Using the “Principle-Application” method of applying the Torah, we’re going to look at the Ten Commandments over the next few days and try to realign our priorities to God’s.
Let's talk a bit about the numbering. Christians tend to list vs. 3 as the fist commandment "No other gods besides me," and vss. 4-6 as the second commandment: Basically summarized as "No idols." Jews, on the other hand, list vss. 3-6 as collectively giving one commandment. This is how they number them: vs. 2 has the first commandment, while 3-6 list the second. How can this be? How do they see "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery." as a commandment? There's a really good reason for this. The word we translate as "commandment" could just as easily be translated as "word." That's how the rabbis translate and understand it, and I'm actually persuaded by their case, since "No gods before me" and "no idols" seem pretty linked together, if not just a restatement of the same idea. Of course, this isn't an essential issue for me, since it doesn't really affect the points I think God is trying to make to us here.
However we number the commandments, we need to notice how the Lord started out this passage. He began by reminding them of who he was and what he had done before, which established the authority behind these commands. These are not suggestions from a friend, they aren't even instructions from our parents. They are commands from the Almighty God who'd rescued them out of Egyptian slavery and death. They owed him everything. Whatever he told them to do, he deserved absolute and instant obedience.
As such, the first thing he desires is complete allegiance and loyalty. We love our parents and other family, we can be loyal to our country, we can be true to our friends, but ultimately our love and loyalty go to our Savior God.
It’s probably easy to see why God forbids us to worship any god but him. I mean, he's been so good to us, and just like the ancient Hebrews we owe him everything while he owes us nothing but judgment. But why is it wrong to make images of him to focus our worship? Why not just paint a picture of Jesus and pray to it? There are two good reasons not to. First, he's too “big” to be represented in any picture. Any representation of him will be completely inadequate to capture his majesty and character. The other reason is that it’s too easy to confuse the representation with the One we worship. We tend to think that God is somehow “contained” in the box we have designed for him.
You might think that you’re being obedient to these commands because you don’t bow down before a block of wood or stone. Unfortunately God’s standard is a bit higher than we think. Paul says not once but twice that that greed is idolatry. In fact, how can we obey the command which Jesus considered the most important (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength”) if he has any rival for our affections? As someone once told me, “If anything controls you besides the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s an idol.”
Just like the Hebrews, we belong to our Savior God twice over: Once because he made us, and twice because he redeemed us out of the land of slavery and death. He deserves to have absolutely no rivals for our hearts.
Father God, please forgive me. You are my all in all, and I constantly need to be reminded of that.