The word “mandate” is no different from “commandment,” but even though “mandate” is a little weirder, perhaps, I figured it’d be better to use that word than to use “commandment” since we’re very used to talking about “the ten commandments” from the book of Exodus, and these are not the same thing. In fact, Hermas has got twelve commandments, or mandates, so we’re going to avoid talking about commandments altogether. Anyway, since it’s really short, here’s the full text:
First of all, believe that there is one God who created and finished all things, and made all things out of nothing. He alone is able to contain the whole, but Himself cannot be contained.
Have faith therefore in Him, and fear Him; and fearing Him, exercise self-control. Keep these commands, and you will cast away from you all wickedness, and put on the strength of righteousness, and live to God, if you keep this commandment.
What’s important to observe here is what appears to be both a command and commentary upon it. From what I can see, the first two sentences are the command and the second two are commentary, so I put a little line break in between them to help separate them visually.
Much like in the ten commandments, Hermas’ series of mandates is beginning with an identification of God. And, much like in the Creeds, this first mandate identifies God the infinite creator. He is able to contain all of creation, but it cannot contain him. In other words, he’s bigger than the universe. And Christians are commanded to believe this. Sounds pretty straightforward, so let’s see how the commentary applies this to how we live.
We live out this belief by having faith, which involves fearing him, which in turn involves exercising self-control. Basically, if we really believe God is all-powerful, we should try our hardest to act accordingly, and strive to “live to God,” casting aside our sinful wickedness and drawing upon the strength of righteousness that he provides for us. The fact that it says “keep these commands” makes it pretty clear that this is an introductory commandment, paving the way for the others which will follow.