You shall have no other gods besides Me. Deuteronomy 5:7
Besides Me – In Hebrew literature, this is the first word of the Ten Words; those saying that we commonly call The Ten Commandments or The Decalogue. The first Word is all about loyalty and exclusivity. This phrase in the first “word” is very difficult word to translate, even though the general meaning is quite clear. In Hebrew it is al-panai, a combination that could mean “beside me,” or “above me,” or “in preference to me.” What is clear is this: God will not share His glory with any rival (see Isaiah 42:8), whether man or beast or inanimate object. Spoken to a congregation that had just come out of a culture where men, beasts and objects all represented gods, this was a powerful declaration.
If we break down the two combined Hebrew words, we discover that the preposition al is followed by the word for “face” (paniym). Hebrew is a tactile language, rooted in practical experience. So, when Hebrew uses words to describe intangible concepts, it often turns to the visible symptoms of the invisible. Thus, “before my face” describes the idea of presenting oneself in an audience with the King. To stand before the face of God is to account for one’s attitude and actions in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. This commandment implies that God will determine where our true loyalty lies in a face-to-face examination.
What He finds is of utmost importance.
Perhaps our Greek-based intellectualization of God’s person (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) could use a little “in-your-face” correction. Imagine standing before the King, the Creator of all things, the One Who gives you your very breath. This is a fearful event since everything you are and everything you have is really a loan from the King. You exist only because of His grace. Now, while you are contemplating your essential dependence, God asks you about your loyalty. But, of course, He does not ask you what you think about it, or how you feel about it. He asks you what you have done to demonstrate this absolute loyalty. He asks you to give an account of your actions. Do they exhibit fidelity to Him, or do they point toward obedience to His rivals?
All men have gods. It is the nature of men to serve some higher power, whether that be a person, a cause or a dream. In the final analysis, there are no atheists. There are only those who refuse to serve YHWH, the God Who brings you out. The first Word commands clarity of devotion. Any substitution in public or private worship violates this commitment and denies the essential worthiness of the character of God Himself. This is the basis of all morality, for either I live according to the character of God or I do not. Therefore, every one of my actions can be measured according to His character. When I have no other gods, there is nothing in my life that points away from His holy being. The question is this: where do your actions point? No wonder discipleship requires such exacting assessment of our lives.
Topical Index: Commandments