“ I am the Lord 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 (Big Ten Series)
The Ten Commandments are a part of the Law of Moses with which many people are familiar, either because they went to Sunday school or because displaying the Ten Commandments has often been at the forefront of our nations conversation about the separation of Church and State. We lump the commandments together, but rarely look much closer at them. When we do, however, we discover the the Law of Moses is more complicated than the Ten Commandments; in fact, “the Law” includes some 613 different commandments. These instructions cover everything from what to eat, how to wash your clothing, and how to make acceptable offerings to God. For our purposes, though, it is just the “top ten” that we are going to look at.
The Ten Commandments are a moral code. They are more about how we interact with each other than religious rituals and practices. All three great Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity hold them in high regard, so for a long time, they were the shared bases for a general morality (without discounting the fact that other religions have similar laws and codes).
It’s important to remember that when the Law was being given, it was the beginning of a covenant, a commitment, between God and God’s people. In the Law, God is laying out the expectations for the new relationship that is beginning. Sometimes rules and laws get made in anticipation of a problem, and other times it is in reaction to a problem already present. It is the latter that precipitates the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” In that age, polytheism was rampant. Most cultures believed in some sort of hierarchy of gods and goddesses who controlled everything from rainfall to the outcome of wars.
Monotheists (those who only believe in one God) were rare, and in the laying out of the first commandment, God was making that clear: there may be other gods and goddesses, but YHWH is over and above them all. It is an interesting statement, because it doesn’t discount the existence of other divine entities but rather makes a statement of primacy in respect to our lives. If we are followers of YHWH, then it is YHWH we turn to first, last, and always.
While the monotheistic faiths have dominated the planet for much of the last 2000 years, it is very clear that we break this commandment a lot. We may not find ourselves praying to the sun god or favoring the goddess of fertility in our prayers, but there are plenty of things we allow to take the place of primacy in our lives. Plenty of other factors hold greater sway in our day-to-day lives than our relationship with God. And that is how we most often break this commandment.
Whether it is a partner, politics, money, children, career, the accumulation of stuff, gambling, drugs, alcohol, or even religion itself, a lot of us allow other people or things in to that first place, that primary focus of our lives. And because we do that, everything else in our lives suffers. Even the good things lose luster, because our hearts are not directed in the right place, back to our Creator.
What are some of the things come before your relationship to God in your life? What would it take for you to put God in that first seat? And how different would your life look if God occupied the place in your life that was made for God?
Clearing a space,