Exodus 20:1-3 (NIV): And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
While all of the people of Israel were gathered expectantly at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God spoke out loud to them His 10 Commandments – the foundation stones of His entire law. It was vital that God’s people not only followed His leading through the wilderness, as they had been doing, but that they also knew who He was and what He required of those who wanted to walk in His presence.
The Israelites had seen first-hand the plagues that God had brought upon the Egyptians; plagues that had not touched the Israelites, as God shielded them. They had witnessed the Passover, and how every Egyptian household had seen the firstborn mysteriously die that night, while God’s people had been kept safe by the lamb’s blood smeared around their doors. They had passed through the waters of the Sea on dry ground, and had seen the Egyptian army destroyed when they tried to follow. They had eaten the manna that God had provided, and had drunk the abundant water that He had caused to flow from the rock. They had followed God’s pillar of cloud and fire all the way to the foot of the mountain, and had seen His glory descend to the top of it, with smoke like a furnace, an earthquake, and the sounding of a mighty trumpet.
So when God spoke to them, the first words He spoke were to clearly identify Himself:
- “I am the Lord.” – This God was the great I AM; the One whom Moses had told them all about. This was the One who had sent Moses to them to declare their deliverance.
- “I am your God.” – Not because the people had chosen Him, but because God chose them, in fulfillment of the promise that He had made to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in centuries long past. For more than 500 years God had been watching over these people, guiding their forefathers and shaping history to bring them all to that exact point. To form them into a people that would belong to Him.
- “I am the One who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” – There had never been another so-called god who was able to do for those their people the things that this God had done for them. He was the One who forced Pharaoh to let the people go because of His mighty works on their behalf. He was the One who saved their firstborn from the angel of death. He was the One who delivered them through the waters of the sea. He was the One who, by all of those actions on their behalf, had bought them for Himself.
- Therefore, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” – There were to be no gods among the Israelites beside the Lord. The nations around them might foolishly worship idols of wood and stone and precious metal, creations of their own imaginations formed by their own hands. They didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that there was only one God, and that He was the God of Israel; that there was no other god at all. But God’s people, those who had seen the power of His hand in saving them, must know better than to worship ANYTHING besides Him. They must never be found giving first place in their minds, hearts, and calendars to anything besides Him.
So, in God’s very first words to the gathered tribes of Israel, He clearly defined who He was, and how that knowledge was to define the relationship between Him and His people forever. We serve the exact same God today. And He is still the same:
- He is still the Lord, the self-existent One who sent Jesus and the apostles to declare to us our deliverance.
- He is our God. Not because we chose Him, but because He first loved us and sent His one and only Son to redeem us and to call us back into relationship with Himself. In the life of every Christian, we can trace out God’s movement in and around our lives that He used to bring us to the point where we could surrender our hearts to Him.
- He is the One who brought us out of slavery to sin and death. There is no other force in the universe, no person, no other so-called god, who can change a life the way that God can. He not only sets us free, but gives us a brand new life to live in His presence.
- Therefore, we shall have no other gods before Him. Other people might foolishly get entangled in pursuit of the things of this world, but we who have known the power of God’s saving grace must know better than to let anything besides Him take the first place in our minds, hearts, or calendars.
Father, we often scoff and click our tongues at the stories of the Israelites who so quickly turned away from wholeheartedly worshiping You to the golden calf and the worship of Ba’als and Asherahs. But far too often we are guilty of just as gross an idolatry, as we put You on a shelf to pursue the things this world has to offer, instead of keeping You at the very core of who we are and what we do. Forgive us, Lord, for carelessly allowing our hearts to become ensnared by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew 13:22), drawing us away from wholehearted devotion to You, the only true God, and the One who has saved us from our slavery to sin and death, and bought us to be Your own people by the blood of the Lamb. Amen.