That may seem like a strange title to give a blog post, especially when discussing the 10 commandments. Most people feel this list is generally pretty clear as to its focus. Do, Do Not, and earn God’s pleasure or displeasure, the path toward holiness or the path to hell.
Last Sunday, January 11th 2015, Pastor preached a sermon where he mentioned:
Exodus 20:4-6 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
The focus in this passage was briefly on verse 5 above and how this verse has created quite the negative view of God down through the ages. The adage that God is an angry God could be said to stem from such verses as Exodus 20:5 and according to what Pastor uncovered in Jewish thought and teaching, DID stem from this very verse.
But when I sit back and look at this passage again for my morning devotional time, I realize that such a view of God has been perpetrated due to where the reader’s focus was originally placed way back when this thought pattern was first developed. Let’s look at verse 5 again, by itself this time. . .
Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
By itself, this verse could very easily produce the kind of lightening-bolt throwing god that people envision Him to be today. This verse by itself with no further understanding either of the Hebrew from which it was translated, or the context from which it was pulled, could easily get someone to think that God is about as wise and loving as a selfish toddler not getting his way. But there is more to this passage than just verse 5. What did verse 6 say above?
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Would a jealous toddler throwing temper tantrums show mercy??? Clearly it’s time to revisit this passage and look at where the focus should be!
To begin with, the word Jealous in this passage is not referring to what many misconstrue with envy. Jealous does not mean wanting what others have, wishing it was their own. That’s the definition of envy and covet, for which there are other commandments listed in this very chapter. The definition of jealous is that of guarding what is already owned with a fierce sense of ownership and protection. A lover is rightly jealous when another man steals his woman! His lady had been hard-won and another man can’t simply aim to steal her from him that easily. If her man truly loves her, he’ll fight for her and fight to keep her. So it is with God. He chose Israel for Himself and will not stand for other entities stealing her from Him.
But just like Israel, a man’s girlfriend, fiance or wife can make the sad and destructive choice to leave the man who loves her, and go off after someone else. We call this adultery and so does God! In this manner, God warns Israel not to go a whoring after other gods, and later in the same chapter tells His people not to covet another man’s wife, or as we put it in today’s language, not to commit adultery. God is a jealous God and will not share His glory with another.
Secondly, the world’s focus, most likely due to being tainted by the negative ways of sin, reads the rest of verse 5 and somehow completely skips verse 6 in their understanding of Who God is and how He acts. Verse 6 completely destroys the “angry God” moniker due to the statement from God Himself that He shows “Mercy” to 1000’s of generations who do what? Engage in what? Behave how? Those who love Him. . . AND . . . keep His commandments.
Christ said in John 14:15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
Disobedience brings about discipline, rebuke, warning, and if all of that fails to get our attention, eventual punishment. However just as any good parent would rather not have to discipline let alone punish their children, God prefers that we learn from the discipline, accept His rebuke and heed His warnings to turn from harmful, damning ways and return to doing things His way. His wrath is reserved for those who refuse to listen, harden their necks as Proverbs puts it, and who God has had no choice but to turn over to a reprobate mind.
But the contrast in these verses should be strongly brought out here: God’s dealings with deliberate sin in a family will go to the third and fourth generation. However, God’s mercies toward the family that obeys and loves Him, will be extended to 1000’s of generations! Sinful humanity sees the third and fourth generation comment and pounces on it as if it were the scandal of eternity! Truly God’s mercies are greater than His wrath! God’s mercies are new every morning according to Lamentations. Scripture refers to God as being merciful. The Psalmist had it right when he wrote:
Psalms 116:5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful.
Here we have three attributes of God in one short sentence! God is gracious. God is righteous, and God is merciful. As we read through the Scriptures, we learn that to be righteous is to love and live according to that which is good and pleasing to God while shunning, spurning, turning away from and hating all that is evil, wrong, and against God. Outside of Christ, it is thoroughly impossible for mankind to be right with God, or to live rightly before Him. We need the righteousness of Christ given to us at the Cross of Calvary before we can even aspire to the righteousness required to stand in God’s presence. This is part of why Christ said He was sending the Holy Spirit:
John 16:7-13 Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. 8 And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9 Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10 Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11 Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged. 12 I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. 13 Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.
It is now the Holy Spirit in us Who continually guides, prompts and urges us onward in right living before God and others. God’s mercy is extended to us through the Holy Spirit via the Righteousness of Christ.
God is not the wrathful God the world thinks He is. They only know the side of God they have invited most often into their lives. God would rather not show His discipline so often, but whether we see judgement or whether we see mercy is dependent on how we choose to live before Him.
Before the Cross of Calvary, mankind had to maintain as close to a sinless life as they could, and engage in a myriad of sacrifices to cover themselves the rest of the time. Christ did away with the sacrificial system when He gave Himself on the Cross for our sins once and for all! Now our act of obedience begins at the Cross by our acceptance of His offer of Salvation. After that acceptance, we show God we truly want to be His children by our continued choice to obey His commands and directives. No longer do we engage in such activities to earn our way into heaven, instead, we engage in obedience to show God that we love Him as much as we say we do. We obey to show that we believe Him as much as we say we do.
True belief impacts one’s thought life as well as the words they speak, the things they do and the places they go. You can tell if a person only gives mental ascent to a matter, or if they truly believe it by how they live in relation to that belief. So if we truly believe that Christ bought our salvation on the Cross, and that God loves us deeply, we will show that by how we think, speak, act and by where we go. In this manner, we will be putting action to our words and causing God to feel loved in the process.
So the next time you read Exodus 20:4-6, where will your focus be? Will you be focussing on how terrible it seems that God’s discipline lasts to the third and fourth generation? Or will you be focussing on His amazing mercies being extended to who knows how many generations down the road? It’s your choice, and your choice will be displayed by how you live your everyday life. Who is God to you?