The Ten Commandments, Part 1

Jackson Snyder

 

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Isaiah 29: 13. My Sovereign then said: Because this people approaches me only in words, honors me only with lip-service while their hearts are far from me, and reverence for me, as far as they are concerned, is nothing but human commandment, a lesson memorized, 14. very well, I shall have to go on astounding this people with prodigies and wonders: for the wisdom of its wise men is doomed, the understanding of any who understand will vanish.

 

Mark 7:1.  NOW WHEN the Pharisees gathered together to him, with some of the scribes, who had come from Jerusalem,   2.  they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands defiled, that is, unwashed.   3.  (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they wash their hands, observing the tradition of the elders;   4.  and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they purify themselves; and there are many other traditions which they observe, the washing of cups and pots and vessels of bronze.)   5.  And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?"  6.  And he said to them, "Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;  7.  in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'  8.  You leave the commandment of god, and hold fast the tradition of men." 

 

The Young COG Pastor

   Once upon a time there was a little country church that was so desperate for a young preacher that the board hired a very young man from outside the denomination against the better judgment of the District Superintendent.  The preacher initially asked the board, “What do you want me to do here?” The board said with a single voice, “Fill the church.”  So that’s what the young minister set out to do. 

   Within a month, he’d changed worship format from country-style to Christian ‘rock.’  He hid the hymnbooks and set up an overhead projector so everyone could see the words to the new, drum-fueled music.  The preacher spent the bulk of his time in the city, convincing his friends and family to drive out and support his new ministry.  He enlisted tambourine and guitar players, drummers and worship dancers, the likes of which these country folks had never seen, except maybe on television.

  In six months’ time, the church had gone from one to three services and was packed for each; most of the new folks were mesmerized by the young preacher’s charisma.  Money was flowing into the coffers of his handpicked treasurer.  Sadly, the long-time members were feeling more and more alienated mainly because the new church folks were strangers from town - outsiders.  At the next board meeting, the church council complained against the preacher in no uncertain terms.  “We don’t know these people.  There are plenty of folks right around here you can get into church.”

  But the preacher had a temper of his own.  “When I asked you what you wanted me to do, you told me to ‘fill the church,’ and that’s exactly what I did.”  One of the ladies on the Council cried out, “But pastor, we meant for you to bring in our kin, and make this church just like in was in 1958.”

   From here on in, the young preacher and the church Council went to war.  There were plenty of friendly folks in church now – he didn’t need those old troublemakers anymore.  So the preacher began a new campaign – to get rid of the Council.  He sowed seeds of discord, told lies and spied on them.  When he heard a tidbit of gossip, he named names from the pulpit.  Still, nobody left the church.

   After his eighth month, he made a bid for the church building.  If it was his, he could put anyone out he wished.  But once he learned it was owned by the denomination, he moved all the new people out, took the treasury, and had him a brand new church building right down the road within a couple weeks. 

   The District Superintendent warned the Council that this might happen, but they wouldn’t hear him, so he let them have their way.  The church elders called the Superintendent a “legalistic Pharisee.”  After it all hit the fan, this same “legalistic Pharisee” appointed me to pick up the pieces of the original church, a job I was glad to try.  We had no sooner started than we began hearing about the previous pastor’s public exposés.  I asked one lady why she didn’t leave the church.  She said, “Brother Jack, nobody left the church!  In fact, we could hardly wait to hear the latest dirt he’d dish up.”

   Although this young preacher was obviously a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the congregation who hired him, who would fill the church at all cost, who got obsessed with hearing the latest gossip from the pulpit, was just as deeply bemired in sin as their former pastor.  They should have listened to the “legalistic Pharisee.”

 

Pharisees

   We’ve learned that our own District Superintendent (Chunn) was in attendance at the McDavid Church a couple Sundays ago.  David Chunn and Carol go to a different church every Sunday.  They want to experience their churches in action: after all, that’s their job.  I’m sure David notes the “feel” of the congregation, and the style, dress and message of the minister.  However, though he has oversight, I believe their particular priority as a ministry couple is worshiping.  But I’m sure that if Rev. Chunn visits a church and hears preaching contrary to solid doctrine, he’ll make it known to that preacher.  After all, this is one of Rev. Chunn’s main ministries – he’s “set apart to make distinctions.”

   In our Gospel lesson, we’re again introduced to the title “Pharisee.”  A “Pharisee” by definition is “one set apart to make distinctions.”  The Pharisee’s mission was to check up on preachers and judge as to whether they conformed to the Law and tradition of the Jewish religion.  Pharisees felt that Yahweh had raised up their movement to protect the poor from being intellectually or financially swindled by pretenders, like the young preacher in my story.  Just as there are good Superintendents and poor ones, good pastors and inept ones, there were good Pharisees and evil Pharisees in the stories of Scripture.

   With Pharisees, “those set apart to make distinctions,” we always find scribes, trained in record-keeping and Law.  Many Pharisees, though in positions as overseers, couldn’t read.  Scribes were like secretaries, lawyers, interpreters and reporters all rolled up into one.

   Pharisees usually get a scolding in the Gospels.  Jesus argues with them a lot, and we learn from those arguments that his and their teachings were quite similar.  Jesus undoubtedly knew some would be converted; like Nicodemus, Gamaliel and Paul.  When Jesus was lifted up on the stake, many Pharisees came to believe.  However, there were Pharisees whose intentions were never godly because they were natural offspring of the devil planted among the religious to cause havoc (John 8:44).

   So here are the Pharisees and scribes way north in Galilee from denominational headquarters in Jerusalem to report on the acts and teaching of Jesus, the rabbi.  What gave Pharisees authority over Jesus?  Did Jesus have a District Superintendent?  Wasn’t he a loner -- a maverick -- bringing the word of the Kingdom?

   Well, I wonder.  Jesus was known by all as Rabboni and Master.  Even those who didn’t know him personally hailed him as teacher (John 1:38, John 3:2, Matthew 8:19).  There must have been some way others could recognize his vocation.  I often wear a clerical collar to the hospital.  When people see that collar, there’s no confusing my vocation – it opens up opportunities to minister like nothing else.   How else might Jesus be identified as a rabbi by sight unless he wore the prayer robe that identified him as such?  The Bible implies that Jesus wore a seamless, white robe (John 19:23-24) of linen (Mark 9:3,14:49-41).  Only those of the rabbinic, priestly or kingly vocation would wear the white linen (Revelation 19:8,14).  Jesus’ robe had a “hem” with tzitzit dangling – that is, 613 tassels representing the Law of Yahweh (Matthew 9:20), and the sacred name of his Father may have been embroidered upon the shoulder (Revelation 3:12).  So if Jesus was an officially recognized teacher of the Jews (and I can offer many other indications that he was), then maybe the Pharisees did indeed have some authority to oversee him, and their many challenges certainly gave Jesus valuable opportunities to debate them openly while remaining out of their clutches in Galilee.

 

Cleanliness Next to Godliness?  (A Saying of Arabic Origin)

   After seven chapters of reasoning with the Pharisees, Jesus is more than ready to show his lack of respect for this particular crew who’d been hounding him.  They watch some of Jesus’ converts eating then ask a question, “Why do your disciples cross our denominational traditions by eating with unclean hands?”  We moderns don’t think washing hands before eating is such a bad idea.  We see signs on public rest room walls demanding that employees wash before returning to the job.  Everyone knows that dangerous diseases are spread by uncleanliness.  But the washing required by the Pharisee’s tradition wasn’t accomplished for the sake of cleanliness, but outward ceremony only.  They didn’t even use soap!

   The rituals of cleaning hands, food and table were very complicated and described in detail in the Mishna, a book of sayings attributed to rabbis.  Almost 200 pages in the Mishna are devoted to ceremonial washings.  These ceremonies hadn’t come from the Bible, but from the words of rabbis long dead.  Among the saying of the Mishna is this one: If the scribes say your right hand is your left, you are to believe them. That saying alone is enough to disqualify the rest, but here’s another that bears upon our text today, He sins as much eating with unwashed hands as lying with a harlot.  Certainly, these Pharisees are going to report that the righteous men with Jesus were breaking the seventh commandment just because they didn’t wash in a certain way.  (What is the seventh commandment?)  This is why Jesus recited to them the words of Yahweh from Isaiah,  

Mark 7:7,8 "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching their own doctrines, holding back the commandment of Yahweh and holding fast the tradition of men." 

   Remember, we’re talking about law enforcement here.  Not washing just right would incur the same penalty as breaking the seventh commandment – the death penalty – and just because of the nonsensical blubbering of a dead rabbi years before, as recorded in the Mishna.

 

Guest Speaker

   The last time we had a guest speaker he asked me a question, “Do you have the Ten Commandments posted anywhere in this church?”  “Why do you ask?” I wondered.  He said, “I’m taking a survey of all the churches I go to.  Now, how about it?”  I said, “I wonder why any church would display the Ten Commandments if they neither know them or follow them; in fact, many consider them nailed to the cross?”  He said to me, “Just who doesn’t follow the Ten Commandments?”  I said, “Why, sir; you don’t follow them, unless of course you keep the seventh-day Sabbath holy by doing no work then, you or any of your household.”   There was no comment from him, so I apologized.  I noticed the next week that someone had hung the Commandments in the back of the church.  {Right there they are . . .}

 

Judge Moore

   I now understand why the guest speaker was interested in taking his survey. The Ten Commandments have received a lot of publicity of late owing to Judge Roy Moore’s 5300-pound replica of the Ten Commandments erected on the rotunda of the Alabama Capitol.  You may have seen on the news last Saturday, August 23rd(2003), that he called a political rally to explain why he was disobeying federal and state courts by not removing the monument.  “I cannot violate my conscience,” he said.  My question is, “Could he not violate his conscience yet violate the Ten Commandments themselves by calling public political meeting on the Sabbath?”

   At this particular time in preparing this message, I receive an email that says, “I’m interested in your take on the controversy about the Ten Commandments monument flap.”  I had to start thinking.  Somebody really cared about what I thought!  Two years ago I preached on this subject, agreeing with Judge Moore’s stand.  (A tape of that message is available.)  And in his speech of last week (August 23, 2003), I was impressed by his rhetoric and the fact that the Monument was to be hidden while the bust of a Greek god was to be displayed instead (if “Athenis” is a Greek god). 

   On the other hand, (I believe) Judge Moore broke the law in placing the gigantic Monument.  I’m fearful of any judge who’s above the law or figures himself to be the law.  I think he’s done as a judge; he’ll run for another public office soon.  What would help me is to know if Judge Moore can actually recite the Ten Commandments. What would help me more is to learn that he actually abides by the Ten Commandments.  If that was the case, we wouldn’t be ashamed to stand with him as the disciples stood with Peter when he said to the authorities, “We ought to obey god rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

 

A Young Lady

   But everybody’s interested in the Monument.  A young lady asked me, “What do you think of the case in Montgomery?”  I answered with a question, “What do you think is the real issue – the Ten Commandments or the Stone Monument?”  She said, “I guess I really don’t know.”   I said, “I don’t know, either.”  I asked her, “Do you know the Ten Commandments?”  She replied, “Yeah, sure.”  I said, “Good - I’m taking a survey.  Which day do you keep holy?”  (This is a trick question, because there’s only one Sabbath – sundown Friday to sundown Saturday).  Her answer was, “Whenever I choose.”  I said, “You see, that’s what I mean about the real issue: the Commandments or the Monument.  In the Ten Commandments, g-d is very specific as to which day to keep whereas the Monument is a man’s representation of the Fourth as well as all the commandments.” 

   So, here’s an example of choosing to follow a plain Commandment or the tradition that pops out of it.  To support a Monument while not supporting what’s on the Monument is something of a paradox.  We see how the Pharisees put their notions above the Law of Yahweh and we condemn it; yet we do the same thing all the time, howbeit with good intentions.  Good intentions, I’m told, is the paving stone to a road that leads somewhere, I can’t remember where.

 

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The Fourth Commandment

   Moving from the theoretical to the concrete, so to speak, one’s knowledge of the Fourth Commandment is a good indication as to whether the Commandments as a whole are known.  Everybody knows not to murder, and relatively few people would ever even consider it.  Same with some of the others.  Many Christians today would parrot church doctrine and say, “Those Commandments are nailed to the cross along with the rest of the Law” (Colossians 2:14).  But, in the time remaining, let’s consider Jesus’ opinion about this notion.  He says:

Matthew 5:18-19. (SEV) While heaven and earth are standing, not even the smallest letter--or part of a letter--can be changed in the law until everything is completed.  19.  Anyone who disobeys even one of the smallest commands and teaches this way to others will not be important in the kingdom of heaven. But, anyone who obeys and teaches will be important in the kingdom of heaven.  20.  I tell you, if your `righteousness' is no better than that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will not even enter the kingdom of heaven.''

With that, permit me to guide you through a couple of very quick exercises.

 

A Couple Exercises

   1.  If the Commandments are really important to us, where can we read them in the Bible for ourselves?   Exodus 20 & Deuteronomy 5.

 

   2.  The Second Commandment says, 

Exodus 20:4.  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. 

{Point to the picture of Jesus.}  Granted, we don’t worship the picture itself, but isn’t this a graven image of who we bow down to and serve?

 

   3.  The third commandment says,

Exodus 20:7.  Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy god in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. 

In all but a few English Bible translations, we don’t read any name in that verse at all.  But, as most of you know, in this verse and in seven thousand other Bible locations, man’s tradition has overwritten the sacred name of our god with “the LORD(a translation of the word “Baal,” god of the Canaanites).  I’m wondering if it’s not taking Yahweh’s name in vain if we worship a nameless deity, the LORD, or, worse, one we’ve named “God”, an Aryan (Iranian) loan word meaning “to invoke (as “invoke a spirit”).   This message may be shocking to those who don’t know, but I didn’t get it from an obscure book on theology, but from the The Readers Digest in the dentist’s office.

   I sometimes feel like Paul in Athens, speaking to the great people of faith there:

Acts 17:22,23   Athenians, I have seen for myself how scrupulous you are in all religious matters, because, as I strolled around I noticed an altar inscribed: To An Unknown God. In fact, the unknown god you revere is the one I proclaim.

I came here proclaiming the unknown god.  Yahweh is his name.  But I’m not ashamed of it, for he tells us through his prophet

Zechariah 9: 9. When Yahweh becomes king of the world, he will be the one and only king and his name the one and only name.

I’m working with a team to translate The World English Bible.  My job is translating Leviticus.  As such, I have great concern for translators, especially modern translators, who conform to the traditions of religious men by omitting the name of our god from their translations, replacing it with “the LORD”; for “Yahweh will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain” and thus leadeth millions astray from true worship.  Woe to them.  Check your own translation notes to see if this isn’t so.  It’s the largest and worst religious falsehood every perpetrated on humankind.

   4.  Not to belabor the point, but have we ever actually read the Fourth Commandment?  It’s the longest and most detailed.  Here is a correct translation: 

Exodus 20:8. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  9. For six days you shall labor and do all your work,  10. but the seventh day is a Sabbath for Yahweh your god. You shall do no work that day, neither you nor your son nor your daughter nor your servants, men or women, nor your animals nor the alien living with you.  11. For in six days Yahweh made the heavens, earth and sea and all that these contain, but on the seventh day he rested; that is why Yahweh has blessed the Sabbath day and made it sacred.

If you are a commandment keeper, you have no choice as to what day to keep holy unto Him.  Which day is the seventh? It couldn’t be clearer on the calendar.  “Sabbath” means “seventh.”  Neither could it be clearer what is required on that day.  Now you know, and you know now.

 

The Tip of the Iceberg

   The Ten Commandments are just a small part of Yahweh’s Law – there’s much more.  Jesus said that the law of liberty would never pass away, never!  The reason Jesus’ brother James calls it “the Law of Liberty” is because ENFORCED law protects innocent people from lawless people, from criminals.  If everyone followed the Law and it was enforced equitably, with mercy (as Jesus will enforce it), there will be an end to violence in our world, and the whole creation will be set at liberty – liberty under law. 

   As Christians, we claim to be signers of The New Covenant, in which the Law is written on our hearts instead of on stone.  We find this declaration in

Jeremiah 31:33,34  This is the covenant I shall make with the House of Israel when those days have come, Yahweh declares. Within them I shall plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I shall be their god and they will be my people. There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, `Learn to know Yahweh!'  No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest, Yahweh declares, since I shall forgive their guilt and never more call their sin to mind.

What law do you supposed is to be written on hearts?  There’s only one Law – the Law of Yahweh consisting in the first five books of the Bible.  The law of the children of Israel, that same law, Yahweh’s law, is our law today, and will be our law in the days when Jesus is ruler over the earth.  We ought to know that law; we may be judges in that blessed time of Millennium – you may judge Roy Moore.  His intentions will be perfectly clear then, and I truly hope they are pure.

 

Nailed to the Cross

   Finally, one other thing in regards to the Monument in Montgomery.  Most Christians have been taught that the “handwriting of ordinances” nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14) is the Law of the Old Testament, destroyed by grace.  We grant that some of the Law has been repealed; the Bible is very clear on which: no more animal sacrifice -- Yahweh’s son Yahshua was the last blood to be spilt.  Food laws have also been repealed (Mark 7:15), though sticking with the old food laws will keep you much healthier.

   Since the majority of Christians believe the Law is nailed to the cross, then there really is no accounting for the support Judge Moore is getting from Christians on keeping his monument.  It should be Jews that are lining up behind him.  If the Judge’s action does nothing more than get Christians to rethink this deplorable “nailing to the cross” doctrine, then actually read and study the Ten Commandments, maybe these lawless Christians might actually start hallowing the name of Yahweh, observing the Sabbath and enforcing the Law of Liberty to everyone’s benefit.  Whether Moore’s just politicking or not, there is a slight possibility that this whole thing could turn out to be a wonderful revival of truth, revelation of the sacred name and a return to the Hebrew roots of our faith.  A return to where we belong in Yahweh.  O, that would be glory for me!  Let’s pray that this be the case.

August 30, 2003