Scripture: And 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 slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20:1-3 ESV
Observations: Slowing the pace of our walk through the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, aka, the Torah), we will reflect on one of the Ten Commandments each of the next ten days. They may be grouped by the first four addressing Israel’s (and our) relationship with God, while the remaining six concern interactions with fellow humans.
Presented in the form of a typical Middle Eastern suzerainty-treaty, the Ten Commandments begin with a preamble that identifies the suzerain (ruler), his relationship to his vassals, and a remembrance of his benevolence toward his subjects. Here, the ruler is Yahweh, the Lord their God; his servants are Israel, his chosen people; and he has shown compassionate care by delivering Israel from the land of Egypt under the oppression of slavery. So the first and utmost commandment requires Israel to place God first in their lives: “You shall have no other gods before me” (verse 3 above).
Takeaway: In essence, this first command reveals one aspect of the character of Yahweh and us, his people. The Lord is a jealous God (20:5, 34:14). Here, we must pause and not impose our understanding of jealousy onto God. He is sinlessly jealous of our love and affection. His jealousy moves him to great lengths to save us from self-destruction—whoring after the lifeless gods of this world that would turn us away from the only One who perfectly loves us and gave his all for us in the sacrifice of his only begotten Son. This first commandment also implies that Israel is unique, his chosen people, set apart for him to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:15). Hence, Israel must not follow the idolatrous ways of the other nations but live upright lives, bowing only to worship their glorious King.
So how does this first command apply to us? The same as that for Israel—with one exception. While Israel had a limited understanding of the Triune God, we see the once shrouded path of uprightness in Christ in this post-resurrection era. His law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34) abounds in grace. As such, his Helper (the Holy Spirit) exposes our wayward desires that bend us to the knee under the yoke of idol worship. Our part? Cooperate and receive. Agree with the Holy Spirit when he convicts us of idolatry, receive the Lord’s forgiveness, and bow and worship our King.
Prayer: Father God, thank you that you are a jealous God who will not share our love and affection with any false gods who would lead us to sin’s bondage and ruin. And we thank you for offering the incredible sacrifice of your Son who became sin for us that we might become your righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). So would you please help us live upright lives, bowing to and worshiping only you? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling