In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, we have learned that the 2nd of the Ten Commandments is founded on who God is and what God does. It is composed of two decrees, a surprising fact, a warning and a promise. Don’t make idols. Don’t bow down to idols. “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.” God disciplines. God loves. In order to understand godly jealousy, it is helpful to focus on what comes before and after God’s self-revelation.
Read: Deuteronomy 5:6-10
So far, we have focused on the two decrees and what they reveal about God and ourselves. Who God is and what God does earns him the right to exclusive worship. Human hearts are inclined to make idols and bow down to them. Now therefore, let us consider God’s warning and his promise found in the rest of verses 9 and 10. Disobedience has consequences, God’s love. Faithfulness carries a great reward, God’s love.
1) God’s warning
To worship an idol is to shift our fear and put our trust on anything other than YHWH. Such false forms of worship have consequences. The natural outcomes of disobedience affect not only us, but also our children and their children. No other god can deliver on its promises or love as our God does. Therefore, idol worship springs forth many injustices. Because God is just, he must eliminate injustice. Thankfully, in his mercy and love, he gives an abundance of warning.
God sent many prophets who risked their lives to proclaim God’s call for repentance. Nevertheless, as we read in Exodus, God’s people were guilty of perpetual disobedience. Although God punished them, sometimes quite severely, he did not fully destroy his people. Consider the penalty to Israel of being held captive by the Babylonians for 70 years. Among other sins, for 490 years they did not follow the commandment to let the land rest every 7th year. Not only did God give his people plenty of warnings, but also he allowed them to go a long time before justly punishing them. Yet, God followed the discipline by making a way for his people to return to the land he had given them. This proves what God proclaims about himself: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” Ex. 34:6 NIV
God’s love is expressed by His willingness to discipline. Therefore, we should consider God’s warning in verse 9 to be a blessing, “punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” You might wonder, “How could this be a blessing?” Hebrews 12:5-11 implores us to take God’s discipline seriously and to endure it because it is an expression of our identity as His sons and daughters. God’s discipline is for our good and results in our ability to share in God’s holiness. Discipline yields the “peaceful fruit of righteousness.” Yet, as good as discipline is for us, God gives us plenty of warning before he punishes.
The warning in the second commandment might be difficult to accept, but once we study it we find that it has a rich purpose. God warns us that incessant disobedience eventually deserves punishment. Since we are all guilty of at some point making idols and/or worshiping idols, we are all deserving God’s discipline. Paul exclaimed it in Rom. 3:23, “we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Were it not for the mediation of Jesus, we would not be able to receive God’s promise. God’s love issues decrees to humble the proud and promises to exalt the humble.
2) God’s promise
According to verse 10, faithfulness carries a great reward: “but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.” None of us can claim to keep His commandments perfectly. Thus, God promises his steadfast love through the righteousness of Jesus. The Hebrew word for this love, hesed, is rich in meaning. God promises his grace filed, merciful, faithful, good, eternal, committed, protective and loyal love. Essentially God promises his loyalty and unmerited favor to the thousandth’s generation. That is at least 13,000 years if you average a generation to 13 years. This is fundamentally reassuring.
The relationship between God and his people really means something because God is totally committed to it. Such knowledge can move us to an appropriate response toward the self-revelation in the middle of Dt. 5:9-10, “I am a jealous God.”
In Part 4 of this series, we will conclude this study by examining how this self-revelation is a form of gospel, or good news. It reflects the essence of God’s nature that propels Him to draw near in the person and deity of Jesus Christ.