Archive for September, 2022

The Third Commandment: How praying, Reading Scripture can Protect us from Dishonouring God’s Holy Name (Reflections from Herman Bavinck)

September 30, 2022

 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NAS

Here in this command, we are dealing with the honour of God’s name.  As believers we are ambassadors of Christ, and we are called to be holy and blameless in Christ by the Holy Spirit.  The truth is though, we fail time and again to live up to these standards.  For the believer it is very important to eat ‘humble pie’.  We are sinners saved by grace and there are these two natures in us vying to control us, have sovereignty over our life.  Christ said in Matthew 5 that true religion begins with ‘poverty in spirit’.  Only God can save us from our sins and that it is important to live the life of faith and by faith.  We realize that God created us, he redeemed us through Christ, and we have been given the Holy Spirit our Comforter and Teacher and Trainer in righteousness.  For Bavinck the fruit of faith (good works) is out of heart of gratitude for what God did for us first.  We love our Trinitarian God so let us keep the third commandment and honour his good name.  Today I will in the long run look at one aspect of this commandment; ‘cursing’.  I hope to give practical advice through this study to help us to walk the path of truth and thus honour God’s name by the grace he gives us on a daily basis.

It is amazing how Bavinck the Master Theologian speaks about the third commandment as he says:

“The First Commandment deals with the true God, the Second with the true religion, the Third with private religion, and the Fourth with the public (communal) exercise of that true religion.”  (From: Reformed Ethics, Herman Bavinck, volume 2, page 180, Baker Academic)

If we look at his list very carefully:

  1. The True God
  2. The true religion
  3. Private religion
  4. Public (communal) religion

Here in the first commandment God starts by giving his personal name ‘the Lord’ in English translations. The second commandment rejects other gods as no gods.  This is a strict Monotheism. Bavinck somewhere else reminds us that God has other names too.  He points out that from the Christian perspective Father, Son and Holy Spirit are some other names for God too. (John Bolt the editor gave us a reference from E. Sartorius a Lutheran theologian from the 19th century which Bavinck cites). True Monotheistic religion has no place for any form of Paganism in which other gods are worshipped.

We then come to the third commandment the one that we have been looking at last time:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 NASB (from Olive Tree software)

Bavinck here labels this commandment as ‘private religion’.  This commandment is about us as human beings at work, home, in marketplace, with friends et al.  God has said here that wherever we are and whatever we are doing we ought to show love to our Lord by not abusing his name.  Obviously, there are times when we are not so guarded about our beliefs and at these times it is so easy to fall into a trap and sin against God (even without realizing it).

Obviously, we are under grace, and we know Christ died for us, but have you also realized that it is even more serious for the Christian.  These laws are no longer written on stone, but Scripture says that the law is written on our hearts! Becoming a Christian only means that we have been brought into the Church.  This does not mean that as soon as we become Christians that we have reached perfection.  No, my friends it is a work that takes a lifetime and even when we have gone to heaven, Christ is still working on us.  As we grow older in the faith in Christ by the Holy Spirit, we start to become more mature.  Bavinck helps us here to realize where we could sin (with or without realizing it). 

For Bavinck there are five areas in which the third commandment does not allow:

  1. Cursing
  2. Swearing falsely
  3. Unnecessary swearing
  4. Blasphemy
  5. Any misuse of God’s name

Bavinck shows us that cursing is the opposite of ‘praying or blessing’.  In cursing there is usually sin and anger involved.  In his summary he also says:

“’ Instead of persons offering their wills to serve God, the curse uses God’s holy will for the service of our sinful will. Cursing is not praying that God’s righteousness may be revealed and shown, but demanding, requiring, charging God to punish our enemy.”

Bavinck is right.  It is so easy to curse and I’m sure we have all done it sometime in our lives.  I think various countries have different ways of showing their anger. In English speaking countries the ‘F’ word is very popular and the two fingered salute.  In actuality these particular words depending on the social criteria can mean both a curse and a blessing to the person who it is aimed at.  The two fingered salute came into being from the medieval periods when the bowmen of England would show their fingers.  If the French capture an English bowman, they would cut off his finger so he couldn’t shoot arrows anymore.  So, as a defiance on the battlefields it was customary to show two fingers to the French as a mark of defiance (From the time of Henry the 5th at the Battle of Agincourt).

(The two fingered salute= From:

The F word origins = From:

As believers we should refrain from this sort of language, but it is very difficult.  The reason it is difficult is, because it is so ingrained into society that no matter what job a person does, one is going to hear these profanities.  This is why prayer, worship times, reading the Bible regularly are very important. St Paul talks a lot about the importance of the renewal of the mind.  It is also very interesting that the Dalai Lama always seems to be very happy.  What is the connection?

Practical helps to overcome cursing and allied subjects


Prayer helps us to think about issues outside of ourselves and it helps to build an inward attitude of empathy and love towards others wanting their good.  Whether we are religious or not we are all spiritual beings.  Believers talk about God and the soul whereas secularists would talk about a person’s psychology.  It is the inner person.

Reading the Bible

Reading the Bible has a purifying effect as the Holy Spirit speaks directly to us and changes us from the inside out.  Somewhere it says:

“For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:33 From Bible Gateway; See also Hebrews 8 verse 10


When we worship whatever way, we do it, we give God his glory as the True Creator and Redeemer of our souls.  God is holy and to stand in his presence there has to be some reverence for God.

These are just some practical ways a believer through his/her Trinitarian faith can protect themselves from cursing.

Bavinck’s Scriptural Evidences on cursing

Our Master Theologian Herman Bavinck gives us a whole List of Scriptures on cursing that is found in the Bible.  In the first set of texts, it is God who is cursing.  In the second set various people have been given permission to curse for the honour of God’s name.  Thirdly we have the ‘imprecatory Psalms’ which are also quoted in the New Testament:

God Curses

  • Not all cursing is wrong. God himself curses humans (Gen. 3:16-19) and the earth and all it contains (Gen. 3:17),
  • sends the Flood as a curse (Gen. 5:29; 8:21),
  • God will curse those who curse Abraham (Gen.12:3).
  • God curses transgressors of his law (Deut. 28:15—68),
  • Israel and its blessings (Mal. 2:2),
  • everyone who does not remain in the book of the law (Deut. 28:58-60; Gal. 3:13), and whoever rejects Christ (1 Cor. 16:22).
  • The curse proceeds from God (Zech. 5:3-4),
  • God’s curse strikes home (Deut.28:15—68).
  • God can nevertheless instruct people to curse in his name: Moses (Deut. 11:26) and the Levites (Deut. 27) hold up before Israel curse and blessing.

Certain People Curse

  • People also can speak a curse in the certainty that God will confirm it: Noah curses Canaan (Gen.9:25);
  • Isaac blesses Jacob by cursing those who curse him (Gen. 27:29);
  • Jacob curses the wrath of his sons Simeon and Levi (Gen. 49:7)
  • Joshua curses the one who rebuilds Jericho (Josh. 6:26)
  • Peter curses Simon the Magician (Acts 8:18—21).

The Imprecatory Psalms

  • We must also understand the imprecatory psalms in this way (Pss. 69:23-29; 109:6—20). Both psalms are quoted in the New Testament (Acts 1:16, 20; Rom. 11:9).” (From; Reformed Ethics; Herman Bavinck; page 181; Editor John Bolt; Baker House Publications)

Note Imprecatory is about invoking curses.

So then let us remind ourselves why we looked at cursing:

7 “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7

As I said earlier God’s name is taken in vain on a daily basis.  In Finland some swearing goes around with God’s name and also others such as the place of fire and sulphur (I do not want to actually write the word).  The UK has also got the same type of words. This particular chapter is actually called ‘The Honour of God’s name’.  In modern society it has become so bad that cursing has also led to murder in God’s name.  This is why for example Rabbi Sacks wrote the book, ‘Not in God’s Name’; Hodder and Stoughton. (I find it interesting that Herman Bavinck has written a chapter that is closely related to Rabbi Sacks.)   I can add to this that Scripture says that we were created in the image of God. Thus, if a person curses another person, they are cursing God’s image.  I Don’t think Bavinck mentioned this (I could be wrong).  From that point of view self-pleasing destructive cursing of another created human being is in a way cursing God directly.  As Bavinck said cursing is the opposite of blessing in the same way in earthly terms hatred is the opposite of love.  God is love so we ought to walk in love treating others as we would like to be treated.

Final Reflection on cursing

Cursing God directly or cursing another human being are both breaking this commandment.  Cursing God directly or his reflection (another human being); both are sinful.

In this world of sin, it is easy for a believer to break this commandment.  To the believer I would say Love God and love your neighbour as both these commands are closely related.  We ought to read our Bible regularly as this by the Holy Spirit purifies our inner being.  By praying regularly and spending time in God’s presence we are in the presence of Pure Love because John tells us that God is love.  Having regular fellowship with other believers also encourages us to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.  However, there are situations when it is impossible to have fellowship because of distances, illnesses and so forth so I am not pushing this.

Personal note

Bavinck has given us some serious food for thought and perhaps one day I will revisit these texts and look even deeper into this topic.  Alas, there are only 24 hours in the day and as a carpenter who having scrubbed undercoat of paint all Week, my energy is spent.  Yet I will return.  This Weekend I will be visiting my son in Helsinki as he is studying animation.

I am also really saddened with Hurricane Ian in which many people have been displaced or died.  Let us remember them in our prayers.

Part 1: Exodus;20.7; The Third Commandment: Learning to honour God’s Special, Personal name Trinitarianly

September 25, 2022

This Week we are going to look at the following verse:

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7 (from; NASB; Olive Tree software)

This was taken from wikipeadia by Mohammed Moussa. (The link is in the Bibliography)

Our Christian traditional lives are lived in an untraditional world and sometimes we find that members of the Church are persecuted for their beliefs.  This commandment is important because God’s honour is violated on a daily basis.  Some people blaspheme God’s name unknowingly (lack of knowledge) others do it knowingly. Even believers who should know better from whatever Church do it and they know they shouldn’t.  This is the first part in a two-part series.  In the second part we will look at the teachings of Herman Bavinck.  The second part will come out either next Week or the Week after as I am also going through the Sermon on the Mount.

7 לֹ֥א תִשָּׂ֛א אֶת־שֵֽׁם־יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לַשָּׁ֑וְא כִּ֣י לֹ֤א יְנַקֶּה֙ יְהוָ֔ה אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־יִשָּׂ֥א אֶת־שְׁמֹ֖ו לַשָּֽׁוְא׃ פ Exodus 20:7

Taken from Bible hub: see Bibliography


There are lots of things happening in this verse and although I am not a complete expert, I can say there are two verbs here working in tandem to show the seriousness of the LORD’s saying.   When I am commenting here, we need to realize that I am emphasising how English, and Hebrew are ‘not the same’. First, we have the qal.  It is in the active voice but imperfect.  In English the imperfect usually means as an action that isn’t completed or finished.  The qal in the Hebrew usually means incomplete action that can be in the past or the future or not even have a time stamp on it at all!

 In English “Imperfect” comes from the Latin imperfectus “unfinished”, because the imperfect expresses an ongoing, uncompleted action. The equivalent Ancient Greek term was paratatikós “prolonged”. From wiki;

In Hebrew the imperfect can also mean something that happens in the future.  Here though the qal has a secondary use because of the (‘not’).  When it is used in a negative command ‘it is emphatic’. 

With the piel ‘will (not) leave him unpunished’ (is in an intensive form).


Emphatic = expressing something forcibly and clearly.  (from Google; Oxford languages)

Intensive = ‘unpunished’ This particular person who commits the crime has a price to pay no matter what.

The command with the qal and the piel verbs working together this way means that God is saying something very strong and everybody needs to listen.


We have repeating words:

  • Not; The not tells us that this is a negative command.
  • Vain; we will look at this a little deeper
  • The LORD (Tetragrammaton); The general word for God ‘Elohim’ is not used here but God’s personal name. 

The meaning of vain in this context

The following has been taken (scanned) from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament for ‘vain’ in Exodus 20 verse 7:

“…This noun appears fifty-two times in the ot most often in Ps (fifteen times) followed by Ezk (eight times), Job (six times), Jer (five times, only in the adverbial phrase /ashshaw’ *‘in vain, vainly, to no avail,’ and always preceding the verb: 2:30; 4:30; 6:29; 18:15 (perhaps); 46:11).  The most familiar use of shaw’ is in the third commandment, ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”’ (Ex 20:7; Deut 5:11).  Literally the sentence reads, ‘*You shall not lift up the name of the Lord your God lashshaw’,” the same construction as noted above in the Jer passages. Before examining the decalogue reference it will be instructive to observe how the word is used elsewhere.

That the primary meaning of shaw’ is *‘emptiness, vanity’’ no one can challenge. It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally. Hence, it is a word for idols (in the same way that hebel ‘‘vanity”’ is also a designation for (worthless) idols, for example). Psalm 24:4 may then be rendered, *‘He who has not lifted up his mind to an ‘idol’.”’ Dahood (Psalms, I, AB, p. 151) lists the following passages: Ps 26:4; 31:6 [H 7]; 119:37; Isa 1:13; Jer

18:15; Job 31:5 with this implication, although some are dubious, the last one and Isa 1:13 especially. Not only are idols *‘deceptions’’ but so too the words of a false prophet which whitewash and sugar coat a gloomy situation (Lam 2:14, Ezk 13:6-9, 23). The evidence points to the fact that taking the Lord’s name (i.e. his reputation) ‘‘in vain”’ will surely cover profanity, as that term is understood today, or swearing falsely in the Lord’s name. But it will also include using the Lord’s name lightly, unthinkingly, or by rote. Perhaps this is captured by the Lxx’s translation of /ashshadw’ as epi mataio “‘thoughtlessly.””

Bibliography: Childs, B., The Book of

Exodus, Westminster, 1974, pp. 388, 409-12.

THAT, II, pp. 882-83.


(From: Theolological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody Press; page 908; Victor P Hamilton)

The personal name of God

The Tetragramaton made up of y,h,w,h is a most Holy name in the Old Testament therefore I like to use ‘the Lord’. In Jewish usage they say Ha-Shem (which means ‘The-Name’).  When we read Genesis in the first creation story, we find Elohim used a lot but then later on God’s personal name is used.  So perhaps some of the liberal theologies that talked about E or P hadn’t taken into consideration the personal, religious depth of these Holy Scriptures of the Tanach / Old Testament (form and redaction criticism).  Here before us in these verses on the 10 commandments we have a covenant between the personal, living Lord God and Israel. 

A covenant and a contract are not the same thing.  A contract can be between two businessmen who strike a deal, and it is not personal at all.  For example, in the eyes of the Lord God, marriage is a covenant, and a promise is made before the Highest authority, our Creator.  This is not a business deal it is personal and it is done in sacrificial love.  In a business deal one is after profit in a covenant you are giving out of love for the other and death is the limit.


“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain. Exodus 20:7

When it says that we should not take God’s name in vain.  As we read earlier:

‘It designates anything that is unsubstantial, unreal, worthless, either materially or morally’.

As believers within a Trinitarian framework, we should not take God’s name in vain.  God is described by many names in the Old Testament and New Testament.  I read somewhere (possibly Rabbi Sacks but I cannot remember where) that we live in a tradition in an untraditional age.  He was talking about Judaism, but this actually applies to Christianity and all the mainline religions.  This is a very powerful and true statement because society at the moment is taking secularism to its logical conclusion.  Although society pays lip service to the religions there is an onslaught of normalizing anti-religious values.  The human being for a long time in secular society has not been seen as having been created in the image of God but that humanity came to be through chance (evolution).  

Professionals from religious backgrounds are also being attacked through the changes in law.  One example is that if one takes seriously the Biblical teachings of a husband and wife (male and female).  If a teacher in class was to say he believes this, he/she could lose his job. There is a normalizing movement in the background going on and it is alienating the religious freedoms that were promised.  These promises came about originally in Europe because of religious persecution.

How can religious communities fight back against this normalizing.  For Christians we take the Bible seriously and we listen to the 10 commandments.  In this commandment we ought to be very careful how we use God’s name.  We believe in a personal God, and He has a personal name, let’s not abuse this name because this covenant we are in, is about love not power. 

Even though our faith is being trodden on; on a daily basis we are called to love our neighbour.  Our neighbour could be our enemy, but we ought to love regardless.  We need to remember as Paul said in Ephesians that we were also once alienated from God but by God’s gift of faith we were brought into the Church.  We do not stand in judgement over people with different lifestyles to our own but nevertheless we have a right to our opinions and ways of life too.

Next time we will look at Bavincks teachings on the third commandment.  This was a precursor because I felt it was important to look under the cars bonnet (figuratively speaking).


New American Standard Bible (Olive Tree Software)

Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament; Moody Press; part 1; page 908; Victor P Hamilton

Hebrew Old Testament; Exodus 20:7  (Olive Tree Software)


image of Sinai taken from:

Worrying and its Antidote in the Sermon on the Mount Matthew 6:25-34

September 18, 2022

Worrying its definition:

‘to think about problems or unpleasant things that might happen in a way that makes you feel unhappy and frightened’


Worrying its roots in old English, German, Dutch and Old Norse.

In Old English it has the basic idea of ‘strangle’:

c. 1300, wirien, “to slay, kill or injure by biting and shaking the throat” (as a dog or wolf does), from Old English wyrgan “to strangle,” from Proto-Germanic *wurgjan (source also of Middle Dutch worghen, Dutch worgen, Old High German wurgen, German würgen “to strangle,” Old Norse virgill “rope”), from *wergh-, from PIE root *wer- (2) “to turn, bend.”


Whatever way we look at this word ‘to worry’, its connotation is negative for our state of mind and personhood.  If we dwell mentally too long on our negative thoughts, it will eventually destroy us.

Unfortunately, we all have examples of situations that have put pressure on us, not knowing what the future would hold.  I suppose it is the ‘not knowing’ whether or not we will land on our feet that causes these negative thoughts and feelings.  In 1974 when I was about 7 years old, I had a life changing event.  We all have life changing events, but I would like to share my story with you before looking at the words of our Saviour in Matthew 6 about worrying.

Episkopi and Limassol, Cyprus, 1974

Tranquil and peaceful Cyprus

As a two-year-old in the mid 1960’s my family moved to Cyprus.  I remember living in a caravan in the beginning, then in a wooden house (my father built) and finally in rented accommodation inside Episkopi.  I loved it there for many reasons.  At the Weekends for example I remember we used to go to the beach.  I couldn’t swim at that time, but I did walk into the sea as far as I could.  It was fun.  My two old brothers were there too.  I also so loved our garden that does not exist anymore.  I remember we had citrus trees, a tall tree we used to jump from.  We kept hens and rabbits.  Sometimes these small lizards would come into our house.  

Within the community there was a mosque which was an old converted Greek Orthodox Church (St Georges) with a minaret.   I went to pre-school and then to the main Turkish Cypriot school in which I learned to read, write, and do Maths.  We had a great time and also the odd fight outside of lessons.  I really enjoyed that school.  I had friends and one of my main friends was Ali.  In the village I had relatives too.  I remember as a child that I visited one of my uncles and I was shy of my aunty for some reason, so I went under the table.  This is my picture of Episkopi before 1974.  I did not know about the troubles of the 1960s.


Just a picture from Pexels

However, one Summer this picture started to change.  Students were speaking of coming troubles and war.  Certain things happened for example I saw an aircraft fly very low over our school. Decisions were made that the men would defend our village.  They certainly defended the village and there were clashes between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots.  In fact, bullets were requiting off our tin roof.   My dad told us to stay at home however my mum got worried, and my older brother went looking for my dad and he got lost.  I left the house afterwards and found my dad.  I told him everything and he set out to find my brother.  Soon afterwards the villagers got together and made a plan for leaving Episkopi and going to the North of Cyprus.  The next day we set off walking and we decided to rest in a house that was not completely renovated yet.  There was no furniture only concrete floors.  That night I slept on a concrete floor for the first time.  The next morning there were Greek Cypriot militia surrounding the house.  We were then commanded to get on this bus. (The bus had been sprayed with bullets and all the glass windows were missing for obvious reasons). 

The Greek Cypriot militia took us to (what I believe was the old Limassol football stadium).  The women and the children were at the edges of the stadium and the men were in the centre sat down.  I was feeling hungry and for breakfast I was given a very small triangular piece of Edam Cheese. My immediate family of the two younger brothers were the lucky ones.  One of my older brothers was already in England and was at Grammar School.  My other older brother was dodging the Greek soldiers with my dad trying to get to safety.  

Anyhow my mum plucked up her courage and was able to speak to a commander.  We got out on a fresh bus that drove us to Akrotiri airbase.  We were flown to the UK.  One of my uncles spent a year living in a tent.  Another one of my uncles was murder somewhere in the surrounding area of Nicosia.  He and a couple of other men were taken to a quiet area (small cave) and killed by grenade.  For many years no one knew where they were.  The bodies were discovered by a species of tree that does not normally grow in that particular area.  My uncle had eaten a seed and from his stomach grew a tree. This story made the news:


When we came back to England I went to school and for a couple of years I was drawing tanks and planes.   I was sad because my extended and immediate family broke up.  There are many conflicts around the world and there are many people who have lost homes, family members and so on.  In all of this we stayed alive and started to build our lives again.

However, things do not need to be as extreme as war.  Even in safe communities’ things happen:

  1. Losing a job
  2. Wife is going to have a baby and one has to get to hospital in a rush
  3. Paying the rent
  4. Having food on the table so that the whole family can eat.

We find ourselves all the time worrying about things.  At the time of Christ to the average age of mortality was about 35 to 40 years of age


So, when we look at the Gospel of Matthew and our Lord Jesus is talking about worrying we need to take note and do our homework correctly. It is good to begin by reading Matthew 6 verses 25-34

The Cure for Anxiety

25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! 31 Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ 32 For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34  (NASB; From Olive Tree Bible Software )

Our Lord is concerned about the state of the believer’s soul, heart and being.  Not worrying is a practical outworking of the beatitudes.  There are certain things that we have learned about the beatitudes.

Without Christ we are lost separated from God. God meets us in our need and saves us from our sins.  The Holy Spirit works in our lives in such a way that we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness. 

As our Lord says in verse 33, we are to; ‘seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.’

Compare this sentence of our Lord to:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

From; Matthew 5:6

We have no control over bad things happening, but the key is in the state of our faith by grace.  The eschaton is the great equalizer.  When the Day of Judgement comes, we will stand before God on our own.  This is a fearful thing for the person who has denied their Creator any part in their lives here on earth.  Some faith is better than no faith.  Our Lord says many times ‘O you of little faith…’

I particularly like verse 26 because I live in the countryside, and I see a lot of birds:

  • Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? Matthew 6:26

The thing is that here in Finland we have four seasons.  The birds are always in our garden finding food.  When we drive, we see lots of ravens by the roadside.  They possibly drop seeds on the road purposefully so that the husk of the seed can be cracked for food.

We then have King Solomon who was possibly the richest man in the world at that time. These God given riches however are trumped by lilies of the field that are more beautiful:

  • And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil, nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Matthew 6:28-30


Bad things happen but in light of God’s word we need to live by faith and put our complete confidence in our Trinitarian God.  We have no control over life and death, yet earth is only half the story.  We need to remember that God became a man in Jesus Christ. He was crucified but now he is risen, and we put our hope in him.   The world does not understand God’s logic and to tell you the truth it goes against how the world sees things.

God can bless us with a long and happy life, but we should put God first in our lives and trust him completely.  Many in the world look for

  • Wealth and power because you are egotistical
  • Having a good reputation because it makes them feel good
  • Through competition beating a rival for the better job.
  • Having a wife/partner to serve you as a slave.

God doesn’t care about:

  • Your wealth and power because God sees your greed
  • Your good reputation because God sees your heart
  • That you are good at winning although you cheat
  • You are treating your wife/husband/ partner badly because you have no empathy.

Heavenly treasures are worth so much more:

  • Share what you have as Christ shared his love
  • A pure heart may lead to a good reputation.
  • Help the person next to you to reach new heights
  • Love your neighbour as yourself because on a bad day your neighbour may be helping you.

Although we have almost no control over suffering our eyes should be fixed over the horizon to the kingdom of God.  I had no control over my early years and the war in Cyprus yet by faith life goes on and into the eschaton where it really counts.

When the Infinite and Finite Meet at the Echo of Faith (Matthew 6: 16-24; Fasting)

September 11, 2022

Before we begin to unpack the meaning of these texts, I can see that Matthew has a concept of revelation worked into the text.  God the Father in the Trinitarian scheme of things cannot be known directly.  Yet God the Father is not inactive here but active through the teachings of the Son.  This is linked to the beatitudes.  God is interested in the state of our hearts but unfortunately the natural Man is only interested in his/her pride, selfishness and greed. 

When we read the above there is actually a contest going on between Jesus and the hypocrites.  Matthew in his Gospel names the hypocrites as the Pharisees and the Sadducees (See the eight woes in Matt: 11 (verses 13, 14, 15, 23, 25,2 7 and 29)).  In Judgement an intention inside the heart cannot be seen but God can see it. There is a battle going on here for the purity of true religion in second Temple Judaism.   Late on Matthew quotes from Isaiah.  I have quoted a little bit more for contextual reasons. Isaiah says:

13 Then the Lord said,

“Because this people draw near with their words

And honor Me with their lip service,

But they remove their hearts far from Me,

And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,

14 Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous;

And the wisdom of their wise men will perish,

And the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed.”

15 Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,

And whose deeds are done in a dark place,

And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”

16 You turn things around!

Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,

That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;

Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? Isaiah 29:13-16

So, then we can see that our Lord is saying that on the surface it seems to be true religion by keeping all the hundreds of laws and extra laws.  By keeping these laws, it puffs a person up ‘Look how good I am’.  This in that sense is a form of idolatry.  The reason is because the laws are taking the place of God.  The law was never intended to take the place of God.  Rather it ought to be taken in context of covenant and a personal relationship with The Lord (Tetragrammaton, Ha Shem, The Name).  The children of Israel certainly knew that they were in relationship as it says for example:

1 Then God spoke all these words, saying,

2 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:1-3

Commentary on Matthew 6 (16 – 18)

16 “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face 18 so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

Verse 16 – 18

The phrase ‘as the hypocrites’ is found in various forms in chapter 6’:

6:2 ‘as the hypocrites do’

6:5 ‘Like the hypocrites’

6:16 ‘as the hypocrites’

Fasting religiously can be a good thing, however if the state of the heart is misplaced then it is a very bad thing. Here in this verse our Lord is saying that they want to be noticed for their outward appearance.  Perhaps ‘the ordinary people’ will somehow put them on a pedestal in some contorted way. Perhaps these hypocrites will get some type of earthly reward; praise, honour, money.  The reason why they are hypocrites is that the heart is a billion miles away from their covenantal God as Isaiah says.  Jesus our Lord says basically that the true believer doesn’t make a big thing out of fasting.  They fast but they don’t show it.  They seek God’s love.  The disciple will get a reward, but our Lord doesn’t spell out what the reward actually is.  From previous work we have done in the beatitudes I feel that this would be linked to the eschaton.

Commentary verses 19-24

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body; so, then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth. Matthew 6:16-24

True treasure is not kept in the world, but it is kept in heaven.  Moths eat clothes and rust can destroy beautiful objects.  Thieves break into house to steal ‘things of worth’.  However, our Lord makes the point that this is not real treasure.  Verse 21 caps it all!

21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Then Matthew uses light and darkness as a metaphor.  This also relates to the state of the heart when our Lord makes the comparison of the ‘the light that is within you’.

It boils down to the fact that we cannot serve God and wealth.  This also points to the state of the heart.  Our Lord knew what he was talking about.  For example, Satan tested our Lord with all the kingdoms of the world:

Again, the devil *took Him to a very high mountain and *showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus *said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” 11 Then the devil *left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. Matthew 4:8-11


In everything we do our Lord is interested in the state of our heart before a Holy Trinitarian God.  Fasting when coupled with prayer can bring a clearer focus in our worship of God.  Fasting means that we say ‘no’ to a basic need of human survival.  It is an action that says God’s kingdom is more important than anything this world can give us.  I have to say I very rarely fast.  Working as a Carpenter I like my energy and it would be a sacrifice for me to do such a thing.  However, the door is open to anyone to fast to get closer to God. (I have to say though, if you decide to fast and you have underlying health conditions seek medical advice from your doctor.) 

I also need to say that I am not standing in judgement over any religious group.  I am only bringing out the meaning of the text from Matthew’s perspective.  It isn’t only the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  We need to begin by looking into our own inner being to find lots of evil things going on.  The work of salvation through the Holy Spirit takes more than a lifetime.  There is the Pharisee and the Sadducee in all of us. 

Prayer and fasting can help us to find these dead bones that are in us and help us to be more like Christ.  Be wary though, this process will take us into the eschaton and then some more!

General discussion about the 10 Commandments with reflections from Herman Bavinck part 1

September 7, 2022

Bavinck the master theologian is going to take us on a road map of the 10 commandments. However, what I have learned about the numbering of the 10 commandments is different in Judaism, Catholicism and Lutheranism and then we have the other traditions too.  As well as Bavinck over a 150 years ago, this problem has been pointed out also by my former lecturer the Late Richard Coggins (In His commentary on Exodus).  The 10 commandments in Hebrew were known as the ’10 words’. Coggins pointed out that in key passages there are situations where the 10 commandments could have been used.  Instead in the Old Testament we have ‘silence’.  In the Christian traditions however the 10 commandments through the centuries has played a fuller part in the formation of the Christian society.

In the Christian traditions of the 10 commandments, it starts here:

“You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:3

According to Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs says that in Judaism the first commandment is:

 “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Exodus 20:2 Judaism it starts here:

Why the difference Rabbi Sacks says:

“There was a fundamental disagreement between Maimonides and Nahmanides on the status of the first sentence: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Maimonides, in line with the Talmud, held that this is in itself a command: to believe in God. Nahmanides held that it was not a command at all. It was a prologue or preamble to the commands.[4] Modern research on ancient Near Eastern covenant formulae tends to support Nahmanides.”

(From (I usually do not include the https on the front because I want to keep the structure of my blog.  It is enough however if you wish to follow the argument)).

By no means is the 10 Commandments a dead subject.  From a Jewish point of view there is a covenant between God and Israel.  The first sentence links the identity of God to the redemption of his people from slavery.  It is in the context of the relationship that the 10 commandments make sense.

Bavinck and the first commandment (first word)

understanding the grammar (Before me; before my face; in my presence)

“You shall have no other gods before Me. Exodus 20:3

Bavinck is going to look at the commandment in closer detail.   Below we have the LXX, NASB and the Mosoretic text.

  • 3 οὐκ2 ἔσονταί1 σοι (θεοὶ ἕτεροι3) πλὴν4 ἐμοῦ5. 
  • 3 You shall1 not2 have (any other gods3) before4 me 5
  • 3 לֹֽ֣א יִהְיֶֽה־לְךָ֛֩ אֱלֹהִ֥֨ים אֲחֵרִ֖֜ים עַל־פָּנָֽ֗יַ׃ Exodus 20:3

(On the Greek text of the Old Testament with reference to Exodus 203 I have added numbers so that you can follow the word order. You also need to remember that one reads Hebrew from right to left)

“There will not be for you other gods before my face.” Page 122

After the translation of this verse, he quotes Abraham Kuyper:

“This commandment implies: Let God be God; do not assault him in his being, but live only for him, under him, and through him.” (From Page 122)

From my point of view this was a good translation as it takes the preposition ‘al’ which can mean different things in various contexts

Herman Bavinck researched the above text and then he looked at some translations of it.

My own research for fun in Google translate gave us:

As a preposition depending on the sentence, can have a wide range of meanings:

עַל Can mean about; to onto; upon; above; by; towards; toward; unto.

Bavincks final verdict on the translation was influenced by the LXX ‘before me (πλὴν ἐμοῦ)’

The Hebrew using ‘before my face’. 

Before this conclusion however he looked at some other translations:

Jacob Alting and Nicolaus Gürtler translate this as “except before my face”—that is, my Shekinah), my Son, whereby the Son is included under the prohibition of Deuteronomy 5:7 along with the Holy Spirit. “

(The wording above gives the impression that the Son and Holy Spirit are part of the ban.  This is not the case.  The editors notes (John Bolt)clarify that the subject of the discussion is on the grammar and not the trinity, page 122)

Bavinck interprets; “Before my face” is nothing more than “in my presence” (cf. Ps. 27:8; Exod).

The Master |Theologian gets the precious nugget from the Gold Mine, which is ‘in my presence’.  Bavinck also pointed out that even some other scholars preferred to use ‘except for, עַל ’.  Bavinck however felt that ‘before’ was a better translation and I agree with him on this.

Bavinck also gives us some references to other parts of the Scriptures for ‘before Me’:

Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Genesis 11:28 (The word presence is the Hebrew word face)

But Nadab and Abihu died before the LORD when they offered strange fire before the LORD in the wilderness of Sinai; and they had no children. So Eleazar and Ithamar served as priests in the lifetime of their father Aaron. Numbers 3:4 (The word ‘before’ in the first sentence is ‘face’ in the Hebrew)

Thus, Bavinck shows that the word ‘face’ can be translated as ‘before’ and ‘presence’ in its customary Old Testament Hebrew usage.

The prohibition on the gods

At the end of page 123 Bavinck moves on from the presence of God to His relationship to the other gods who are not real gods. It is interesting that he says that the people should not have other gods in their hearts or hidden from other people. God is present everywhere.

When commenting on the other gods Bavinck writes:

“Other gods” may mean “others” and also “strange ones” (Ps. 81:9; Isa. 42:8).”

I think this sentence needs unpacking as the Editor John Bolt in the notes certainly has given us some key words. 

Let us begin by looking at the above quotations:

9 “Let there be no strange god among you;

Nor shall you worship any foreign god. Psalms 81:9

8 “I am the LORD, that is My name;

I will not give My glory to another,

Nor My praise to graven images. Isaiah 42:8

Anyway, in this section John Bolt the Editor of the Reformed Ethics gave us three words from the various translations of the Old Testament.

The LXX uses ‘’ theoi heteroi.  It means other gods but heteros is very strong.  It means completely different other (chalk and cheese different or.  St Paul used the word Heteros when he was having a shindig (argument) with the ‘Judaizers’– those people forcing Gentile Christians to be circumcised.  Peter got told off as well Galatians 16).

So then, God’s Word is very Strict, and Bavinck brings this out from the translation.  Israel has been commanded to worship the one God YHWH.  When I use the Tetragrammaton (God’s name) I will refer to him as ‘The Lord’. This is because as well as respecting Jewish believers who use Ha Shem ‘The Name’ for the Tetragrammaton, I feel in today’s Church God the Father is not honoured enough and sacred religious language is being trampled on.  As believers let us show respect to our Trinitarian God who is blasphemed in the media on a day-to-day basis.

This is a very Holy Command and God’s people are expected to live to this high covenant. Unfortunately, even though the Prophets in the Old Testament warned again and again of following foreign gods.  A lot of ordinary Israelites failed this command. In the siege of Lachish for example when Sennacherib attacked the Israelite city one can see some candle sticks that were taken as booty for the king.  In other words, some residents of Lachish were worshipping foreign gods.


Document 27 for example in ‘The Bible in the British Museum’; pages 60-64; By T C Mitchell. the picture below shows something:

The editor writes:

“To the right the defeated inhabitants are led out by Assyrian troops, some of whom carry braziers or incense stands, perhaps from unorthodox religious rites.”

This is a graphic image of the first of the 10 commandments being broken and the aftermath of God’s judgement on the people of Lachish. Sennacherib made a graphic representation of this victory to milk his pride.


From my point of view the Ten Commandments have universal value. It is an important part of Christian teaching.  I have to say though that at the time of the Second Temple when Christ walked this earth, the Ten Commandments were more important in Judaism than today.  The Lord, our Trinitarian God ought to be respected and we ought to put all of our idols of materialism, selfishness, and pride far away.  We also need to remember that these two commandments can be summed up in two.

  • Love God
  • Lover your neighbour as yourself

God wants us to come into his presence and the language of ‘face’ for ‘presence’ is very intimate and covenantal.  However, we need to remember that although there is intimacy there is ‘respect’ and God is Holy and in a sense we need to respect this and perhaps tighten our own language to show this respect.  We also need to remember that we stand before The Lord who created the whole universe and humankind.  We respect our leaders but how much more should we respect The Holy One, The Lord who gave us life and brought us into a covenant relationship through the Son by way of the Cross, the Resurrection and the Guarantor who takes us into the very presence of God, The Holy Spirit.