What does the first commandment mean?

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By BibleAsk Team


The first commandment, often understood as “You shall have no other gods before Me,” holds profound significance in the Christian faith. Found in Exodus 20:3 and Deuteronomy 5:7, this commandment goes beyond a simple prohibition against idolatry; it encapsulates fundamental principles about the nature of God, the relationship between God and humanity, and the ethical implications for believers.

Historical and Cultural Context

The Revelation at Sinai

The Ten Commandments, including the first commandment, were given to God’s people at Mount Sinai following their liberation from slavery in Egypt. This pivotal event is recounted in Exodus 19-20 and Deuteronomy 5, where God establishes the covenant with His chosen people. The commandments were a moral and spiritual framework for God’s children, setting them apart as a holy nation dedicated to the worship and service of Yahweh alone.

Contrast with Polytheistic Cultures

In the ancient Near East, including Egypt from which the Israelites were delivered, polytheism was prevalent. Multiple gods were worshiped, each representing different aspects of nature, human affairs, or cosmic forces. The first commandment stood in stark contrast to this polytheistic worldview by asserting the exclusive worship of one God, Yahweh. This monotheistic declaration challenged Israel to reject the gods of their oppressors and embrace a singular devotion to the Creator of the universe.

Covenant Relationship with Yahweh

Central to the first commandment is the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and Israel. This covenant, initiated with Abraham and reaffirmed through Moses, bound Israel to Yahweh as His chosen people. Exodus 19:5-6 captures this covenantal promise:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6, NKJV)

The first commandment establishes the foundation of this covenant by demanding exclusive loyalty and worship towards Yahweh alone.

Theological Significance of the First Commandment

Monotheism and God’s Uniqueness

At its core, the first commandment affirms the monotheistic belief in the uniqueness and supremacy of God. Isaiah 45:5-6 declares:

“I am the Lord, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:5-6, NKJV)

This declaration establishes Yahweh as the one and only God, distinct from all other supposed deities or idols.

Exclusivity of Worship

The first commandment demands exclusive worship of Yahweh. This exclusivity prohibits the worship of any other gods or idols, whether physical representations or abstract concepts that replace Yahweh’s rightful place. Deuteronomy 6:13-15 emphasizes this exclusivity:

“You shall fear the Lord your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name. You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are all around you (for the Lord your God is a jealous God among you), lest the anger of the Lord your God be aroused against you and destroy you from the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 6:13-15, NKJV)

This commandment establishes Yahweh’s jealousy for His people’s undivided devotion, ensuring their spiritual purity and fidelity to the covenant. Jesus taught this in the sermon on the mount, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, NKJV). We are often consumed in working “for the food which perishes” (John 6:27) and seek water the doesn’t quench our thirst (John 4:13). We spend money for what is not bread, and “does not satisfy? (Isaiah 55:2). But the Lord wants us to make first things first, and promises us that all the secondary things in life will be given to us according to our need.

Spiritual Integrity and Authentic Worship

Beyond outward observance, the first commandment calls for inner spiritual integrity and authentic worship. Jesus affirms this principle in John 4:23-24:

“But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24, NKJV)

True worship involves a heart that is wholly devoted to God, free from hypocrisy or divided allegiances.

God’s Authority

By asserting exclusive worship of Yahweh, the first commandment underscores God’s sovereignty and authority over all creation. Psalm 24:1-2 declares:

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the waters.” (Psalm 24:1-2, NKJV)

Acknowledging Yahweh as the only true God affirms His rightful place as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, deserving of universal reverence and obedience.

Practical Implications for Believers

Exclusive Devotion to God

For believers today, the first commandment calls for exclusive devotion to Yahweh. This means prioritizing God above all other pursuits, desires, or allegiances in life. Jesus reaffirms this principle in Matthew 22:37-38:

“Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.” (Matthew 22:37-38, NKJV)

Loving God supremely involves dedicating every aspect of one’s being to Him, seeking His will above all else. Belief in God alone is not enough, we need to know Him in a personal way through daily study of His Word and prayer (John 15:4). It is our duty to know and to love the One, who left heaven and came down to earth to save us (John 3:16).

Dependence upon something else other than God, whether it be riches, knowledge, career, or friends, puts our lives in the wrong path. It is hard to fight against the attractions of the world, and so easy to depend on that which is seen and felt (Matthew 6:19–34; 1 John 2:15–17). But we should focus our whole hearts on God, the source of every good blessing (James 1:17).

Rejection of Idolatry in All Forms

The first commandment also prohibits idolatry in all its forms. While ancient idol worship involved physical images, contemporary idolatry can manifest as the pursuit of material wealth, power, status, or even relationships that replace God as the ultimate focus of devotion. Colossians 3:5 warns against idolatry:

“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5, NKJV)

Believers are called to renounce anything that competes with God’s rightful place in their lives. We need to pray for God’s grace that we may not violate the spirit of the first commandment by worshiping other gods in our materialistic world.  We should not place our trust in trivial things and forget the One who created all things for us to enjoy. We should “look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18, NKJV).

Commitment to Spiritual Growth and Discipleship

Living out the first commandment involves ongoing commitment to spiritual growth and discipleship. This includes cultivating a deepening relationship with God through prayer, study of Scripture, fellowship with other believers, and obedience to His commands. Philippians 3:8-10 reflects this pursuit of intimacy with God:

“Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” (Philippians 3:8-10, NKJV)

Witness and Proclamation of God’s Sovereignty

By upholding the first commandment, believers bear witness to God’s sovereignty and authority before the world. This includes proclaiming the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ, inviting others to embrace Yahweh as the only true God, and rejecting all false substitutes for His divine presence and power. Acts 4:12 underscores the exclusivity of salvation through Jesus:

“Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12, NKJV)

Conclusion

The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” is far more than a directive against idol worship. It encapsulates foundational truths about the nature of God, the covenantal relationship between Yahweh and His people, and the ethical principles that guide authentic worship and discipleship. By affirming Yahweh’s exclusivity, believers acknowledge His sovereignty, authority, and rightful place as the one true God.

This commandment continues to challenge and inspire believers to live lives marked by undivided devotion, spiritual integrity, and a fervent commitment to proclaiming God’s reign over all creation. As such, it remains a cornerstone of faith and a guiding principle for Christian living in a world that often seeks alternatives to God’s divine presence and power.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

Categories Law

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