The Ten Commandments: The First Commandment

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

This first commandment is brief, but all the more authoritative for that. God demanded the loyalty of His earthly people, Israel. Their founding patriarch, Abraham, had left behind him the gods of the Chaldeans and put his faith and confidence in Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God. Abraham’s long journey from Ur to Canaan was undertaken on the principle of faith, believing what God had said concerning the promised land, even though he had never seen it. The subsequent events in his life proved him truly to be “the father of all them that believe” (Rom 4:11).[1] He knew God and trusted Him; He loved God and worshipped Him; and He obeyed God and served Him. We can do the same today. God has not changed.

The Bible asserts repeatedly that there is only one true God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deu 6:4-5). This is the core belief in Judaism and forms the initial stanza of the oft-repeated daily prayer known as the Shema. Other stanzas remind Jews of the conditional nature of God’s covenant with the nation: divine blessings or curses would follow, according to their obedience or lack of it.

With the coming of Christ into the world and the beginning of Christianity, monotheism is still upheld even though the existence of God in three divine Persons is also clearly seen. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal in power and glory. “The Trinity” (a biblical truth, if not a Bible term) is a concept so great that we cannot fully understand it, and yet it is so important that we must believe it, and so wonderful that we ought to enjoy it.

Following their redemption from bondage, the Israelites, perhaps numbering over two million people, began a hazardous journey through the desert. There is no doubt that over four centuries of living in Egypt had left their mark – they would continue to hanker after what they had left behind in that land. Ahead of them lay the land of Canaan and its many idol gods – they would fall prey to the influence of these false gods and suffer the consequences. If only they had remained true to Jehovah!

Egyptian gods

The ancient Egyptians had a vast pantheon of gods and goddesses associated with the elements above them – sun, wind and rain – as well as the animals and birds around them. The assistance of these gods was invoked after death to make preparations and seek protection for the journey through the afterlife. The treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamun affirm the fear and uncertainty that dominated the thinking of the people of his time.

Canaanite gods

Many of their gods were associated with fertility rites and immorality of all kinds. One of the most evil and degrading practices was the sacrificing of children. In the time of the judges, Israel manifested a depressing habit of backsliding and reverting to the false gods of the peoples to whom they should have been an example. God acted in love when He disciplined them. When they repented, He forgave them and raised up a deliverer – only for them to fall again.

Today’s gods

When people wish to assert their independence from God, they turn to gods of their own making. There is in the heart of man a void that only the true God can fill. When men turn away from Him, that void remains and demands a substitute presence. Men must worship someone or something.

There are others whose view of God is skewed. To them, He is a God of convenience who accommodates them and makes them feel comfortable. His generous love excuses their sin. He is not so holy as to hold them accountable or judge them. He is expected to be there in an emergency when they fall into difficulties and need Him; but otherwise, they can do without Him most of the time and manage on their own, especially when life is going well.

Another familiar assertion is that of the celebrity or personality who, when interviewed about their philosophy of life, states, “I am not really religious; I am more spiritual. I do believe, though, in living by the Golden Rule.” The Golden Rule – doing unto others as you would have them do unto you – sounds like an admirable principle (it is based on Scripture, Lev 19:18,34; Mat 7:12; Luk 6:31). The problem is that it can leave God out of the reckoning altogether and promote men’s opinions to center stage. It is pliable enough to mean whatever people want it to mean and yet remain otherwise free to live as they like.

The Greatness of Jehovah

We conclude on a positive note. In the many instances of confrontation between the God of Israel and various false gods, Jehovah was supreme. The magicians of Egypt could neither match the signs Moses showed them nor overcome the plagues that God brought upon the land “that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord” (Exo 14:4). Later in their history, the Philistine god, Dagon, fell down from his pedestal and shattered on the ground before the presence of the ark: “And when the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, The ark of the God of Israel shall not abide with us: for his hand is sore upon us, and upon Dagon our god” (1Sa 5:7).

Later still, the prophets of Baal were soundly defeated on Mount Carmel when their gods were shown to be powerless. Elijah’s sacrifice, drenched in water, was totally consumed when the fire of the Lord fell from heaven. “And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces: and they said, The Lord, he is the God; the Lord, he is the God” (1Ki 18:39). We should confidently and thankfully affirm the words spoken by God Himself as quoted by Isaiah: “I am the Lord, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (Isa 45:5).

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV.