We started a string of exhortations on the Ten Commandments and last week we considered how Jesus summarized the first four commands by calling men to love God with all that they are (Matthew 22:37-38). It is also true that all men must love God, and all of man’s love must be for God, not split among gods.
In Exodus 20 we read that God spoke the following words (verse 1), starting with a reminder to the Israelites that He delivered them out of Egypt (verse 2). Because of His saving work, they were to worship Him only.
You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)
The words “before me” could be read as if one were sorting a list by priority; i.e., put eggs above milk. But that’s not what it means here. God is not requiring the right ordering of busts along the pantheon wall. The LORD did not command them to make Him the first chair in their orchestra of gods, He commanded their undivided worship. There are to be no others in addition to, none together with, none other “besides” Him.
The words “before me” also indicate that the first commandment is of first concern to God. In the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “These words before me…teach us that God, who sees all things, takes notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other god.” The Lord is close and pays close attention to whomever (or whatever) else we worship.
While it’s true that the LORD hasn’t chosen the United States as His covenant people, we still owe our existence to Him individually and collectively. By His common grace He has blessed us greatly but we have given glory to those which are not gods. Some god is always being praised and obeyed in public view, even if that is us–the people. Apart from repentance and faith and thanks to God our nation will continue to deserve His wrath.
Likewise, in the church we are often distracted, if not at times even acting as if we were independent of Him. But more than Israel’s exodus, He has delivered us from our slavery to sin. He has brought us out of a house of darkness and death. Therefore we are responsible to acknowledge all things as being from Him and through Him and to Him alone.