Saturday, June 28, 2014

Our Jealous God -- Exodus 20:5-6

You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing loving-kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Some have wondered whether it is okay for a creative person to paint or sculpt an image of the things that God spoke about in the previous text (Exodus 20:4) when He said, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.”  We have a good understanding of what is ‘on the earth below’ and ‘in the water under the earth’.  We have seen or captured these creatures and can easily replicate their image.  I am not so sure we can do that with all of the heavenly beings that are ‘in heaven above’.  But nevertheless, it is possible for us to image what they look like and as long as we understand and convey that what we have drawn or sculpted is only what we imagine them to look like, I see no problem.  We would be using the creative abilities that the Creator Himself has bestowed upon some of us.  For me, it is not a matter of “thou shalt not make art” but that if you make art of such images, “thou shalt not worship or serve them” as our current text that follows Exodus 20:4 says.
It is interesting Exodus 20:5 mentions both ‘worshiping’ and ‘serving’.  What’s the difference when it comes to other gods?  The New Oxford Dictionary defines ‘worship’ pertaining to a deity as follows:
The feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.
The acts or rites that make up a formal expression of reverence for a deity.
It is about how we view the object or person of our worship.  The word ‘serve’ on the other hand is defined in terms of what we do for or on behalf of others. 
Many times we are careful not to “worship” anyone but the true God, but do we ‘serve’ other gods in our actions?  Using some of the definitions of the Oxford dictionary for ‘serve’, are we:
1.     Providing something or someone a service or product we should not be providing?
2.     Employed by someone or an organization we should not be employed by?
3.     Apprenticing in something or with someone we should not be?
4.     Imprisoned by someone or something we should not be a prisoner to?
God would have us not worship or serve any other gods, but Him.  We are to act and live our lives for Him and on His behalf.  Once we establish that He is our God, we then also have to accept the fact that He is a jealous God as He states.  And He is the only one who has every right to be.  Not only did He create the universe in which we exist, but also He created us in the way that He did – with our ability to think and act in accordance with our free will (this too being a gift of His).  With that free will our first ‘father’ and ‘mother’ chose to break our relationship with Him through sin.  Still God did not leave us hanging in our sins, but provided a way out for us.  He made it possible for our sinful natures to be reunited with His Holy character through the ultimate Sacrifice, the life of His own beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  If I accept that this sacrifice was made on my behalf, I can be in full reunion and relationship with this One and Only True God.  And this not only applies to me, but also to every man, woman, and child who does the same.  Based on that, I would say that any jealousy on His part is fully justified, although nothing He chooses to do ever needs justification.  He is Who He is.
Imagine an ant and elephant in the jungle.  If the ant decides to start an argument or quibble over the terms of his relationship with the elephant, what are the ant’s chances of winning?  Zero.  All his hard work and ingenuity amounts to nothing.  Absurd example you say.  Perhaps, but I think it speaks of what happens when we take on our God.
And what will this jealous God do if we worship or serve other Gods?  The sin that is committed in doing so – will be repeated on our children for up to four generations.  The implications of this are staggering.  At approximately twenty-five years to a generation, that could mean that a century from the time of one’s sin, a descendent may well be committing the same sin.  Was that sin drug addiction, the practice of homosexuality, adultery, stealing?  Whatever it was, God says this immorality, this crime, this vice, will be repeated. No wonder society, as a whole, is in the mess it is in.  We are caught in a cycle of iniquity that must be broken.  But can it?
I think this verse gives us enough hope for us to confidently believe it can be.  In it, there is once again one of my favorite words in Scripture, “but”.   God says that decision of His, to keep on allowing the iniquity of one’s ancestors to visit us can be either never applied in the first place or, I believe, be considered null and avoid if either our forbearer or we “love Him and keep His commandments”.  The circle of wickedness can be stopped right now, right here, by us if we choose to love God with all our heart and obey His instructions with all our might.
It is interesting that God refers to a number here – that of “thousands” when He talks about those who love Him and keep His commandments.  Why is that?  Thousands is still a pretty big number and at the time it was uttered to the people of Israel, it represented a quantity that was more than the average person could have fathomed.  I believe God was indicating that His loving-kindness would be bestowed on as many as were willing to love Him and keep His commandments, not all mankind would do so.  Those that would not would remain in sin and suffer the consequences.
And remember that while God in this text relates what He will do to the evildoers to this particular commandment of not worshipping or serving other Gods, it is equally applicable to all of His commands to us.
As we conclude our comments on this commandment, we must not omit mentioning that what God expected of the Israelites (and us) in this passage of the Old Testament, Jesus expected of His followers (and expects of us today).  In Luke 10:25-28, we read an account of a certain lawyer who asked Jesus how he could inherit eternal life.  Jesus simply asked him, “What does the law (the Old Testament) say?”  The lawyer quoted the law – “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”  And Jesus approved of his answer.  The lawyer was actually quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18.  What God told the Israelites was required of them that day on Mount Sinai has always and will always remain the requirement of us today.

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