The First Two Commandments and Our Worship

H. B. Charles, Jr.
header for The First Two Commandments and Our Worship

In the first word of the Ten Commandments, God commanded His people to worship Him exclusively: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3). The second word is linked to the first:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Ex. 20:4–6)

The Numbering of the Commandments

There is some disagreement about how the Ten Commandments should be numbered. Roman Catholics and Lutherans read the first and second commandments as one commandment. To keep ten commandments, they call the preamble (Ex. 20:2) a commandment or divide the tenth commandment (Ex. 20:17) into two parts.

God demands proper worship.

Exodus 20:3 and 4–6 record two different commands. They are two different sides of the same coin. The first commandment is about the proper object of worship. The second commandment is about the proper mode of worship. The first commandment addresses orthodoxy (right belief). The second commandment addresses orthopraxy (right practice). The first commandment tells us whom to worship. The second commandment tells us how to worship. God says, “Worship Me alone.” Then God says, “Worship Me this way.” How we worship matters to God.

Understanding the Second Commandment

The second commandment does not prohibit God’s people from being artistic. The Lord will instruct Moses to have arti-sans construct the ark of the covenant with artistic elements. The Spirit of God would inspire and empower men to creatively build the tabernacle. This is not a categorical prohibition against carved images. The Lord’s concern here is liturgical, not artistic. We must not make carved images for worship.

The second commandment warns us how misguided sincerity can be. When the children of Israel danced around the golden calf, the Lord did not respond, “Look how sincere they are!” The Lord became so angry that only the passionate intercession of Moses saved their lives. God demands proper worship.

For Further Reading:

On Worship

by H. B. Charles, Jr.

What does it mean to worship—especially in spirit and truth? Christians hear the word “worship” a lot. From singing hymns and...

book cover for On Worship