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In Exodus 20, God introduces Himself as the God who brought the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt. He also declares that they—now we—should have no other gods before Him. As a child I automatically wondered if He was confirming that there were other gods and if it meant we could have gods below Him. In my mind as a child, the fact that He warned against worshiping other gods confirmed that they in fact existed; I couldn't understand why He would tell us not to worship something that didn't exist in the first place. Once I was a bit older, I realized that whether these supposed gods were real or fake was not the issue to be dealt with.
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3 KJV
Israel was God's chosen nation, but all nations have roots that stem from God. God created all of mankind and if you follow man's story through Genesis, all three of Noah's sons—Shem, Ham, and Japheth—would have known God. It is for this reason that the idea of gods and goddesses have permeated throughout mankind's history. The families and nations that fell away from God after the flood knew of God, but did not know God. Through passed down histories and experiences, they created their own ideas and view of God which in turn spawn the creation of false gods. Perhaps they mistook angels (or even demons) as gods, or perhaps they simply knew that their fore-father Noah prayed to God and not knowing anything about God created a god, thinking it would bestow the same favor upon them. God does not share His glory with these perversions and imitations. He is God, Creator of all things. If there was another god, He (YHWH, that is) created him too and thus that god is not a god and must also serve God.
6 I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. 7 Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
This commandment is directly quoted in at least 11 places throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible:
- Exodus 20:3
- Exodus 20:23
- Exodus 34:14
- Deuteronomy 5:7
- Deuteronomy 6:13-14
- 2 Kings 17:35
- Psalms 81:9
- Jeremiah 25:6
- Jeremiah 25:15
- Acts 5:9
- Matthew 4:10
Other passages in the Bible reiterate this concept by indirectly referencing the commandment.
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Jesus tells the disciples to "seek ye first the kingdom of God," which is simply another way of saying put God first. If God is first, gods cannot be first, thus Jesus is restating that you should have no other god (nothing actually) before God. While many try to use Matthew 22:36-40 to "prove" the law, specifically the 10 commandments, is gone or changed, Jesus is actually summarizing the 10 commandments in this statement. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. This refers to the first four commandments in which we are told to hold God first, make no graven images to bow to, abstain from taking His name in vain, and keep the Sabbath. If you love someone, you place them before others, you don't sully their image with false images or split your time to worship images of others, you don't use their name for purposes they have not ordained, and you show up when they call for you. All 4 of these fit into Jesus' greatest commandment. The same logic can be applied to the final 6 commandments and how they apply to Jesus' second greatest commandment, but for the purpose of this post we are focusing on the first commandment.
In addition to Jesus indirectly mentioning this commandment as the greatest of all commandments, God spoke this commandment first. While He does not say He is giving them to Moses in any particular order, in fact James 2:10 implies that they are all equal, generally people speak the most important thing on their mind first. There are definitely instances where someone would hold their tongue and refrain from stating that which first pops into their mind, but God would have no reason to hold His tongue, and thus, it is likely that He felt having no other gods before Him was the most important thing to be conveyed.
This theme resurfaces both in the nature of the devil's crimes as well as the end times. Satan's desire is to be god, thus is goal is to turn man away from God and thus exalt him as god instead. It is this god that becomes known as the antichrist (from the Greek meaning in place of Christ) that man will worship during the end times. Thus the great folly of taking the mark of the beast is that you are breaking the first commandment, the one Jesus said was the greatest commandment of all.
- In , Mishael, Hananiah, and Azariah refuse to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s false godDaniel 3: The Golden Statue
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