Exodus 20:8-11:  “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.

Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Hebrews 4:4-10:  For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.


           Introduction Continue reading “THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT”

The First Three Commandments


The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, are the primary summarization of the Moral Law of God in Holy Writ. The observation of these moral laws is not limited to only the people who are called by God’s name, having gained the inheritance of that relation with God through the work of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, but is required of all His rational creatures everywhere, at all times, without exception. This requirement is because that which we call the Moral Law of God, although summarized in The Decalogue, preexisted that summarization and all subsequent summarizations given throughout Scripture, which, in turn, is because this Moral Law derives from the very character of the Creator Himself.

In this article, we concern ourselves with the first three of the commandments, all of which have to do with the proper worship of God.

The Decalogue may be found in two places in the books written by Moses, commonly called The Pentateuch, or Torah. These two places are Exodus 20:2-12, and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The reader is encouraged to peruse these two sections of Scripture, as well as all parts of Scripture which have summarizations of God’s Moral Law.

The First Three Commandments: An Overview

The first three Commandments, as given in the Decalogue, may be summarized as follows:

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make idols.
  3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.

Because these are simple summations of what are, themselves, summaries of God’s Moral Law, it will be helpful to look at the wording of these Commandments in the appropriate places from Scripture:

  1. “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.
  2. “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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Exodus 20:2-7, ESV)
  1. “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.
  2. “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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
  3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain. (Deuteronomy 5:6-11, ESV)

 These first three commandments are all of a part, which is to say, they determine how man, created by God, will conduct His worship of God. Since they derive from the character of the Creator to show that character to those He created, they are not limited to a specific time period in redemptive history, but like the God whom they derive from, are atemporal in essence, which is to say, they transcend time, space and matter, because of the God who created time, space and matter, yet Himself transcends these things.

However, they have a respective context within time, space and matter, in that we perceive them within those contexts, and in that sense, they are temporal expressions of the atemporal perfections of the divine character given to us to comprehend Him, for us to guide and conduct our worship of Him accordingly.

There are simple reasons given in the summarizations of God’s Moral Law for the manner in which Israel was to worship Him in these first 3 Commandments. These are as follows:

The First Commandment

I AM the LORD your God.” This particular part of the 1st Commandment gives the reason for worship for not only Israel, but all mankind. This is the uncreated One who created them; therefore, He is worthy of worship. Without having been created, they would not exist; in creating them, He determined that which is proper to worship Him, and that worship will always be consistent with both His character and the derived nature of those He created. He is the God who has none to answer to, in that He is uncreated, infinite, self-sustaining perfection, and all that is good is defined by His being and the revelation of that being (Mark 10:18; Acts 17:24-28; Romans 1:19-20). Thus, the manner in which we know how to worship God is revealed first of all in natural revelation, which leaves mankind without excuse if any choose to worship Him differently (Romans 1:20-23). Although summarized in this and various other parts of Scripture, He is inherently known to all men by natural revelation, and that which is known from natural revelation is here specifically and positively given as a command in special revelation (although bypositively,” we do not wish to conflate the Moral Law with the Judicial, or Civil Law – more on this further on).

This is also put as a part of “the preface to the Ten Commandments” in the Westminster Larger Catechism (hereafter WLC), Question & Answer 101, which reads as follows:

  1. 101. What is the preface to the Ten Commandments?
  2. A. The preface to the Ten Commandments is contained in these words, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the eland of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: and that is a God in covenant, as with Israel of old, so with all his people; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, so he delivereth us from our spiritual thraldom; and that therefore we are bound to take him for our God alone, and to keep all his commandments. [1]

The next part of this beginning of the 1st commandment has been given its exposition by the reference in the WLC, but it bears a bit of commentary.

 “…brought you out of the land of Egypthouse of slavery.”

Our first observation is that this is speaking of Israel, since they were the ones in that situation, but it more so speaks principally, in typological manner, of the redemptive power of God exercised throughout redemptive history towards all His people, specifically, those comprehended in the freedom from sin that is realized in Christ.

In Scripture, the concept of Egypt gives rise to the notion of being under the bondage, oppression and slavery of sin as one’s master, representing the danger of dependence upon the flesh (2 Kings 18:20-21; Isaiah 30:1-5; 31:1-3; Jeremiah 42:13-22; Ezekiel 20:7-8; 23:3-19, 27). It is also representative of returning to such bondage (Exodus 14:11-12; Numbers 14:3-4; Nehemiah 9:17; Hosea 8:13; 9:1-3; Acts 7:39), and it is depicted as that which is judged, typologically pointing to the judgment of all sin in apocalyptic manner (Exodus 7-12). It is also instructive that our Lord’s life, as Israel’s before they inherited Canaan, was saved by being led into, then out of Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15; cf. Hosea 11:1). As the judgment on Egypt typified the judgment of those who remain settled in their sin, defying the Lord, so the temporal salvation and spread of the natural seed of Abraham after that typified the spread of his spiritual seed – the eschatological spread of the gospel among the nations after that judgment of sin in Christ (John 12:31-32; Acts 2; 10; 13). Since deliverance from this fatal taskmaster is realized, first, in the spiritual promises which run through each historic covenant, and secondly, in the actual capture, defeat and death of that taskmaster in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension to glory by our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:21; John 1:29; 12:31-32; Matthew 20:28; Ephesians 4:8; cf. Psalm 68:18; Colossians 2:15; cf. 1 John 3:8; Hebrews 2:14-15), whereby He  was that One who would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21; cf. the completed work of our Lord in the lives of believers in Ephesians 2:5, where the Perfect Passive Participle shows a past action completed and presently true, modifying the pronoun “you,” referencing the entire group of those who have believed in Christ, by faith, though that grace that was given them in regeneration), we may safely infer this part of the commandment for those who are God’s people in all ages.

Our second observation follows that, therefore, this part of the 1st Commandment has particular application to those who are especially the people of God through His divine intervention and deliverance, whether that intervention and deliverance is of a finite nature from a certain situation, or especially, the eternal nature of being freed from sin and given eternal life.

Our third observation is that all people were given to partake of death in the fall in Adam, therefore, they owe a special allegiance to the God who yet saves them from the effects of that condition (immediate death, both physical and spiritual – this has no reference to the eternal state, or the loss of communion brought about by Adam’s sin, but the immediate suffering of that eternal state presently deferred solely due to God’s goodness and forbearance – Acts 17:26-30). This agrees with the degree in which He gives to people those general blessings of His providence, given indiscriminately to all mankind in all places at all times (Psalm 145:9; 65:9-13; 104:27; 145:9; Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17; 17:24-25). This therefore establishes that link to the goodness of the Lord which is to lead to repentance (Romans 2:4), yet it is not to be supposed, from this normal, or common graciousness of God, that without the working of the Holy Spirit regenerating the sinner they will be able to come to that repentance.

You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This is the outcome of the first two parts of the 1st Commandment, and also a leading into the 2nd. However, this, as with all the Moral Law, is found in the Scriptural accounts before the Decalogue was inscripturated.

We see this in the Garden of Eden, where there was only one God for the first couple to worship; even after the fall, there did not immediately arise the notion of worship of other gods. In chapter 4 of Genesis, the fallen offspring of Adam bring their sacrifices before the one true God. After that, there is apparently a steady progressing away from God and the true worship that is due Him alone, until the time of Seth. Following that, we come to the corruption of true worship of the one God, corruption which occupies men’s minds to the point where they only seek that which is wicked continuously, and the ectypical judgment of the entire world (which signifies that there will be a day when the world is finally judged) is seen with the flood, whereby only 8 souls were saved. This is entirely related to the perversion of the worship of the one true God, for in keeping that worship, there is reward (consider Psalm 19:7-14 with Psalm 51:16, which considered together, speak of obedience to God, not of keeping the national laws of Israel, but of the obedience of the heart which springs from a regenerate life), while all throughout Scripture, we see that the perversion of true worship brings judgment (Deuteronomy 28:59-68; Revelation 9).

To take a giant leap forward in redemptive history, this brings us face to face with the reality of our own penchant to seek that which is only available in the proper worship of our God. In doing this, we must ask exactly what it means to “have no other gods before ME?”

To answer that question, another question needs to be asked: What constitutes worship?

The answer is that worship, as defined in Scripture, is that which is given to the one True God, and involves elements of fear, respect, reverence, love and service, by keeping the commandments of God which He has prescribed in a positive manner (Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 2:3-5). These commandments, being positively prescribed by God, are those which govern men, and in keeping them there is reward (Psalm 19:7-11). Thus, worship is given by the prescribed means God has directly commanded in His Word, and involves various elements within those means. Although the elements of that prescribed worship change within their covenantal context, in all covenantal contexts the keeping of His commandments (the moral law) is required as a part of the worship of Him.

The result of proper worship of God by His people is that not only do they give praise and thanks to Him by following His prescribed means to do so, but that such proper worship by God’s people causes others to give praise and thanks to God (Matthew 5:14-16).

Thus, proper worship of God is the keeping of His commands relative to that covenant economy His people are within, which will include all moral commands (as summarized in the Decalogue and many other places in Scripture) in a manner which causes not only the participants to thank and praise God, but those observing the participants to likewise engage in doxology (doxology, as used here, refers to acknowledgement of God for who He is, and carries neither a positive or negative connotation[2]).

Excursus: The Tripartite Division of the Law of God

It is necessary to define the tripartite division of the law of God here, lest those reading think the laws which governed the nation of Israel, as a theocratic nation, are all in place and binding to the people of God spread out all over the world in exactly the same way.

This division is of the Moral (that which derives from God’s very character, and so is eternal), Civil (that which is set for the covenantal dealings of God with His people regarding the worship proper to that covenant in which they live, as well as that which pertains to living in a manner with one’s fellow citizens in the covenantal economy in a manner which shows their honor of the God who prescribed those laws of civil interaction – as such, these laws are coupled with that covenant economy that they were given in, and not necessarily to be enforced in the same manner when that covenant economy has passed), and Ceremonial (that which has to do with the particular means of worshiping God in the covenant economy concerned with that worship, and which prefigured Christ in typological and shadowy form in the historic covenants, but which ceremonial manner of worship is now dissolved, the only two commanded ordinances of God to His people today are the Lord’s Supper, and baptism).[3]

Gill divides these respectively into, Ceremonial, Judicial and Moral. Of the first, he states “it involved the ecclesiastical state of the Jews, their priests, sacrifices, feasts, fasts, washings, &c. and though some of these rites were before the times of Moses, as sacrifices, the distinction of clean and unclean creatures, circumcision, &c. yet these were renewed and confirmed, and others added to them; and the whole digested into a body of laws by Moses, and given by him under a divine direction to the people of Israel.” Moreover, he states “This law was a shadow of good things to come by Christ, of evangelical things, and indeed was no other than the gospel veiled in types and figures; the priests served to the example and shadow of heavenly things; the sacrifices were typical of the sacrifice of Christ; the festivals were shadows, of which Christ was the body and substance; the ablutions typified cleansing by the blood of Christ; and the whole was a schoolmaster to the Jews, until he came; but when faith came, that is, Christ, the object of faith, they were no longer under a schoolmaster, nor had they need of the law as such; there was a disannulling of it, because of its weakness and unprofitableness; for it became useless and unnecessary, having its accomplishment in Christ.”[4]

This agrees with our definition, as well as our Confession of Faith, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (hereafter LBC) in chapter 19.3, Of the Law of God:

3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, f prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions g of moral duties, all which ceremonial laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are, by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only law-giver, who was furnished with power from the Father for that end, h abrogated and taken away.

(f Heb 10:1; Col 2:17; 1 Co 5:7; h Col 2:14, 16-17; Eph 2:14, 16)

As to the Judicial, that is what we have called the Civil, of which Gill states “The judicial law, which respects the political state or civil government of the Jews, and consists of statutes and judgments, according to which the judges in Israel determined all causes brought before them, and passed sentence; in which sentence the people were to acquiesce (Deu_17:8-11). Such as related to any injuries done to their persons or property, and to the punishment of offences, both of a greater and of a lesser kind; these were given by Moses, but not made by him; they were made by God himself. The government of the Jews was a very particular form of government; it was a theocracy, a government immediately under God; though he is King of the whole world, and Governor among and over the nations of it, yet he was in a special and peculiar manner King over Israel; and he made laws for them, by which they were to be ruled and governed: nor had the commonwealth of Israel a power to make any new laws; nor any of their judges and rulers, not even Moses, their lawgiver under God: and therefore, when any matter came before him, not clearly determined by any law given by God, he suspended the determination of it until he knew the mind of God about it; see (Lev_24:12; Num_15:34). And when the people of Israel were desirous of a king, after the manner of neighboring nations, it was resented by the Lord, and reckoned by him as a rejection of him from being their King; and though he gave them a king, or suffered them to have one, it was in anger; and so far he still kept the peculiar government of them in his hands, that their kings never had any power to make new laws; nor did their best and wisest of kings make any, as David and Solomon; and when a reformation was made among them, as by Hezekiah and Josiah, it was not by making any new regulations, but by putting the old laws into execution; and by directing and requiring of the judges, and other officers, to act according to them.”

This is instructive to us, in that we can see a cross-over of God’s Moral law, as to general equity, into some of the governing precepts of His judicial, or civil law to Israel, yet these civil laws remain distinct as pertaining to national Israel prior to the dissolution of the Old Covenant and the establishment of the New Covenant. It is also instructive to us to note that when reformation came, to lead the people from debauchery, defection and idolatry back to the Living God, it was done with that which was established to rule over them in their worship and relations to God and one another, not by some new law.

Here, we point to the fact that where God dissolves, it is finished; where God establishes, it remains as long as He willed it to remain, and that this remaining is of His positively established precepts, or commands, as such related to the particular covenant economy and the substance thereof. In the New Covenant, we have the promises of the Messiah and His people established, the principals of which are the Moral Law, not to save, but to guide for growth in holiness from the substance, which is grace. Thus, we see a positive connection of the perpetuity of the Moral Law with the grace which saves, sanctifies and ultimately, glorifies, which gives the understanding of keeping the commandments of God in Christ, as they are not burdensome, but liberating (1 John 5:2-3).

This leaves us with that which informs every just law put forth by God, regarding His church, and regarding the governments of man, for if they are just, although not being exactly the same as the civil laws of the Mosaic economy, the derive their righteous standing and effects from that which, itself, derives from the character of He who created all things.[5]

This means that the Moral Law, being perpetual, will naturally be seen in any of those laws God expounds to the church in the ratified, instituted Covenant of Grace (i.e. the New Covenant), as well as at large among the governments of man (except where purposed disobedience, stemming from hatred of their Creator, is the foundation of laws). This is spoken of as “general equity” in the LBC, chapter 19.4:

4 To them also he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general i equity only being of modern use. (1 Co 9:8-10)

What this means is that all that is just, and therefore connects to the character of God within laws established of the governments of man, partakes of that unchanging and eternal moral essence (Moral Law) which derives of that character of God. Like God, since it derives from who He is, it cannot change or end (although the Scriptures speak of the Moral Law personified, this is an example of giving the characteristics of the Lawgiver to that which derives from Him – the Law itself is notalive”). That this is true of the commandments known to the church is considered a given; that it is true of the laws of mankind’s governments only holds true where they incorporate of that righteous character of God’s law which the Scriptures put forth (indeed, all good and just laws have their foundation in God’s Word). This is the use of general equity in the LBC.

Therefore, this leaves us to define the Moral Law, which has been done somewhat above, but bears repeating.

The Moral Law is kept by obeying the totality of the 2 Tables of the Decalogue, which give us out duty to God (1st four laws) and our duty to our fellow-man (remaining 6 laws). This is spoken of in various ways throughout Scripture, including, but not limited to, a variety of summaries in the New Testament (Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8-13, etc.). It is clearly seen that, by the grace whereby we have been saved, we are able to “fulfill the law;” however, since we are still plagued with the remaining corruption of the flesh, we cannot completely and perfectly obey this faultless and eternal law at all times, and must be dependant upon the grace of God in Christ our Lord, since He alone fulfilled the requirements of God’s law in every particular, and we are credited with that righteousness only He ever perfectly lived as the unique God-Man.

The Second Commandment

This brings us to the 2nd Commandment, which reads, again, “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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

This is a continuation of the 1st Commandment, but it goes further in defining what is prohibited, and communicates that which men are prone to do, which is the making of idols. This is even true in the Christian communities, and it is a grievous sin, but not one that is unforgiveable for the truly repentant.

Rather than treat the clauses separately, we will consider this commandment as one unit.

Since we are to “have no other gods” before our God, it follows that anything which is favored above Him becomes an idol, whether it is made out of some material, or the imaginings of the mind. The substance of the idol is not the issue; it is the putting one’s affections upon that which is formed, be it material, or immaterial. Because the 2nd Commandment does not name that which is immaterial immediately in the context, men are prone to take it as only dealing with physical manifestations that violate it, but the essence of the law, deriving as it does from the character of God, is not material, but spiritual, so it is not only entirely possible to break this commandment in one’s thoughts, it is quite easy to do, and, to our grief, one that we do break all too often.

In his Systematic Theology, R.L. Dabney describes this sort of idolatry in this manner:

“The most current breach of this commandment in nominally Christian communities is doubtless the Sin of inordinate affections. Scripture brands these as Idolatry, or the worshipping of another than the true God, especially in the case of covetousness; (Eph. 5:5; Col. 3:5; Job 31:24-28.) and parity of reasoning extends the teaching to all other inordinate desires. We conceive formal idolatry, as that of the Hindu, a very foolish and flagrant thing; we palliate this spiritual idolatry of passions. God classes them together, in order to show us the enormity of the latter. What then is it, that constitutes the “having of God for our God?” It includes, (a) Love for Him stronger than all other affections. (b) Trusting Him, as our highest portion and source of happiness. (c) Obeying and serving Him supremely. (d) Worshipping Him as He requires. Now that thing to which we render these regards and services, is our God, whether it be gold, fame, power, pleasure, or friends.” (He discusses this in his treatment of the 1st Commandment, but we elected to include it in our treatment of the 2nd.) [6]

For this reason, we are given the intent of the commandment in various texts. Our Lord puts forth that the 7th Commandment is broken by those who never touch a woman but look upon her with intent to appease their sexual appetite (Matthew 5:28), and the apostle Paul equates the desire to have which belongs to another as idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). This puts the 2nd Commandment on the spiritual plane (indeed, it puts all the commandments on the spiritual plane) of the thoughts we have, and shows the difficulty of keeping it (not the impossibility).

The remaining strictures of the commandment hold blessings and curses, one deriving from God’s gracious love, the latter deriving from His righteous indignation against those He created holding, in the place of worship, anything other than Him, regardless of whether that is of material of immaterial substance.

The effects of His judgment could be felt by those generations of progeny after the initial sin was committed (and by initial sin, we do not mean a one time occurrence, but a pattern of commission, as in the history of Israel in going after the false gods of the nations God had separated them from). The third and fourth generations signifies not an exact end of the judgment of God on the line of those who patterned their lifestyles after idol worship, but the far-reaching effects of such sin.

When we sin in such a manner, but for the grace of God, others suffer the effects along with us. This ranges from those of our flesh and blood families, to our brethren in Christ, and if not for His grace in Christ Jesus, we could not recover. Men have sown much grief to their families by idolatrous doings, and even after one is saved, this can happen. The only remedy for such things is thorough attendance to the ordinary means of grace (prayer, preaching/teaching, singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to teach one another of God along with and during covenant fellowship on the Sabbath, reading and studying the Scriptures).[7]

Obedience, however, involves exactly that repentance for the sins we commit (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 55:17; 66:2), as well as the power to fight against doing them in the future. The remnant of the corruption of the flesh is strong, but thankfully, God in us is stronger (Galatians 5:24-25; 1 John 2:16-18; 3:8-9; 4:4b). The love of God to His people is inherent in the Moral Law, in that He gives great blessing to those who are found in Christ, and this is the mercy, or steadfast love, which He shows to thousands of thousands, or thousands of generations of believers. Proper worship of God is an expression of that love He first showed us, which reaps those blessings He has given us in Christ (1 John 4:9-11; Ephesians 1:3).

The Third Commandment

The final piece of the first three commandments is the continuation of that form of proper worship of God, and involves empty use of the means and forms of worship of Him, as well as living in a manner which speaks of He who made us, and gave us life while we were yet dead in our sins, in a way that represents Him as He is not.

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

If we give service to God with our lips, but our conduct is contrary to that which we say, this is called, biblically, vain. The meaning of this word is brought out well by the short article in The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament:

שָׁוְא (šāwʾ) emptiness, vanity, falsehood.

This noun appears fifty-two times in the ot most often in Ps (fifteen times) followed by Ezk (eight times), Job (six times), Jer (five times, only in the adverbial phrase laššāw ʾ “in vain, vainly, to no avail,” and always preceding the verb: 2:30; 4:30; 6:29; 18:15 (perhaps); 46:11).

The most familiar use of šāw ʾ is in the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11). Literally the sentence reads, “You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God laššāwʾ,” the same construction as noted above in the Jer passages. Before examining the decalogue reference it will be instructive to observe how the word is used elsewhere.

That the primary meaning of šāw ʾ is “emptiness, vanity” no one can challenge. It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally. Hence, it is a word for idols (in the same way that hebel “vanity” is also a designation for (worthless) idols, for example). Psalm 24:4 may then be rendered, “He who has not lifted up his mind to an ‘idol’.” Dahood (Psalms, I, AB, p. 151) lists the following passages: Ps 26:4; 31:6 [H 7]; 119:37; Isa 1:13; Jer 18:15; Job 31:5 with this implication, although some are dubious, the last one and Isa 1:13 especially.

Not only are idols “deceptions” but so too the words of a false prophet which whitewash and sugarcoat a gloomy situation (Lam 2:14, Ezk 13:6–9, 23).

The evidence points to the fact that taking the Lord’s name (i.e. his reputation) “in vain” will surely cover profanity, as that term is understood today, or swearing falsely in the Lord’s name. But it will also include using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote. Perhaps this is captured by the LXX’s translation of laššāwʾ as epi mataiō “thoughtlessly.”

Bibliography: Childs, B., The Book of Exodus, Westminster, 1974, pp. 388, 409–12. THAT, II, pp. 882–83.[8]

So, we see that worshiping God in a manner where we lift up His name in appearance, whether before others or in private, without the “love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (2 Timothy 1:5), makes not only a mockery of our pretense of worship, but mocks God. Since all of our living is to be done in praise and thankfulness to the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31), when it is not done with such, that is “using” or “lifting up” the Lord’s name in vain. It is a false witness of the Father who sent our Savior, God the Son incarnate, to suffer and die for our sins, it is a false witness of the Son, and it is a false witness against the Spirit who has been given us. It shows that which is of the world to the world, which is lying and hypocrisy, rather than the genuineness of truth from a pure heart, good conscience and sincere faith. Since God justified us, such sin is horrible, but again, the sincere penitent is restored to knowing the vital communion with God He initiated and established in Christ, as well as growing in that grace and knowledge which show the reality of a transformed and transforming life (Titus 3:4-6; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18).


We have seen that the true worship of God is contained in an ongoing flow through the first three Commandments of the Decalogue, which is the primary summary of that Moral Law which derives from the very character of God. Further, we have seen that this Moral Law, deriving from His character, is eternal, and never abrogated, but fulfilled, or held up.

True worship of God is incorporating the fact that He is the one True God, the only One worthy of worship, and this intends that nothing else shall occupy that place of worship which He alone requires and deserves. It also entails a life that, springing forth from the life of Christ by His Spirit dwelling in us, gives to God that love that is a finite expression of His infinite, electing love which He first gave us. This worship spurns all false expressions of veneration and adulation of God, those forms without substance that are lifted up to Him without meaning, or worse, actually, with the opposite meaning of that which true worship intends and gives. It is worship which occupies the heart and expresses love from a pure heart and sincere faith and good conscience, because it knows whom it has believed in, and that He gave that belief by lifting us out of the spiritual grave of being dead in sins, without God and without hope in this world. It also spurns living in a fleshly manner which shows those watching that world system that guides all unregenerate sinners who yet hate God (Ephesians 2:1-3).

True worship, then, is born of grace given love, expresses itself in grace given thanks, and lives in a manner consistent with the God who has called us out of the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His Beloved Son – a literal transference from the life we had to the life which we now have, and will have in full, when our Lord returns to complete us in glory (Colossians 1:10-13; Philippians 3:20-12).

Although I have attempted to do justice to the first three Commandments, I know that, as in expositing any portion of the Word of God, I have fallen far short. It is my sincere hope that this inadequate treatment may give those who love the Lord their God a better understanding of what, exactly, the Moral Law of God is, and how that is expressed through not only the first 3 Commandments of the Decalogue, but the remaining Commandments; not only in the particular summarization of that Moral Law we know as the 10 Commandments, but as this truth of God’s law is explained and summarized throughout Scripture. Coupled with this hope is that both I, and those reading this, may grow in His grace and knowledge and love, to the praise of His glorious grace in Christ Jesus, who loved us, and gave Himself for us, to claim us for the kingdom of God forever.

SDG – Bill H

[1] The Website of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church,

[2] For example, positive doxology involves praise of God for who He is and who He has revealed Himself to be to those who are His people (Hebrews 3:15), whereas praise that is given to God which is simple acknowledgement of who He is may be the result of unregenerate peoples responding to His judgments (Revelation 6:12-18). In either case, God is glorified.

[3] For detailed definitions and discussion of the various aspects of God’s law in Scripture, see Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology,  Richard A. Muller – 1985 by Baker Book House Company Published by Baker Academic a division of Baker Publishing Group P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287 – Paperback edition first published in 1995 ISBN 10: 0-8010-2064-6 ISBN 978-0-8010-2064-3

[4] John Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book 4.6.1, Of The Law of God

[5] This derived righteousness of the laws that govern any, noted as “good laws,” above, can be called “general equity.” Brandon Adams gives a very detailed look into this in his article, 1 Cor 5:13 is the general equity of Deut 22:21, available at – see below, also.

[6] RL Dabney (2011-09-29T11:29:47+00:00). Systematic Theology (Kindle Locations 10652-10659). Kindle Edition.

[7] The far reaching effects of disobeying God’s Moral law in this 2nd Commandment must not be confused or conflated with the heretical teaching of “generational curses” given by Word-Faith and other heretical teachers. What we are speaking to is of God’s Moral Law in this Commandment, but is subject to grace for those He has saved; that is, because of grace, some of the effects of breaking this commandment, which such breaking is repented of, are not causal. Nevertheless, when, say, a man idolizes lust and that destroys his marriage and family, though he be forgiven of God, the temporal effects to the family are both immediate and far reaching, unless God intervenes to change them – again, by His mercy.

[8] Hamilton, V. P. (1999). 2338 שׁוא. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (908). Chicago: Moody Press.


There are those who will immediately bridle at such a title, who make the distinction that the law of God can never become synonymous with the grace of God. After all, aren’t we told in the gospel of John, “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ?” And isn’t that a dialectic statement permanently pitting the two aspects of God’s revelation against one another?

The answer to the first question above is yes, we are told that; the answer to the second question, however, is no, and because of the focus on these issues presently going on within the broader confines of what could be called orthodox evangelicalism (for want of a better term), this negative answer to the second of the two questions posed needs some qualification.

While admitting that there are many extremely gifted men of God within what we have labeled orthodox evangelicalism, it is necessary to see where such a distinction that denies the law any part of the grace of God contained therein comes from, and this we will do quite simply. We do not claim to be as gifted in exegesis as many (if not most) of these men (whom we will not name separately for what should be obvious reasons). Not all of these men in these movements that deny the perpetuity of the moral law of God actually advocate lawlessness in living, and often, quite the opposite. The problem lies in their denial of God’s moral law as an extension of His character which was not abrogated, as were the ceremonial and civil laws of the nation Israel, which, in and of itself, can be referred to as “doctrinal antinomianism.”  Antinomianism simply means “against the law,” and doctrinal antinomianism may not lead to practical (practicing) antinomianism, but often, sadly, does that very thing. It is chiefly in denying the perpetuity of God’s moral law, most especially in the Reformed understanding of the third use of the law, that this error propagates itself, and often, it is more those who come after the teachers of doctrinal antinomianism who advocate a practical antinomianism which focuses on God’s grace to the exclusion of good works (the error Paul refers to in Romans 6:1, 15).

For the purposes of this article, we do claim that the understanding of the three-fold use of the law, as understood within Reformed orthodoxy, is the proper biblical understanding of that border where law, indeed, becomes grace, and that it is within the confines of various other camps which deny the perpetuity of the usefulness of God’s law to the believer from which the unnecessary dichotomy, pitting God’s law against His grace, has come.

It must be understood that the term “law,” as used in both the New Testament and the Old, has reference to various things, which are defined within their context. For instance, sometimes it is referring to what theologians call “the law of nature,” while in other places it refers to the fullness of the expression of the rites and ceremonies of the Mosaic Law; in still other places it refers to the Decalogue, which, while written on tablets of stone in the establishment of the Mosaic economy, is said to be written on the hearts of all those who come to know God and Christ savingly. These categorical uses, as already said, are determined largely by context.

There are various schools of thought regarding the abrogation of the law of God as set forth in the Old and New Testaments, where one is pitted against the other, as already mentioned above. Since many great works by many gifted theologians are available to study these matters, it is not the purpose of this article to attempt to go into an in-depth study of these various views, but to promote, in as few words as possible, that which is commonly known, in Reformed theology, as the three-fold use of the law, for it is within such an understanding that the third use of the law is seen as proceeding from grace, rather than being replaced, in any manner, by grace (see, for instance, Romans 3:31).

A few brief definitions will be helpful, at this point.

Since the law, in all its forms, derives from the only true Lawmaker, God, the Scriptures state that in all its forms, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good…the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:12, 14). To gain further confirmation of the character of the law, a reading of Psalm 119 is highly instructive; in shorter form, Psalm 19:7-11 gives us insight into this character of the law.

In Romans, Paul, right before saying “the law…commandment is holy,” has made reference to the Tenth commandment from the Decalogue, and as with all other partial references to the inscripturated form of God’s moral law from the Decalogue that occur in the New Testament, this should be understood as an affirming of the entirety of the moral character of that law (cf. Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 22:37-40), which is to say, it is not subject to fleshly frailties. Again, in Romans 7:14, when Paul states that the law is spiritual, he compares it diametrically to the character of the flesh: “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” This comparison establishes that, like God, the law is spiritual, which is to say moral, and not subject to change, as it derives its spiritual character from He who gives it.

Again, because the essence, or character, of the moral law is of God’s character, it does not change, since He does not change. Where further delineation of the moral law of God is given in various ceremonial and civil commandments, these do not limit the nature of the law, as to its essence, but rather, the limitation is specifically pertaining to its application according to those ceremonial and civil laws as they are given in the covenantal context they occur within. This would mean that the application of the moral law under the economy of the Old Covenant was instituted according to the regulations God instituted which particularly pertain to that economy, and in the New Covenant, likewise, which, while the essence of the moral law can be seen not to change, the implementation of it in the required services to God parallel the specific economy. [1]

Paul again shows that the moral law of God is first seen in its natural setting, which natural setting shows the attributes of God, from whom the law derives:

Romans 1:19-20: For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Natural revelation reveals what may be known about God, but due to man’s corrupt nature, this natural revelation is not salvific. Additionally, because what may be known of God is clearly perceived in natural revelation, the moral law of God is likewise clearly perceived, for His attributes are the basis of that moral law. Since God is “holy and good” as well as altogether righteous, merciful, loving, etc. – indeed, since these qualities all derived from God’s very nature – and since the law is defined, throughout Scripture, as having these qualities, every revelation and definition of the law in Scripture may be understood as affirming that which is essential of God’s nature. We already viewed this, above, in Romans 7:12, 14, and Psalm 19.

Simply to view that God is holy and good, in infinite and eternal measure, unchangeably, we can refer to some short statements about God’s nature from Scripture. We have noted, above, that the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good…spiritual, and we may also note that God is spoken of as holy, righteous and good, as well as spiritual, in such Scripture citations as 1 Peter 1:16 (cf. Leviticus 19:2, 20:7), Psalm 145:17, 100:5, and John 4:24.  The references could be multiplied, but these will suffice to show the link between God’s moral law and His character. Both are described as spiritual for a very marked reason, which is that both are invisible, eternal, infinite, and unchangeable, since the moral law proceeds from the very character of God.

In reference to the moral law being that which marks out the character of a Christian as the result of the deposit of God’s grace within them, we will simply mention one Scripture and expand upon the meaning.

In 1 Peter 1:16, we are told, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” This is a restatement of that which was spoken to Israel when the law was given through Moses, as we see in Leviticus 19:2 and 20:7. There is a context for the passages in Leviticus, and that context is the ten words, otherwise known as the Ten Commandments, or Decalogue, given in Exodus 20:1-17. It is understood that all of the Ten Commandments are the eternal foundation of every temporary ceremonial and civil statute given to the nation Israel, and therefore these ceremonial and civil laws have sometimes been defined as “the holiness code.” The purpose of the temporal, positive extensions[2] of the Decalogue among the people of the nation of Israel was to set them apart as the covenant people of God, therefore the reference and description “holiness code” (Deuteronomy 4:1-8). Although the ceremonial and civil laws were never intended to be eternal, they set apart the nation of Israel from all other nations on the earth as being the covenant people of God.

In like manner, Peter’s restatement that the eternal reality of God’s holiness is to be mirrored in His people has a context. He contrasts the price paid for those in the New Covenant directly with, first, precious metals, in v. 18, and second, indirectly, with the temporal nature of the ceremonial sacrifices of bulls, goats and other animals which prefigured the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb of God, in v. 19. We see this contrast more prominently in Hebrews 10:1-14.

These two Scripture references from 1 Peter and Hebrews give us the context of both God’s wrath and grace, which two attributes are inherent in His holiness.[3] By Christ’s sacrifice of Himself God’s wrath against sin (unholiness) is forever appeased for those He calls to Himself, and Christ’s righteousness is given to those same people who believe by grace given faith. Perfect obedience to God’s law was necessary, and having obeyed that perfectly, Christ offered Himself with the body God prepared for Him for our sins, which sins include our imperfect obedience. God then raised Him for our justification. Again, both these points are brought out simply in Roman 4:25, so we see that the justification which Christ earned for His people is imputed to them after that which offends God has been put to death. When considered in this way, God’s admonition through Moses, the prophets, Peter (indeed, throughout Scripture) to be holy, for I am holy, is contextually relative to our nature as redeemed children of God. We cannot literally be as holy as God, therefore, we must understand such admonitions to be striving towards that perfection of the imago dei that only exists in our Lord glorified, knowing that God will grant to us this full conformity of His command at the time He graciously completes our salvation in glory. In a practical aspect, it means to set one’s self apart for worshipful service to God because He has set one apart to Him in Christ.

It is in this manner that God’s moral law became grace, in that Christ fulfilled it, and imputed that righteousness which He earned as the firstborn of the new creation to those who place their faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 8:29; Colossians 1:15, 18). Because our Lord not only paid the penalty for our sins, but fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law of God, we who are joined by faith to Him are also said to fulfill that requirement, and are also constrained to follow after those eternal laws which depend from God’s own being, not for attaining right standing with God, but because in Christ, we have attained right standing with God (Romans 3:31; cf. 2 Peter 1:5-8; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14). Good works, as spoken of in the Scriptures of the New Testament as those works which are to be performed by the Christian, are not a means of attaining right standing with God, but the result of that right standing attained by faith in Christ through God’s grace, and are indeed ordained. To separate the meaning of the moral law from the meaning of good works which are preordained in Christ for those who have been saved by His grace is to separate out that unique character of being God’s children, and indeed, every list in the New Testament which mentions good works may easily be traced to the Decalogue (Ephesians 2:10; Galatians 5:22-23). This may also be observed in negative prohibitions of those sins which are a violation of the law (Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 4:17-32). Any discerning student of the Word of  God will readily acknowledge that both the negative prohibitions and the positive admonitions and commands in such lists harken back to the two tables of the law, respectively.

Therefore, to be holy because God is holy is to behave in a manner consistent with the regenerate life which is being conformed into the image of He who lived perfectly according to that same moral law of God. This is why, in Romans 3:31, the apostle Paul clearly states that our faith upholds or establishes the law. It is an agreement that those who are of the faith of Christ our Lord acknowledge the moral law of God as an accurate expression of His character and a fit meter to measure and further mold our conformity to that character as image bearers being conformed into He who is the ultimate image bearer of God (Colossians 1:15 [4]). Since it (this agreement with and obedience to) stems from grace through God’s decree, it is no more a burden that crushes those who are His in Christ, but a helper which proceeds from that same grace from which the holy character of each believer is being formed into towards that day of completion at the eschaton. Keeping the commandments of God, therefore, is both from that love that God lavished upon us in Christ, and an expression of our reciprocal, grace-dependant love of God (1 John 5:3). Therefore, it could rightly be said that, in the sense of the believer agreeing with the moral law of God, and behaving in accordance with that agreement to His moral law by a new nature imparted (Romans 6:1-4), that that which was before beyond our ability to obey is now a means of measuring our fulfillment of such commands of our God to be holy, as He is holy. That which proceeds from ordained grace is, itself, of that grace, therefore, in this sense, the law (moral) is gracious, and obedience to it is, in itself, a result of and form of that same grace.

Since nature reveals God’s divine attributes, the revelation of nature may be understood to show that which is true of the moral law of God. What can be known about God is clearly perceived; therefore what is properly moral is, likewise, clearly perceived. This representation of God through nature is known as the “natural revelation,” in theology proper (cf. above citation from Romans 1:19-20 with Psalms 19:2-6), and as it reveals the moral law that is consistent with God’s attributes, this natural revelation of the moral law is known as the “law of nature.” [5]

The basic premise of this article is thus established, and that is this: God did not give us to do good works to obtain our salvation, but as the visible fruit, or evidence, of the new nature He alone imparts to those who then exercise faith in Christ, and repentance for their sin.

Rather than being a co-mingling of grace and law, as various opponents of the Reformed definition of the three part use of the law have caricatured it, such living out good works is the  divinely powered outcome of a new life imparted.

The opponents of the Reformed three fold division of the use of the law of God have not, at this point, or at any point in church history, successfully discounted the Scripture which states that good works are ordained by God for those connected by His grace-given faith to Christ, and indwelt by His Spirit to perform, even in part, such good works. Scripture citations which they fail to adequately account for are Matthew 5:17-18, Romans 3:31, Ephesians 2:10, Titus 2:14, and indeed, a plethora of other passages which they either mistranslate, misunderstand, or otherwise seek to explain away. These opponents, although oftentimes well meaning, thus undermine the very expression of the life of Christ within us through teaching that, while not necessarily explicitly maintaining that one live a life of non-conformity to the perpetual moral law of God as revealed throughout Scripture, often results in those who follow their teaching in a manner that ends up, sadly, doing that very thing, and calling it grace (See Romans 6 references above).

God’s grace has, thus, insured that, however haltingly, we abandon lawlessness and live in expression of His perfections in Christ. He has done so by giving us a new nature, and indwelling that new nature with His Spirit to reproduce that conformity to Christ who lived God’s law perfectly. Living in conformity to Christ produces those grace-given good works of His moral law which are a signal evidence of Christ dwelling in us.

SDG –Bill

[1] See Chapter 19, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith (hereafter LBCF). Also helpful is Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology, regarding the various uses of the terms for God’s law and the manifestation of the same.

[2] A discussion of the various functions of the law of God in the Scripture is beyond the scope of this article, however, regarding positive extensions in reference to the Decalogue, which represents the Moral Law of God in inscripturated form, such are said to be positive law(s); that is, they are commanded by God based upon the foundation of His Moral Law, but are not themselves intended to last forever, being temporally connected to their respective covenants. Examples would be circumcision, animal sacrifices, baptism, & etc.

[3] Although it may properly be said that God’s wrath is an attribute which may be described separately, as with all God’s attributes, it may also be properly said that this attribute is not one part of God, and another of His attributes is another part of God; rather, He is the infinite, eternal, immutable sum of His attributes, and His attributes are equally who He is in sum, definitionally speaking. That is to say, His holiness is not simply one part of Him, any more than His love is only a part of Him, but as we say that God is love, we may also say that He is wrath, righteousness, etc. We cannot split off parts of God as if He is a temporal being such as ourselves. He is completely who He is, and each attribute is as much of His essence as the other, which is to say, completely, so that holiness is inextricably interconnected with goodness, love, knowledge, wrath, etc. It should be noted, however, that out of all His attributes, that which most defines Him, in relation to His uniqueness of being as the only God (there are none others like HimIsaiah 45:21-22), is His holiness.

[4] The intent of this passage in Colossians is to show that Christ is deity; it is also to show that He is “the firstborn of all creation,” however, meaning the new creation which began at His resurrection, and will culminate at His return. Although “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2), this being like Him has particular reference to His glorified humanity, not His deity, thus, He is “the firstborn” of the new humanity which will inhabit the new creation of God.

[5] Lex naturalls: natural law; also lex naturae: law of nature; the universal moral law either impressed by God upon the mind of all people or immediately discerned by the reason in its encounter with the order of nature. The natural law was therefore available even to those pagans who did not have the advantage of the Sinaitic revelation and the lex Mosaica (q.v.), with the result that they were left without excuse in their sins, convicted by conscientia (q.v.). The scholastics argue the identity of the lex naturalis with the lex Mosaica or lex moralis quoad substantiam, according to substance, and distinguish them quoad formam, according to form. The lex naturalis is inward, written on the heart and therefore obscure, whereas the lex Mosaica is revealed externally and written on tablets and thus of greater clarity.

Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology.