men. That is to say, not only are they inadequate but they are also harmful. They are harmful, of course, because they introduce distortions. When Aaron made the calf, he thought he was probably representing the power of God. But in the minds of the people that bull-god of Egypt simply suggested sexual matters because the bull was a symbol of potency, and so it led to an orgy. That’s what happens in one way or another when you worship God by images. We are not to do that according to the second commandment.
In this commandment, the negative idea is that you shall not worship God by images. The positive idea is that you shall worship God rightly. How is that? Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman in John 4 that God is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and truth. Spirit is immaterial. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is like the wind; you can’t see it, it blows where it will. You can’t control it, touch it, see it, or mold it. We are to worship Him spiritually and in the truth of His word.
The third commandment says that we are not to misuse the name of God. Jesus put the positive side to that when he taught us to pray, saying that we are to regard our Father in heaven as hallowed. The name of God is be honored, not misused. Why is that? Because the name of God represents God; His name has to do with His character. If you misuse His name, you are misrepresenting His character, which is dishonoring to God.
We’ve already seen some of the names of God in our study of Exodus. The great name Jehovah, or Yahweh, has to do with what He revealed to Moses at the burning bush. It reveals God’s self-existence, self-sufficiency, eternal nature, that He always was and always will be. We’ve looked at the name Jehovah Rapha, “the LORD who heals.” Our God is a God who heals and sustains His people, above all healing us from sin and sin’s ravages. We have seen the name Jehovah Nissi, meaning “the LORD my banner.” He is the standard around which we can rally. We also have Adonai, “Lord”; El Elyon, “the Most High God”; El Shaddai, “God Almighty”; Jehovah Jireh, “the God Who Provides”. We know God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Ancient of Days, the King, the Creator. Jesus’ names also show that we must honor Him as God. Jesus is the Word, the Light of the World, Emmanuel, the Suffering Servant, the Lamb of God, the True Bread, the Living Water, the Resurrection and the Life, the Way, the Truth, the Good Shepherd, the Judge of all. The Holy Spirit is Spirit of Truth, our Advocate, the Comforter.
When we receive these names that are given to us in the Bible, begin to understand them, and then respond to them appropriately, then we honor God.