The First Table of the Law

celtic cross
What are the principles in the Bible which are not reflections of their historical settings? This is still an open question and may never be answered satisfactorily, but the Ten Commandments are a good start. In Presbyterian Churches the two tablets of the Ten Commandments are often divided into: 1-4 which deal with our relationship with God and 5-10 which deal with our relationship with others. (Different traditions divide the commandments in different ways. For a discussion of those differences look here.)

The commandments of the first table of the law are:

Carolingian book painters to 840, Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law, parchment, before 840, British Museum, London, U.K.
Carolingian book painters to 840, Moses Receiving the Tablets of the Law, parchment, before 840, British Museum, London, U.K.
These commandments have principles embedded in them which can be summarized as:

  • Primacy: God's claims come before any other claims on our lives, our time, or our property
  • Identity: We should never limit God to one image, idea, or definition; God exists beyond all of our limitations
  • Authority: We should not use God's authority to justify that which is not of God
  • Reflection: This commandment, and the story that underlies it, makes it unique. In the account of the creation of the universe, God chooses to rest on one day in seven. If God is all powerful, this cannot be because of weariness. It is instead a period of reflection. Jesus says that humans are not created for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for humans (Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28, and Luke 6:1-5). We should keep the Sabbath separate from other days as a time for worship and reflection.

What do these four commands teach us about honoring God? The teachings about honoring God I find in these commandments are

  • Put God first. The question is not how we refer to God or our posture when we pray. We honor God when we recognize that God has the first claim on us.
  • Don't limit God. God's power, goodness, and love are always greater than our imagination. We honor God when we do not impose our class or culture's biases on God.
  • Don't try to use God. When people use God's name to advance their own aims whether by using God's name in a curse or using God's name to advance a sectarian political view, they dishonor God's name. We honor God by praying for God's will to be done not by using God's name to bully people into doing our will.
  • Sit quietly with God. We honor God when we stop our normal routine and take the time to remember who we are and whose we are. This is a logical time for praise and fellowship.

For Further Study

Catholic Encyclopedia Article
Religious Tolerance dot org
Presbyterian 101 Articles on Social Issues