I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. You shall have no other gods before me. (Deuteronomy 5:6-7, NIV)
The first commandment is startlingly exclusive. The LORD - that is, the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ - tells His people that they must not have any other gods before Him.
Israel had just come out of Egypt - a land of many gods. It was normal in Egyptian religion to worship a pantheon. Likewise, in the land Israel was heading to, various gods were served. Both Egyptian and Canaanite religion were relaxed about worshipping several gods at once. But the LORD was not. Israel’s God insists that He alone be worshipped. It’s a much-emphasised Bible theme.
With the Bible open, the deepest reason for this is easy to see. There is, in fact, actually only one God. From the creation account in Genesis to the glorious future prophesied in Revelation, we meet just the LORD (in Holy Trinity), Who is absolutely sovereign. Other so-called “gods” are, in fact, figments of the human imagination. Enjoy reading Isaiah 44 as he pictures this practice and blows a raspberry! So the worship of other gods is, very simply, pointless.
And yet there is another reason for this commandment. It is not just a matter of the futility of chasing the wind; it is that God has entered into an exclusive relationship with His people. I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt. He has redeemed these people to make them His very own, so that He is the LORD your God. Although at first sight the commandment might look over-possessive, it is in fact the way a lover would speak to his beloved.
In the marriage service, the minister asks both groom and bride whether they will, “forsaking all other, be faithful to him / her as long as they both shall live”. Yes, that is exclusive of other relationships, but it is an exclusivity born of love! This first commandment is pointing us to the wonderful truth, made known in the Bible, that the living God, creator of the heavens and the earth, enters into a relationship with people that is close enough to require (and need!) no two-timing.
Imaginary though they may be, other gods can still exercise a powerful hold over us, and the real God will have none of it.
And the commandment should probe us today. Obviously, a multi-faith service is an abomination to the living God. But we may also worship other gods in subtler ways. When Jesus said, “No-one can serve two masters… you cannot worship God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24), He was applying the first commandment.
May God give us an exclusive love for the One Who has called us into such a precious friendship with Himself!