No Other Gods: Commandment 1
“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.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ has one primary rival today: The Self. We worship the false god “Me,” and it is a horrible and terrifying god who demands satisfaction at all costs. This god is insatiable, a bottomless pit of demand and desire. It takes no prisoners and gives no mercy. It is cruel and vicious, yet it is relentlessly committed to its own innocence. It plays the victim but is in fact the villain. There is no god more terrible than The Self, and it has become the god of this land.
The God revealed in Jesus Christ has one primary rival today: The Self.
We are steeped in the cult of The Self. Its demands, liturgies, and rituals are as natural to us as oxygen. Its tentacles reach into everything we do, think, and desire, including the doctrine and practice of our Christian faith. The Self is so pervasive that we must begin to think of our environment, our hearts and minds, and even our churches, as the native soil of a false god. Like Israel in Egypt, we live in the land of false gods. Therefore, it is impossible for us to passively avoid idolatry; we must actively repent of the worship of The Self and intentionally discipline our hearts and minds to have no other gods before YHWH.
It is the duty, therefore, of every Christ-follower to hate The Self, to reject its worship, and to purify our hearts and homes of its influence. If we do not, The Self will drag us to hell with it, for no one who has set other gods before YHWH will be able to abide his presence, even for a moment. “You shall have no other gods before me” means that you must purify yourself of The Self. As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” This is our essential act of spiritual warfare, to have no other gods before God, even ourselves.
Explore the idea of The Self further by reading The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman. It is, in my opinion, the most important book of the last decade. You can also read my review of the book here.