“You shall have no other gods before Me” Exodus 20:3
Before Me – You wouldn’t suspect that this would give us any translation problems but the truth is that this two-word phrase that has created all kinds of difficulties. It doesn’t seem to mean “except me”. It might mean “against me” with an undertone of hostility (like Genesis 16:12). Or it might mean “beside me” with the sense of “in preference to me”. But no matter what the exact translation, the thought is the same as God’s pronouncement in Isaiah 42:8. God doesn’t share the status of Who He is with anyone and anything.
So what does the first commandment tell us? It says that the basis of all morality is God. The basis of all morality is not about ethical principles or rules. It is not found in government or regulation or legislation. It is found in the personal God named Yahweh (Jehovah). It says that if you want a real moral foundation, it must be based on this God who must come first above and before anything else in life. In fact, the first commandment implies that if God comes absolutely first in everything, all the rest of your life will be just fine.
Christians endorse this belief. That’s why they are amazed at the current cultural unrest over the Ten Commandments. They know that morality is ultimately grounded in the person of God. Take God out and you find yourself slipping down the slope to the lowest common denominator; a collective heart that wants only license to do whatever it wishes. That is not morality no matter what the “laws” say. God sets the standard, not us. And the first standard is the recognition that He is first.
Christians argue for this belief. But maybe there wouldn’t be a need for an argument if Christians lived the belief. Maybe the power of example would be so strong that no one could imagine how you could live any other way. If God were absolutely first, always and in everything, what would change for you and me?
If God were absolutely first, would I ever lie or exaggerate?
Would I cheat or steal from anyone anytime anywhere?
Would I think about how to take advantage of others?
Would I consider my possessions and finances mine to do with as I please?
Would I refuse, ignore or deny help to others no matter what the cost to me?
Would I plunder God’s creation for profit?
Would I live a compartmentalized life?
Would I treat others as though they were not God’s image?
Would I worry?
How does my life reflect “no other gods”? It’s not optional, you know.