This is the first part in the Beyond Today Bible study series: The Ten Commandments. In the first of the Ten Commandments the God of Israel reveals that He is unique and personal. It is the basis for all of the other commandments. Join Gary Petty as he explores how the first commandment not only teaches us about God but how we can break this commandment through ignoring God.
[Gary Petty] Good evening, everyone. We want to welcome everyone that's on the hook up tonight, that's joining us on the web. We're here in Cincinnati, where it is cold outside and getting colder. I don't know what the temperature is right now, but it didn't warm up too much all day, and I know it's supposed to get real cold tonight. So if you all will bow your heads, we will ask God's blessing on the Bible study.
Father in heaven, we thank you so very, very much. We praise You, and You are our God. We praise You and Christ, who sits at Your right hand, because Father, You've helped us to understand that without You we're nothing. That's why we're here now to study, to begin a whole series of Bible studies on the Ten Commandments, Your basic instructions in morality, Father. And You gave them to us, and we need to live by them. We ask You to help us to truly understand, not just in the letter, but as Christ wants us to understand them in the spirit of the law, and what it really means at the motivational level. So, Father, we ask for Your blessing on the Bible study, to help all of us come to a deeper understanding of Your way. And we praise You and thank You, and ask all this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Mark Twain, who is, of course, a famous American humorist, most famous for Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain, he's also very famous during his lifetime for saying very sarcastic remarks in public. Especially if you were a well-known person, if you're giving a speech or something, he would just shout out very sarcastic and hilarious remarks. One that he's very famous for is he was in a public place in Boston, and a ruthless businessman, who was known for just really being unethical in his business dealings, had made the comment, basically he said, "I am going to go to the Holy Land. I'm going to go there, I'm going to get to the top of Mount Sinai, and I'm going to read the Ten Commandments to God." And Mark Twain said, "I have a better idea. Why don't you just stay in Boston and try to keep them?" Which is actually pretty good advice for everybody.
We're going to begin a series of studies on the Ten Commandments, and each one is going to be one of the Ten Commandments. Now, you think, "Well, okay. That's pretty simple. Really, we could cover all ten of them in a couple of Bible studies." But we really want to tear them apart, and looking at what does God tell us to expand these out, especially in the concepts of the New Testament? Jesus expounds in the Sermon on the Mount, and just takes and magnifies, as the Messiah would do, or was prophesied to do, the basic law. And this applies the Ten Commandments, or the basic core basis of morality.
Now, it's very interesting that the Ten Commandments, of course, in our society today, are very controversial. Humanists want to remove it from any public place, because they say, "Well, these Ten Commandments are biased, they're Christian, they force a religion on people." Others argue that even if you're not religious, they form some basis of Western civilization and Western society. It was interesting, I looked up some websites about the Ten Commandments, and I looked at some websites that were definitely against them. It was interesting how many people looked at the Ten Commandments and say, "Any God that would give these commandments is an egotist, and no God would be worth worshiping to give these commandments, especially the first four." And, therefore, I was amazed that the stance some people took in terms of on the Internet, major sites that just attack and denigrate the Ten Commandments.
Most Christians will say, "Oh, we should keep the Ten Commandments. We believe in the Ten Commandments. We want the Ten Commandments posted." But I feel like Mark Twain. Instead of posting them, why don't you put them in your house, and in your heart, and in your mind, and keep them. Actually do them. And a couple of Commandments are ignored by actually a majority of Christianity. The Fourth Commandment and the Second Commandment are ignored by much of Christianity.
We're going to look at the Ten Commandments. We're starting with the first one. I want to lay a little groundwork. We're just going to take a little time here to go through a story all of you know. But it's very important to put this in the context of how the Ten Commandments were revealed, and especially the prologue of the Ten Commandments. There's a statement that's made that really has to be understood in the environment in which these Commandments are given. Let's go to Exodus chapter 19. We're going to look at some of the ways that the Ten Commandments are unique. I want you to really think about this and try to picture this, because this is, in all of history, one of the most incredibly unique things God has ever done.
Let's look in Exodus 19:17 Exodus 19:17And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet with God; and they stood at the nether part of the mount.
American King James Version×. Of course, ancient Israel was before Mount Sinai. "And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God." Just think at that statement. Stop and think about that statement. Millions of people are brought out in front of this mountain to do what? To meet God. He's got something important He wants to say, and they are all brought out to meet Him. And it says, "And they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now, Mount Sinai was completely in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly."
I think of the Ten Commandments, with Charlton Heston back in the 1950s. And, of course, that was a remake of a movie that had been done years before. But they attempted to show a mountain on fire. Smoke is just billowing out of this. It's shaking. It's an earthquake there. Now, there's millions of people come out to meet God, and on the top of this mountain, they can't see God. All they can see is fire and smoke, and the ground they're standing on is shaking.
And, verse 19, "When the blast of the trumpet sounded long, and became louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him by voice." A trumpet got louder and louder. The children are crying, people grabbing their ears. People are falling down on their knees. The earth is shaking. The top of the mountain looks like it's just going to explode. And then God and Moses start talking to each other. And they hear it. Millions of people hear it. In fact, when we get to chapter 20, verse 1, it says, "And God spoke all these words." After He finished giving the Ten Commandments, the people of Israel went to Moses and said, "Don't let God talk to us anymore. It will kill us."
This is a frightening thing that they're going through. An exploding mountain, fire and smoke, and an earthquake, and a trumpet so loud, it got louder and louder and louder, and then a voice that was so amazing, so overwhelming that they literally said, "Do not let God speak to us. We will die." This is too amazing, that God gave them the Ten Commandments. Now, we know what happened, that Moses went up to the top of the mountain, and he ended up being there a long time. And God gave him the Ten Commandments.
Of course, then he came down with these two tablets of stone. In Hebrew, they're actually called the Ten Words. On these two tablets of stones, he had the Ten Words of God, these Ten Commandments. And he brings them down, and what's happened? Well, the Israelites panicked; he was gone. He was gone for so long, they thought he'd died. He went to the top of this mountain and disappeared in the smoke. And he comes down, and he gets angry. And when he sees that they've returned idolatry...and remember, they've returned to idolatry in front of a mountain that's still smoking, that's still on fire. And he took the two tablets of stone, and in that anger, he threw them down and he broke them.
Moses was known for having an occasional problem with anger. You think, how could he have done that? Of all the actions he could have taken, that was the worst one. He took what God wrote, and he crushed them. So what do you think about this? If we start looking how the Ten Commandments are unique, one, they are given by God. He not only says them, He writes them down.
In all of human history, there's never been a case where this happened exactly like this. Now, Jesus Christ came and gave law. And that's a unique giving of the Law that's actually greater than this. When you read the New Testament, it says, "This is greater than this event." It compares these two events. But until the coming of Jesus Christ, who expounded the Law of God, this was the greatest event, because you have God verbalizing to people. You have God shaking the ground. You have God appearing in a fire. And you have Him writing it down with His finger.
So he would go back up, and you read in Exodus 34:1 Exodus 34:1And the LORD said to Moses, Hew you two tables of stone like to the first: and I will write on these tables the words that were in the first tables, which you brake.
American King James Version×, and God would rewrite them again. And he would bring them down. This is all part of this whole Ten Commandment experience that these people went through. So we have the Ten Commandments given in this unique way. They're given by God in a unique way, and two, they become core part of the covenant of what God gave with them. This was the covenant. It started with two tablets of stone put in the Ark of the Covenant. Everything else was attached, but that was the core of the covenant He gave with them. He said, "This is the beginning. This contains the core of what morality is." And we know that we look at the first four, and they deal with our relationship with God. And we deal with the last six, our relationship with each other.
It's very interesting. There are a lot of agnostic and atheists that will accept the last six. I've read papers by agnostics that say the last six are pretty smart, although any thinking...but here's the argument, any thinking person could come up with those. "Come on, don't kill. Anybody knows that." Oh, really? Study human history. Those first four, though, those are pretty tough. Who has the right to enforce that on me? Who has the right to enforce worship on me towards God?
If the first point here is, it's unique because God gives it personally. Secondly, it's unique because it's part of the whole concept of morality God gives to ancient Israel. It's at the core of their whole concept of morality. Now, the third way this is unique about the Ten Commandments is, if you study Genesis up through Exodus 20, you will find all ten of those Ten Commandments in principle, at least. You'll find all of them there. The Sabbath existed before Exodus 20. God was the only God. You shouldn't have idols. You'll see murder, and stealing all put in very bad light. So they all existed before. That tells us there's something important about these ten.
Another reason they're unique is, study the New Testament. Go through the entire New Testament, and just read it. And every time you see a reference to one of these ten laws, or a principle in it, write it down. You'll see that all of these laws are contained in the New Testament. So they existed before Sinai, and they exist in the New Covenant. Actually, they're amplified in the New Covenant.
What you also will find, both in 1 Corinthians and in Hebrews 8, is a teaching in the New Testament that the laws that were written on stone...Paul, in Corinthians, really makes a big issue out of this, what it said in Corinthians 3. He really makes a big issue out of this. The laws that are written in stone are the laws that are written in the hearts of people and minds of people under the New Covenant. In fact, in Hebrews 8 is the longest quote of an Old Testament passage in the entire Bible. And guess what it is? It's Jeremiah 31, "I will write these laws."
Even commentators who want to do away with the Ten Commandments have to admit, when Jeremiah 31 was written, “these laws” were the Ten Commandments. So if it's quoted in the book of Hebrews that He is now writing “these laws,” and he quotes those verses that says, "This is being fulfilled," that can't be a new set of laws. If he would have said, “He's going to write a new set of laws in your hearts,” that would be a different thing. But he said, "This prophecy is being fulfilled." So what we see in the New Testament is a specific reference to the Ten Commandments.
There are references to other of the Old Testament laws, but these are unique, and that these are the same laws that He wrote on stone, which is a very important thing. He never wrote anything else on stone. And they are the same laws that are written in our hearts and minds. And Jesus said to write them in our hearts and minds means that they are expanded upon. These are really unique. You just look at those five reasons, and we have a real reason to study the Ten Commandments:
- Uniquely given by God.
- The whole foundation of morality given to ancient Israel.
- They're in the Old Testament before Sinai.
- They are in the New Testament after the New Covenant is established.
- And they are the laws that are written in the hearts and minds of people under the New Covenant.
Now we get to the First Commandment. Okay, this is important. Let's go to the First Commandment. Verse 2. Now remember, they are hearing this thundering voice. They are frightened. They thought they were going to go meet God. They had no idea who God was. The only god that they'd ever seen that seemed to be alive was Pharaoh. What was their concept of God? Well, He opened the Red Sea, but they actually meet God. This was greater than anything they could imagine. And they hear this voice, and it's just overwhelming. And the first thing He says to them, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me."
Now, they've just come out of Egypt. This is real important to understand the context of which He says this. And He says to them, "You just came out of a land with all kinds of gods and goddesses. The cat god, the Nile god, the sun god, Pharaoh is a god." He says, "No, there is nothing else. There is Me." And He claims His uniqueness. Now, most Jewish commentators and most Jewish rabbis...if you ask us, most Christians, what is the First Commandment, we would say, "You shall have no other gods before Me." Most Jewish rabbis and commentators, that's not the First Commandment – that's the Second Commandment. They combine verse three and verse four together to create one commandment. They say this is the First Commandment, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage."
Now, when we teach our children the shortened version, we don't even teach them that, do we? In the Jewish world, that's the First Commandment. You think, "Well, that's strange." Let me read to you a little bit from a Jewish commentary, Soncino commentary. "’I am the Lord thy God.’ Jewish tradition considers this verse as the first of the Ten Words…” Remember, I said that they're called the Ten Words. “...which deduces from the positive precepts, ‘Believe in the existence of God.’” So what they say, this command, this first statement is so strong that it is a command to believe and have faith in God. Now, we believe that verse 2 and verse 3 go together. This is a preamble. But we don't separate them. This is the context of which they were first given.
So what did it mean to the first group of people? "I am the Lord your God." That was so strong that their tradition was, that's the first one. "I am the Lord your God." We drop it out half the time, don't we? We don't even consider it part of the commandment. He goes on and says, "The God adored by Judaism is not an impersonal force, an ‘it,’ whether spoken of nature, or world reason. The God of Israel is a source not only of power and life, but of consciousness, personality, moral purpose, and ethical action." In other words, "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt," means that is a real Being who is conscious, who has thoughts. So they do entire studies on that sentence, what is revealed by God in that simple sentence? That is the first commandment.
Now, I'm not saying it's the First Commandment. I'm saying that we make a mistake when we separate it from the rest of the sentence, and make it, "Well, that's just preamble." No, He's making a declarative statement to millions of people as His voice booms out, "I am the Lord your God." At that point, they knew something. None of the gods of Egypt mattered. Even if He said nothing else, at that point, nothing else mattered, because this was greater than anything they had ever imagined. Soncino goes on, “‘Thy God.’ The emphasis is on "thy" (or your) God. He is the God not merely of past generations, but of every individual soul in each generation. ‘Who brought you out of the land of Egypt.’
God is not here designated as Creator of heaven and earth.” Now, I want you to stop and think about that a minute. You would think God would introduce Himself as, "I am the Creator of everything." And that's not how He introduced Himself to them. So this next statement in the Jewish world really means something. We throw out the sentence, "I am the one who brought you out of Egypt." “Israel's God...” I'm continuing with Soncino. “Israel's God is not here merely seen as nature, or involved in nature, but in the destinies of men. He had revealed Himself to Israel in a great historic deed, the greatest in the life of any people. The God who saved Israel from slavery had a moral claim, as their Benefactor and a Redeemer, on their gratitude and obedience.”
So they argue. Now, that's a lot on the sentence you and I ignored, isn't it? "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt." First Commandment is, in their mind, "I am the only God, and I'm the One who saved you." Therefore, we must believe in Him, and accept Him, and obey Him, and that's the First Commandment. Now, when you put these two together, though, we realize that that's just the pre-statement into His next statement, "You shall have no other gods before Me. Nothing is in front of Me. Nothing is in front of Me, for I am the God who brought you out of Egypt." That's an awful lot in those two sentences, because that's all we're going to talk about. Well, it's actually one sentence, in English. No, it's two. It's two. Those two little sentences, that's all we're going to talk about tonight.
Now, I'm assuming all of you here have a great knowledge of the New Testament, so I'm going to go through a lot things without turning into some scriptures. But I want to now take this and say let's look at it what we should learn. I mean, we could say, "Okay, we only should believe in the one God." Okay, but what is He saying? Why did they walk away with such a profound wow to this commandment? Well, first of all, He says, this is saying, "I am God. Believe in Me." It is a command of faith. "Believe in Me." But it isn't just, "Believe in Me," it's, "You already know about Me because of what I've done." What had He done? He was involved with them. He had stepped into their lives and brought them out of Egypt. "I am your God." That's a real important statement.
You know, there's lots of people who see God as an impersonal being. They believe in God. If you understand the First Commandment, believing that God exists is just the tiniest obedience to this law. I mean, the most tiniest obedience to this law. It's kindergarten level to say, "God exists. I'm keeping the First Commandment." No, He is your God. "I am your God." It's real personal. "You can't have anybody before Me, because I am your God." And He tells them, "And you know who I am, because I opened the Red Sea, and I destroyed Egypt. And I gave you water where there was no water. I took you out of slavery that you could not get out of."
And you know what that statement is? How many times have you heard people say, "Well, grace and law can't be mixed. They are two different things"? “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt," is one of the greatest statements of grace in the entire Bible. The Ten Commandments start with one of the greatest declarations of grace. You know what grace literally means? Especially in Hebrew, there's subtle differences between the Greek and the Hebrew. They mean basically the same, but Hebrew was very interesting. Literally, it's a favor. You give someone a favor that they didn't deserve.
You will see in the Old Testament, people can give grace to another person. They show mercy. They do something. Israel could not get out of slavery. Israel could not save itself. Israel could not overcome Pharaoh. Israel could not understand anything. Israel did not have the Ten Commandments. The giving of the Ten Commandments is an act of grace. It's not the opposite of grace. It's an act of grace. The fact that you and I take a breath every day is grace. It's through the favor of God that you and I get anything. What do you deserve? How many of us go home tonight, get a ladder, get up and have a knock on the door and say, "Let's talk." It doesn't work that way. God either reaches down and grabs us, or nothing happens. And what did He do here? He stretched out His arm and grabbed millions of people, and said, "Here I am."
And the first part of the First Commandment is one of the greatest statements of grace in the entire Bible. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you here. You couldn't have got here by yourself. There's no way you could be here. I brought you here. I am your God." Now, what does that mean to us? You see, when we talk about grace, a lot of times we talk about Jesus Christ as the greatest expression of God's grace, right? Forgiveness, given to us through Jesus Christ. Paul uses grace in reference to Jesus Christ that way many times. God's ultimate favor is, "I brought you here, and you could not get here. I brought you into My presence, and I gave you My spirit, and you could not get here by yourself." You can't make this happen. Only God makes this happen. He is the Lord our God, who brought us out of sin, through Jesus Christ. And He is our God.
Every year, at the Days of Unleavened Bread, what do we celebrate? Coming out of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We're coming out of our Egypt, right? Our dark Egypt, into the Promised Land. We talk about how this bread is a symbol of being deleavened, having sin removed. This is a symbol of sin. We look back, and we study Exodus. We talk about Satan being the god of this world and the Pharaoh of this world. The opening of the Red Sea is like baptism. Yeah, it's all about the First Commandment. It's all about the First Commandment. We get there because God brought us there. And after He brings us there, He says, "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of sin. I am the Lord your God who, through My Son, made this possible. You shall have no other gods before Me."
All of a sudden, this has a real profound meaning, doesn't it? All you have to do is understand what it meant to the original audience. One of the first... Remember when I talked about Bible study couple of months ago, how to study the Bible? And I said, "Study a passage. What did it mean to the original audience?” What did this mean to those millions of people? It was frightening, it was exciting. It drove them to tell, "Please don't let Him talk to us anymore. You talk to Him and bring it back." You and I stand before the very throne of God, the Mount Sinai in heaven. And He says, "I brought you here. Don't have anybody else before Me."
How do we break this commandment? I want to just mention three ways we break it easily, and we all would talk about. But then I want to talk about one way we break this commandment, as Christians, and don't even think about. We don't even realize it. First of all, let me bring out something else, the point I wanted to bring out of the Jewish way of looking at this. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." You will see in Jewish commentaries that this commandment is about freedom. I've read that years, and I have to honestly say, until I read this in a number of Jewish commentaries, I never thought about this as a commandment about freedom. "I brought you out of bondage. I brought you here to make you free."
So when they read this, remember they were slaves. And thousands of years later, they look at this and say, "We were slaves, and we were brought there so we could come out of slavery." So if we read this in the context of you and I, and our relationship with God, and we are brought before the throne of God where He now says, in His grace, "I have brought you here to give you My Law. I have brought you here to teach you, through the blood of Jesus Christ, through all those symbols of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread," we come before Jesus Christ here, or God the Father here, and He says, "I brought you out of bondage."
You and I appear before God all the time, and He says, "I wish you were a little more free. I am the Lord your God. Let Me teach you how to be free of all the shackles of sin." This is about freedom. That's what it meant to the original audience. How much more? How much more should that mean to us? It's freedom from sin. Therefore, "I am the Lord your God. Don't have anybody before Me." Wow, yeah? How much have we taken this commandment lightly? As we go through these Ten Commandments, you know what you're going to find? We're commandment breakers. We do the letter pretty good, but we're commandment breakers. You'll find numerous of these commandments that we're not keeping, not in the way that God expects us to.
Let's go through this, now, and look at how this commandment can be broken. Obviously, atheism, denial that God exists, goes directly against this commandment. You're breaking this commandment. You now break all of them, if you deny that God exists. Another would be the acceptance of pagan gods. “No, no, no,” He says, "you can't have other gods before Me." This is why we see the commingling of things like Christmas and Easter, which seem so silly to so many people. "Why are you people making such a big deal out of this?" Because He is the Lord our God, and we cannot have other gods before Him, and He doesn't want us to mix paganism into Him. We have to give up all the other gods.
There is the concept that the New Age has taught, that's become so common in our society. All religions lead to God, is not true. If you believe in the Ten Commandments, you cannot believe all religions lead to God, because you must worship the God of Israel. The Ten Commandments were given by the God of Israel. Now, once again, who we are today, whether we're Israelites or not, means nothing to God. We're the Church. But it's the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Abraham was before there was an Israel. And He kept revealing Himself, "I'm the God of Abraham."
Another way, and we’ve got to be careful about this one: superstition, witchcraft, horoscopes. Horoscopes are because people used to believe that the stars were real beings, they were alive. I mean, they move, right? They move, they disappear, they come back. They must be alive. So you figured out which ones were dominant when you were born, and you follow them, and they will tell you, you get some soothsayer to tell you what the stars are telling you. So you go to your horoscope, and it says, "You're going to have a good day today." Why? Well, because some star told you that. But we could take this stuff lightly, but it's putting other gods before God. Any involvement… That's why we make such a big issue out of Ouija boards and things. Any time we look at Satan and try to tap into the evil side of the spirit world, we're trying to tap into the god of this world, who was created. He's not a god, but he is the ruler of this world.
So we have to be very careful about those things. But those are obvious, aren't they? We're not atheists in this room. None of us are worshiping Hindu gods. We're staying away from trying to interact or believe that there's other gods, and we're sure not trying to interact with demons. We're not doing any of those things. So we keep this commandment real well…
Well, I want to look at just one other way. There's other ways we can break this, but one other way that we can break this and do it so easily and not even know we're doing it. This commandment does not allow us to ignore God. It was impossible for them to ignore Him when it was given to them. Unless you were in a coma, there is no way you could ignore God on Mount Sinai.
I imagine hundreds of miles away, people could here and see something is going on over there, right? So there was no way to ignore what was happening. Now, you and I may not directly disobey God by having other gods. But do we go before, or live before, every day, the throne of God, and do we try to ignore God? There's an interesting story in 2 Chronicles. Asa was the king of Judah. And I'm going to go through the story, because there's only one little sentence I want to mention, but there's an importance sentence in this story. “Asa,” as it says, “did what was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” It was his God. It's interesting how many times you see in the Bible, when someone interacted with God, "This is the Lord my God. This is the Lord his God." It was real personal.
The First Commandment is personal. It is not the Force. I mean, I like Star Wars as much as the next person, but it's basic Hinduism. Well, it's a New Age thought. I mean, it is a false religion that they promote on the show. Well, we just ignore it. There is no Force. There is God. And God is personal. He is my God. Can you imagine? Think your name and say, "Well, yeah. I worship the God of this person." Wow! Wouldn't that be amazing? Well, yeah. He's your God. It's a real personal issue. The First Commandment makes it personal. And it says, he did write it, and it was the Lord his God, in the sight of the Lord his God.
2 Chronicles, and let's go to chapter 14, so we can sort of get the story flow here. Verse 11. I'm trying to guess how much I want to put in here. What Asa's faced with is Asa is faced with a giant army that's come up against him. He's the king of Judah. Verse 10, "Asa went out against him, and they set the troops in battle array in this valley. And Asa cried out to the Lord his God," the Lord his God. That's interesting. It doesn't say just the Lord God, or he just cried out to God. It was the Lord his God.
Asa had a relationship with God, and said, "Lord, it is nothing for You to help whether with many, or with those who have no power. Help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on You, and in Your name, we go against this multitude. O Lord, You are our God. Do not let man prevail against You." He worshiped the true God. It was his God. He went to Him and said, "We're Your people. You're our God." Then he had to step out in faith and approach this huge army of Ethiopians.
Verse 12, "So the Lord struck the Ethiopians before Asa and Judah, and the Ethiopians fled." Now, we don't know exactly how He did it. All we know is God was involved. It was obvious, God was involved. So Asa dedicates himself to getting rid of the idols, to getting everybody in Judah worshiping the one true God, their God, the God who gave them that commandment. And he really zeroes in on the First Commandment and the Second Commandment. And he says, "Get rid of idols." And it says Judah prospered. And they prosper for a while, and things are good, and then we have chapter 16, because chapter 15 basically tells you all the reforms that Asa did. The things he did that changed Judah, that got them worshiping God, and they were blessed by God.
Verse 1 says, "In the 36th year of the reign of Asa, Baasha, king of Israel, came up against Judah and built Ramah, which he might let none go out or in to Asa the king of Judah." In other words, the king of Israel came down, and at a strategic place, started to build a fort. And he was trying to clog up and restrict the flow of people and trade north and south. Israel and Judah sat on the greatest trade routes of the day, where Babylon and Syria, the Hittites are, and Egypt. There is only one way to get through there, unless you've got ships, and that's through Israel and Judah. "I'll build a fort, bottle it up," we don't know what he was going to do, maybe make him pay a toll. I don't know, but whatever it was, it was going to hurt Judah.
"Then," this is verse 2, "Asa brought silver and gold from the treasures of the house of the Lord and of the king's house, and said to Benhadad, king of Syria, who dwelt at Damascus, saying, 'Let there be a treaty between you and me, as there was between my father and your father. See, I've sent you silver and gold. Come break your treaty with Baasha, king of Israel, so that he will withdraw from me.'" Now, that seems like the pretty smart thing to do. "I can take care of this. What we'll do is I will make a treaty with Syria, which sits to the north of Israel. We'll bottle them up on both sides. They'll have to retreat. We'll cut off trade through both sides of Israel, or they'll have to fight both of us." So that's what he does.
"So Benhadad hated King Asa, and sent the captains of his armies against the cities of Israel." And it tells all these places they attacked. Literally, now, Syria is attacking places on their border with Israel. So Israel has to pull their troops away from Judah to defend their border. "Now it happened, when Baasha heard it, he stopped building Ramah and ceased his work. Then King Asa took all of Judah, and they carried away the stones and timber of Ramah, which Baasha had used for building, and they built Geba and Mizpah.” So they just went up, tore the place down, and used it to build some other towns, some other forts.
Well, that seems like a pretty wise thing to do. I mean, it would be easy to look at the story at this point and say, "Asa is pretty smart here. This is just good politics. Protecting his people, kept them from having a major war, let the Syrians do all the fighting for him, got Israel off his back. That's pretty smart."
So verse 7, a prophet is sent. And here's what the prophet says, "Because you have relied on the king of Syria, and have not relied on the Lord your God, therefore the army of the king of Syria has escaped from your hand. Were the Ethiopians and the Lubim not a huge army, with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet, because you relied on the Lord, He delivered them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him."
Asa didn't deny God. Asa still went into the temple and worshiped God in Jerusalem. He still did his sacrifices, he still kept the Sabbath. Asa still tore down the idols, Asa was still keeping the commandments. But he had broken the first one. He was not loyal to God. He was now living his life trusting in himself. And the moment you and I trust in ourselves, what have we done? We have put another god before God. We've made ourselves a god.
God is very upset with him, and you think, "Why? What did he do wrong?" Because, look at what it says, "For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him." That's all part of the First Commandment. "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me." God will not accept any form of disloyalty.
Now, I dare say, if you and I examine our lives, it doesn't take much to figure out there's all kinds of ways that we're disloyal to God, because this is the spirit of the Law. “We don't believe in Hindu gods, we don't worship Allah.” Okay, but are we disloyal to God? Do we ignore God? His problem was he simply ignored Him in his life. In the practical aspects of his life, he ignored God. And he did what was pretty wise. Any other king would have said, "That guy is good. This guy is really good. He's the..." What was the guy that was supposed to be such a brilliant negotiator years ago? The German guy that was Nixon's...
[Gary Petty] Kissinger. Yeah, he was the Kissinger of his day. God said, "No." And what happened with Asa is very interesting. He never turned back to worshiping idols. He never turned back to giving up or going against the Levitical priesthood. In many ways, he continued to keep the covenant he made with God. But he had broken something between him and God, and his heart changed. He was no longer loyal to God, because look what it says in verse 11. "Note that the acts of Asa, first and last, are indeed written in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. And in the 39th year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe. Yet in his disease, he did not seek the Lord, but the physicians." And, you'll read, he died.
Now, this doesn't mean that going to physicians is evil. What he said is he did not seek the Lord. God was no longer involved in the day-to-day aspects of his life. He worshiped God, he talked about God, he sang praises to God, but day-to-day, he was not loyal to God, the Lord his God, and ignored Him. And this is where you and I have to be so careful. Do we keep the letter of the Law by claiming to follow the God of the Bible, but when it comes down to our everyday lives, we're really guilty of being disloyal, of ignoring, of forgetting that He's the one who took us out of our spiritual Egypt?
He's the one who took us out of our house of bondage, that it's only because of His power and grace,and mercy that we we're brought to Him. And when we are brought to Him, the first thing He says is, "Don't have any other gods before Me, because I'm the One who brought you here. I'm the One who did this, and you can't do it. I'm the One that saved you because you can't save yourself." You want to get in an argument with God with that, He'll simply say, "Go ahead. I'll tell you what, I'll kill you, and you go and resurrect yourself."
When we try to argue that we can somehow save ourselves, we're in real trouble with that one because, "Go ahead, die." That's God's answer. "And resurrect yourself, and we'll see if you can do this or not." And so that commandment, with its statement of grace and a statement of belief, of faith and loyalty, is the First Commandment. All the other commandments are built off of that. All the other commandments come out of that one. "You shall have no other gods before Me." To give lip service to the Ten Commandments, and not obey them, is to be disloyal to God. Jesus taught that we don't live just by the letter of the Law, but by the spirit of the Law. Jesus is the grace that allows us to come before God. But understand, the giving of the Law, the giving of the Ten Commandments, is not the opposite of grace. It is an act of grace.
Could you make these up? I'm not smart enough to make these up. You and I couldn't come up with the Ten Commandments. God did. They're so simple. He says, "This is the basis you begin to work off of. This is where you start." And once we start the Ten Commandments, you'll have all kinds of questions about the Ten Commandments, all kinds of discussions about the Ten Commandments. "Well, what do you do here? What do you do there? How do you apply it here? How do you apply it there?" So this First Commandment, I want you to remember, this is the basis of what we've covered tonight, it is God's grace to give you His commandments, just like it was to them. And because of that, we are to have no other gods before Him.
We have to have belief, faith, and we have to be loyal. We have to be loyal. We can't ignore Him in our everyday lives and fulfill this commandment, because He is the Lord your God.
Well, thanks for coming out tonight. You didn't think we could do the whole Bible study on one commandment, did you? Well, we'll do nine more on each commandment, okay? Each one can be torn apart. Some of them, we could do three Bible studies on to really tear them apart. But this one sets the stage. This one now focuses in, so we better listen to everything else He has to say, because each next commandment is an act of grace that requires obedience and loyalty on our part. Well, everybody have a safe trip home tonight.