The first commandment is easily the most basic one to all the ten. It begins with a historical reality: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exodus 20:2). This formed the adequate basis for God to say to Israel, “You shall have no other gods before me” (20:3). A literal rendition would be, “You shall have no other gods before my face.” It would be the ultimate effrontery to God to “have” another besides Him and yet in His condescending grace He lets us “have” Him as our God.
What does it mean to “have no other gods?” Negatively it means not to take from God what rightly belongs to Him. Calvin says that to God belongs: (1) adoration – He alone is worthy of the honor due the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. He alone is worthy of obedience. (2) trust – God alone is worthy of our staking our whole existence in Him. Anything else we are trusting in is our real god. (3) invocation – None other can be available for us whenever we call on Him. No other god is so near when we need Him. And none other should be called upon in adoration and trust. (4) thanksgiving – No one else could be a lawful recipient of our gratitude, because no one else is the real provider of all our needs.
Positively, this command requires wholehearted loyalty to and love for God. Moses’ own application of this law is found in Deuteronomy 6:4,5:
Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone. Therefore love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (author’s translation).
We violate this command whenever we find our loyalty and commitment to another person – spouse, pastor, political leader, etc. – taking precedence over our loyalty and commitment to God. This may be evidenced by neglecting those things God requires of us (because if you love him you will obey him, John 14:23), or it may show itself in terms of actual deviance from the truth (apostasy). Many false teachings center in a strong personality who actually usurps the place of God in his or her followers’ lives. Anytime we devote ourselves to any one personality, no matter how orthodox his teachings, we are in danger of failing to give God His due.
We violate this command whenever we find ourselves committed to a pursuit other than what God has said is good for us. The love of money is particularly attractive for Americans. We don’t even realize for the most part how utterly taken with money we are. Material things, philosophies, self-help books, business success, family success, and even marital success can all become substitutes for the worship that belongs to God alone.
Have you given in to another god without labeling it such? What must you do to repent, to show that you have really had a change of heart and want to “have” God alone as the one you adore, trust, invoke and thank for your life?