To understand the ten commandments, in Exodus 20, we need to listen to the whole story of the exodus. To understand the giving of the law at Mount Sinai, we need to go back to Egypt and discover the mighty act of redemption by which God had brought the people of Israel out of bondage and into freedom.
Why did God say to Moses, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”? There was no other god who had redeemed them from their slavery in Egypt. He, alone, was their Saviour. No other god could even begin to compare with the God of salvation. The mighty God had delivered his people from their oppressors. Any attempt to compete with him was a complete non-starter. There were to be no other gods before the God of Israel because there could be no other gods before him. He, alone, was the Saviour. He, alone, was to receive the worship and praise of his people.
How are we to understand the ten commandments today? We must understand them within the context of the gospel. Before we turn to the law of God, which teaches us how we are to live, we must listen, first, to the gospel of god – the gospel which shows us the way to life – abundant life, eternal life, through faith in Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord.
When the people of Israel were called to live according to the ten commandments, They were to remember that they were a redeemed people. They were never to forget that they had been redeemed by the Lord. When we are called to live according to the law of God, we must always remember that we are to live for the Lord because we have been saved by the Lord.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Why do we affirm that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)? Why do we insist that Jesus Christ stands head and shoulders above every other religious leader? Why do we proclaim that the Name of Jesus is “the Name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9)? He is the Saviour. No-one else could even begin to compare with him.No-one else has loved us like Jesus. No-one else has died for our sins to bring us to God. No-one else brings to us the forgiveness of our sins. No-one else has been raised from the dead. No-one else gives to us the gift of eternal life.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” When you consider all that Jesus Christ has done for you, say, in your heart, “There will be no-one else for me, no-one else but Jesus: Jesus – my Saviour, Jesus – my Lord, Christ – my everything, Christ – my all.
The people of Israel looked back to the exodus – with pride in the God who had redeemed them. They remembered their deliverance from the Egyptians, and they give all the glory to God. We are to look back to the cross. We are to be proud of our Saviour. We are to say, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ” (Romans 1:16). Through the gospel of Christ, we have been saved. We remember that Jesus Christ died on the cross for us, and we say, from our hearts, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Who else can turn our bondage into freedom – who else but Jesus Christ?, our Saviour? Who else can turn our fear into faith, and our sadness into joy – who else but our Lord Jesus Christ?
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”Unsure of ourselves, depressed because of our failure to live as we should, ashamed of our sinfulness, who can transform our lives, forgiving our sin, giving us assurance of salvation and giving us strength to live as we should – who else but Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord?
Why does God say to us, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”? It is because he, alone, is our God. He, alone, is the God of our salvation. The gods of power, pleasure and popularity will fail us. Remember Saul, who looked back on his life, and said, “I have played the fool. I have erred exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21). Remember Solomon, who wrote, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Remember God’s Word, spoken to Belshazzar, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting” (Daniel 5:27). A life, which is self-centred rather than God-centred is a life without meaning and purpose. There is only one who can fill our lives with meaning and purpose. His name is Jesus Christ, and he is our Saviour. Put him first in your life. He is the way to true life.