Exodus 19:16-20:26; Matthew 23:13-26; Psalms 28:6-9; Proverbs 11:5-6
OT: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery. Do not have other gods besides me. Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ iniquity on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commands. Do not misuse the name of the Lord your God, because the Lord will not leave anyone unpunished who misuses his name. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy… Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not give false testimony against your neighbor. Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:2-8, 12-17 CSB)
These are Ten Commandments given by the Lord to a people who had just come out of a pagan land where they had lived for over 400 years. The first half are about honoring God and the second half are about honoring one another. By following these commandments, the Israelites would separate themselves from the rest of the word as a holy people dedicated to the Lord and His ways. The fact that God specifically calls out these ten things indicates that the rest of the world was involved in doing the opposite. First and foremost – Don’t worship any other god but Me. This is primary and key. Without following that first command, none of the others would be possible. The second: don’t create idols to worship. Unlike any other god, the True and Living God didn’t want His people worshipping any man-made attempt at representing Him. He would not be reduced to a man-made idol, and He would not share His glory with any man-made substitution for His greatness. One of my favorite promises in scripture is tied to that command: Those who choose to worship idols will pass down the consequences of that choice to their descendants – but for those who choose to reject other gods and idols and choose to honor and love the Lord God alone, they will be blessed for a thousand generations. Other gods and idols can take many different forms. In some parts of the world, there are literal gods and idols that people sacrifice to. In other parts of the world, people sacrifice their lives to wealth, fame, prominence, materiality, etc. and reduce God to something that He is not… an angry, hateful, unmerciful and distant deity… or maybe a benevolent uncle that always gives them what they ask for and never challenges them when they are wrong. Whatever form it takes, we as the people of God are to reject all of it and worship God and God alone as He has revealed Himself by the written word and the Living Word. When we choose to do that, all the other commandments will fall into place by His grace.
NT: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in… Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These things should have been done without neglecting the others. Blind guides! You strain out a gnat, but gulp down a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside of it may also become clean.” (Matthew 23:13, 23-26 CSB)
Put simply, the scribes and Pharisees had strayed away from worshipping the True God and were instead worshipping (and forcing others to worship) a god of their own construction. They had developed a complicated network of rules and requirements and had made those self-made rules and requirements idols that they were bowing down to. As Jesus said, they had, for all intents and purposes, slammed the door on the character and nature of the True God and were forcing people to worship their own version of a very legalistic, nit-picky, unforgiving, and unmerciful god. By choosing to worship their version of God and removing themselves from the grace of God, they became guilty of transgressing other areas of the law as well. But they couldn’t let other people know that, so they kept the outside clean by feigning righteousness through their many requirements while remaining full of sin and hypocrisy inside. The fate of the scribes and Pharisees could too easily become ours if we fail to know the True and Living God and allow the Holy Spirit to remind us of Who He truly is as we daily study His word and allow the Living Word to abide in us.