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Week 2: The First Commandment

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2-3).

Those from different faith traditions view the first commandment differently.
  • Jews view the first half of the commandment as the whole commandment: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
  • Most Christians focus on the second half of the commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” 

The first half of the commandment sets the tone for all 10 commandments.
  • Exodus 3:13–15: God speaks to Moses through the burning bush.
  • No systematic theology or philosophical arguments
  • God is revealed as the one “who has set His people free from bondage.”

God reveals Himself as “I am who I am.”
  • Hebrew translation for this personal name of God is Yahweh.
  • Ancient Jews did not speak this Holy name for God.
  • Yahweh is all about “being”—about “coming into existence.”
  • This intimate, personal name is a way for God to say that I am the source and foundation from which everything is derived. It is God’s way of reminding His followers then and us today that God is the source and sustainer of life.

The second half of the commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.”
  • The ancient Israelites worshiped a variety of false gods.
  • Author Joy Davidman writes in her book, Smoke on the Mountain, "The ancient image worshipers were, at least, worshiping something, not themselves, a power greater than themselves; They were trying in their limited way to make an image of God, and when that image proved faulty they could break it and make a better one, until the day came when they needed no image at all. But the false gods of today are things of the spirit, and as hard to pluck forth as it is hard for a man to pluck out his right eye. The beast in the heart is always the self."
  • False gods for us today: To whom or what do we devote the majority of our time, energy and resources? What do we place at the very center of our lives? Who or what sits on the throne of our lives?
  • Writer David Foster Wallace in his 2005 commencement address to Kenyon College states, "In the day-to-day trenches of adult life…there is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. If you worship money and things–if they are where you tap real meaning in life–then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already; it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables or the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power and you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, and you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."

Jesus and the First Commandment: Although He never directly quotes the first commandment, He’s constantly pointing to it.
  • You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22:37
  • No one can serve two masters; for you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24
  • Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33

Jesus knew that when we attempt to make anything or anyone other than God–other than Yahweh–the number “one thing” in our life, no matter how good they may be, we end up feeling empty and alone.
  • First temptation in the Bible: “and you will be like God.” Genesis 3:5
  • Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.” (BCP, p. 848)
  • C.S. Lewis put it like this: “If we put first things first, we get second things thrown in. But if we “put second things first, we lose both the first and the second things.

Questions for Reflection
  • God’s personal name “Yahweh” is revealed in Exodus 3. Some Biblical scholars link this intimate name to “being” or “creation.” What does this unique name for God teach you about the God we worship?
  • How does the first commandment set the tone for the rest of the commandments?
  • Jesus urges us to “seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” What does this look like for us today?
  • Take a spiritual inventory of your life by reviewing your calendar and bank transactions. Based on the time, energy and resources reflected there, what other “gods” are you serving? What does your life show you really worship?
  • How would your life look if you fully embraced this first commandment?
  • Today, what one step might Jesus be asking you to take to put God first in your life? Pray for courage and faith to take that step.

A Prayer for this Week
Heavenly Father, we thank You for all that we have and all that we are. Remind us that it is only in You that we live, move and have our very being. Give us Your grace to turn our energies and efforts away from ourselves and outwardly to You and others. Finally, we ask that You help us to love you with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, so that we may seek Your kingdom and place you first—at the very center of our lives. All this we ask in Christ’s name. AMEN.