The First Commandment


“I am Yahweh your God… You shall have no other gods before my face” (Exodus 20:2-3).

This commandment is the one. It is foundational to the whole Decalogue (“Ten Words”). If you truly kept this commandment, you would have kept all the rest. If you broke any of the other commandments, fundamentally you would have broken this one first. If Yahweh—and Yahweh alone—were truly your God, then you would love him, exalt him, follow him, listen to him, believe him, and obey all his words. This corresponds with Christ’s summary commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5). If you were doing that in the first place, you would never sin in any way.

Yahweh says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me” (Isaiah 46:9; cf. 45:5, 18, 22). Objectively speaking, there is only one true God: Yahweh, the Triune God of love, the God known in Jesus Christ. The Father is the only God; the Son is the only God; the Holy Spirit is the only God; the One Being in Three Persons is the only God. Anything else that goes by the designation “god” is false, counterfeit, and cannot possibly be anything like Yahweh, the real God. He has no rivals but in our imaginations.

The claim of this commandment is comprehensive: you belong to Yahweh, and your whole life is meant to be lived in response to him and unto him, on his terms. He alone will be the source of your life, your truth, your identity, your security, your glory. He alone is to be worshiped. Idolatry is a personal offense against Yahweh, telling him that he is not your God, that you prefer some other god-that-is-no-god to him.

When you parade and flaunt false gods before Yahweh’s face it provokes him, because he loves you. And, because he loves you, he will be your God, even though you haven’t kept this commandment. The one true God in the flesh—Jesus Christ—has perfectly kept this commandment (and therefore all commandments!) on our behalf, and has suffered to forgive our transgression of this commandment. Jesus has given us his Spirit to fulfill the promise: “I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules… and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:27–28). Thank Yahweh, that he is God and there is no other!

What does it say about Yahweh, that this is his first commandment? Does it mean he is self-absorbed and has an unhealthy need for your adoration? How does knowing God as Triune address that last question? What objections do unbelievers raise against this commandment? How is this commandment good? Why is this commandment the key to all the others? Can you describe each commandment with reference to this first one? How is this commandment foundational to the ones about our relationships with other people, when God isn’t explicitly mentioned in most of those? When you think of the Ten Commandments in general, do you primarily think of this first one as representative, or do you tend to give priority of attention to other commandments? John Calvin called the human heart “an idol factory”—what are some common idols in our society? What are some idols your heart cranks out? What do you do when you realize you have had other gods before Yahweh’s face? Are there ways in which you have begun to keep this commandment through faith in Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit?

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