“You shall have no other gods before me.”
The first commandment demonstrates YHWH’s expectation of exclusivity in his relationship with Israel. “No other gods” means he shall be the only god they worship. Not merely the first among many, but the singular deity, their God. (The capitalization is the key. YHWH is not merely a god, he is the God.) He will not share space, whether in their hearts or in their land, with any other deities. It is a simple and sweeping command with no room for misinterpretation. The first rule that comes out of YHWH’s relationship with Israel is clear: “It’s me, and no one else. I will share your allegiance, devotion, and worship with no other gods.”
This commandment, and the breaking of it, is the central theme of Israel’s history from Exodus to Exile. They just couldn’t seem to quit the other gods of their neighbors, and they paid the ultimate price for their unfaithfulness. God’s expectation of exclusivity is still in effect today. He doesn’t share his glory with other gods, real or imagined, and he won’t tolerate divided hearts and shared allegiances amongst his people. Idolatry and faithlessness continue to be the central theme of the history of God’s people, now running rampant through the Church. Some things never change.