Ten Covenant Words (Commandments), Part One, Exodus 20:3-6
Psalm 57:11 (NIV)
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.
ONE and Only In Exodus 19:3-15 God prepared Moses for His coming. God made it clear that there was to be a covenant and he instructed Moses to ask the leaders of the tribes of Israel if they agreed with the covenant. In Exodus 19:8 we have confirmation that the children of Israel agreed to follow the covenant and do what God asked.
God had specific reasons for offering the covenant and He also had specific reasons for asking the leaders of the 12 tribes if they agreed to the covenant. YHWH knew the children of Israel would need His support and protection. God wanted to protect them, set them aside as his holy nation. The task God have the children of Israel to do was more difficult than God had asked anyone to do. God wanted the nation of Israel to proclaim His love and protection to all the nations. In order to accomplish that, God needed to know they would actively listen and do exactly what He said.
YHWH was not being commanding or dictatorial at this point. God knew that if they did not listen and do exactly what he said they would fail and they would not survive. As it turned out, only a remnant survived. But enough followers did survive. God’s plan was carried out.
Exodus 20:3-6 (NLT) are the first Covenant Words:
“You must not have any other God but me.
“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”
The first part of the covenant proclaimed God’s undying love for his people. God offered to take care of them, protect them, and always be there for them. When God said there were no other gods before Him, God was saying He is the I AM. YHWH is THE God. The only true God. When He spoke of “other gods” he was referring to the gods the other nations spoke of. The covenant started out by saying the other gods were not allowed in the presence of YHWH. In His covenant with Israel God was telling his people by turning to Him He would protect them with His love. God's covenant with them set them apart and made them holy as he was holy.
God was promising love and protection to his children. He was telling them they didn’t need to concern themselves with the gods of other nations because He was the one true God.
Later, on that same mountain, the Prophet Elijah met YHWH. Just prior to his meeting with YHWH, Elijah stood alone and faced the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah (I Kings 18). The false prophets had everything in order for their gods to burn up the altar. All was prepared and they called on the name of their gods to burn up the altar. From morning to night they chanted, danced, shouted, and cried out for their gods to light a fire on the altar.
By noon, Elijah (who you’ll remember stood alone) was starting to enjoy the show. I Kings 18:27 says, “About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!”
Elijah said their gods were in the restroom? He was really enjoying this. What’s remarkable is that Elijah stood alone. Obviously that didn’t matter! Elijah understood the covenant. He KNEW that God was the ONLY ONE true God. He knew there were no other gods. Elijah knew the other gods were not allowed to stand in the presence of YHWH because in the covenant, God (THE GOD) promised the children of Israel the other gods were not allowed to stand before Him and he held up his end of the bargain. In Israel, Elijah upheld the covenant.
The question of sole proprietorship has seemed to plague many. Why did God start the covenant with a promise that no other gods would stand before Him? Big picture? God didn't want the idea of other Gods to corrupt his people so he was promising protection.
God was saying, stick with me and I/ll take care of everything. You can ignore all of the hoop and holler from the camps shouting about their gods. They AREN’T real.
Exodus 20:3 in the Biblical Hebrew text literally says, “No other gods before my face.”
"You shall have no other gods before me.” ESV
You shall have is not an incorrect translation, however it’s not literally what the Hebrew says. God wasn’t saying ‘make sure you don’t worship other gods’ as if to say ‘I’ll rain thunder and lightening on you if you worship other gods.” God was saying, “there aren’t any other gods because I am the one true God. The only God.”
God was saying he was the only God who COULD light the fire in I Kings 18 and that’s exactly what happened.
In I Kings 18:29, the Baal and Asherah prophets, “raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.”
Then Elijah built an altar with twelve stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel and he laid the wood and the bull on the altar. Then he dug a circular trench around the altar and he ordered water to be brought in to be poured on the altar. One, two, and three times Elijah ordered the altar to be drenched with water. By this time the trench surrounding the altar was overflowing and the wood and the bull were dripping with water.
Then Elijah prayed and asked YHWH to burn the altar and immediately God flashed fire down on the altar and it burned the wood, the bull, the altar, the dust, and all the water. Then, “when all the people saw it, they fell face down on the ground and cried out, “The Lord—he is God! Yes, the Lord is God!” (I Kings 18:39, NIV).
“No other gods before my face.”
So, here’s the deal. It’s not up to us. It’s not our choice to put God first. God IS first: only. No other gods.
God made a covenant with his people that he IS their God and no other gods will be before his face.
Oh WOW. I mean, really, WOW.
Is that not something to be thankful for?
Following verse 3 the covenant makes it clear what God means by being the ONE true God.
The people who agree are not to make images or likenesses of other gods in heaven or on earth. Note that every neighbor that the people of Israel would encounter had images and likenesses of their gods. God also issued protection to His people regarding how they were to associate with the images they would encounter when they met their neighbors. They were instructed not to serve or bow down to the images and likenesses of false gods.
God also declared his intent with his people telling them he was not willing to share them with false gods. He even went so far to state he is a “jealous” God. The truth is that God’s love far outweighs His desire to give up his children.
The Lord included an explanation that affected their children and children’s children. God reminded the people of Israel that the decisions they make will undoubtedly affect their families for generations.
Doesn’t that make perfect sense?
Our children often repeat what they have seen, heard, or witnessed. If they are raised with idols of false gods in the home they are more apt to have them in their home unless something unusual occurs to change how they view the images.
Not making images or likenesses or bowing to them was what God desired most for his children.
God promised in Exodus 20:6 to give mercy to all who love Him and keep the agreement.
During the Age of Reason/Modern Age (roughly late 1800’s to late 1900’s) the DO NOT part of the scripture was accentuated. The danger in selecting a portion of text to focus on is that we are not understanding the entirety of the text. God was saying ‘don’t turn to false gods because I love you too much to see you get involved with a god who is not real.’ God had already stated that he is the ONE true God and there were no other gods. So, why would they worship another god? Why would they waste their time?
God knew if they worshipped other gods everyone would suffer. His relationship with them would suffer, they would not be blessed (remember Abraham’s promise in Genesis 12), their relationship with each other would suffer, their children would suffer because they would not be blessed, and their family for generations to come would be cursed.
NOT holding up their end of the covenant would result in curses and curses and curses.
God knew what would happen.
God wanted to protect his children from being associated with the portion of Abraham’s promise that would result in a curse. God was really clear here.
This is the deal.
As for God, He promised and upheld his promise. He is the one true God and is there for us.
The first part of the covenant words pretty much covers everything. God is there for us, protecting us, and caring for us. Our God is trustworthy. He is worthy of our trust. He promised and upheld His promise.
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: Receive God’s Protection
Spent a few minutes meditating on God protecting you. Visualize Angels covering you. Feel God’s arms around you. Stay in that place for as long as you like.
And Be Very Blessed, Deb