1And God spoke all these words:
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:1-3)
During their time in Egypt, Israel had been exposed to a multiplicity of gods. Now they were on their way to Canaan, the land of milk and honey—and more gods (Exodus 23:23-24). The temptation to follow these gods was real and opportunities would be everywhere.
At Sinai, God calls upon them to recognize Him alone. This was to be the non-negotiable cornerstone of their existence. There could be no other.
It’s important to recognize that this command wasn’t given in a vacuum to people who were strangers. In Egypt, God had revealed Himself to be their Deliverer, Provider, and Law Giver. Through the plagues He had shown the impotence of Egypt’s gods. He reminds them in v. 2 that He is the One who has rescued them from the gnawing oppression they experienced in Egypt. Honoring Him is simply recognizing their history and acknowledging their identity and relationship with Him. It is what is real, right, and rewarding.
It’s easy for us today to be dismissive of this command because we aren’t tempted to believe in other deities like those “ignorant” ancients were. But the truth is, our deities just take subtler forms. Maybe it’s a possession (a house or a car), something activity related (like our job, school, or sports activities), or even something relational (our family or spouse). Any of these things can become “gods” when they are put ahead of God. With this in mind, God’s words to Moses suddenly become quite relevant and maybe even a bit uncomfortable.
Thousands of years later, putting God ahead of everything else is still what is real, right, and rewarding.