Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Two Tablets and the First Commandment

For days, Calvin has been writing about God's law.  Starting today, we are beginning an in-depth look at the law itself - the Ten Commandments.  Calvin points out the fact that the first four commandments (or First Table) deal with proper fear and worship of God, the last six commandments (or Second Table) deals with moral conduct between men.  He writes about worship, "Therefore we call the worship of God the beginning and foundation of righteousness.  When it is removed, whatever equity, continence, or temperance men practice among themselves is in God's sight empty and worthless."  So no matter what we do, if we lack the proper worship of God it is meaningless.  It is similar to what Paul wrote about love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: no matter what good things you outwardly do toward other men, if it is without love (and in this case the love of God), then it means absolutely nothing.  Calvin continues, "Accordingly, in the First Table, God instructs us in piety and the proper duties of religion, by which we are to worship his majesty.  The Second Table prescribes how in accordance with the fear of his name we ought to conduct ourselves in human society."  Jesus recognized this when he was asked about the greatest command he responded, "‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matthew 22:34-39).

Calvin next had a discussion of exactly how the commandments are divided.  Apparently, there had been those who combined the commandment about not having any other gods before the Lord and the commandment prohibiting graven images as one commandment.  That meant that there were three commandments regarding the proper worship of God.  These same people divided the last commandment into two by separating coveting your neighbor's house as something different from coveting his other property and wife.  The number of commandments was still the same, but slightly different in content.  Also, Josephus had divided them into two Tables of five commandments each.  Honor your father and mother came under the worship of God in his writings.

The first commandment reads, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:2-3).  Calvin first tackles the preface, "I am the Lord your God...," or as it is translated for the Institutes, "I am Jehovah, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."  Calvin writes about a threefold proof of God's power and majesty in this statement.  "He claims for himself the power and right of authority in order to constrain the chosen people by the necessity of following him.  He holds out the promise of grace to draw them by its sweetness to a zeal for holiness.  He recounts his benefits to the Jews that he may convict them of ingratitude should they not respond to his kindness" (emphasis mine).  The name 'Jehovah' demands authority and obedience.  By claiming to be their God, he is attracting them by saying he is the God of their church.  He reminds them of how he brought them out of bondage therefore he is reminding them of how they should be grateful to him.

God is the author of freedom for the Israelites.  He brought them out of 400 years of bondage.  He is also the author of our freedom - freedom from the bondage of sin.  "But, in order that it may not seem that this has nothing to do with us, we must regard the Egyptian bondage of Israel as a type of spiritual captivity in which all of us are held bound, until our heavenly Vindicator, having freed us by the power of his arm, leads us into the Kingdom of freedom."  The story of the Israelites being freed from captivity is our story, both literally and figuratively.  We must remember that the stories of the Old Testament are our stories.  This is our family history.  Paul in Romans 11 reminds us of this by telling us that we have been grafted in to God's family like a branch into an olive tree, so this is our history.  It is also figuratively our story when we recognize that it is God alone who can lead us out of the bondage of sin and into his everlasting Kingdom.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.16-2.8.18

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