The First Commandment

God spoke all these words, saying, ‘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 20:1–3

Reformed theologians have always taught that the Mosaic law — the Torah — is no longer able, through sin, to enslave Christians; rather, now it guides a Godpleasing life insofar as its principles are understood in light of Christ and followed by the power of the Spirit (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 3:15–29; 5:13–26). The Ten Commandments comprise the core of the law of Moses, the rest of which is an elaboration and application of these ten statutes. In turn, the Ten Commandments are themselves an elaboration of the two great commands to love God and neighbor (Luke 10:25–37), and today we begin a study of how the Ten Commandments are fulfilled in the new covenant in order that we might know how to please our covenant Lord.

Understanding the Ten Commandments and, indeed, the entire Mosaic law requires us to be clear on the context in which they were first given. Some people believe God gave these laws to Israel as a means by which they could earn their own salvation, but the timing of when these statutes were received makes this impossible. True, the law of Moses lists what must be done to merit righteousness before the face of the Creator, but God never intended for the Israelites to use the commandments to merit their own righteousness. We know this is the case because the Mosaic law was given after the Lord saved them from Egypt, as today’s passage reveals (Ex. 20:1–2). The Israelites were to keep the commandments, albeit imperfectly, in gratitude for a salvation already accomplished, and, seeing their sin, were also to hope for another to follow Torah perfectly on their behalf. Today, we endeavor to obey God in thankfulness for His grace, but we no longer have to wait for Jesus to come and keep the Mosaic law for us. Instead of looking forward like old covenant Israel did, we look back.

As we might expect, the first commandment to worship no other gods but the Lord (v. 3) is the foundation for all true piety. In the ancient world, nations that abandoned an earthly king who had done much for them and entered into league with an outside ruler were considered guilty of high treason. How much worse, then, is it to turn one’s back on the great King who paid such a high price to rescue His people? When God’s people elevate someone or something above Him, they are actually committing the greatest act of betrayal possible. May we never be traitors to our Lord.

Coram Deo

Modern Westerners are not likely to worship crass idols made of wood or stone. Our idolatry is more subtle and therefore more dangerous. We are apt to place money, material items, relationships, and other pleasures before our pursuit of God, so we should always be on guard against a “sophisticated” idolatry. May we always make the Lord first in our thoughts and desires.

Passages for Further Study

2 Kings 17:7–23
Jeremiah 5:14–19
1 Corinthians 8:4–6
Galatians 4:8–9

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