Christmas

Nativity Scenes and the Second Commandment

Originally published December 10, 2019

Have you ever heard someone say that nativity scenes, Christmas ornaments, Christmas pageants, and other Christmas items or activities which portray the baby Jesus (with a figurine, a doll, a live baby, pictures, etc.) break the second Commandment even though the portrayal of the baby Jesus isn’t being worshiped?

Some of my brothers and sisters in Christ believe that any representation of Jesus – be it in a manger scene, a painting, a movie, pictures of Jesus in children’s Bibles, flannelgraphs, Bible story pictures used for teaching children or on the mission field, etc. – violates the second Commandment…

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. Exodus 20:4-6

…whether or not that representation of Jesus is being worshiped. It is the mere act of making or displaying the representation which breaks the Commandment.

This is not something any church I’ve ever been a member of has taught, but because I’ve heard this point of doctrine from theologically sound friends I respect, I wanted to take a closer look at the pertinent Scriptures to make sure I wasn’t doing something wrong. I’ve had nativity scenes and children’s Bibles and used flannelgraphs and been in Christmas musicals that depict Jesus all my life and never gave it a second thought. But if having and doing those things conflicts with Scripture, I want to stop.

But, having examined the Scriptures in context, while I respect and admire my friends’ desire to honor the Lord by not using representations of Him, I simply don’t find that the Bible prohibits occasionally depicting Jesus in reverent, not-for-the-purpose-of-worship ways. Here’s why:

1.

Consider the macro-context of Exodus 20. What was going on in the history and culture of Israel at that time? God was setting Israel apart from other nations as His own special possession and establishing Israel as a nation. And what was the preeminent characteristic that was to set Israel apart from the pagan nations? Israel was to be a witness to all the nations of the one true God. They were not to worship idols (which, at that time, were generally carved figures of created things). Not instead of God. Not in addition to God. Not at all. The second Commandment is a command not to worship carved figures as idols.

2.

Examine the immediate context of Exodus 20:4-6. It follows verses 1-3, which establish the supremacy of God above all other gods, and specifically state that Israel is not to worship any other gods.

3.

Take a close look at the content of Exodus 20:4-6. The passage doesn’t say anything about making a representation of God Himself. Jesus had not yet been born when this was written, so this passage could not have been talking about making a representation of Jesus. It talks about making representations of created things in the sky (planets, the sun, etc.), on the earth, and in the water, and worshiping them. And certainly, calling any graven images “God” and worshiping them as God would also be prohibited (Remember the golden calf incidents?)

4.

It would seem to me that to be consistent in saying “no representations of Jesus” folks who hold to this belief would also have to say “no representations of anything” because what Exodus 20:4 plainly says is “you shall not make for yourself…any likeness of anything.” No photographs of anything, no drawings, paintings, or sculpture of anything, no Xeroxing anything, nothing. In fact, I think that would be closer to the actual wording of the passage than “no representations of Jesus,” which, again, this passage does not mention.

5.

The cross references I found for Exodus 20:4 are Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 27:15, and Psalm 97:7. All of them refer to idol worship.

6.

There are at least two occasions in the Old Testament in which God instructs Moses to make a graven figure, and both of these instances are far more conducive to actual worship of the figures than a nativity scene or a Sunday School flannelgraph.

The first instance – just five chapters after the second Commandment – is found in God’s instructions for the Ark of the Covenant. God instructs Moses to have the people make two cherubim (angels) for the mercy seat (lid) of the Ark. They were not to worship the cherubim (or the Ark), but the Ark was the holiest object used in Israel’s worship ceremonies. It would have been easy for the people to cross the line and worship it or the cherubim, yet God commanded the making of these not-for-worship figures to point the people to Him. (And guess what was put into the Ark right underneath those graven figures? The two tablets of the 10 Commandments, including the second Commandment.)

The second instance was when God instructed Moses to make the bronze serpent. Anyone who had been fatally snake-bitten could look up at the serpent and his life would be spared. How much more likely would an Israelite have been to worship the bronze serpent, commissioned by God and instrumental in saving his life than we are to worship a picture of Jesus in a children’s Bible? Jesus Himself said that this graven figure pointed ahead to His death on the cross, using it as an illustration of His crucifixion. Much like a nativity scene is an illustration of His incarnation.

Now, if God Himself commissioned the casting of these figures of created things, not to be worshiped, but as tools to point people to Himself, would it stand to reason that He would prohibit reverent representations of Christ that point to or teach about Him? Comparing the second Commandment with these two instances of graven figures demonstrates to us that God expects His people to be able to distinguish between using objects as tools or illustrations that point to Him and worshiping those objects.


In the end, this issue is an issue of Christian liberty. It is not a sin nor a violation of the second Commandment to use occasional reverent representations of Christ to point people to Him. It is also not a sin to desire to honor the Lord by refraining from using representations of Christ and finding other ways to point people to Him. Whichever side of the issue we come down on, let us make sure we are respectful and loving to those on the other side, not making a law for them where no law exists, nor accusing one side of sin or the other of legalism.

Additional Resources:

When We Understand the Text Podcast (at the 13:36 mark)

Church, Faith

Throwback Thursday ~ Cleaning House

Originally published May 5, 2010

 

Hezekiah became king when he was twenty-five years old;…

He did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done.

In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them.

He brought in the priests and the Levites and gathered them into the square on the east.

Then he said to them, “Listen to me, O Levites. Consecrate yourselves now, and consecrate the house of the LORD, the God of your fathers, and carry the uncleanness out from the holy place.

“For our fathers have been unfaithful and have done evil in the sight of the LORD our God, and have forsaken Him and turned their faces away from the dwelling place of the LORD, and have turned their backs.

“They have also shut the doors of the porch and put out the lamps, and have not burned incense or offered burnt offerings in the holy place to the God of Israel.

“Therefore the wrath of the LORD was against Judah and Jerusalem, and He has made them an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing, as you see with your own eyes.

“For behold, our fathers have fallen by the sword, and our sons and our daughters and our wives are in captivity for this.

“Now it is in my heart to make a covenant with the LORD God of Israel, that His burning anger may turn away from us.

“My sons, do not be negligent now, for the LORD has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.”

Then the Levites arose…
They assembled their brothers, consecrated themselves, and went in to cleanse the house of the LORD, according to the commandment of the king by the words of the LORD.

So the priests went in to the inner part of the house of the LORD to cleanse it, and every unclean thing which they found in the temple of the LORD they brought out to the court of the house of the LORD. Then the Levites received it to carry out to the Kidron valley…

Then they went in to King Hezekiah and said, “We have cleansed the whole house of the LORD, the altar of burnt offering with all of its utensils, and the table of showbread with all of its utensils.

“Moreover, all the utensils which King Ahaz had discarded during his reign in his unfaithfulness, we have prepared and consecrated; and behold, they are before the altar of the LORD.”

Then King Hezekiah arose early and assembled the princes of the city and went up to the house of the LORD.

They brought seven bulls, seven rams, seven lambs and seven male goats for a sin offering for the kingdom, the sanctuary, and Judah. And he ordered the priests, the sons of Aaron, to offer them on the altar of the LORD…
The priests slaughtered them and purged the altar with their blood to atone for all Israel, for the king ordered the burnt offering and the sin offering for all Israel.

He then stationed the Levites in the house of the LORD with cymbals, with harps and with lyres,…

The Levites stood with the musical instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.

Then Hezekiah gave the order to offer the burnt offering on the altar. When the burnt offering began, the song to the LORD also began with the trumpets, accompanied by the instruments of David, king of Israel.

While the whole assembly worshiped, the singers also sang and the trumpets sounded; all this continued until the burnt offering was finished.

Now at the completion of the burnt offerings, the king and all who were present with him bowed down and worshiped.

Moreover, King Hezekiah and the officials ordered the Levites to sing praises to the LORD with the words of David and Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with joy, and bowed down and worshiped.

Then Hezekiah said, “Now that you have consecrated yourselves to the LORD, come near and bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the LORD ” And the assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings, and all those who were willing brought burnt offerings…

But the priests were too few, so that they were unable to skin all the burnt offerings;

There were also many burnt offerings with the fat of the peace offerings and with the libations for the burnt offerings. Thus the service of the house of the LORD was established again.

Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced over what God had prepared for the people…

Excerpted from 2 Chronicles 29

You know the history of Israel: bad king, good king, bad king, good king (actually, there were a lot more bad kings than good kings). The bad kings would come in and establish idol worship. They set up altars and made sacrifices to false gods, introduced cult prostitution, and even desecrated God’s house with idol worship and paraphernalia.

Ahaz was one of those bad kings. Second Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 tell us he not only burned incense and made sacrifices to his gods, he “even made his sons pass through the fire” in worship of these idols. He took the gold and silver from God’s house and used it to try to bribe another king to come help him fight against an enemy. He desecrated God’s altar and tore down parts of the temple. He cut to pieces all of the temple utensils used for making sacrifices to the Lord. He had altars to his own gods placed in the temple, “in every corner of Jerusalem”, and “in every city in Judah”.

Ahaz was one bad dude. In fact, he was such a pustule of a human being that when he died they didn’t even bury him with all the other kings of Israel. That’s pretty bad.

And Hezekiah, Ahaz’s son, became king in his place.

Hezekiah was one of the most Godly kings in Israel’s history. He had seen with his own eyes the evil perpetrated by his father, which had infested God’s holy house and spread throughout the land, and God put it in his heart to turn things around and lead his people back to God.

See any similarities between God’s house then and God’s house now? Between God’s people then and God’s people now? Is it time for us to grieve over the holy things that have been destroyed or taken out of God’s house, and the filth that has been brought into His house?

We’ve got to sweep around our own front door.

Notice that Hezekiah didn’t just go out and get a bunch of guys together and say, “All right, boys, we need to clean house. Let’s get to work.” He went specifically to the priests and Levites – the church leadership, if you will – and said, “consecrate yourselves”.

Consecration was a process of ritual cleansing. As the priests and Levites went through each step of the outward, physical cleansing, they were also setting themselves apart from worldliness and seeking God’s hand of purification in their hearts.

Notice also that the priests and Levites had to consecrate themselves before they would be able to consecrate the temple. Just as Ahaz’s own personal evildoing had trickled down and infected the people, so the temple leadership would have to cleanse themselves personally before God in order for a pursuit of holiness to pervade God’s house and His people.

Those who study revival have noted that the majority of churches which experience revival do so under the leadership of a pastor who has experienced personal revival. If a pastor senses it’s time to clean house at his church, step one is to make sure he has consecrated himself and is walking blamelessly before God. Step two is to get his leadership together for times of cleansing and much prayer, that they may consecrate themselves before leading the people.

Once their personal cleansing was complete, the priests and Levites began to “carry the uncleanness out from the holy place”. The evil done in the temple in Ahaz’s day had harmed families, stirred God to anger, and made His people “an object of terror, of horror, and of hissing” in the eyes of the world around them. Likewise, the worldliness and sin – from gossip and jealousy all the way up to pedophile clergy – we have allowed into the church has brought tremendous harm to countless families and has made the body of Christ an object of ridicule and hatred in the eyes of many of the people we seek to reach for Him. Can we expect that His anger towards us would be any less than his anger towards the Israelites?

When the priests and Levites began to cleanse the temple, they did so completely and permanently. In the same spirit of Jesus’ own remarks that if your very hand or eye causes you to sin, you should remove it from your body, the priests and Levites removed everything – no matter how small, no matter how valuable it may have seemed, or how much its removal might have offended someone – that didn’t belong in God’s house.

Verse 16 tells us they carried all these unclean things out to the Kidron valley. The Kidron valley (or brook, as it was sometimes called when water was running through the valley due to heavy rains) was an area outside Jerusalem where, under Kings Asa, Josiah, and Hezekiah, all manner of unclean items used in idol worship were disposed of, usually by burning. That’s permanent. They weren’t taking any chances that someone might come across these items and bring them back into the temple.

Not only did the priests and Levites take all the unclean items out of God’s house, they purified and brought back all of the sacred items used for worshiping God that never should have been removed.

Is it time to carry the unclean things out of your church and down to the Kidron valley? Maybe it’s an unbiblical doctrinal tenet of your denomination. A program that brings glory only to the church members involved and not to God. A person in a position of church leadership who intentionally lives in sin and rebellion. An attitude of your own heart.

What about the holy items of worship that have been taken out of your church? Have sound, Biblical sermons been replaced by ear tickling pep talks and skits? Have Scriptural and doctrinal worship songs been replaced by the vain repetition of fluffy, feel-good jingles? Has prayer become simply a way to bookend your worship services or even disappeared altogether?

Our churches are in captivity to worldliness due to our disobedience. God has chosen our pastors to minister before Him; to lead His people to be consecrated to Him and worship Him. Dear pastor, please do not be negligent about cleansing His house. For the sake of us, the sheep God has entrusted to you, won’t you go into the innermost part of the house of God – your heart, your family, your staff – and through humility, prayer, study of the Word, and sound biblical action, remove every unclean thing, and bring back the sacred things with the help of your church leadership?

Only when God’s house is clean will we be able to offer Him the sacrifices He truly desires:

Thus the service of the house of the Lord will established again, and the people will rejoice over what God has prepared for them.

Women of Genesis Bible Study

The Women of Genesis: Lesson 27- Deborah and Rachel

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 89, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26

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Read Genesis 35-36

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Questions to Consider

1. Study a map of Jacob’s travels, locating Haran, Shechem, and Bethel (35:1). What happened in Jacob’s life at each of these three places (review previous lessons if necessary)?

2. Where (city and nation) was Jacob living when God told him to move to Bethel? In what major way had living in the Shechemite area of Canaan influenced Jacob’s family? (35:2-4) In the book of Exodus, when we see Israel journeying through and into the Promised Land, what is the main offense against God that the Canaanites are guilty of? How did their idolatry impact God’s people?

3. Briefly review previous lessons (links above) in which we examined various reasons Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob didn’t want their children to intermarry with Canaanites. Even though the Ten Commandments (prohibiting idolatry) and the Levitical law (prohibiting intermarriage with pagans) had not yet been given, how might Canaanite idolatry have played a role in this? And if idol worshiping pagans weren’t good enough for Jacob’s children to marry, why did his own family possess foreign gods? (35:2-4)

4. Regarding the sin of idolatry, what were the three steps (35:2-3) of repentance Jacob led his family in? How can these steps be a model of repentance for us today?

5. Compare Genesis 28:10-22 with 35:1-15. Why did God tell Jacob to go back to Bethel (35:1)? What are the similarities and differences between the two passages with regard to God’s and Jacob’s words and actions? What promises did God make to Jacob in each passage? Describe the worship that took place in both passages.

6. Who was Deborah (35:8), and about how long had she been with the family? In what ways was Deborah’s death honored and memorialized (using your footnotes, what does Allon-bacuth mean)? Considering that we rarely ever hear the names of servants, much less the memorializing of their deaths, what might we surmise about Deborah, her character, and her relationship with Isaac and Rebekah’s family and Jacob’s family? How can you have an impact for Christ on others by serving them?

7. Refer again to the map in question 1. Where did Jacob travel in 35:16-27?

8. Examine 35:16-26 and review our previous lessons about Rachel. If you were writing Rachel’s obituary, how would you describe her? If Jacob were giving the eulogy at her funeral, what might he say about her? Why do we hear about Deborah’s, Rachel’s, and Isaac’s deaths, but we don’t hear about Leah’s or Rebekah’s deaths?

9. Compare Genesis 30:22-24 with 35:16-26. How was Rachel’s prayer answered? Using your footnotes, what do Ben-oni and Benjamin mean, respectively? Why do you think Jacob changed the baby’s name?

10. Who wrote the book of Genesis? Who was the original audience of the book of Genesis? Why might God have considered the information in chapter 36 important for this audience to know? How is this chapter a fulfillment of prophecy?


Homework

Jacob’s family was influenced toward idol worship by the Canaanites they lived among (35:2-4). Think about the various environments you live in: your community or neighborhood, your church, family, friends, workplace, clubs or organizations, social media, etc. Do any of these environments influence you toward idolatry – putting something in God’s place in your affections, loyalties, priorities, and time? Idolatry is a sin that should be repented of and forsaken. Read my article The Christian Introvert: Putting Off Social Anxiety, Putting On Serving Others to learn about the process of putting off sin, renewing your mind, and putting on godly behavior. Thinking about your own idolatry, write down how you can “put away those foreign gods” (put off), “purify yourself and change your garments” (renew your mind) and “arise and go up to Bethel…and make an altar to God” (put on).


Suggested Memory Verse

Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.
Genesis 35:3

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 4

the-ten

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3

Exodus 20:4-6

“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.

Exodus 32:1-10

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” So Aaron said to them, “Take off the rings of gold that are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the rings of gold that were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.

And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. 10 Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”

1 John 5:20-21

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. One of the themes of Exodus we’ve discovered in this study is that God is setting His people apart from the surrounding pagan nations and establishing Israel as a nation. How does the second Commandment (Exodus 20:4-6) relate to that theme? Think about what and how pagan nations worshiped. How does the second Commandment set God’s people uniquely apart from pagans and set the worship of God apart from the worship of false gods? How does worshiping God without any sort of visual aid or representation point us to God’s vastness, uniqueness, “other-ness,” and power in comparison with idols?

2. What does it mean that God is a jealous God in the context of the second Commandment (idol worship)? (Exodus 20:5a) Think about God’s nature and character as well as His patience, kindness, and benevolence toward His people both in the Old Testament and today. Doesn’t God have a right to be jealous for His people? What are the consequences of breaking or keeping the second Commandment? (Exodus 20:5b-6)

3. Some Christians believe that the second Commandment prohibits making any representation of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit regardless of whether or not that representation is worshiped. They believe, for example, that nativity scenes and plays in which the baby Jesus is depicted, pictures of Jesus in children’s Bibles, pictures of Jesus used for teaching the Bible to non-readers or lost people on the mission field, are a violation of the second Commandment even though these representations of Jesus are not being worshiped. Do you think the context of Exodus 20:4-6 supports this belief? Why or why not? Can you think of any other Scriptures that support or refute this belief?

4. Examine the Exodus 32 passage. How did the people break the second Commandment? Why did the people want Aaron to make an idol for them? (1) When we find ourselves in idolatry – worshiping, loving, or being devoted to something or someone above God – what is the motive of our hearts? Where did the people get the gold jewelry (2-4) that Aaron used to make the calf? What was God’s initial response to this incident? (10) Can you see how it stirs God to anger when we take things that He has created and blessed us with and worship those things rather than the One who gave them to us?

5. In the Exodus 32 passage, what act of God did the people attribute to the golden calf? (4,8) How does it break the second Commandment to call something “God” that is not the God revealed in Scripture? To attribute an action or characteristic of God to something that is not God? How does the 1 John passage and the idea of the “true God” and “him who is true” contrast with the Israelites’ worship of the golden calf as God?

6. Today, in Western culture, we don’t usually carve idols out of wood or stone and bow down to them. But what about creating idols with our hearts and minds instead of our hands? Have you ever “created God in your own image” – a God who fits your opinions, preferences, feelings, or unbiblical beliefs – and worshiped or trusted that god instead of the true God, Jesus, and Holy Spirit of Scripture? How is that similar to the Israelites’ fashioning a golden calf and essentially calling it God? What does the 1 Corinthians passage say about Christians who practice this or any other form of idolatry and how the church is to deal with them?


Homework:

Listen closely this week to the sermon at church, your Sunday School or Bible study class lesson, any Christian books, magazines, blogs, or social media posts you read, and any Christian music you listen to. Is the God depicted in these venues consistent with the way God reveals Himself in Scripture? Do you find any of these sermons, articles, songs, etc., to be breaking the second Commandment by presenting a false view of God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?

The Ten (10 Commandments Bible Study)

The Ten: Lesson 3

the-ten

Previous Lessons: 1, 2

Exodus 20:1-3

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.

Matthew 4:9-10

And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

Ezekiel 14:1-11

Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: Repent and turn away from your idols, and turn away your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord. And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. 10 And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— 11 that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.”

Matthew 19:16-30

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” 28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.


The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.


Questions to Consider:

1. Take a moment to briefly review the previous lessons (links above). What are some of the major themes we have seen in God’s dealings with Israel so far in the book of Exodus? How does Exodus 20:1-2 serve as an introduction and foundation to the 10 Commandments, showcasing God’s goodness and His right to rule Israel?

2. What does the first Commandment, Exodus 20:3, mean? Is God saying it’s OK for His people to worship other gods as long as He has first place? Compare Exodus 20:3 with Matthew 4:9-10. What did Jesus understand the first Commandment to mean? Where does the temptation to worship other gods come from? Who is ultimately being worshiped when someone worships a false god?

3. Why do you think God made this the first Commandment? How is the first Commandment foundational to every other command or teaching in Scripture? Can you keep the first Commandment while breaking another biblical command? Why or why not?

4. How was Israel breaking the first Commandment in the Ezekiel 14 passage? How did God respond to their attempt to approach Him as their God while still embracing their foreign gods? (8-10) How did this impact their relationship with God? (5,7,11) What did God say the people should do? (6) What would be the result of Israel’s repentance from idolatry? (5,11)

5. In the Matthew 19 passage, which Commandments did Jesus tell the rich young ruler he should keep? (18-19) Which Commandments did Jesus not mention? Were the Commandments Jesus mentioned from the first or second table of the Law? How did the rich young ruler demonstrate that he was unwilling to keep the first Commandment? (20-22) What was his god? How did Peter’s response (27) to Christ differ from the rich young ruler’s response? How did the disciples keep the first Commandment by giving up everything to follow Christ?

6. In what ways do we break the first Commandment today? What are some other “gods” we love and dedicate ourselves to before, or in addition to, Christ? Review the questions in #4. How do these principles apply to Christians today? Think over all that Christ has done for you. How is it an act of worship and thanks to Him to keep the first Commandment?


Homework:

Give this song a listen. Could you sing these lyrics truthfully? In what ways does it exemplify the first Commandment? Are you breaking the first Commandment in any areas of your heart and life? Repent and receive Christ’s forgiveness.