(Suggested Reading – Exodus 19-20) Three months after leaving Egypt, the ten commandments were given to the children of Israel at the foot of Mount Sinai. Before He even gave them the commandments, YHVH sent Moses to the people of Israel to ask them whether or not they would put themselves into covenant with Him, telling them that if they did, it would include obeying Him. However, He reminded them of what He had already done for them when He brought them out of Egypt, and He promised that in this way they would continue to be His treasured possession.
In my recent study of the ten commandments, several things have stood out to me that I had never recognized before. This most recent study of the commandments in particular has shown me more than ever just how important they are. They were not meant only for the people who stood at the bottom of that mountain. They were not meant only for “the Jews”. They were not meant only for the period of time leading up to what the Messiah did. They were meant for all who would declare YHVH as their God and serve Him, and they were meant to be obeyed for eternity. At the moment that YHVH gave His ten commandments, between 60,000 and 3,000,000 men, women, and children heard the audible voice of God and knew exactly how important these words are. My hope is that as you study through each commandment the intention of YHVH will become as clear to you as it was for them.
In the first commandment, three points stand out to me.
1. Who God is
“I am יְהוָֹה (YHVH) 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 20:2-3
These were the very first words the children of Israel heard from their God. Immediately He makes it clear who He is. His name is יְהוָֹה (YHVH), and He is the God that brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of slavery. Why is this important to them? Consider Egypt. The people of that nation worshiped numerous gods. They had a god for everything – the sun, the Nile, the frogs, the insects, their Pharaoh etc. The children of Israel spent hundreds of years in this polytheistic country learning their ways. Now YHVH wants there to be no mistake when it comes to which god He is. He is YHVH. He is the ONE who brought them out of Egypt and out of slavery.
2. Type of Covenant
Secondly, this first commandment gives us an idea of what kind of a covenant the children of Israel are entering into with YHVH. Recently I have come to realize that Israel entered into a marriage covenant with Him at the foot of Mount Sinai.
“I am…your God…You shall have no other gods…”
This sounds very much like He is saying “I am yours, and you are mine.” This has a marriage vow ring to it. In fact, as you read through the prophets and find the reason for Israel’s downfall, you will see that YHVH uses several metaphors that compare His relationship to the nation of Israel as one of a husband to his wife. (Suggested reading: Jeremiah 3, Hosea 1-2, Ezekiel 16) After Israel’s downfall, YHVH even said that He wrote her a “certificate of divorce” (Jeremiah 3:8).
“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord YHVH, and you became mine. Ezekiel 18:8
3. Other gods before me.
Finally, lets look at the last phrase.
He says, “You will not have any other gods before me.” When you look at the word before in Hebrew; it is פָּניִם Paniym. Paniym can be translated as “on my face” and is translated this way in Jewish scripture.
“You shall have not other gods on my face.”
Think about this commandment in light of the definition. In the first point, we found that YHVH wanted to make it clear who He is. Now He is saying, “Don’t put another god on my face.” When considering this statement, I can’t help but picture a person putting a mask on his face. God says, “Don’t do this to me!” Firstly, YHVH does not want to be mistaken for somebody He is not. (Romans 1:21-23) Secondly, He does not want to be mistaken for another god that others worship, and He does not want to be worshiped as a God with characteristics He does not possess.
…do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the YHVH your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the YHVH hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. Deuteronomy 12:30-31
YHVH does not want to be worshiped as He is not. As we make our vows to Him, we must vow to love Him, as He is, in the way that He wants to be loved. Through His commandments He tells us just exactly what that looks like to Him. Keeping this commandment is a very big part of loving Him His way. We must be very careful not to add to or take away from who He really is.
Do you think YHVH still feels the same way about how He is worshiped as He did all those years ago? Do you think He wants to be mistaken for another god, or have another god mistaken for Him? Can you see that this commandment still holds as much importance for YHVH and for us now as it did at the foot Mount Sinai for the children of Israel? If you learn nothing else from this study of the first commandment, learn the importance of knowing who it is you worship.
What better way to know who YHVH is than to examine the foundations of your faith. What is the most basic foundation of anybody’s faith? It is knowing who you worship. For most Christians, it is one God with three “natures” or the Trinity. For some Christians, there is one God with two names and two “natures”. For Judaism, it is only one God, one “nature”. What does the first commandment support? What does the rest of scripture support? If you have never looked at scripture while questioning who it is that you worship, I suggest you start today. Begin in Genesis – not in Matthew or John or Romans – and study through scripture in the order it is presented to us. Use scripture only and find out what scripture supports. Be sure that you are not looking for scripture to support what you already believe, instead believe what scripture says. Do not look for the answer via theologians, your pastor, your rabbi, or any man. Once you feel like you have found your answer, then you can compare your findings to what others have to say. When you get to this point in your study don’t study from just one point of view. Look at all sides. This way you will find new questions to ask the scriptures that you have never thought of.
It is very important to know the foundations of your faith for yourself. When you stand before the Great Judge, you will not be able to use the excuse, “But my dad said, but my pastor said, but my spouse said…”
If you still don’t see the importance of the first commandment or knowing the foundations of your faith, consider this: When you worship YHVH as somebody He isn’t, then you really aren’t worshiping YHVH at all. In truth, you are worshiping another god. It’s time to know who you are really in covenant with.
I am the YHVH; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols. Isaiah 42:8