The multitude waited with great expectation at the base of Mount Sinai to hear a message from Jehovah. They had seen the “mighty hand” and “outstretched arm” of the LORD in the ten plagues He had sent to devastate the land of Egypt. At the Red Sea, the waters had parted and they had walked through the sea on dry ground. After a long journey across the wilderness, the Israelites had finally arrived at their destination at the “mount of God.”
Now the people were assembled to hear directly from the mouth of Jehovah. For three days they had prepared themselves for this moment. They had received specific instructions not to approach the boundary that had been clearly established at the base of the mountain.
At dawn on the third day, lightning flashed above and thunder shook the mountain. A thick cloud descended upon its summit, shrouding the brilliant light that emanated from the very presence of God. The noise of a trumpet blared from the mountain and the ground shook.
At last, Jehovah spoke audibly to His people. His first words to the nation of Israel, recorded for us in Exodus Chapter 20, have become known as the “Ten Commandments.” The First Commandment forms the foundation for the rest of the Law: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (verses 2–3).
In spite of the fearful nature of the revelation, Moses comforted the people with these words, “Fear not: for God is come to prove you, and that his fear may be before your faces, that ye sin not” (verse 20).
Although the Law of God was given in such a terrifying manner, the revelation was an act of love and grace. God had “set his love” upon Israel and blessed His people with a special relationship with Him. The Hebrew word תּוֹרָה (torah), usually translated “Law,” tends to carry a negative connotation in our modern world. Yet, the word actually expresses in its very nature a gracious relationship. At its root, torah means “to point out, to give direction.” The Law is the personal instruction that comes from the loving relationship that Jehovah has established with His people by covenant.
This covenant relationship makes the first commandment very personal: “I am the Lord thy God” (emphasis added). He is not just a god; He is our God! The self-existing, eternal Jehovah has become our own by an act of His grace. He has revealed Himself to us and called us His own.
Not only has Jehovah God established a personal relationship with us by His grace, He also has redeemed us. “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” He redeemed Old Testament Israel on Passover night, when the blood of the lamb was sprinkled upon the doorpost. When did God redeem us? He redeemed the New Testament Church on Calvary, when Jesus, the Lamb of God, made eternal redemption for us upon the cross.
Because God has created us and because He has redeemed us, He calls us to complete and absolute loyalty. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Literally in Hebrew the command is expressed, “There will not be unto you any other gods before my face.” Having called His people by name, having revealed Himself to them, having performed great miracles on their behalf, and having redeemed them with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, He calls for their absolute and undivided loyalty.
As Christian men, we have a duty to abandon all false gods, all humanistic mentalities, all worldly philosophies, and to give complete allegiance to the Lord our God. We can apply the first commandment to our lives by embracing the first of these life-giving truths:
I am to love the Lord because He first loved me, worshipping Him only.
In the weeks of January, we will consider some practical applications of this truth as we examine this commandment in the light of New Testament Scriptures. On Thursday, we will post an exciting story from the second century about the courageous life and triumphant death of a heroic Christian martyr. In the face of a humiliating and painful death, this man firmly resolved that he would have “no other gods” but the one true and living God of Heaven.