We’ve been talking a lot about the salvation covenant in general over the last few blogs. Today, we are going to look at its structure and its exact instructions.
Two sets of directives
Interestingly, the salvation covenant is divided into two separate sets of directives.
The first set deals with our relationship with God, whereas the second set shines the light on our relationship with others around us.
Our relationship with God
The first four commandments:
1. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
2. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below” (Exodus 20:4).
3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Exodus 20:7).
4. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
These are the first four commandments as they appear in Exodus 20.
You might say: ‘Hey! What about verse 5 and verse 6? You’ve left them out.’
You are correct. I did. The reason is that these two verses are more of a promise for those who keep God’s salvation covenant.
It says : “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 generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (similar to His promise to us in Exodus 19:5.)
Salvation is for God’s people only. Only those in covenant with Him will be saved. Note that I did not say that we must keep the agreement perfectly!
Jesus helps us with that. He erases our past violations (when we repent) and our shortcomings (things we don’t know we do and therefore cannot repent of) when we try to keep His covenant with all our heart, mind, and strength. We are not perfect, however, we can strive to serve Him and others perfectly. This is how we activate our transformation by serving Him and those around us with all of our heart, mind, and strength.
Our strength is part of this equation. This is precisely why salvation is not given until we die. Nobody is saved in this life. We are saved when we are presented with the crown of life by Jesus Himself.
We enter His covenant by faith, and it is our faith that allows our hearts and minds to receive the gifts of His covenant. It is the strength of our faith that causes us to pursue these gifts until we die. Only then are we given the crown of life.
James 1:12 says: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
Notice the correlation. In Exodus 20:5-6 it is those who love Him who keep His commandments.
The salvation covenant is an outline
We must keep in mind, as I said in a previous blog, the salvation covenant is only an outline. What can we learn from the first four commandments?
The first commandment: God is our authority. We are to recognize Him as the ultimate authority above all others, above our desires, above our wants, above everything.
The second commandment: Our image is His image. He wants this to be extremely personal. He wants us to remember that He created us to be like Him. When we assign something else to represent Him, it alienates us from Him. Each of us is unique and created in His image. That is what we need to know.
The third commandment: God’s name is His character by which we recognize who He is and it is this character that we are to represent to the world.
The four letters in the name of God as transliterated from the original Hebrew (the original Hebrew has no vowels) is YHVH or YHWH. This is usually translated as Yehovah or Yahweh. There is much disagreement among Hebrew scholars.
In the original Hebrew, the name of YHWH was only spoken by the priests and only in certain circumstance in fear of violating this third commandment. During the Babylon captivity the name was not used because of fear that the Babylonians would miss use the name. The name fell into disuse and its pronunciation has been lost.
The fourth commandment: His ways must be our ways. In the fourth commandment, we see the keeping of the Sabbath as the minimum requirement under the covenant. If we view the agreement as an outline, we will understand that God gave us an ‘easy’ introduction to start His ways. As our faith and knowledge increases, we can follow more and more of His ways.
So, in summary, it is our faith in God that dictates that we live our lives according to God’s authority, His image, His character, and His ways.
Our relationship with others
The last six commandments all deal with our relationships with those around us. We must keep in mind, though, that the first four commandments dictate how we keep the other six, “as unto Him.”
The second set of commandments:
1. “Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12).
2. “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13).
3. “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14).
4. “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
5. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
6. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17).
Again, keeping in mind that the salvation covenant is an outline. Let’s look at what God is telling us about our relationship with our neighbors (or those around us).
The salvation covenant is an outline:
The fifth commandment: Our family relationships are the most important. The family begins with Mom and Dad. Everyone, children, as well as parents, need to view the family relationships as our most sacred of all relationships. It is inside of these relationships especially that all of the covenant commandments must be on continual display.
The sixth commandment: We must control our anger. If we cannot get our anger issues under control, we will destroy our sacred relationships. We must also be able to repent and to forgive. Repentance and forgiveness must be a basic construct of our relationships.
The seventh commandment: We must control our sexual desires and how we look at each other.
The eighth commandment: We must respect the property of others. How do we care for the property of others? How honest are we in our business dealings? This commandment is not only about stealing in a physical sense.
The ninth commandment: We must deal with others honestly and justly and with the best intentions.
The tenth commandment: Be satisfied with your lot in life. We must understand the riches that we have in knowing God and let that take the place of worldly fulfillment. We are to be grateful for what we have.
In summary, God is telling us to honor our family, to control our anger, kill off sexual thoughts, respect the property of others, be honest and just and be glad of what God has given us.
As we will see later, all the violations of these commandments that have harmed others we must attempt to repent for and to make restoration, if possible.
The genius of the salvation covenant is immeasurable. If all of us can follow it, society would be altogether different.
When these instructions are violated, the problems of our society start.
We might not yet see the benefit of living according to God’s instructions, for we are in a fallen world. However, living according to His ways will impact ourselves and those around us for the better.
For those of us of faith our ultimate goal should be to hear Jesus say at the end of our life:
“…Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).
Next week will begin to break down each commandment separately. God gives us instructions on how to live and how to walk in His way with each of them.