Archive for the ‘Herman Bavinck Ethics 2’ Category

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: forces.net/heritage/history/did-agincourt-archers-really-invent-swearing-two-fingered-salute-v-sign

The F word origins = From: dictionary.com/e/origin-of-the-f-word/)

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

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

Worship

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.

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 rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/yitro/structure-good-society/ (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. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetragrammaton

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.

Idols:

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.

Reflection

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.