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).
The Ten Commandments have been popularized in movies, pilloried in the press, mocked by the many, and mandated by the legalist. Yet here they stand, 35 to 40 centuries later, unchanged. Unaltered by higher criticism, unedited by cultural relativism, and unmoved by religious pluralism, God’s commandments stand.
And which does God put first on His list? “You shall have no other gods before me.” Easy to proclaim but hard to take to heart.
“Anything that dulls the pain intended to push you to God is an idol.”
God knew this would be the case with the people of Israel. So before He even issued the command, He appealed to His own reputation: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” God had miraculously freed His people from oppressive slavery in Egypt, but their memories of deliverance were dim. It’s like He was urging, “Remember? You were slaves. I inflicted ten plagues and brought you out. I opened the Red Sea and drowned your enemies. I have more than proven who I am.”
Yet how quickly God’s children reverted to lesser-god worship. While the Ten Commandments were still being inscribed in stone at the top of the mountain, God’s people had already broken #1. Moses’ brother, Aaron, and the Israelites down in the valley were done with waiting for Moses and started tossing all their jewelry into a melting pot to fashion a metal cow. It’s as crazy as it sounds: God’s people would worship and pray to a statue of their own making because their memories were short and their hearts fickle. Just like ours.
When God declares, “You shall have no other gods before me,” His point is essentially this: “I am the omnipotent God. Accept no impotence, no fakes, no dysfunction. I am omnipresent and omniscient. If your god can be made with your own hands, that’s a fail. No harlotting with Buddha, Vishnu, Brahman, or Muhammad. No false gods. I am Elohim, El Shaddai, El Elyon, Yaweh, God, Judge, Creator, the All-Sufficient One, the Most High God. I am in charge. I love you. Do what I say. I am God.”
Think this doesn’t really apply to you? Think again. You might not bow down to metal statues or practice paganism, but maybe you’re convinced that one more year of workaholism will earn you enough to finally land in a secure place. Or maybe you’ve been relying on that third glass of wine to numb the pain in your heart. Perhaps you’re standing at some ethical edge, ready to cut corners at the office or justify a lunch with a member of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse.
Hear this: When God says “don’t,” He means “don’t hurt yourself.” Any created thing that is foremost in your heart shrinks God’s place in your life. And anything that dulls the pain intended to push you to God is an idol.
Search your heart today. Crush the God-substitutes before they lure you back into “the house of slavery.” This is so foundational to your well-being that it’s His #1: No other gods before God.
Father, You alone are God. Thank You for Your rules, which show us how best to live our lives. Forgive me for railing against Your instructions instead of appreciating the protection of Your commandments. Please show me anyone or anything I’m allowing to become a false god in my life. Empower me to crush the idols in my heart, whatever the cost. Thank You for freeing me from slavery. I don’t want to go back! I choose to honor You alone as the Lord of my life. In Jesus’ name, amen.