The Ten Commandments break into two sections. The first section – commandments 1 through 4 – addresses our relationship with God. This section is summarized as you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength (the greatest commandment – Matt 22:37-38). The second section – commandments 5 through 10 – addresses our relationship with others. It is summarized in the command you shall love your neighbor as yourself (the second greatest commandment – Matt 22:39-40).
While the sections are separate they are interdependent. The second section cannot exist without the first and the first section never exists without the second. The one who loves God with all of his heart will also love his neighbor. And no one will truly love his neighbor as himself without first loving God and experiencing God’s love in his life.
This is why Jesus described the two greatest commandments together – they are never alone. This is also why James (2:10-12) said that one who violates any of the commandments violates them all. The one who commits adultery does so because something other than God is the god of his life. The same goes for stealing and lying and coveting and murder. The choice to sin always comes back to loving something more than God.
On the other hand, the one who keeps the first two commandments will keep the other eight. The first two really form the basis for the others because the primary need of every man is to make sure he worships no one and nothing other than God. The one whose god is God does not look elsewhere for satisfaction and so does not have a hole that must be filled by sin.
The third and fourth commandments finish the first section. The third command continues the focus of the first two on the glory and honor of God. The fourth commandment forms a fitting transition to the second section with its focus on both honoring God and providing for the needs of man. Both commands are among the least emphasized of the Ten. Most Christians have little trouble keeping the third (as they understand it) and generally ignore the fourth. The key to studying these commands is to understand their implications and to realize their intent extends beyond the surface meaning.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain (11)
It is important when going over this commandment to note the words used. God tells the people they are not to take the name of Yahweh – your God – in vain. God’s name has deep implications for the people and for His covenant with them. In Exodus 6 He told Moses that the people would know Him for the first time as Yahweh – the covenant-keeping God. Whereas Abraham and Isaac and Jacob knew Him as Almighty God (El Shaddai), the nation of Israel would know Him as Yahweh. The patriarchs heard the covenant – that a great nation would inhabit Canaan – but Israel would experience it. As part of this experience God would make Israel His people and the nation would make Yahweh its God.
Thus God’s name is not simply what He is called – it signifies what and who He is and also what He is to the people. He is the God who keeps His covenants and He is Israel’s God. Do not take the name of the Lord YOUR God in vain. To take His name and use it as a curse or a good luck charm or for meaningless swearing is to devalue what it means to the nation and its unique relationship with Him as His chosen people. He not only is the covenant-keeping God, He makes and keeps covenants with Israel alone.
The people are also posed to cross into a very pagan land. In that land are innumerable gods that are used for every purpose. Their names are invoked routinely as their different services and powers are needed. God’s people are to remember they do not serve gods like the Canaanites and are not to lightly invoke God’s name in their daily conversations (Micah 4:5).
There also seems to be an implication here that goes beyond speech. In Ezekiel 20:14 God discusses the history of Israel and states that He has punished them at times for the sake of His name. He says He cannot allow His name to be profaned among the nations – that Israel’s disobedience to His Law brings dishonor to His name. From this passage – and numerous others like it – it seems that this command also condemns the hypocrisy of claiming the name of God while living like everyone else. When God’s people live as if God is not in fact their God, they bring dishonor to the name that labels them as His.
This commandment carries with it a warning listed in the second half of verse 11. This is not a specific curse like the one associated with the first two commandments, but it is an ominous warning nonetheless. God says He will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. This is effectively the same warning that is associated with all the commandments. Any breaking of the Law brings punishment. However, that God specifically mentions punishment here points to how seriously He takes this admonition. This commandment is very close to the first two – to dishonor God’s name is essentially on the same level as worshiping other gods. Both take glory away from God – and in a world created for the sole purpose of glorifying Him that is a very serious offense. [See Leviticus 24:10-16 for an example of the punishment associated with this commandment.]
Thought: The application of this command to Christians is fairly obvious. We are not to use the name of God casually in speech. It is notable that Old Testament Israelites would not even say the name out loud or write it in most documents. In the same way believers must not swear using the name of God or Jesus or treat the names as if they are just like any other. If the name of God was important to the Israelites because of its covenantal implications, it is perhaps even more important to us because of our redemption. Jesus died for us and His name should never be used in a way that makes light of that sacrifice. [It is notable that both ‘God’ and ‘Jesus’ are common swear words throughout the world. In many ways it does not make sense to arbitrarily select those words for cursing. However, if the Enemy specifically hates the true God and His Son it makes sense that he would cause his followers to make light of their names as often as possible.]
From the standpoint of honoring the name of God with our lives we should remember what we are called. The world knows us as ‘Christians’ (which comes from an identification in Antioch likely intended to be derisive – Acts 11:26) and as such we specifically bear the name of Christ. If our lives are characterized by the passions and priorities of the world, we dishonor His name. Living blameless lives is more than a testimony to non-believers; it is the proper way to bring honor to the name we bear and to abide by the third commandment.
Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy (12-15)
When God gave the commandments at Sinai the people were coming out of centuries of slavery in Egypt. To be told to take one day every week to completely rest from labor was unheard of. Forty years later nothing distinguishes Israel from other nations more than its observance of a Sabbath rest. It is so different that God marks it as a sign of the covenant – it is the corporate version of circumcision. As individuals the people are marked by circumcision but as a nation Israel is set apart by the Sabbath (see Ex 31:12-17 and Ezekiel 20:12 for a discussion of the Sabbath as a mark of the covenant).
Moses references Sinai when he tells the people they are to observe the Sabbath as the Lord your God commanded you. At Sinai the reason for the Sabbath was creation. God rested on the seventh day of creation and set the precedent for His people. Here Moses does not mention creation but instead says the Sabbath is for remembering their deliverance from Egypt. Both reasons are valid – they are to follow the example of God and also to remember their salvation.
It is interesting that within this commandment to honor God is the secondary command to practice mercy toward the lowest members of society. Moses tells the people to remember that they too were slaves in Egypt and so must treat their own slaves humanely and allow them to rest (15). This commandment makes the perfect transition between the first section and its focus on God and the second section with its focus on man. The Sabbath observance is really both – honor God by setting apart a day to focus exclusively on Him but in so doing allow the poorest and most disadvantaged to rest from their labors (as well as any work animals). This points again to the truth that to love God is to love His people. The one who honors God will honor others.
The day is for rest and for remembrance. They are to set apart the day for the Lord but specifically they are to remember what He did for them in delivering them from Egypt. It is a day to remember their redemption. They will more officially remember the deliverance from Egypt when they celebrate Passover, but the Sabbath acts as a weekly reminder of all that God has done.
Moses does not list for them the specific acts of labor prohibited on the Sabbath. In other texts the people are prohibited from kindling a fire (Ex 35:3 – this command precludes current-day orthodox Jews from using electricity or driving a car), gathering wood (Num 15:32-36), and gathering manna (Ex 16:22-30). The Talmud will eventually define 39 activities forbidden on the Sabbath (see appendix at the end of these notes). These are in force during Jesus’ time and are the basis for the Pharisees’ criticism of Jesus and the disciples on the Sabbath.
It is difficult in some ways to apply this command to the Christian. Many believe it to be obsolete in light of Christ’s coming and the day of worship changing from the seventh to the first day. For most Christians – if they are honest – they really strive to observe the Nine Commandments. Sabbath rest is strictly for orthodox Jews.
The command is hard to apply culturally too. It was not uncommon in Israel’s time to work seven days a week. For them it was radical to take one day off. In our culture, however, five-day workweeks are the norm. A seventh day of specific rest is not unique in itself. On the other hand, we also live in a nation where virtually every store, service and form of entertainment is available seven days a week. So to completely cease all activities and strictly rest and contemplate God would be an exercise in radical living.
So is it okay to ignore it? It is notable that the Israelites were commanded to use the day to remember their deliverance from Egypt. They did this on the seventh day. We worship on the first day because it is the day Jesus rose from the dead. That being the case – and since Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was its redemption – it makes sense to equate our Sundays with Israel’s Sabbath as a day of remembrance. They remembered their redemption from Egypt – we remember our redemption from sin on the very day of the week it was accomplished.
Also – the author of Hebrews describes heaven as the Sabbath rest promised to all believers (chapter 4). From this it seems the Sabbath as Israel practiced it was actually a type of what was to come. The eternal Sabbath is the ultimate rest for the believer from our lives in a sinful world. With that in mind, it perhaps makes sense that the command to observe the Sabbath has meaning for the Christian.
On the other side, it is important to consider what Jesus said about the Sabbath. He said – in condemning the Pharisees for their rebuke of His and His disciples’ activities on the day – that the Sabbath was made for man instead of the other way around and that He is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). What He meant is that the intent of the Sabbath was to honor God but also to genuinely give man a rest from his labors. The rest is a key part of understanding the day. The believer should see the day as a day he takes off from his normal activities or job. If the day is made for man, then man should observe it in a way that departs from his regular activities.
If we compile all of these facts we can perhaps formulate an understanding of how this command should affect us in the age of grace and in western culture.
- We should see Sunday as a different day.
- We should avoid responsibilities that regularly take us away from church on Sundays. Remembering our redemption and honoring our Redeemer one day a week should be a priority.
- We are not bound by the 39 prohibited activities of the Talmud but by the same token should likely avoid our normal workday (not sure how to apply this to the stay-at-home mom). Resting from work, however, can take many forms. Cutting grass, working in the garden, playing sports, watching sports – all of these can be forms of rest from normal labor. If the day is made for man, then perhaps we have flexibility in what for us constitutes rest.
- We must remember the Sabbath’s intent to give rest to all people at every level of society. We must focus not only on our rest but on the rest of all those around us. Sunday should have a community focus. [The Christian who is an employer must fully think through any business that requires employees to work on Sunday.]
The Sabbath day was every Israelite’s opportunity to honor God, not only by giving time to praise, learning, and witness, but also by showing practical compassion for others – members of the family, the household’s servants, even its animals, and the refugee who has just arrived in the local town or village. The Sabbath commandment is a striking reminder that God’s people cannot separate their adoration for God from their attitude to their fellows. With its clear prohibition about making people work, the Sabbath commandment reminds us not only that we must worship God but also that we are forbidden to live selfishly in community.
– Raymond Brown, The Message of Deuteronomy
The 39 Prohibited Activities on the Sabbath – per the Talmud
Sowing – Plowing – Reaping – Binding sheaves – Threshing – Winnowing – Selecting – Grinding – Sifting – Kneading – Baking – Shearing wool – Washing wool – Beating wool – Dyeing wool – Spinning – Weaving – Making two loops – Weaving two threads – Separating two threads – Tying – Untying – Sewing stitches – Tearing – Trapping – Slaughtering – Flaying – Tanning – Scraping hide – Marking hides – Cutting hide to shape – Writing two or more letters – Erasing two or more letters – Building – Demolishing – Extinguishing a fire – Kindling a fire – Putting the finishing touch on an object – Transporting an object between a private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain.