The 1st commandment is an application of the greatest commandment, to love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul (Matthew 22:37-40). It teaches us that whatever blessings come our way are mediated by God and God alone.
I am the Lord thy God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. (Exodus 20:1-2)
If Israel was blessed with deliverance from Egypt it was not because of anything they did. It was not because of the gods of Egypt, Israels’ cash or Israels’ cleverness. It was because God brought them out.
Our Blessings Come from God
The 1st Commandment reminds us that whatever good comes our way is a result of God’s power and therefore He is to be honoured, revered and worshipped to the exclusion of all other things.
Man understands that blessings and curses are mediated. And so, man needs a mediator. But, having rejected the one on offer, he turns to magic.
Magic sets itself in opposition to the love of God by trying to mediate blessings through created things and the imaginations of man.
We see examples of this in a number of ancient cultures who conducted fertility rights or placed the heads of their foes in the field prior to planting in order to ensure a good crop.
We see it among those who pointed a bone at the guilty in order to bring about punishment by death.
A less exotic, but equally magical example, full of religious language from our own culture, would be, “Vaccines save lives”.
Here, power that rests solely in the hands of God – the power over all life (Deuteronomy 32:39) – is attributed to man’s ingenuity.
Vaccines have no power over life or death and can mediate nothing to man. Perhaps our magic is more subtle than fertility cult magic, but it is magic none-the-less.
God has no Contenders
Thou shall have no other gods before [beside] Me. (Exodus 20:3)
The second part of this commandment follows naturally from the first. Since God is ultimate and since whatever goodness we have comes from Him, we are to place nothing before (or more literally, “beside”) Him. Seatbelts, sunscreen and silver colloid included.
Leviticus 18:18 gives us further insight into this idea of “beside Him”.
In this verse, the law forbids a married man to also take his wife’s sister while his wife is still alive.
To place the wife’s sister, “beside his wife”, that is, give her equal standing for the purpose of intimacy, would create a jealous rivalry.
As the 2nd Commandment will go on to say (Exodus 20:5), God is a jealous God and will not countenance any rivalry in our hearts.
This idea of jealousy between a husband and wife is on point. As we shall see, everything that is happening here at the foot of Mount Sinai is akin to a wedding ceremony in which the bride is being betrothed to her husband in a vow of faithfulness (Ezekiel 16:8; Isaiah 54:5).
All superstitious elevation of created things as mediators of blessing, are to be rejected.
No power but God’s power. No goodness but God’s goodness. We are to lean into Him and Him alone.
The force of the exclusive relationship which God calls us to enjoy is obscured in many modern translations but is more obvious in the King James Bible which begins this part of the commandment with the word ‘Thou’.
The plural form of the word, ‘You’, which is more commonly used today, suggests all of us, the whole of Israel.
But the word, ‘Thou’, picks up on the original Hebrew word which is singular.
God is speaking to all of us, but he is speaking to you, the individual, in particular. God wants the joy, purity and exclusivity of this relationship with you and you alone.
But more than this, God is addressing His only begotten Son. He is addressing the truly faithful Son whom He brought out of Egypt (Hosea 11:1; Matthew 2:15).
In the first commandment, God is laying down the rules of obedient engagement that would lead to the Son’s betrothal to a faithless bride made beautiful and to the ultimate goodness of God in the salvation of the world.
And so, the 1st Commandment teaches us that all of the blessings and justice that come our way are from God, through Jesus, our one and only Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).
Therefore, it’s to Jesus we look, it’s Him we petition, on Him we lean and to God we give the thanks.