Annotations to the Heidelberg Catechism - Lord's Day 34
Lord's Day 34
What is the law of the Lord?
God spoke all these words, saying: I am the Lord your God, who brought you
out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
2. You shall not make for yourself a graven 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
upon 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
3. You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain; for the Lord
will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do
all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in
it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your
manservant, or your maidservant, or your cattle, or the sojourner who is
within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the
sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the
Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land
which the Lord your God gives you.
6. You shall not kill.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
10. You shall not covet your neighbour's house; you shall not covet your
neighbour's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his
ass, or anything that is your neighbour's.
How are these commandments divided?
Into two parts.
The first teaches us how to live in relation to God;
the second, what duties we owe our neighbour.
What does the Lord require in the first commandment?
That for the sake of my very salvation I avoid and flee all idolatry, witchcraft,
superstition, and prayer to saints or to other creatures.
Further, that I rightly come to know the only true God. trust in Him alone,
submit to Him with all humility and patience, expect all good from Him
only, and love, fear, and honour Him with all my heart.
In short, that I forsake all creatures rather than do the least thing
against His will.
What is idolatry?
Idolatry is having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or
in addition to, the only true God who has revealed Himself in His Word.
The Ten Words
Q. & A. 92 The Law of the Lord
- Lord's Day 2 already taught us the summary of the law. Now all the ten commandments will be discussed separately. They constitute the rule of thankfulness. That they were given for this purpose, is apparent from the introduction. The law was not given to enable us to attain our own salvation by observing it. For the Lord says that he freed us. The introduction says that he adopted us as his people. And now he gives us the law as the rule of his house so that we may know how we should live in it.
- The law does, indeed, display the characteristics of a document peculiarly applicable to the Israelites. (See commandments 4, 5 and 10). However, it is valid for all time, in fact for eternity. Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfil it (Mt 5:17). And he summarized it again in Mt 22:37-40.
- We find the law in Ex 20:1ff and in Deut 5:6ff. There are minor differences between these two versions. These occur, inter alia, in the motivation for the fourth and in the order and contents of the tenth commandment.
- We should not view the law as having to do solely with matters external to us. The tenth commandment shows clearly that it has relevance also to what takes place in our hearts. We must understand the law in a spiritual sense. In the explanation of the law you must have regard to the following:
a. Each commandment names the worst of a particular type of sin and thereby comprehends the whole type.
b. The opposite of what is forbidden is required.
c. The law is directed not only to our actions, but also to our inner being, our deliberations, desires and thoughts.
- The first nine commandments respectively demand love for:
1. God's person,
2. God's service,
3. God's name,
4. God's day,
6. the neighbour's life,
7. the neighbour's wife,
8. the neighbour's property, and
9. the neighbour's reputation.
The 10th commandment demands that we have this hearty love and show it.
Q. & A. 93 God and the Neighbour
- The law is a unit. Jas 2:10 says: "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it."
Nevertheless, we can divide it into two parts. Jesus himself also spoke of two commandments. The first part, which comprises the first four commandments, tells us what we owe to God, while the second part, commandments five to ten, informs us what we owe to our neighbour. (See the Notes to LD 2, Q&A 4 about the neighbour and about the relationship between the first and second parts of the law).
Q. & A. 94 and 95 Give Me Your Heart
- This is the root commandment, the basis of the law. That is why it is the first. The phrase “no other gods” does not mean that there are any, but that people act as though there are. The phrase “before Me” also refers to what goes on in your heart!
- The commandment Forbids idolatry, that is, putting your trust in something or someone instead of or in addition to God. In other words, it means giving the honour which belongs only to God to something or someone else. There are many sins in which this happens. Some examples are: Witchcraft, i.e., the expectation of a work of God from something which is not God.
Fortune-telling, i.e., the expectation that something which is not God will reveal what is hidden.
Superstition, i.e., the expectation that something which is not God will do something which only God can do. Amulets and mascots fall into this category.
For the sake of your very salvation you must avoid and flee these!
- The commandment requires us to come to know the only true God, and to trust, love, fear (i.e., respect, esteem) and honour him. In short, our hearts must be so devoted to him that we would rather forsake all creatures than do the least thing against his will. Ps 73:25 says: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee."
- The principial equation of Christianity with other religions, such as spiritualism.
C. Questions (Q&A 92-95)
- Was the law given us so that, by keeping it, we could earn eternal life ourselves? If not, why was it given? How is that apparent?
- Was the law meant only for Israel? Why does it appear that way?
- Where do we read the law in the Bible? Are there differences between the two versions? What are they?
- What must we have regard to in the explanation of the law? Recite the rules for its explanation. For what do the respective commandments demand love?
- Into how many parts do we divide the commandments? What is the difference between them?
- Are there “other gods”? What does the phrase “before Me” mean?
- What is forbidden in the first commandment? What are witchcraft, fortune-telling and superstition?
- What does the commandment require?