3 In the first commandment there is only one difficult expression. It is the phrase ʿal-pānāya (“before/besides me”). Nowhere does this Hebrew phrase mean “except me.” Such phrases do exist in Isaiah’s vocabulary: “There is no God apart from me [mibbalʿāday] … there is none” (ʾayin zûlātî, Isa 45:21) and “none besides me” (ʾên ʿôd, Isa 45:6). But none of these is chosen here. The Hebrew preposition ʿal has such a wide use that no one translation can be affirmed to the exclusion of the others. Once in a while the words carry a hostile undertone (e.g., of Ishmael: “he will live over against [NIV, ‘in hostility toward’] all his kinsmen,” Ge 16:12 [my tr.]; cf. also Ge 25:18; Ex 20:20; Dt 21:16). Thus W. F. Albright (From Stone Age to Christianity [2d ed.; New York: Doubleday, 1957], 297, n. 29) translates it, “Thou shalt not prefer other gods to me.” The result, however, is the same: “I will not give my glory to another” (Isa 42:8). Houtman, 3:31, renders the ʿal as “above” (Ge 48:22; Dt 21:16; Ps 16:2) or even “in addition to” (Ge 28:9; 31:50; Lev 18:8; Dt 19:9).
You shall have no other gods before me (20:3). The traditional Jewish interpretation of this commandment as a prohibition of idolatry is based on the fact that elsewhere in the Old Testament ‘other gods’ refers not to divine beings as such, but to the idols of wood or stone worshipped by other nations. This can be clearly seen in Deuteronomy 28:36, “There you will worship other gods, gods of wood and stone.” In this view the commandment is concerned with idolatry, and continues in more specific terms in verses 4–6.
However, it is preferable to take ‘before me’ in the sense ‘in my presence’, ‘when you are in the court of the King.’ It is the fundamental tenet of their covenant King that he brooks no rivals. That is why covenant was such a basic theological metaphor for Israel, and why there is no corresponding use of it in the ancient world. Other nations were polytheistic: they believed in the existence of a large number of gods with powers superior to mankind and controlling human destiny. Pagan thought saw no contradiction in the pious seeking to please first one god, and then another as circumstances changed. The exclusive claims of Israel’s God were not paralleled in the religions of the ancient world, but in the politics of the time. The great kings of the ancient empires demanded the exclusive loyalty of their subject peoples. It was high treason to enter into a relationship with another emperor. This was the focus of their treaty relationships with their vassals, and in a far higher sense it is such exclusive allegiance that is the emphasis of Yahweh’s kingship over his people. In his presence there can be no rival for their affection and service.
But how extensive is ‘in my presence’? Is this allowing for the existence of heathen gods and merely demanding of Israel that they exclusively worship the Lord? Certainly that was required, but it is unlikely that this commandment was intended to be restricted in such a way. The court of Yahweh was not merely the sanctuary or the promised land; it embraced the whole world of which he is the Creator, as is acknowledged in the fourth commandment (20:11) and as is expressed poetically by David in Psalm 139:7–12. Although many Israelites may at first have only understood this commandment as only claiming their personal devotion, it has no inbuilt restriction since it comes from him who can rightly claim, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool” (Isa. 66:1). This was not a perception of God that developed only at a later date, but one that had inspired the faithful from earliest times, as can be seen in Abraham’s question, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25).
There is one other observation needed in connection with this and the other commandments: they are in the second person singular. It is unlikely that this ‘you’ is to be understood as a collective usage for the nation as a whole. That makes for a very awkward interpretation of ‘your father and your mother’ (20:12) or ‘your neighbour’s wife’ (20:17). These commands, though spoken to the nation as a whole, are addressed to each of them individually. The response that is required is a personal one. True loyalty to the King does not derive from a general, national response to his commands that is different from the aggregate of individual obedient responses from each of his subjects.
20:3 You shall have no other gods before me. God demands the exclusive obedience of each Israelite. The Israelites are to acknowledge the Lord as the one and only God. In the ancient world, where polytheism was the norm, this emphasis on one God is radically different. The expression “before me” does not imply order of priority. Rather, it means that the Israelites are not to place images of other gods in the Lord’s presence. This was the custom of other people (cf. 1 Sam. 5:2–7). Importantly, the prohibition against other gods is expressed as broadly as possible and not limited merely to worshiping or bowing down before them.
No Other Gods (20:3)
20:3. The Lord is God, the only God (20:3)! The expression before Me probably has the sense of “in addition to Me.” One was not allowed to worship the one true God as if He were a part of a pantheon of gods. This expression is not suggesting that there actually are other gods. It prohibits the honoring of any other entity, real or imaginary, as God. Nothing else, no other gods (money [cf. Mt 6:24], pleasure, power, fame, even one’s self) can have the priority in one’s thoughts, words, or deeds. God’s people and indeed all living creatures, owe ultimate allegiance to Him and Him alone.
3. No other gods: possibly ‘no other god’, if the so-called ‘plural of majesty’ is used, as always when describing YHWH. Much argument has raged as to whether Israel’s faith was true monotheism, since she could visualize the possibility of ‘other gods’ to serve. But to quibble about this is to expect too much self-analysis: monolatry (the exclusive service of one God) is demanded of Israel here in no uncertain terms. Israel lived in the midst of a polytheistic world: this terse prohibition deals with one of the dangers that came from living in just such a world. These commandments were after all addressed to the ordinary Israelite, not to the religious élite of the day: they are expressed in strong simple terms, understandable to all, and deal with the temptations of the common man, not of the theologian.
Before me: literally, ‘to my face’. This slightly unusual phrase seems also to be used of taking a second wife while the first is still alive. Such a use, of breach of an exclusive personal relationship, would help to explain the meaning here. It then links with the description of God as a ‘jealous God’ in verse 5. Some modern commentators point out that ‘before YHWH’ or ‘the presence of YHWH’ elsewhere in the Torah seems to denote the altar of YHWH (Exod. 23:17). Therefore they see a cultic reference: no other god may be worshipped simultaneously with YHWH at a common sanctuary as, for example, was common in Canaanite religious practice. This is undoubtedly true, but seems, in itself, an inadequate explanation. In whatever detailed way we understand it, the main thrust is clear: because of YHWH’s nature and because of what YHWH has done, he will not share his worship with another: he is unique. For various other interpretations of the phrase, see Hyatt.
Ver. 3. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.—The First Commandment:—
- This Commandment does not tell the Jews that the gods worshipped by other nations have no existence; it tells him that he must offer them no homage, and that from him they must receive no recognition of their authority and power. The Jew must serve Jehovah, and Jehovah alone. This was the truest method of securing the ultimate triumph of monotheism. A religious dogma, true or false, perishes if it is not rooted in the religious affections and sustained by religious observances. But although the First Commandment does not declare that there is one God, the whole system of Judaism rests on that sublime truth, and what the Jews had witnessed in Egypt and since their escape from slavery must have done more to destroy their reverence for the gods of their old masters than could have been effected by any dogmatic declaration that the gods of the nations were idols.
- The First Commandment may appear to have no direct practical value for ourselves. It would be a perversion of its obvious intention to denounce covetousness, social ambition, or excessive love of children. These are not the sins which this Commandment was meant to forbid. It must be admitted that there is no reason why God should say to any of us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” If He were to speak to many of us, it would be necessary to condemn us for having no god at all. The appalling truth is, that many of us have sunk into atheism. We all shrink from contact with God. And yet He loves us. But even His love would be unavailing if He did not inspire those who are filled with shame and sorrow by the discovery of their estrangement from Him, with a new and supernatural life. (R. W. Dale, D.D.)
The First Commandment:—
- All want of a positive allegiance to Jehovah is a positive allegiance to another Elohim or supreme God. A self-reliant man, in the strict sense of the word, never yet existed. Man’s nature is such that he looks without him for support, as the ivy feels for the tree or the wall. If he has not the true and living God as his stay, then he is an idolater.
- All allegiance to God that does not recognize Him as He has revealed Himself is allegiance to a false god. So a view of God as careless of personal holiness in His creatures, or as too exalted to notice all their minute acts and thoughts, or as tyrannical and arbitrary in His dealings with them, or as appeasable by self-denials and penances, is a view of a false god, and not a view of Jehovah, the only living and true God. And the man who, despising or neglecting the Holy Scriptures, and trusting to his reason or his dreams, or to nature, or to nothing, holds such a god before his mind, is an idolater; he has put another Elohim before Jehovah Elohim. Because the thought of the Divine Being which he thus introduces into his heart becomes the substitute for the true motion that should guide his life, he puts the helm into as false hands as if he had delivered it to Mammon. Several subordinate thoughts naturally follow.
- The help of the true God, Jehovah-Jesus, should be sought by us to overthrow our false gods. By that very act we should offer rightful allegiance, and, in so doing, consecrate our life to the rightful service of Him who is our rightful King.
- How watchful we should be in this earth, where the false gods are not only plenty, but exactly after the fashion of our own depraved hearts! It was said of Athens that at each corner there was a new god, and some have even said that in population Athens had more gods than men. It is so with our unseen gods of the unregenerate heart. They abound with different names and different characters, according to the tastes and characters of different men.
- The Word of God ought to be in our hands all the while. This is the only offensive weapon against our false gods. (H. Crosby, D.D.)
The First Commandment:—
This Commandment, as all the rest, hath a positive part requiring something, and a negative part prohibiting something.
- We shall, in the first place, speak to what is required here, and we take it up in these three things.
- And first, it requireth the right knowledge of God; for there can be no true worship given to Him, there can be no right thought or conception of Him, or faith in Him, till He be known.
- It requireth from us a suitable acknowledging of God in all these His properties. As—
(1) That He be highly esteemed above all.
(4) Believed and trusted in.
(5) Hoped in.
(8) Served and obeyed. And so—
(9) He must be the supreme end in all our actions that should mainly be aimed at by us.
- It requireth such duties as result from His excellency, and our acknowledging Him to be such a one. As—
(1) Dependence upon Him.
(2) Submission to Him, and patience under cross dispensations from Him.
(3) Faith resting on Him.
(4) Prayers put up to Him.
(5) Repentance for wronging Him.
(6) Communion, and a constant walking with Him.
(7) Delighting in Him.
(8) Meditating on Him; and such other as necessarily may be inferred as duties incumbent on creatures in such a relation to such a God, whose excellency and worth calleth and inviteth men to all suitable duties.
- Next, it is necessary that we add some advertisements to these generals.
(1) That the Commandment requireth all these, and in the highest and most perfect degree.
(2) That it not only requireth them in ourselves, but obligeth us to further them in all others, according to our places and callings.
(3) That it requireth the diligent use of all means that may help and further us in these; as reading and meditation, study, &c.
(4) That these things, which in some respect may be given to creatures, as love, fear, &c., yet, when they are required as duties to God, they are required in a far more imminent way.
- In the next place, we should consider the negative part of this Commandment, for the extent thereof will be best discerned by considering what is forbidden therein, and how it may be broken. This idolatry is either—
- Doctrinal, or idolatry in the judgment, when one professedly believeth such a thing besides God to have some divinity in it; as heathens do of their Mars and Jupiter; or—
- Practical, when men believe no such thing, and will not own any such opinion, yet are guilty of the same thing, as covetous men, &c.
- It may be distinguished into idolatry that hath something for its object, as the Egyptians worshipped beasts, and the Persians the sun or fire, and that which has nothing but men’s imaginations for its object, as these who worship feigned gods; in which respect the apostle saith, “an idol is nothing” (1 Cor 8:4).
- We would distinguish betwixt the objects of idolatry; and they are either such as are in themselves simply sinful, as devils, profane men; or they are such as are good in themselves, but abused and wronged, when they are made objects of idolatry, as angels, saints, sun, moon, &c.
- Distinguish betwixt idolatry that is more gross and professed, and that which is more latent, subtle, and denied. This distinction is like that before mentioned, in opinion and practice, and much coincideth with it.
- Distinguish betwixt heart-idolatry (Ezek. 14; chap. 14:11, 12, and 16:2, 3), and external idolatry. The former consisteth in an inward heart-respect to some idol, as this tumultuous people were enslaved to their ease and bellies in the last two fore-cited places; the other in some external idolatrous gesture or action. (James Durham.)
The First Commandment:—
First, there is the positive declaration of a personal God; and secondly, His claim to be worshipped as the one true and living God. The most obvious errors requiring our attention are four in number—Atheism, Polytheism, Pantheism, and Deism.
- Except as a cloke for immorality and sinful indulgence, I am inclined to doubt the existence of Atheism, and the study of history confirms me in the doubt.
- But what of the Polytheist, the worshipper, that is, of many gods; in this respect, at least, the very opposite to the last? It is not difficult to trace his origin. When time was young, men lived together in families, tribes, or small communities; beyond the circle of these they very rarely travelled. Before they were able to realize the idea of the oneness of the human race, each family would not unnaturally aim at being complete in itself; and as tending, especially to this, they would place themselves under the protection of some one particular god, and then gods multiplied, as a necessary consequence, upon the increase of people and subdivision of tribes. This was one cause. We might discover, without difficulty, others of a different nature. To take one instance, in times of ignorance, when the mind was unable to grasp the Infinite, men seized upon what was best in themselves, or what was noblest in nature, and deified this; and so at one time we find Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, receiving the homage of men; and at another we see temples arising to Faith, or Modesty, or Constancy, or Hope. But all this, whatever its origin, was openly denounced by the simple declaration standing at the head of the first table: “I am,” &c.
- Of the Pantheist I shall only speak briefly. The meaning of the term is: “one who believes that everything is God, and God is everything.” He deifies all that is best in nature, especially the intellect or mind, and His Supreme Being is a combination of the united intelligences of the world. But if all that is intelligent, all that is best in created things, is God, then that which is best in myself is God, and demands my worship and adoration. And what is this but to give to the creature what belongs and is due to the Creator alone?
- The Deist believes in a God, as his name implies, but does not believe that that God has ever revealed Himself to man; and this is to deny the Bible, to deny Christianity, to deny Christ. He holds that when the Supreme Being finished the creation of the world, He assigned to nature “Laws that should never be broken,” and then withdrew Himself from the government of the universe. Again, besides the fact that the Deist will not allow to God any superintendence or control over the works of His hands, thereby cutting off from man his most consoling faith in an all-wise and merciful Providence, He casts him adrift on the wide ocean of life, with no compass to steer by, and no chart to preserve his vessel from shoals and rocks, and all the countless perils of the deep. If God has not revealed Himself to man, then what can he know of a future life, what of the immortality of his soul? And with this unknown, it matters not what be his life and conduct on earth, for death is the close of all things, and there is nothing but darkness beyond the grave! (H. M. Luckock, D.D.)
On going after other gods:—
Going after other gods is a snare of the spiritual life into which we are liable to drift before suspecting any danger, for it does not necessarily mean the pursuit of things evil in their nature, but of things, innocent enough perhaps in themselves, which, by impressing us with an exaggerated idea of their importance or blessing, absorb that devotion which we owe to God, and demand from us a service which is due to Him alone.
- There is the God of public opinion. There is such a thing as healthy public opinion; but there are times when its tone becomes lowered, and a very imperfect standard of conduct is all that is needed to satisfy its requirements. It involves a moral effort to which many are unequal to retain, in its integrity, the sense of sinfulness attached to any course of conduct which God forbids when public opinion gives its sanction.
- There is the god of pleasure. This is a deity which, when once installed in the heart of a man, is insatiable in its demands. Instead of remaining the handmaid of duty, it becomes its sworn foe; instead of being the solace and refreshment of toll, it harasses and interferes with our work. The man who is a slave to pleasure looks upon all work as a grievance more or less; to be shirked altogether, if possible, or to be got through as quickly as may be. His main interest in life is not centred in duty, but in amusement. But this exacting deity not only grudges every moment of our time which is not given up to its service, it grudges, too, every penny of our money which is not spent for its gratification.
III. There is the god of success. The dangers of the spiritual life attached to the worship of this god are very real. The man who worships success, who in his innermost heart values it more than anything else, and looks upon it as the one object to set before himself, by a natural law of his being, is prepared, if the need arises, to make any sacrifice for it, including even the incurring of God’s displeasure. There is no more dangerous rival deity which we can admit into our hearts than success. It blinds us to all that is by the way. It makes us inconsiderate and unscrupulous in the struggle of life; and as the competition of life increases, and the chances of getting on become fewer, we are tempted to subordinate all higher considerations to the one idea of personal advancement. Another and by no means the least mischievous effect of putting too great store by success in any shape, is that it leads us to look to it for our sole encouragement and reward in the efforts both of spiritual and secular life. As “it is not in man to command success,” it follows that those who make success their god can have nothing to fall back upon in the hour of failure. (M. Tweddell, M.A.)
The First Commandment:—
How shall we conceive of God? Who is He? What is His name? The First Commandment answers these questions. The language is local, but the meaning is universal.
- The meaning of the First Commandment for the ancient Jew.
- The meaning of the First Commandment for ourselves.
- The Divine declaration.
(1) The name “Jehovah.” Jesus of Nazareth is Deity in exposition—the Word of God. See how the “I am” of the burning bush reappears in the “I am” of the Nazarene (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; John 8:58; 14:3; 17:24; Rev. 1:8).
(2) The Divine relation. Who is Jehovah’s Israel in our day and land? It is the Church of the Living God (see Rom. 2:28, 29; 1 Cor. 12:27). If we really belong to Christ, truly loving Him and obeying Him and sharing His character, we are, in spite of all our diversities, one Christian personality; for in Christ Jesus there can be neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Greek nor Scythian, neither male nor female; for all in Christ are one, and Christ is all and in all.
(3) The Divine deliverance. As it is the Church that is the true Israel, so it is Diabolus who is the true Pharaoh, and Sin which is the true Egypt, and Jesus who is the true Deliverer.
- The Divine prohibition. We ourselves need this prohibition no less than did ancient Israel. For, although Christendom, theoretically speaking, is monotheistic, yet Christendom, practically speaking, is largely polytheistic. Recall, for example, the practical tritheism of many Trinitarians, conceiving the three Persons in the Trinity as three distinct Gods; or the practical dualism of many Christians, conceiving the Father as the God of wrath, and the Son as the God of love: or, again, conceiving the Creator as the God of nature, and the Redeemer as the God of Scripture. Behold in the Pantheon of our Christendom how many niches there are for various gods—the god of the deist, the god of the materialist, the god of the fatalist, the god of the sentimentalist, the god of the churchman, the god of the pantheist. Concluding Lessons:
- Our indebtedness to the Jew for monotheism.
- Jehovah is to be worshipped.
- Jehovah alone is to be worshipped. (G. D. Boardman.)
The First Commandment:—
- What is it to make God to be a God to us?
- To acknowledge Him for a God. Deity is a jewel that belongs only to His crown.
- To choose Him. An act of mature deliberation and self-dedication.
- To enter into a solemn covenant with Him.
- To give Him adoration.
- To fear Him. This fearing of God is
(1)—To have God always in our eye, “I have set the Lord always before me”; “mine eyes are ever towards the Lord.” He who fears God, imagines that whatever be is doing God looks on, and, as a Judge, weighs all his actions.
(2) To fear God, is when we have such a holy awe of God upon our hearts that we dare not sin; “Stand in awe and sin not.” It is a saying of Anselm, “If hell were on one side and sin on the other, I would rather leap into hell than willingly sin against my God.”
- To love Him. In the godly, fear and love kiss each other.
- To obey Him.
- That we must have no other God.
- There is really no other God.
(1) There is but one First Cause.
(2) There is but one Omnipotent Power.
- We must have no other God. This forbids—
(1) Serving a false God.
(2) Joining a false God with a true.
III. What is it to have other gods besides the true God??
- To trust in anything more than God.
(2) Arm of flesh.
- To love anything more than God.
(1) Oar estate.
(2) Our pleasures.
(3) Our belly.
(4) A child. If we love the jewel more than Him that gave it, God will take away the jewel, that our love may return to Him again.
Use 1. It reproves such as have other gods, and so renounce the true God.
(1) Such as set up idols; “According to the number of thy cities are thy gods, O Judah”; “Their altars are as heaps in the furrows of the field.”
(2) Such as seek to familiar spirits (see 2 Kings 1:6).
Use 2. It sounds a retreat in our ears. Let it call us off from the idolizing any creature; and renouncing other gods, let us cleave to the true God and His service. If we go away from God, we know not where to mend ourselves.
(1) It is honourable serving of the true God; it is more honour to serve God than to have kings serve us.
(2) Serving the true God is delightful, “I will make them joyful in My house of prayer.”
(3) Serving the true God is beneficial; they have great gain here—the hidden manna, inward peace, and a great reward to come.
(4) You have covenanted to serve the true Jehovah, renouncing all others. You cannot go back from God without the highest perjury.
(5) None had ever cause to repent of cleaving to God and His service. (T. Watson.)
The First Commandment:—
- Four things are here required.
- That we must have a God—against atheism.
- That we must have the Lord Jehovah for our God—which forbids idolatry.
- That we must have the only true God the Lord Jehovah alone for our God.
- It requires that all these services and acts of worship, which we tender unto the true and only God, be performed with sincerity and true devotion. This is implied in that expression “before Me,” or in My sight. And this forbids both profaneness on the one hand and hypocrisy on the other.
- It forbids us four things.
- Atheism, or the belief and acknowledgment of no God.
- Ignorance of the true God.
- Profaneness, or the wretched neglect of the worship and service of God.
- Idolatry, or the setting up and worshipping of false gods. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)
The First Commandment:—
The object of religious devotion has to be defined, and it has to be set into some ascertained relationship with ourselves.
- What we have first to look at, therefore, is the self-disclosure of God, upon which He grounds His claim to Israel’s devotion. God is a Person; a personal Spirit like our own; a self-existent, eternal Spirit, apart from and above His world; a Person capable of entering into converse with men, and acting towards them as Deliverer and Saviour from evil. What follows? This follows—“This God shalt thou have for thy God; and thou shalt have no other!” A tie on both its sides solitary and unique must bind the human person with the Divine; saved with Saviour; Jehovah’s people with Jehovah’s self.
- We are now, you perceive, in a position to examine our fundamental law, or First Commandment, defining the Object of Worship. It has resolved itself into this—a mutual relationship exists betwixt God and His human people, absolutely unique and exclusive. Besides Jehovah, Israel has no other Saviour; Israel, therefore, ought to know no other God. Jehovah is not simply first; He is first without a second. He is not the highest of a class of beings, but in His class He stands alone. Other Helper have we nowhere; beneath the covert of His everlasting wings must we run to hide. If we are not to people the heavens with shadowy powers, half Divine, or parcel earth among forces of nature, as the provinces of an empire are parcelled among satraps, or elevate human aid into the remotest competition with the Almighty’s; if to us there is but one seat of power, source of help, well-head of blessing, Author and Finisher of deliverance from every species and form of evil: then, what undivided dependence upon God results! what absoluteness of trust! what singleness of loyalty! what unstinted gratitude! what perfect love! More is shut out than polytheistic rites. Superstition is shut out, which trusts in mechanical aids and not in the free, living, and righteous Will. Magic is shut out, which seeks to extort deliverance by spells from unholy spirits. Luck is shut out, and the vague hope in what will turn up. Spiritual tyranny is shut out, which makes one man the lord of another’s faith and conscience. Policy is shut out, or godless state-craft, with its trust in human foresight, but none in the justice of Providence. Irreligion is shut out, which doubts if prayer avail or God can help, and puts its confidence only in the strongest battalions. Everything, in short, which divides the deep trust and hope of the heart between God and that which is not God, becomes a breach of loyalty to the unique, the solitary Deliverer. (J. O. Dykes, D.D.)
The First Commandment:—
- It is quite evident that this Commandment prescribes a general “fitnes’ of things,” the proper relation of man to God; aims to promote the highest happiness, directing man to seek his good in the highest source—God Himself; and describes the nature of man, setting forth a great principle of his being, that he is capable of giving allegiance to God, has faculties and powers capable of knowing and loving God. Our power of knowing and loving Him in the distinguishing power of man, separating him from the brutes with whom he is in many other respects allied. Not to exercise this power is to cast away the crown of our manhood. Of course, we cannot know God fully. Our weak, limited minds cannot comprehend the Infinite One. If we could comprehend God, we would be greater than He. The unknowable in God leads us to worship the God we know. This command calls us to a constant advance in the knowledge of God, so securing the activity and development of our power of knowing, and making it our duty to carefully attend to the revelation He has made of Himself. This certainly commends the study of nature; not only the poetic listening to its subtle teaching, but the scientific research for its great truths. This certainly commends the study of the Scriptures. Every neglected Bible should thrill the conscience with the charge, “You have not yet taken the first step towards obeying this commandment.” God’s revelation of Himself in the Bible is progressive. It had reached a certain stage at the time the Law was given at Sinai, sufficiently clear and full to make man’s duty plain. But it did not stop there. It unfolded through succeeding ages until it culminated in the Lord Jesus Christ. So this first commandment makes it our duty to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. To reject Him is not merely to reject an offer of mercy; it is to refuse to receive the complete revelation of God made in His Son.
- The prohibitory form of the Commandment shows that there are tendencies in our nature to break this law of our being. We are prone to give supreme allegiance to and find our highest good in some person or thing other than God.
- But even if we had full and accurate knowledge of the one true God, and were free from all debasing superstitions, we would still have tendencies drawing us away from entire consecration to Him. Whatever we value more than God, is our god. Wherever a man makes the gratification of himself his chief aim, he takes the crown belonging to God and crowns himself.
(1) There is a strong tendency to make the gratification of even the lowest portion of our nature our chief aim and greatest delight. He only can have the highest animal enjoyment who remembers that he is more than an animal, and honouring God, seeks to discover and obey His laws of healthful living.
(2) One would think that the exercise of our reasoning powers would lead the soul to God, yet there is a very strong tendency to make this exercise end in itself. Many of the great thinkers of the world have been worshippers of their own powers of thinking, and we who can with difficulty follow their great thoughts are prone to worship our own intellectual culture and acquirements, and to claim a considerable amount of incense from our fellow-men.
(3) How prone we are to make our loved ones idols! Now the idolatry of loved ones does not consist in loving them too much, but in not loving them enough. The father who allows his child to so absorb his love that he has no thought of or love for God, does not love his child as an immortal spiritual being, nor does he regard himself as such.
(4) Above the animal, the intellectual, and the social nature in man, is the spiritual. To ignore this nature, or dwarf it, is to degrade man. To have this nature in healthful control, and giving supreme allegiance to God, is to bring the whole man into obedience to this Commandment; it is to ennoble his social, inspire his intellectual, and elevate his animal natures; it is to reach the noble manhood God designs for us. (F. S. Schenck.)
The First Commandment:—
- The question we are now to try and answer is, What is it to have a God? I mean by this a true God, such as the Lord Jesus Christ is to us.
- To have a God is to have one who can do three things for us.
(1) The first thing we want our God to be able to do is, always to help. The little cbild always needs the help of its mother. The blind man always needs the help of some one to guide him. The sick man always needs the help of a physician. We need some one who can always help us. Then it must be some one who is present in every place, whose eye never slumbers, and whose arm never grows weary. Is there such a one to be found? Yes, God our Saviour is just such a one.
(2) The second thing we want our God to be able to do is, always to save us. Our bodies are often in danger as well as our souls, and we want a God who can save them both. We can’t preserve ourselves; and our best friends can’t preserve us. Jesus says, “Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else. Besides Me there is no Saviour.” We need a God who can always save.
(3) But, then, there is a third thing that we expect God to be able to do for us, and that is, always to make us happy. When we are in health, and have affectionate parents and kind friends, and many comforts and enjoyments around us, we do not feel so much our need of God.
- But, then, there are three things that He who is our God has a right to expect from us.
(1) He has a right to expect our highest love. He is good; He is holy. “God is love.” He expects, and He deserves, our highest love. It is right to love Him better than any one else; but it is neither right nor possible to love any one else in this way.
(2) The second thing He has a right to expect from us our unquestioning obedience. It may not be always right to obey, without questioning, all that others command us; but it is always right to obey, without questioning, everything that God commands. He never does wrong Himself, and never commands others to do wrong.
(3) Then there is a third thing God expects from us, and that is, sincere worship. Sincere means that which is true or pure. Worship. Let us see what this means. Worship is a word made up of two other words, viz., “worth,” and “ship” or “shape.” It means, then, that we should put ourselves in the position or shape that is worthy of God. Or, it means that we should render to Him the service that is worthy of Him. And what is the proper shape or position for sinners such as we are to put ourselves in before God? David tells us, when he says, “O come, let us worship and fall down; and kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Yes, a position of humble reverence is what we should put ourselves in when we would worship God. This is the shape or condition worthy of God for sinful creatures to appear in. But the shape of a thing denotes its use or service. If you see iron put in the shape of a bright, sharp blade, you know it is designed to cut. If you see it put into a round shape, like a ball, you know it is designed to roll. If you see a pile of wood broken up into the shape of kindling, you know it is designed to burn. And if you see a man in the form of a servant, with an apron on, and his sleeves rolled up, you know he is designed for work. And so when we appear before God as His worshippers—in the form or shape worthy of Him—we mean to say that we are ready to offer Him our prayers and praises, and that we desire to serve Him. And when we do this honestly and earnestly, with all our hearts, that is sincere worship. This is the service God deserves. He is worthy of it.
- The reason why we should have no other gods than the Lord. I wish to speak of three reasons.
- The first reason is, because it is very foolish to do so.
(1) God is too rich for any one to take His place. All the gold and silver, all the gems and jewels and precious things in the world, and in all other worlds, belong to Him. He has need of them to supply the wants of His creatures. It is very foolish to have any one else than the Lord for our God, because no one else is rich enough to be our God.
(2) God is too great for any one to take His place. He is the greatest of all beings. How foolish it would be to blot out the sun from the sky, and then try to light up the world with candles! Yet would be easier to do this than to put anything in the place of God.
(3) And then God is too wise for any one to take His place. How strange it is that anybody should ever think of putting stupid idols of wood or stone in the place of God!
- The second reason why we ought to have no other gods than the Lord is, because it is very injurious.
(1) To have any other God than the Lord is injurious in two ways: one way in which it is so is, that it leaves us without help. Wouldn’t it be very injurious to a sick man to leave him in a place where he could get no physician, no medicine, and no nurse? Wouldn’t it be very injurious to a hungry man to leave him in a position where he could get no food?
(2) The other way is this: it exposes us to many troubles. We are told in the Bible, “Their sorrows shall be greatly multiplied who go after other gods.” All who are not Christians have some other god but the Lord. And all who do this will be made to feel how very injurious it is. When trouble and sorrow come upon them, they will have none to comfort them. When their sins press upon them as a heavy burden, they will have none who can give them pardon, and so lift off that burden. When they come to die, they will have no one to lean on as they go through the dark valley. At the judgment seat they will have no one to be their friend. In eternity they will have nothing to make them happy.
- The third and last reason is, that it is very wicked. There are two things about this which show how wicked it is.
(1) There is robbery in it. And it is not robbing our friends, or our relations, or our fellow-creatures, or the angels of heaven. Any of these would be bad enough; but this is worse than all of them put together. It is robbing God!
(2) There is treason in it. (R. Newton, D.D.)
“No other gods before Me.” That is, “No other gods in My presence; in sight of Me.” God will not share His sovereignty with any being. And this is the commonest way of breaking this Commandment in our day. There is no danger of breaking it through over-loving a fellow-creature, through loving a child, or a wife, or a parent, or a friend, too dearly. It is a frightful error to suppose that. But it is possible for us to think that God’s power must be supplemented by man’s power, by man’s influence, by man’s wealth, by man’s work. A pastor may lean on God—and a rich member of his congregation; but not without breaking the First Commandment. A politician may think that, besides God’s favour, he must have popular favour, to give him success. A business man may have it in his mind that public sentiment—even against strict right—must be yielded to in his business, although he believes in God as above all. A parent may feel that fashion and wealth have a power that cannot be dispensed with in giving his child a desirable place in life. A professed Christian may feel that Jesus Christ will save him, if only he does enough for his own salvation. All these are ways of breaking the First Commandment; not very uncommon ways, either! (H. C. Trumbull.)
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 Mackay, J. L. (2001). Exodus (pp. 342–344). Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain: Mentor.
 Alexander, T. D. (2016). Exodus. (J. H. Walton, Ed.) (p. 102). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.
 Zuber, K. D. (2014). Exodus. In M. A. Rydelnik & M. Vanlaningham (Eds.), The moody bible commentary (p. 142). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 Cole, R. A. (1973). Exodus: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 2, pp. 161–162). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Exodus (pp. 340–347). New York: Anson D. F. Randolph & Company.