The Tenth Commandment

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor’s (Exodus 20:17).

God had now come to the tenth and concluding commandment. Matters regarding man’s relationship with God had been thoroughly covered– Israel was to have no other god before God, they were not to make an image of anything to bow down to it and serve it, they were not to take the name of the LORD their God in vain, and they were to honor the Sabbath and rest upon it (Exodus 20:3-11). The Israelites’ relationship with one another was also established: they were to honor their parents, and they were not to kill, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness (Exodus 20:12-16). As the list concludes, God comes to a much more fundamental challenge, one that all too often leads to the other problems already addressed: covetousness, the desire of the human heart (Exodus 20:17).

The desire to have something that belongs to another is one of the most primal desires of humanity and one of the hardest to control. We might already have spouses, houses, employees, or other possessions. It is easy, however, to think that the “grass is greener on the other side.” Our neighbor’s spouse may seem more alluring, their house nicer, their stuff of better quality. Whatever the justification or the reason may be, the result is the same– it is easy to want it, and to do things in order to get it.

Covetousness is one of the main impulses that lead to other sins. David had many wives, but coveted Bathsheba– and ultimately committed adultery and murder in the process (2 Samuel 11:1-27). Despite being king of Israel, and having much property, Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard, and his desire led to false witness and murder (1 Kings 21:1-16). By falling prey to covetousness, these men fell prey to violations of two other commandments. They also prove just how irrational covetousness can be– it is not as if David had no other women around, or that Ahab had no other property to enjoy. Even though they already had plenty, they wanted more– things that did not belong to them but still looked nice. And, in the heat of covetousness, acted very poorly.

But if covetousness is what leads to other sin, why does God wait to mention it until the end? Perhaps it is because how private covetousness is. Dishonoring parents tends to be a public matter. Murder, adultery, theft, and false witness leave victims in their wake. These are all sins done “outside the body.” While covetousness often does lead to the committing of other sins (cf. also James 1:13-15), it does not necessarily produce any physical symptoms. One can covet without any other person knowing it.

The tenth commandment, therefore, presents quite a difficult challenge, one that Jesus will discuss in greater length in Matthew 5:17-48. Righteousness cannot merely limit and direct one’s outward conduct, although that is included. It cannot be enough to just not violate one’s neighbor, his property, or his reputation publicly. In order to be truly righteous one must control the very thoughts, impulses, and attitudes that might lead to such conduct. God tells Israel in the Ten Commandments that it is not enough to just not steal or not to commit adultery– one must not even nurse the covetous desire that leads to theft and adultery. Jesus will later expand on that premise– it is not enough to avoid murdering your brother, you must not even hate him or despise him in your heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Looking upon any woman with lustful intent is committing adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-30). Not harming your neighbor is good; loving him as yourself, blessing him and praying for him even if that love is not reciprocated, is better (Matthew 5:43-48)!

Moses will later declare to Israel that they were to “love the LORD [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] might” (Deuteronomy 6:5), a message affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 22:37-38 as the “great and first” commandment. Such complete love cannot exist only on the surface– therefore, Israel’s concern could not just involve their surface conduct. Such complete love demands complete reformation of the whole man– not just outward conduct, but also mind, body, and soul. God hints at this for Israel with the tenth commandment, showing that sinful desire is as bad as sinful action, since it is a precursor to sinful action. We should not allow this message to be lost upon us as we seek to serve the Lord Jesus, following in His footsteps, understanding that God is as concerned about how we think and how we control our desires as much as He is concerned about how we conduct ourselves outwardly. Let us not even covet so that we may not break God’s commands!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Ninth Commandment

Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor (Exodus 20:16).

It is something we have all done as children– “passing the buck.”

We have done something, and the parental authorities have learned about it. When we are confronted about it, we try to find someone else to blame.

If we have siblings, the brother or sister did it.

If we do not have siblings, but have pets, then the pet did it.

If we do not have siblings or pets, then no one did it. It must have happened on its own!

Thus begins a challenge that humans will face their entire lives– the dilemma regarding whether we will speak the truth when confronted with difficult circumstances. Will we stand up and say what is right, or will we say a lie in order to shift blame or to gain some other advantage? Will we speak what is really truth, or will we seek to distort truth for our own purposes?

This challenge is not new, and it was one that was going to beset Israel. Therefore, when it came to interpersonal relationships, God dictated the ninth commandment to Israel: you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

God is not really worried about those circumstances under which telling the truth is to your advantage, or in circumstances under which telling the truth is to the advantage of both you and your neighbor. At those times most everyone will tell the truth. But what happens if the truth is to your neighbor’s advantage but not your own?

We can think of a lot of circumstances where that might be the case. Perhaps it is a situation akin to Ahab and Naboth, where Ahab was able to gain Naboth’s vineyard because people were induced to testify falsely against Naboth (cf. 1 Kings 21:1-16). Or perhaps, like Potiphar’s wife with Joseph, you have been caught in a compromising position, and it was easier to blame the other person than confess the truth (cf. Genesis 39:6-20). We could think of many other circumstances.

All such examples and circumstances have a similar theme: it seems more “cost-effective” to lie or stretch the truth than to actually tell the truth, and therefore, even though it may cause great harm to our neighbor, we tell the lie in order to gain or keep our advantage. In such circumstances we are guilty of bearing false witness against our neighbor.

“Bearing false witness” sounds like legal terminology, and the commandment certainly applies to that type of setting. Nevertheless, there is more to the commandment than just what happens in the legal system. We testify about others far more in the “courts” of our family, friend group, work, school, and church than we ever do in a court of law. The commandment continues to apply!

When it comes to our neighbor, Israel was to tell the truth– and so are we (Ephesians 4:25)! In order to do so we must put away slander, malicious talk, lying, distortions, and all such things (cf. Ephesians 4:31-32). We are to tell the truth to our fellow man and about our fellow man, even if it means that we must take the blame for our own failures and even if it works to our disadvantage.

The command to not bear false witness is rightly understood in terms of the command to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18, Romans 13:8-9). As Paul says, love does no wrong to a neighbor, and lies and slander certainly accomplish wrong and evil! Furthermore, we can truly understand why it is so important to not bear false witness when we consider that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

When you were a child, were you ever blamed for doing something that you really did not do? Did you have a situation when your brother, sister, friend, or enemy bore false witness against you and you had to suffer the consequences? I am sure that such felt quite wrong, unfair, and inappropriate. And, indeed, it was wrong, unfair, and inappropriate!

If we understood as children that it felt wrong to be blamed for something we did not do, then we can understand as adults that just as we are wronged, hurt, and suffer pain when others bear false witness against us, thus we do to others if we are doing the same. Would we want others bearing false witness against us? Of course not! Therefore, why would we do that to others? Bearing false witness is entirely contrary to God’s purposes by which we are to show love, mercy, and compassion toward one another (Romans 13:8-9, Ephesians 4:31-32)!

A word should be added about distortion of the truth. We live in a time when many people are more than willing to promote a particular way of looking at things in order to gain some advantage, be it political, economic, or otherwise. When this happens, the truth is distorted, altered and adapted in order to fit the narrative that is being peddled.

Distorting truth is no better than lying; to intentionally distort the facts, or to promote material that distorts the truth, is a way of bearing false witness, particularly when it is done in order to lead to disadvantages to a particular person or group of people. While it may be true that we are entitled to our own opinions, we are not entitled to our own version of truth. We are to speak truth even when the truth may not fit the way we want to see things. We are to speak truth even if it is not to the advantage of our particular political or economic philosophies. And, above all, we must always speak truth when we speak about God in Christ, never distorting the pure Gospel message in order to obtain some worldly advantage (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 6:3-10)! Woe to us if we are found to have borne false witness against God Most High!

It is a lesson we are taught from a young age, and while it might seem to be optional in many aspects of life, it should not be: we must always tell the truth, even if it gets us into trouble. Lying, shifting blame, or distorting the truth so that we may gain advantage and cause others to be disadvantaged is entirely contrary to the character of God– He, after all, suffered great disadvantage for our benefit by giving of His Son for our reconciliation (Romans 5:6-11). Therefore, let us rather be wronged than to wrong, and to seek to speak truth to one another, about one another, and concerning all men!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Thou Shalt Not Steal

Thou shalt not steal (Exodus 20:15).

Throughout time there has been a “social contract” that exists among people within societies. They may not call it a “social contract,” but every society has to have some rules, codified or otherwise, that govern how members of that society interact. One of the pillars of such a “social contract” has always been, is, and always will be a prohibition of stealing. If one cannot have some level of security that one’s possessions will remain one’s own, there can be no trust among members of a society, and where there is no trust, there is chaos. Wherever stealing is pervasive and rampant there is chaos and disorder, a breakdown of society.

Stealing, along with murder and adultery at the least, are elements of the “moral law” that seems to be rather “built-in” to humans. Even if we could somehow justify to ourselves why we could take something from someone else, what happens if somebody takes something of ours? We feel wronged– violated! Such goes to show that morality is not really as relative as some have imagined!

It is therefore unsurprising that a prohibition of stealing is part of the Ten Commandments which God gives to Israel. The command remains in force to this day (Romans 13:9, Ephesians 4:28)!

We are most familiar with stealing in terms of possessions– someone who seizes some form of property to which he or she is not entitled. Petty thieves might shoplift, break into homes and take things, or engage in burglary. Unscrupulous rulers may seize the property of their constituents without sufficient cause or compensation (e.g. 1 Kings 21), or sell off various assets from their nations to benefit themselves and not their people. Most people understand how these forms of stealing are quite wrong.

Yet there are many more examples of stealing than just these. When the time comes to pay taxes, if we claim more deductions than to which we are entitled, or neglect to report some forms of income, we are not only lying but also stealing from the government (Romans 13:7). If we walk off with office supplies, or if we claim to work more hours than we really worked, or spend time idly at work, we are stealing from the company.

We must recognize that there can be different forms of “legal” stealing as well. A company that imposes excessive demands on an employee’s time without sufficient compensation is, in a sense, stealing– taking advantage of the employee’s abilities and times without providing proper compensation. Predatory lenders may exact immoral and unethical amounts of interest from borrowers, or deceive people into borrowing when it is not to their best advantage. Most people understand how Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was a form of stealing, but there were plenty of other characters, all working within the confines of what was “legal,” but still acting in unethical ways in seeking profits without concern for the benefit of those from whom money was made.

All relationships that humans enjoy are based on trust– stealing is one of those things that entirely erodes trust, whether that stealing is reckoned as legal or illegal by a government. This is why God expects believers to work with one another and with those in the world in fairness. Thieves are to stop stealing and work honest labor to have something for the needy (Ephesians 4:28). Employees are to work as to the Lord to the best of their abilities; employers are to treat their employees fairly and justly, remembering that they have a Master in Heaven (Ephesians 6:4-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1).

Paul speaks rightly in Romans 13:8-10: all of our interactions with our fellow man must be dictated by the principle of loving our neighbors as ourselves. We would not want to have anyone steal from us; we would not want to be cheated out of income or the fruit of our efforts. Therefore, we do well to honor our commitments and responsibilities toward the government and our fellow man, not attempting to cheat or steal in any way. Let us love our neighbor as ourselves and seek his benefit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery

Thou shalt not commit adultery (Exodus 20:14).

The seventh commandment is one that has been universally upheld in societies throughout the world; nevertheless, it is continually violated. Statistics on rates of adultery are difficult to properly ascertain, but it is believed that somewhere between a third and two thirds of all married people will commit adultery at some point in their lifetimes. That is astoundingly depressing!

The emphasis placed on this commandment by its placement is notable. In terms of the commandments involving one’s relationships with fellow humans, it falls right in the middle, after commands to honor parents and to not murder, and before commands to not steal, bear false witness, or covet. One might think that the latter three commandments would have greater importance, considering that they involve a lot more than just one’s spouse. Thus, what makes adultery such a challenging problem, and why is emphasis placed upon it?

We should first note two things. First, the commandment is specifically against adultery, which demands that at least one, if not both, parties are already married or betrothed. This is probably because people got married rather young in ancient times, and fornication was not as much of a problem as it would become in later generations (nevertheless, see 1 Corinthians 7:1-9). Secondly, one of the significant impulses leading to adultery– coveting the wife (or, for women, the husband) of one’s neighbor– is condemned in the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17). If the impulse that leads to adultery is already condemned, why does God feel compelled to come out and condemn the fruit of that impulse? And why would the command against adultery come before the command against coveting?

The big problem with adultery is the violation of covenant that it represents. The marriage commitment was always intended to be mutual and perpetual (Genesis 2:24). To this day people will vow to love and cherish only their spouse; to commit adultery is to demonstrate that one thinks nothing of that vow, and is unable to maintain a solemn commitment made before God.

Jesus demonstrates the seriousness of adultery in Matthew 19:3-9. He derives a principle from God’s originally stated purpose for marriage: what God has joined man is not to separate (Matthew 19:4-6). Those who would divorce and marry another are condemned as committing adultery, yet an exception is made for those who have divorced their spouse for the latter’s sexually deviant behavior (Matthew 19:9). It is evident that said sexually deviant behavior– adultery by any other name– is itself a way of separating what God has joined. Paul uses this same principle to condemn the use of prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20.

In fact, sexual sin constantly makes the top of the list of sins in the New Testament– witness Galatians 5:17-19, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Ephesians 5:3. There are good reasons for this: humans easily fall into sexual temptation and then sexual sin.

And let us be honest– sex is treated differently than most subjects. If we consider many of the consequences of violation of these commandments– adultery, stealing, false witness– people are made to feel violated when these acts are perpetrated. When possessions are stolen, it is easy to feel very violated– something we feel is secure is proven to be rather insecure. When people bear false witness against us, it is easy to feel betrayed.

Yet adultery always reaches very deeply since it represents violation and betrayal on the deepest level. Sexuality is the greatest form of physical intimacy that can be attained in this life, designed to reflect, in some small measure, the connection we are to have with God (cf. Ephesians 5:31-32). The two becoming one flesh is to lead to a very tight bond, one not freely shared with everyone. That is why, of all things, most people understand that sexuality is to remain private. Therefore, when a spouse betrays us by committing adultery, we are deeply betrayed and feel violated– that intimate connection has been made with another, and the severity of that indiscretion sinks deeply.

Such is why adultery ranks so highly in the Ten Commandments; stealing, false witness, and covetousness are sins people might commit against one another, but adultery tends to cause greater hurt and deeper mistrust. A cloud of suspicion hangs over any adulterous spouse, and reconciliation is quite the challenge if it can even be pulled off.

It is little wonder, then, when God wanted to express to Israel the severity of the latter’s idolatry, He used the imagery of adultery, as evidenced in Hosea 1-3 and very graphically in Ezekiel 16, for example. The comparison was apt– just as a man makes a covenant with a woman so as to become husband and wife, so God made a covenant with Israel (cf. Malachi 2:14, Exodus 19-20). Such covenants were designed to be mutual and perpetual– husband and wife for one another and no other, God and Israel for one another, and Israel certainly for no other (cf. Exodus 20:1-4)! But Israel went and served other gods, and in so doing committed spiritual adultery (Hosea 4:9-19).

Adultery is one of those sins that leads to profound regret for most of the people who commit it. Whatever pleasure the fling might provide cannot compare to the pain, guilt, and misery inflicted upon the existing marriage relationship. The same is true in our spiritual relationship with God: no matter how attractive it might be at times to forsake God’s way, such ultimately causes more grief than it is ever worth. Let us all strive to honor the covenants which we have made, both to our spouses and to God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Thou Shalt Not Kill

Thou shalt not kill (Exodus 20:13).

God made human beings distinct from other creatures. Humans, not birds or fish or any other creatures, were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Much can be said about the importance of understanding the results of the fact that man is made in the image of God; one aspect of this involves the sanctity of human life.

After sin and death entered the world, an important distinction was made and upheld in Genesis 9:2-6. Humans could kill and eat animals as they wished, but it was not for man to kill another man. The strictest punishment was enacted against those who took the lives of others with malice aforethought– they were to be killed themselves (Genesis 9:6).

It is not surprising, then, that right after God establishes for Israel the importance of honoring father and mother, He declares that the Israelites shall not kill. Capital punishment was required when evidence was sufficient to prove the crime (Numbers 35:30-31).

For the most part, even to this day, we understand why killing other people is not a good idea. First degree and second degree murder is understandably cruel and intolerable for any society. This has been true throughout all societies and cultures throughout the generations. Whenever such murder was rampant, it precipitated or was precipitated by a complete collapse of social order. There can be no real trust among human beings if “you shall not murder” is not a generally accepted law, and without that trust, there cannot be cooperation, and without cooperation, we flounder.

Most people consider involuntary manslaughter and other forms of death at the hands of another person, whether intentional or unintentional, as tragic. Most people understand that such should not be the case.

The great challenge about this command, however, is how many times we see Israelites killing others. Ethnic cleansing was commanded in Joshua; the history of Israel as reflected in Judges through 2 Chronicles is full of episodes of killing, many of them at God’s direction. On account of this, many make the distinction that God is really addressing murder in a civil context in Exodus 20 and not a military context.

Nevertheless, we should emphasize that it was not God’s intent for any person to take the life of any other person for whatever reason (Ezekiel 18:32). The inhabitants of Canaan were slated for destruction because of their great sinfulness (Genesis 15:16, Deuteronomy 20:14-18). Execution was acceptable only when sin had been committed and proven.

In general, therefore, we understand the seriousness of murder. Very, very few of us would ever imagine that we would find ourselves in the position of killing another person. We understand the “Golden Rule,” that we should do to others as we would have them do to us (Luke 16:31), or at least, in this case, the negative version: just as we do not want to be murdered, thus, we know that we should not murder. Killing disrespects the gift of life that God has bestowed upon another.

Ultimately, we are not to kill because we are to love everyone (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 10:27-39, Romans 13:8). This means that we must love the unlovable just as the one more easily loved. If we take a life, for whatever reason, we have taken it upon ourselves to end that person’s opportunities to repent and change their ways. God was being patient, yet we, if we kill, are not (2 Peter 3:9). Instead, we do well to seek to direct all people toward the Source of that which truly is life so as to avoid the second death (cf. Revelation 20-22). Let us not kill but respect our fellow humans who are made in God’s image!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Honor Father and Mother

Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee (Exodus 20:12).

The fifth commandment brings about a shift in focus. Whereas the first four commandments involved an Israelite’s relationship with his God, the last six involve his relationship with his fellow man. One could say that the first four commandments are the means by which the Israelites would “love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart, and with all [their] soul, and with all [their] mind” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37), and the last six commandments are the means by which they would “love [their] neighbor[s] as [themselves]” (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39).

Therefore, as we turn from man’s relationship with his God toward his relationship with his fellow man, what would we emphasize? What would be the first command that we would establish for how people ought to work with one another? In the Ten Commandments, the first command dictating the relationship of man with his fellow man is to honor his father and his mother (Exodus 20:12).

This might seem strange to us– we would more likely than not emphasize the later commandments to not murder, to not commit adultery, to not bear false witness, and to not covet your neighbor’s goods over the need to honor father and mother. Why, then, is the command to honor father and mother at the head of the list?

We can discern part of the reason in the “promise” noted by Paul as he provides the same command to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:2-3): “that thy days may be long in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:12). How is it that one’s days are longer if they honor their parents?

In a few circumstances there is a very good reason for it: the person who curses his parents or strikes his parents is to be put to death (Exodus 21:15, 17). If parents have a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey, they are to bring him before the elders, and if the charge is true, the son is to be stoned with stones (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). It is hard to “live long” in a land when you have been executed for rebellion against your parents!

Yet this is not really what God is envisioning when He makes this promise. While it is entirely possible that God provides a supernatural blessing or benefit on children who honor their parents, we can also understand this promise in completely natural ways. A child who listens to his or her parents has some level of respect for them as authorities. When the child becomes an adult, he or she is more likely to respect other authorities, including God and the government, and are more likely to be law-abiding citizens. If, on the other hand, a child does not honor his parents, it most often is due to stubbornness and rebelliousness. As that child grows up and becomes an adult, that stubbornness and rebelliousness continues against authorities. They are more likely to engage in illegal behaviors and have no respect for divine or human authority. Such people are more likely to die on account of their bad habits or at the hand of the law or men. Therefore, those who honor father and mother will have it go better for them and they will have a better opportunity to live long in the land God gave them. There are other factors in play that might hinder that– war, famine, pestilence, accidents, and the like– and there are also times when people live long lives despite being rebellious and stubborn. Nevertheless, the general premise holds weight, even to this day.

Hopefully we can better understand why God places the command to honor father and mother in the forefront of man’s relationship with other people. All of us first learn about life and how we should live from the home. Sadly there are many times when the home is not a good place in which to learn about life– some parents neglect and/or abuse their children, and this is not at all God’s intentions for the conduct of parents (Ephesians 6:4). Thankfully, a good part of the time, parents want the best for their children– to raise them to be good, productive, law-abiding citizens, if nothing else (cf. Hebrews 12:9-11). While some parents may not always have the best understanding of what God expects out of people, and not all parental advice and direction is good, most parents most of the time attempt to direct their children toward what is good and to help them avoid what is evil.

It is in the home where children first learn about authority. They are to understand that their parents have the authority over them to raise them as they see fit, ideally to raise them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). If a child respects his parents’ authority, he or she will be more likely to respect the authority of God and to be law-abiding citizens. If a man or woman honors father and mother, it will be easier for them to avoid committing murder, committing adultery, bearing false witness, and coveting. If a child does not learn about authority, or disrespects the authority of parents, then the temptation to commit those sins will be greater.

We must note, however, that while this command has applicability to children, God is speaking to the adult Israelites at the base of Mount Sinai and throughout their generations (cf. Exodus 19:1-20:2). Respect toward parents is not to end the minute a child is no longer under their authority. The wise man quickly discerns just how important and valuable his parents’ advice and counsel about life can be. Challenges and issues in the world, in the workforce, in marriage, with children– one’s parents have already endured all of these things and have gained experiential knowledge about them. In many instances children end up respecting and appreciating their parents far more as adults than they ever could have when they were younger!

How, then, do we honor father and mother? Honor certainly involves respecting them, appreciating the sacrifices they made for us, and being a source of strength and encouragement for them. But “honoring” father and mother goes much further than this– children are expected to take care of their parents and provide care for them in their older age, as Jesus makes clear regarding this commandment in Mark 7:10-13.

This value is not well understood in our society. Sure, people still understand that parents and grandparents should be honored; if there are reports of parents abusing children or children abusing parents, we understand that such are terrible things and should not be done. Sadly, however, in our push toward individualism and individual fulfillment, far too many children cannot be bothered with the expectation to provide and care for their parents or grandparents. Therefore, far too many parents and grandparents languish in nursing homes and other assisted care facilities, often all but forgotten, seemingly unloved, without comfort or encouragement.

Yes, there are times when the medical needs of a parent or grandparent are too great for their children to provide, and we must be sensitive toward these situations. Nevertheless, we must remember that God has charged children and even more extended family members with the obligation to care for the elderly and widowed within their family (Ephesians 6:1-3, 1 Timothy 5:16). Even if the parents’ medical needs are great, children can still remain involved in their parents’ lives. There is no excuse or justification for parents and grandparents to be physically and emotionally cast off in old age– such is extremely dishonorable!

There may be times when it seems burdensome to care for parents or grandparents; there were times, no doubt, when it was burdensome for them to care for us. God expects His children to honor their earthly father and mother, not just to show them respect, but to take care of them just as their parents had taken care of them. Let us honor God by honoring our parents!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sabbath

Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:9-11).

The weekly Sabbath observance is one of the hallmarks of Jewish religion and identity. The Jews were known for their Sabbath observance; foreign generals would exploit the opportunity to gain advantage against them. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, such was sufficient for many of the religious authorities to declare that He was a sinner, for He did not keep the Sabbath as they expected (cf. John 9:16). The Sabbath was quite important to the Jews.

To this day many people make much out of the Sabbath. Some believe that the Sabbath should still be observed every Friday evening through Saturday evening. For many others, the “Christian Sabbath” is now Sunday, and for hundreds of years, governments forbade work to be done on Sunday because it was reckoned as the Sabbath. The situation is not improved by continued emphasis on the Ten Commandments even in the new covenant.

At first, the logic that we should still keep the Sabbath as the Jews did might seem compelling. After all, Moses grounds the Sabbath not in Israelite custom but in the creation itself– God worked six days and rested on the seventh, and therefore Israel should also (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-10). Since we believe that many of the principles based in the creation are still in force– God’s intentions for marriage and relationships between man and wife (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24, 3:10-16; Matthew 19:3-9, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:10-15), man’s sinfulness going back to Adam (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12-18), and the like. Therefore, if the Sabbath is rooted in the creation too, should we not observe the Sabbath?

Paul and the Hebrew author do not share this same logic. In Colossians 2:14-17, Paul explains that Christians are not to be judged on matters like the Sabbath, for they are the shadow of which Jesus is the substance. What precisely Paul means by this is made more evident by the Hebrew author in Hebrews 4:1-11.

The Hebrew author compares Genesis 2:1-3 with God’s later declaration in Psalm 95:11 that the Israelites in the wilderness would not enter His rest (Hebrews 4:1-5). The Hebrew author then considers Psalm 95:7, where God through David exhorts the people “today” not to harden their hearts since the generations before did and therefore did not enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:6-7).

This may seem puzzling, but consider how the Hebrew author puts it all together: if the Sabbath enjoined upon Israel in the Ten Commandments was the full and complete rest promised by God, how could David later say that the first generation of Israelites did not enter into God’s rest, and that there remains a day– today– upon which we should heed God so as to enter His rest? Joshua, therefore, when bringing the people into the land and establishing the Law of Moses, did not give Israel the true rest (Hebrews 4:8). The Hebrew author makes the final conclusion:

There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Even if one observed the weekly Sabbath of Israel, there still remains a sabbath rest for the people of God. The Sabbath is only a shadow of God’s rest, for on the eighth day– the first day of the week– Israelites are to return to work. It is not a complete and final rest. When God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day, He did not start up creating again on the eighth day– the work of creation was completely, thoroughly, and utterly finished (Genesis 2:1-3).

This is why there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God– we have not entered God’s rest, for we still have work to do. We must therefore “give diligence,” as the Hebrew author tells us in Hebrews 4:11, to enter that rest. One cannot “give diligence” to enter into the seventh day observance of the Jews; it comes whether one expends much effort or quite little. The true Sabbath which the Hebrew author describes is quite different.

For Christians in the new covenant, therefore, the Sabbath is not a weekly observance from Friday evening until Saturday evening. The Sabbath is also not Sunday; nowhere in Scripture is the first day of the week so described, and we have no indication that early Christians considered it as such. Instead, the Sabbath of Christians is the final rest that comes with death and the resurrection of life (Hebrews 4:1-11, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

God wanted Israel to enter into His rest, but their disobedience hindered them from doing so– that is what David is saying in Psalm 95, and that is the warning the Hebrew author wants to apply to Christians in the new covenant. Israel had a secondary rest and never achieved the true rest. If we follow the same pattern of disobedience we will reach the same end. That is why it is critical for us to exhort one another while today still exists to advance God’s purposes and follow Him (Hebrews 3:12-4:11). As long as we have breath in our body we must find ways to serve God; there is no “retirement” from Christianity while we walk the earth.

Focusing on the weekly Sabbath observance is to miss the point: God wants us to enter His true Sabbath rest. We can only do that by standing firm until the end; let us do so, live, and receive the ultimate rest!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Rest

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).

Rest: the concept seems as controversial now as it did 3500 years ago.

One of the hallmarks of the Mosaic legislation involved the establishment of the Sabbath– a day of rest, not just for people, but also servants and animals (Exodus 20:8, 10). As far as we can tell, at this time, few if any other cultures legislated such an event. The idea that one would dedicate an entire day to rest– especially no matter the weather or any other circumstance– was foreign to most at the time. Far later, when the Greek Seleucids were fighting the Jews, they would often lead an attack on the Sabbath since the Jews were supposed to be at rest!

There were always temptations to not rest: money could be made, fields could be sown or reaped, other activities could be accomplished. There are examples of Sabbath violations from the beginning (Numbers 15:32-36) to near the end of the Old Testament period (Nehemiah 13:15-21). It seems that the people perpetually violated the Sabbath for the field– they did not let the land lay fallow every seven years (Leviticus 25:4, 2 Chronicles 36:21). There were too many economic interests at stake, and not enough confidence that God would provide even if the land lay fallow.

We understand that human beings, even though they are to work, must have periods of rest (Genesis 2:15). Try to work constantly without sleep– your body will refuse to let you continue after awhile. If you somehow found a way to persist in working, you would soon die of exhaustion!

Sleep, on its own, is insufficient. We often find that there are times we must rest– if our stress levels stay too elevated for too long, our bodies will give out. We are not to “burn the midnight oil” all the time. God intends for us to rest at times.

Notice how absolute the rest is that God enjoins upon Israel– they are to do no work (Exodus 20:10). No fire was to be kindled (Exodus 35:3); the work of food preparation was to be done the day before (cf. Exodus 16:29). There were some necessities that needed to be addressed, like watering animals (Luke 13:15), and handling emergencies (Matthew 12:11), but on the whole, the Israelite was to do no work at all. Why would God command such a thing?

God made us, and therefore He understands our weaknesses. One significant weakness we all share is that we easily become functionally fixated on various projects or overall mundane things. It is easy for one day to flow into the next without any real thought being put into life. If people are not working on work projects, they easily find other projects to complete. Consider, if you will, modern man. He may work all day at an office, come home, entertain himself with various forms of entertainment, and find other distractions to occupy him. Perhaps he gets a day off from work. He does not really rest; he is either sleeping, and therefore is unconscious, or he is working on his own projects– home improvement, cleaning, hobbies, and the like. While it may be true that there is less stress in some of those “non-work” projects, it is hardly “rest.” Plenty of activity is still going on!

Instead, the Sabbath was designed to be a complete rest so that each Israelite could again re-center his or her life around God. It was the habit of Jews in the days of Jesus to assemble at the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16, Acts 13:14). While it might be easy for an Israelite to focus entirely on the mundane tasks of living for six days, by having that seventh day of rest from all work, he has the opportunity to reflect upon his life, his God, and what is really important in life.

Even though the weekly Sabbath observance is not enjoined upon Christians (Colossians 2:14-17), we can learn the lesson God intended Israel to learn. Rarely do we truly rest– even if we are not working, there is always some person with which we want to connect on Facebook, some book or article to read, some show or movie to watch, some project or another to accomplish. One could easily go years without thinking much about who they are, why they are here, who God is, and what is really important in life. Sadly, many probably do go years without thinking of such things, and life rarely forces people to stop to think about them. Why, then, should we be surprised when we constantly feel stressed, overworked, and unable to relax? We rarely give ourselves the time to truly relax, even though it would be better for us.

We would all do well to take periods of rest. Rarely will there be a crisis if the Internet messages are forced to wait a bit. Life will go on even if that show does not get watched. Instead, find some natural setting, walk around, and ponder life and God’s wonderful creation. Find a quiet place and give thought to God, His greatness, and His plan for you. Take that time to remove all distractions and re-center your life around God. Let us not allow all the mundane activities of this world distract us from remembering who we are, who God is, and what is really important in life– let us take out time in our lives to truly rest and re-center our lives around God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Taking God’s Name in Vain

Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Exodus 20:7).

Perhaps you have always wondered why the name of God in the Old Testament is often rendered as LORD in capital letters, or how some concluded that His name is “Jehovah,” or why to this day some among the Jews will only write “G-d.” It all goes back to a very strict interpretation of the third commandment: the Israelites were not to take the name of YHWH their God in vain (Exodus 20:7).

Long after the Ten Commandments were given, it was reasoned that if you never spoke the name of God, you would not take it in vain. Therefore, the Jews stopped saying “Yahweh” and would always substitute some other divine title– Adonai (Lord), Elohim (God), Ha-Shem (the Name). The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, consistently renders Yahweh as Kurios (Lord). Later on, as the Masoretes, the Jewish scribes who copied the Hebrew Bible texts in the first millennium CE, developed the vowel pointing system, they would always put the vowels for Ha-Shem, Adonai, or Elohim under the Divine Name YHWH so that even if a Jew thoughtlessly began uttering God’s name without providing an alternative substitute, what would come out of his mouth would be meaningless. This is how we got “Jehovah,” which is meaningless in Hebrew– it is the consonants of the Divine Name (YHWH) with the vowels for Adonai. To this day, many translations avoid transliterating God’s name as Yahweh and continue to use LORD in capital letters.

We mention all of this, partly in way of explanation, but also partly to show how some people have taken God’s commandment to not take His name in vain rather seriously. Yes, in many respects, this devotion was terribly misguided. It was not at all God’s intention to mean that His name should never be uttered– we have evidence from early Israelite history showing that people spoke of YHWH and sought His blessings for one another (cf. Ruth 2:4). God also did not intend for His unique name Yahweh to be upheld while other terms used to refer to Him, like God, Lord, etc., could be used more flippantly. We should also hasten to mention that this is not evidence of some conspiracy to remove God’s name from Scripture, as if we sin if we never refer to God as Yahweh, as some would allege. God, the Lord, Yahweh, even “Jehovah”– YHWH the Creator God knows when people speak to Him and about Him, whether in using His personal name or by referring to one of His divine titles and functions in the speaker’s native language.

Yet all of this ultimately serves as a distraction from what God was seeking in the third commandment. What is the big deal with taking God’s name in vain?

Some might suggest that this is yet another example of God’s insecurities and despotic behavior, as if God must absolutely be upheld and treated differently or else He finds Himself in difficulty. Yet there is no reason to even suggest this. God is all-powerful and Sovereign whether we uphold His name as holy or we do not (cf. Hebrews 1:3, Ephesians 1:21). No– the command to not take God’s name in vain was for Israel’s sake.

One of the great declarations of the Old Testament involves God’s holiness– God is holy, and Israel is to be holy because of it (Leviticus 11:44, 19:2). To be holy is to be separate and distinct.

Taking God’s name in vain is to show disrespect to God’s holiness, indeed. Far too many people only seem to get religious in their speech when they find themselves in compromising or compromised positions. Too many people speak of God only in vulgar speech, insults, or in various exclamations and interjections. Euphemisms for the names of God and Christ remain popular, even though the same spirit is there, but in our increasingly crude society, fewer people find the need for alternatives and just keep with the “real thing.”

Yet the challenge is not just in the disrespect demonstrated– the real difficulty is in how God is made mundane in the process. Israel was to show respect and reverence for God’s name in order to remember how holy and separate God really is (Isaiah 55:8-9). To utter God’s name in the common events of life– when one hurts oneself, as an unthinking response to some circumstance, and so on and so forth– is really to empty God’s name of its power, holiness, and importance. It is truly taking God’s name “in vain”– using God’s name in a throwaway sense, and in so doing, we nullify and make vain for us the power and holiness present in God. God, and Christ in our own day, is made too common and unthought of when God’s name is used in such trifling circumstances.

This is not an aspect of God that changes in the new covenant, as it is written:

Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but such as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear (Ephesians 4:29).

As believers we must give thought to what we say. We will be brought into judgment for every careless word uttered (Matthew 12:36). While it is popular in our society to invoke God’s name for swearing in all kinds of senses, in all kinds of casual, trivial circumstances that have no bearing on God’s great holiness and work in Jesus Christ, we must make sure that our speech is different. If we revere God as holy, we will speak about God as holy. We will understand that we should not trivialize or make common God’s name through frivolous and vain usage. We also will understand that euphemisms are no better; the same spirit is at work, and we are not giving grace through speaking them.

God wants us to speak about Him and to use His name to glorify Him, praise Him, and serve Him. But His name must be kept holy– separate and distinct– if we are going to truly revere Him as holy. Let us therefore consider our speech and strive to not take God’s name in vain!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Second Commandment

“Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5a).

YHWH has delivered His people from slavery and bondage (Exodus 6-14), and has already provided the first command– Israel was to have no other gods before/beside YHWH (Exodus 20:3).

The second command is like it– Israel shall not make a “graven image” or a “likeness of any thing” so as not to bow down to it or serve it (Exodus 20:4-5a).

In the ancient Near Eastern context, of which Israel was a part, this command makes sense and is entirely necessary. Pretty much every culture believed in various gods– and every god had his or her representation. Dagon had his statue (1 Samuel 5:2-4); the Asherah was a wooden pillar (Judges 6:25-26). While some people might have actually believed that the statue was their god, most understood it as a representation of what their god really was.

YHWH, as the One True God, the Creator God, is utterly distinct. His very name– “Yahweh”– does not come with some meaning about power or lordship. Instead, it means “the Existent One.” YHWH does not need to have some “power name.” He exists; that is sufficient. And, as Paul will later explain, since God exists, and in Him all people live and dwell and have their being, God cannot really be represented by any image of any creature or anything of the sort (Acts 17:28-29).

Therefore, as Isaiah will later make very clear, if you can fashion a “god,” it ceases to have any real power (cf. Isaiah 44:9-20). If you can imagine it, build it, or even bow down to it, it’s not really God– it’s an idol of some form or another.

This idea was quite strange to people in the days of Israel. In order to serve God in truth they would have to act differently from every other nation in the world. The pressure of being distinct in this way proved too much– before Israel even makes it to Canaan, they serve Baal of Peor (Numbers 25:1-3). The story of the next five hundred years of Israel often features Israel’s service to other gods, bowing down to statues (cf. 2 Kings 17:7-23). This, in part, led to the exile of Israel and Judah.

Nevertheless, we must notice two things: first, that YHWH already commanded Israel to not have any other gods beside Him, and second, that He does not explicitly mention any other gods in the second commandment. This is due to a much more insidious form of idolatry that also overwhelmed Israel.

It would have been one thing if Israel made statues of other gods and bowed down to them– still wrong, indeed, still a violation of the first commandment– but Israel dared to make images and to call those images YHWH, attempting to represent the incomparable and transcendent Creator of the universe with a statue of a golden calf.

It first took place while Moses was on Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:1-4); it would happen again in the days of Jeroboam son of Nebat king of Israel (1 Kings 12:26-33). And it is precisely this thing which concerns God in the second commandment.

The image of the golden calf became too pervasive, especially in the Kingdom of Israel. Even though Jehu removed the idolatrous service of Baal, he left the golden calves as they stood (cf. 2 Kings 10:26-31). This idolatry is one of the reasons given by God as to why He exiled Israel (2 Kings 17:22-23).

Throughout time many have wondered why people who knew better than to serve other gods still bowed down to the golden calf. The answer is probably a bit more simple than we would like to imagine– once the image is in one’s head, it is very difficult to remove it. Jeroboam makes the golden calves and tells Israel that these are the gods that delivered them from Egypt (1 Kings 12:28). Therefore, when the people hear all the stories about YHWH and His saving acts, they start thinking of the golden calf. The mental association is there throughout time. Even if a prophet stands up in the name of YHWH to speak, when he speaks of YHWH, of what will the people think but that golden calf? And if any declaration is made about destroying the calf, the people will think that you are destroying YHWH, and such is intolerable!

In reality, it would have been stranger had Israel given up the calves and began going to Jerusalem to the Temple to bow down before YHWH there. Images have more power over us than we would like to admit.

And therein is the key to understanding the challenge of the second commandment for us today. While it is true that we are not likely to make an actual, physical image of something and bow down to it, such does not make us immune from making mental images to which we bow down metaphorically.

It is true that we have to have some mental conception about something about God. We obtain that from His Word– God as love, God as holy, God as represented fully in Jesus of Nazareth (1 John 4:8, Leviticus 19:2, Colossians 2:9). But we get ourselves into the same trouble Israel did when we start making up our own definitions of the way God “must be.”

We can imagine that God “must be” a certain way– loving like a grandparent, someone who would never allow us to suffer pain, someone who privileges us and/or our nation, or a thousand other things– but there is no reason at all why God “must be” that way. God only “must be” what He is, and we only understand as much as He has revealed about Himself in that regard. Whenever we limit God by our declarations of how we “must be” we act no differently than Israel did– we have just set up our own “golden calf,” our own view of God to worship.

Therefore, when we think of God, we must seek to understand His nature as best we can from His revelation of Himself in Scripture, and know for certain that God is no thing– no thing we can make, imagine, or devise. Let us understand that God is the Existent One, and serve Him today!

Ethan R. Longhenry