PART TWO: First Four Commandments – about God
Revisiting the Ten Commandments: 4. Command One: Only One God
Ex 20:1,2 And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
Ex 20:3 You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.
And More: There is a further historical dimension to our starter verses above, that we have been considering. It is found in verse 2: “who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Now, perhaps, we will shortly be able to see why the first of these ten commands is so important. All the knowledge of Him that we pick up in the Bible, (and I realize this is a much bigger topic) is that He is one, He is the Creator of all of existence, He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-wise and He is eternal and, of course, He communicates. These are some of the minimums that come through in the Bible about Him. It also declares that He is love, He is good, He is holy, and He is perfect. In other words He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we soon need to be considering.
Historical Context: Now He can now be identified as the one who delivered Israel miraculously out of the hands of the most powerful despot in the world, from Egypt. In earlier meditation No.2 we emphasized the need to observe the historical context when approaching these laws. That is especially important with this verse. The law is simple and straight forward in this first command: God says, “You shall have no other gods before (or besides) me”, i.e. “I am God, there is only one of me, so don’t worship anyone or anything else,” but it comes in the context of a people living in the midst of a nation where ‘gods’ proliferate!
‘gods’ of Egypt: Bear in mind Israel had only recently left that fear-driven, superstitious nation, Egypt, which we are told had over 2000 ‘gods’. Many had similar characteristics and appeared all over the country but with different names. Birds, crocodiles, snakes, turtles, frogs, cattle, dogs, cats and other domesticated animals were considered to be the living images of a particular god or goddess. One historian declares, ‘All parts of life were covered and there were gods for beer, plants, digestion, the high seas, female sexuality, gardens, partying etc.’
The best-known gods of Egypt we may have heard of – Ra, the god of the Sun, the most important god, lord of all the gods. He was usually shown in human form with a falcon head, crowned with the sun disc encircled by a sacred cobra – judge of the dead, and father of Horus, god of the sky (the Egyptians believed that the pharaoh was the ‘living Horus’) – Tefnut, goddess of the rain – Anubis, who guided the dead to the next life via the court of Osiris in the Underworld – Sobek, god of Nile who had the head of a crocodile, and many others (followers of ‘The Mummy’ films will know some of these names). But ‘gods’ appear all over ancient history.
‘gods’ of Canaan: In Canaan, gods we come across in the Bible were Asherah, the walker of the sea, a mother goddess, Baal, god of fertility, Dagon, god of crop fertility, Molech, god of fire, and there were also many, many others. A simple Google search reveals that virtually every nation had ‘gods’.
‘gods’ of Greece & Rome: Later in history we may be more familiar with the Greek gods – Zeus, god of the Sky – Hera goddess of marriage, mothers and families – Poseidon, God of the Sea – and so on. Following them, the Romans with their gods, mostly the same but with changed names, for example, Zeus, the king of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, and god of the sky and thunder, Pallas Athena, is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law and justice, Mars was the god of war, Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation, and so on.
Characteristics of ‘gods’: A study of such gods shows us six things:
- First there were lots of them! In fact there were gods for any and every situation or feature of the world.
- Second, they created or maybe were the result of superstitious fear, the insecurity of living in a changing and uncertain world.
- Third, they were never benign, it seems; they all required some form of appeasement.
- Fourth, when these gods took human form, or were thought of as being in human form, they also took on human foibles and struggled and fought with one another and did not have humanity’s best at heart!
- Fifth, and this becomes very significant as we move on, the idea of the existence of such ‘gods’ meant that humanity’s attitude towards them was one of superstitious subservience.
- Sixth, because we know that such secondary beings are purely expressions of superstitious imagination, there is never any way to measure the reality of interchange between a human being and a ‘god’. Indeed one wonders if there was really any real relationship involved. (how can there be a two-way interaction with a carved block of wood?)
And then: When we come to the Bible. We see A God who reveals Himself, first to the Patriarchs and what became Israel, and then to Moses and then to all of Israel but, as we’ve already seen He is utterly different from any of these other ‘gods’ we have just been considering.
The call to follow Him alone is surprisingly, and contrary to the crusading atheists claims, a claim to be free of superstition and a call to come to One who will bring love and goodness and security. For Moses and his people they already knew something of Him as revealed through His dealings with the Patriarchs and now recently His deliverance of them from Egypt. He was a God who appeared to want to be friendly, a God who had the power to deal with enemies on one hand and bless His friends on the other.
And So: Everything we know of these other ‘gods’ makes us want to shy away from them and their demands and the superstitious fear-filled life, and everything we come to know of Him says here is One who we would be foolish to reject. It is only that self-centred and godless propensity that we all have, which the Bible calls Sin, that makes us suspicious and fearful of Him.
It also makes us want to stand on our own two feet and foolishly think we can cope in life without Him, hence the popular ‘Don’t you tell me what to do!’ attitude that is the common expression of the rebellious aspect of Sin. In the folly of Sin we cannot believe that this God, who claims to be the one and only God, is loving and good and desires the best for us. But that, as we say, is the folly of Sin. The call to “have no other gods beside me” is, in one way, a common-sense call in accord with reality because there is NO other God, merely the imaginations of superstitious fear. Away with it!
But why, we might ask, do people have all these ‘gods’? Because it is such a big question, we will wait until the next studies and examine the nature of the working out of this superstitious fear seen in the form of worshipping idols. We will then compare this to the nature of God and then the nature of sinful mankind that turns to such things.
Application: May I suggest we conclude this study praying something like, “Lord God, you are so great that you defy my imagination. I confess my mind cannot comprehend the greatness of One who is all-powerful, all knowing and all-wise, and yet you have given us your Word, almost as if to attract us and get our attention, to reveal something of yourself to us. Forgive us Lord that we treat it so casually and so often give so little thought to what we find in it. Lord I need your help to see these things in a fresh light that will break through the confusions of limited understanding. Please help me. Amen.”