First commandment

ďI am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before meĒ

You may be thinking, ďWhy should we love God when he allows bad things to happen in our lives?Ē That is a good question but something we ultimately have to come to grips with on our own. Let us look a little more at Godís story as a way to understand how God operates in the world and maybe this will help us begin the process of coming to grips with our own stories.

God hates violence (people doing things to hurt each other). He sent a great flood to wipe away people and restarted the human race through one family (Genesis 6). That may sound disturbing but we have to understand that God did it because he sees violence as a blemish in his creation. Because God loves his creation, he fights to preserve it.

When God delivered the Ten Commandments, he introduced himself as a deliverer from violence- ďI am the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slaveryĒ. God is talking to Israel and reminding them of how they were delivered from slavery in Egypt. Slavery is a form of violence and God delivered them from violence. God does not present himself as deliverer of Israel alone but the one who delivered other peoples also (Isaiah 19). Because he has delivered people out of violence, you may know that he is not pleased with the violence people inflict on each other.

The ultimate show of Godís hatred for violence is the death of Jesus. In the Christian story, Jesus sets people free from Godís judgment for the violence within them. That judgment is death. The propensity to hurt each other comes from the heart of every human being, both victims and perpetrators. By dying on the cross, Jesus took on the judgment that violent people deserve. Therefore, people are freed from Godís anger because of the violence within and its expression. People still die but because of Jesus, death is not the end of the human story. There is life after death. The violence within and the expression of that violence is called sin. Godís actions against violence are called his redemptive acts. God is not only creator, but he is also redeemer.

It is hard to understand why God waits to make things right but nevertheless he does make things right. Also, Jesus experienced violence and died because of violence. This shows that even through violence, there is a God that intends good. In our lives, even through the violence, there is a God whose intentions for us are good. I hope this helps us come to grips with the violence we suffer in our lives.

Why did God give the first commandment? God knows that the Israelites are tempted to take on the gods of the other peoples. Those were unpredictable times. Today, we live in relative peace- you donít have to worry about an army coming to take everything you own. That was not how life was then. Life was much more insecure. An army coming over to take what you own, including your life, is possible. People turn to any power they can to make themselves feel secure. These powers include the gods of other peoples. The temptation is to take on these gods as objects of devotion and trust, along with and in place of the God who has revealed himself to them.

In present times, the act of putting devotion and trust on someone other than God could take the form of praying to saints. This practice implies that saints, instead of God, are the source of blessing in life. Going to fortune tellers is also an act of putting devotion and trust on someone other than God. Any kind of fortune telling is prohibited because a personís security is being placed in the hands of people who use techniques to know the future. The future is in Godís hands and he does not want us to find security in knowing the future, but to find security in his goodness.

In the first commandment, God calls people to be devoted to him and to trust him alone. Trust and devotion are heart issues. God devoted himself to Israel, freeing them from violence and providing everything they need. God expects Israel to return that devotion. The devotion that God gave to Israel is a picture of Godís devotion to his creation. It is true that Israel was special in that God made himself known to them and through them, but he has also shown devotion to his creation by providing for the needs of all his creatures. The devotion of Israel is to model the devotion that all people are expected to render unto the God who created them. God wants to be the center of creation; he wants all nations to bow down before him (Isaiah 45).

Is it prideful of God to want to be the center of creation? Since God is the true ruler of creation, when he calls people to worship him alone, he is simply calling people to live according to reality and find peace with that reality. To put any other thing above or beside God is to reject Godís call to live according to reality. God created everything by his word alone, thereby showing that he is more powerful than anything in nature. God defeated Israelís enemies, thereby showing his power over history. God has no competition and we need to find peace with that reality if we are to live wisely.

Another way to talk about devotion to God is to talk about ďthe fear of the Lord.Ē ďThe fear of the LordĒ is presented as the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10). Other times, the phrase ďfear of the LordĒ is equivalent to obeying Godís law (Psalm 112:1). Therefore, it is accurate to say that to fear the Lord is to follow Godís commands, and following Godís commands is the beginning of wisdom.

The phrase ďfear of the LordĒ makes it seem that God is somebody who is out to get us like a monster, someone to avoid. It would not be right to look at this phrase that way since alongside the command to fear the Lord, God presents himself as a God who redeems people from violence, and who has shown faithfulness to Israel (Psalm 111). God is to be trusted and feared at the same time.

To fear the Lord is to make him our main preoccupation and our main preoccupation controls how we think, feel, and act. When we were younger we may have feared the night so much that we yell for our mothers and have to be calmed down.

To fear the Lord is to remember that he is more powerful than anything in our lives. Whatever happens in the moment or in the future, God has the power to help us overcome. Because the Lord is our main preoccupation, being obedient to him is more important than anything else. Our preoccupation affects our actions.

This country is permeated with Christian influence. When we talk about God, most of us immediately think of the God of the bible. Most of us donít think about finding another god to depend on because we are conditioned to believe that there is only one God. The fault of many people is the fault of the fool who says in his heart that there is no God (Psalm 53:1). The fool is not necessarily an atheist. The fool is one who does not have God as his ultimate concern. Other concerns (wealth, ambition, relationship) have become more important than God. Everyone is tempted to become a fool.

Think about the value system in our schools. Many teens are most concerned about popularity, usually with a certain group of teens. Although being popular is a form of being accepted, a legitimate need, it becomes a god above the God who commands complete devotion when it causes a person to disobey Godís commands. By choosing to disobey Godís commands to gain popularity, a person shows that popularity is a greater concern than God.

Let me share an example that would help us understand. Letís say there are three girls named Maria, Samantha, and Carla. Maria craves so much the friendship of Samantha. Maria is also friends with Carla but Samantha does not like Carla and is adamant that Maria should abandon Carla and participate in talking about Carla in a mean way. These are Mariaís options.

Option B is the option that regards God the most. To choose option A is to say that friendship with Samantha is more important than following God, a violation of the first commandment. I know that those choices are extreme but the point is that, we must separate from anything or anyone that would force us to violate Godís commands. Obedience to the first commandment requiresÖ

That I give up anything rather than go against his will in any way (Heidelberg Cathecism Q & A 94).

You are to put God above everything because he is your creator and redeemer. He is the one worthy of your complete devotion and trust.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is it prideful of God to require exclusive devotion?
  2. What other things compete with our devotion to God?
  3. How can we love and fear somebody at the same time?