*Over the next few weeks I want to do a Friday night series on the ten commandments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on each topic.
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[a] me.”
The Ten Commandments, is in a way, apart from the death and resurrection of Jesus, central to the Christian faith. In fact, I would probably argue that the Ten Commandments are what make the death and resurrection of Jesus necessary. And possibly the death and resurrection of Jesus is what enables the Ten Commandments to be relevant in our lives.
No other Gods. To the Israelites this commandment probably stung a bit. In fact, this commandment was given to Moses right at the time when the rest of Israel was dancing around a god (a statue of a calf made from gold) that they had created for themselves.(It’s slightly ironic that God gave them this commandment while they were breaking it; I think that tells us something quite powerful about forgiveness and second chances). So when the Israelites heard this commandment, it may well have been received on a more obvious level than for us today. No other gods, amongst the millions of gods that the nations around them worshipped, no other gods in a a culture where polytheism was the norm, and the idea of an invisible, single God would have been somewhat radical. They would have understood in an obvious way what this meant.
I think this commandment speaks to us today just as powerfully as it did then. Religion in the western world may be declining, and there are no longer the god’s of rivers and trees and sky to contend with, but there are still other gods. This verse tells us that who our God is is important. In an age where non-specific spirituality is popular, where it doesn’t matter who or what you worship as long as some ‘spiritual’ need of yours is met, this commandment seems dogmatic, specific, in fact very fundamentalist. This commandment tells us that whoever ‘God’ is, he/she is not content to share our affections, to be second place to any other deity or thing in our life. Every human has a god. It might not be a supernatural being, but it is whatever is worshipped as supreme in their life. That might be their own happiness, their partner, money, fashion, the need for respect, the desire to feel like a good person, even the desire for others to see them as ‘Godly’ rather than an actual experience with God. We have been made to have a God, and in this verse God is saying to the children of Israel, you must allow me to fill the space that I have created for myself to be in. It can seem almost childish ” I won’t be second to anyone”, but in reality it is a declaration of the knowledge that no other god we create for ourself will leave us satisfied. He commands, not for his happiness, but for ours.
It also hints at the importance of who we believe God to be. Who is this God? Why does he require there be no other ones before him? I’m reading a book at the moment called ‘Your God is too small”. It does a great job of dissecting all the different gods we manage to create over the course of our lives, and how so many of us see God as a reflection of our parents, or something a random school teacher told us, and not for who He actually is. The Spoilsport God – the God who is a set of rules and regulations that he expects us to keep, against our very nature. The Distant Father – the God who loves us from afar, punishes us when we do something wrong, but who we never really can know or have any type of intimate relationship with him. The Sidekick – the God who listens to our prayers at nights and comforts us when things are going wrong, but never requires any change in our behaviour towards him or others. There are so many different ideas of God we have created. When God says ‘I am’…I almost hear him saying, “Do not let anyone else tell you who I am, ignore the images of me that you have created, and let me tell you who I am”.
It’s interesting that God interrupts the commandment with a description of who he is. (I would note here that God is neither male or female, although we use male pronoun to describe him). He states ‘I am…..who did…therefore you..”. God does not hold us to be obligated to Him, without first revealing himself to us. He tells the Israelites, I am the God who freed you, remember what I have done for you, remember who I am to you. In my own experience with God, I have had times when I have been in bondage to things – whether that be grief, or pain, or bad habits or simple the way of life I led before I came to know Him for myself. Only after experiencing the freedom he gave, could I fully understand who He was to me – prior to that he was a concept but not an experience.
God has made us with a space that only he can fill and he wants us to experience him not as an idea, but as a deliverer, as a saviour and as a friend.
Peace guys x