The First Commandment

By Pastor Dan Gayman


Some thirty-five centuries ago, our one, true, and living God, Jehovah Almighty, the Great I AM Who spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, also revealed Himself to His people Israel and chose Moses to ascend to Mt. Horeb in the Sinai Wilderness and there receive the Ten Divine Commands that remain the most revolutionary code of ethics this world will ever know. The ten divine boundaries our Creator established are immutable, unchanging, and absolute. They are designed to hold us in peace and harmony with Almighty God and with one another, no matter the age or place. Nothing—no cultural changes, government changes, or fashion changes—can alter or abolish this code of ethics.


Every effort of mortal man to improve upon this divinely inspired code of ethics has failed miserably. Man’s every attempt to conceive a new or improved code of ethics has ended in his revisiting these landmarks as a guide. They are inescapable and all encompassing. Written with the very finger of Jehovah Elohim, they represent the most remarkable words recorded in history. Absolutely no conceivable behavior of mortals is left uncovered in these Ten Commandments. They were given to ancient Israel to identify them as the peculiar inheritance of Jehovah and were revealed from Heaven from the intellect of the very One Who created the universe, hung the planets in their orbits, and created every living thing. We must yield to their authority.


We mortals should bow our heads in reverence at the majesty, power, and mind of the Mighty God out of whose love and mercy originated the greatest code of ethics in all of man’s story. That these Ten Commands written in stone by the Living God should also be written on the tables of the human heart by the power of the Holy Spirit is nothing less than marvelous. For the unbelieving and unregenerate, these ten divine boundaries will forever remain the ethical guide for a civilized people. For those whose hearts have been converted by the One Who suffered, died, was buried, and rose again on the third day, these ten commands are engraved upon the tables of the heart. This supernatural code of ethics is that by which the elect in Jesus Christ will live in this world and in the world to come.


For the unbelieving, unregenerate, wicked, and unsaved souls, these ten boundaries written by the finger of Almighty Jehovah serve as a means of providing order and civility. No family or nation can long survive without rules to establish the behavior of its citizens. These Ten Commandments have served to check the passions of sin and avarice for millennia among the lawless and wicked of this world.  


Turn now to Exodus 20:1-3. May the Holy Spirit indwell you as you read these inspired words: “And God (Elohim is a uni-plural noun formed from El=Strength, or the Strong One) spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD Thy God, (Jehovah Elohim—LORD—the Hebrew Tetragrammaton YHWH, (“He that is who He is, therefore the self-existent, eternal I AM;” signifies also “to be or become,” pointing to a continuous and increasing self-revelation as the covenant God of Israel) which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:1-3).


Before we examine the meaning of this very first of the Ten Commandments, let us reflect on the time and circumstances when these commands were given. The nation of Israel had been delivered out of a situation where hundreds of heathen idols were worshipped. They had lived all their lives in a land where these heathen idols were the object of worship. At the time of the Exodus, Jehovah declared that He would execute judgment upon all the gods of Egypt (Exodus 12:12). The ten plagues that Jehovah rained on Egypt fell upon their ten most important pagan idols. For instance, the Nile River was turned into blood as a judgment upon the heathen god Hapi. Heket (Heka), the goddess of frogs, was the second god to be judged. Seb, the god of earth, was judged in lice. Beelzebub, the god of flies, was the fourth god to be judged. Apis, the god of the sacred bull, was the next heathen god to come under the judgment of murrain, thought to be a fatal disease that fell upon sheep, cattle, horses, asses, and even camels. This event was followed by a plague of blains (thought to be boils or blisters) that fell upon man and beast as a judgment upon Neit, great mother queen of the highest heaven. Upon Shu, the god of wind, air, or atmosphere, Jehovah rained down hail upon man, beast, and every green herb of the field. The judgment upon Serajia, protector of land, fell in the form of locusts. Upon Ra, the god of the sun, a veil of thick darkness covered the land. Finally, judgment fell upon the firstborn of Pharaoh, who, having ascribed deity to himself, was now humbled before the mighty Jehovah, God of the Hebrews.


The Israelites were somewhat familiar with these heathen gods as they were surrounded by Egyptians worshipping these pagan gods. Can you imagine how humiliating it was for the people of Egypt to witness the judgment upon their gods? Lest we think we are immune from worshipping false gods, we need to consider the worship and devotion we accord to gods in America today. What about the god of mammon? Jesus declared, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13). What about the gods of lust, pleasure, sports, work, the worship of self, or any person or thing that we place ahead of the one, true, and living God?


Consider one by one how the gods being worshipped in 21st Century America are being judged.


Mammon: the god of money, has been under judgment since the economic meltdown began in December of 2007. The value of the dollar continues to decline as the government increases the velocity of fiat paper currency.


Sexual Promiscuity: our preoccupation with sex has been severely judged in modern America. The proliferation of sexually transmitted diseases is exploding in 21st Century America. These include syphilis, gonorrhea, Chlamydia, Herpes I & II, Hepatitis B, Lymphogranuloma, non-specific urethritis, chancroid, crab lice, genital warts, etc… Many of these diseases are becoming resistant to drugs. In 1960, there were two common STDs; however, by the beginning of the Twenty-first Century, there were more than twenty-five. In 1980 alone, eight new STD pathogens were recognized in the United States. In 1995, STDs accounted for 87% percent of cases reported among the top ten diseases in the United States.


Our sovereign God established an unchanging code of ethics for His children.   God and Scripture establish the institution of marriage as the only place for intimacy between a man and a woman. The Bible makes no provision for physical intimacy before marriage. People who do not engage in any pre-marital intimacy and who remain faithful after marriage are almost assured of never encountering STDs. The elevation of sex to the status of a god has created an explosion of STDs in the U.S. Surely the god of lust is being judged harshly in 21st Century America!


The divine boundaries established in the Ten Commandments marked a revolutionary moment for the nation of Israel. Unlike all the nations of the earth who were polytheistic, Israel was being introduced to the one, true God, Jehovah. The transition from polytheism (worship of many gods) to monotheism (worship of one eternal and uncreated God) marked a revolutionary change for Israel and set her apart from other nations.


From that day forward, the First Commandment demanded first place in the hearts of the Israelite people. Just as Jehovah is the center of the universe, so He demands to be the center of every Israelite heart. There can be no other gods but the one, true, and ever-living God. “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14). This God demands our priority in the allocation of our time, wealth, and affection. The desired relationship of the elect to our Creator is succinctly stated as follows: “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD, thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deuteronomy 10:12).


In covenant with His people, Jehovah God revealed in Himself in flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. He alone holds all power and authority in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18). He is the only true God! Jehovah transcends time. He stepped out of eternity into time in the incarnation of God to take on the form of the race of Adam of the seed of Abraham (Hebrews 2:16) in the Person of Jesus Christ. He, the Almighty Jehovah, is the ultimate dictum in the universe. The entire universe is upheld by the Word of His power.   All power belongs to Him. He is in competition with no one. “For all the gods of the nations are idols: but the LORD (JEHOVAH) made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5). These inspired words from Jeremiah 10:10-12 summarize Jehovah’s authority quite well: “But the LORD is the true God, he is the Living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation…The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens. He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.”    


In the unity of His Being, the ever-living, self-existing, uncreated God, Whose name is Jehovah, there exist three subsistences of one essence, substance, power and eternity: God the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All power descends from the Father through the Son and the Holy Spirit. This transcendent God Who revealed Himself in flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ has revealed His will for His children in the divinely inspired and providentially preserved Word of God. This word of absolute truth for all English-speaking people is the Authorized King James Version of the Bible.


Reflect Upon the First Commandment


Ponder carefully these words from the One Who created heaven, earth, the seas, and all things therein: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The word before indicates that there can be nothing “in opposition to or in addition to” this ever-living God. For the Israelites, this meant that not only was the worship of the gods of Egypt forbidden, but neither could all the other gods of surrounding nations be worshipped, including Ashtoreth (the Greek Astarte); Milcom or Molech, the abomination of the Ammonites; Chemosh, the abomination of Moab; Dagon, the god of the Philistines; Baal, a Phoenician god; or a plethora of other heathen gods. Indeed, Jehovah expressly warned His people, saying, “And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth” (Exodus 23:13).


We dare not delude ourselves into believing that these warnings were for another time in history. Any object of our focus that replaces or exceeds our love for God absolutely dishonors God and breaks the First Commandment. This divinely established boundary between Jehovah and His people means that we cannot, we dare not, allow any person or thing to become the focus of our worship. God demands that He alone become the focal point of our lives.


Any person or thing that you look to for that which only God can supply is an idol. This could be money, one’s vocation, success, technology, power, one’s spouse or children, talents, good looks, a house, property, hobby, intimacy, pleasure—anything that is the center of your heart and affections to the exclusion of God.   Nothing can be placed before God!   Jesus Himself declared, For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). What portion of your heart has been surrendered to the focus, honor, obedience, worship, and love of the God Who gave you life and Who alone holds all the days of your life in the power of His hands?


Reflect upon the following questions as you search out your heart and ponder the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Meditate on these words from the Psalmist David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Once you have thought about these words, consider the words of Jehovah through Jeremiah, the prophet of the Most High: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Finally, before you seek answers to the following questions, ponder these words first from Psalm 14:2-3 and Romans 3:10, 23: “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one…There is none righteous, no, not one:…For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”  Now come the questions.


1)     Upon whom do you rely when trouble comes?

2)     Where do most of your energy, time, and money go?   This question will help you sort out your honor and obedience to God. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

3)     Whom do you try to impress? When you are alone, do your engage in behavior that you would be ashamed of in the presence of others?

4)     Who or what is the focus of your life? Is it your spouse, children, work, business, hobby, recreation, entertainment? Only God can be the center of your life. Any person you look to for that which only God can give is an idol.

5)     What holds you together when life deals you a blow? How do you respond to a major crisis? Do you question God’s love for you? Do you become irritated with God and maybe even blame Him for your misfortune?

6)     How much glory does God receive from the talents and gifts He so generously shares with you?

7)     What would you say your level of communion with God would be if it were measured by time spent in prayer, reading His Word, public worship, and doing good to others?

8)     This is a hard question: What could you lose from your life that would destroy you? The answer to this question could very well be the real god in your life. Consider your Father Abraham: he was told to leave his family and migrate to a new country. He had to find a new home in a strange land. His wife Sarah remained barren for ten years after God promised Abraham a son from her womb—and this when the promise of God to Abraham rested on a future son! Where was he? Then Abraham had to separate from Lot. Without children, Lot was Abraham’s last hope for an heir. Then Abraham had to give up Ishmael, his firstborn son. Ishmael was the only son Abraham knew until years later, when Isaac was born. Then, with the birth of Isaac, Abraham had to surrender his relationship with Ishmael insofar as any firstborn status was concerned. Finally, Abraham was asked to sacrifice his long-awaited son Isaac on the altar at Mt. Moriah. This marked the ultimate test for Abraham. Would he be willing to surrender the only son born to him and Sarah? Sarah then died, leaving Abraham a widower. In all of these trials, Abraham remained faithful to Jehovah, thus demonstrating obedience to the first command: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”


Making God First in Your Life


How can believers show evidence that God holds primacy in their life? What are the most practical ways to measure our personal obedience to the first of the Ten Commands? It should not be stressful for believers to take personal inventory of your life and determine if God is indeed the center of your life, or if He occupies only a limited role. God’s Word defines quite clearly what it means to love and worship God as the priority of our lives: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecc. 12:13). In regards to the first commandment, Dr. Rubel Shelly says this on pages 39-40 of his book, Written in Stone, Ethics for the Heart (Howard Publishing Co., West Monroe, LA):


“The first commandment not only comes at the head of the list of ten but is the prerequisite worldview for making sense of the nine to follow. If God is truly God, all that He speaks is true and every commandment from him must be obeyed…Biblical religion is exclusive in nature. The God who revealed himself by the covenant name Yahweh (Jehovah) to Israel and who became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth will not accept a place in the pantheon of gods. He alone is divine and claims the right to be both the center and circumference to human belief, values, and behavior…To make God the center of one’s life is to focus heart, soul, mind, and strength on him; it is to be deeply in love with one’s Creator and Redeemer. To make God the circumference of one’s life is to adopt the lifestyle of a dedicated disciple; it is to know, affirm, and live within the parameters of heaven’s revealed will.”


Ponder how the Creator of heaven and earth fits into your daily life. How much time do you devote to the One Who gave you life and provided a pathway into eternity through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ? Do you take time daily to pray and engraft the Word of God into your heart and mind? Reflect upon these words from Deuteronomy 8:3: “….man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live.”  The soul requires its portion of daily bread (instruction from the Word of life). Do you take time to worship and rest on the Holy Sabbath and observe the annual holy days established by our Creator at Passover and Unleavened Bread, Wave Sheaf Offering, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, and Tabernacles? To love God is to make your life relevant to Him and His Word.


What about your wealth? Do you acknowledge Jehovah as the source of your wealth? Do you honor Him with the tenth of your increase? Wealth does not come by the power and wisdom of man, but by the blessing of the Living God: “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:18). We document our love for Jehovah when we bring a tithe of the increase of our labors into the sanctuary as an act of worship. When we bring special offerings into the sanctuary and help the poor, we confirm our honor and love of God.


When we render the firstfruits of our time, wealth, and affection to the Living God, we confirm our obedience to the divine boundary established in the first Commandment. These beautiful words found in Deuteronomy 10:12 summarize what it means to make Jehovah the center of your life: “And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”


Where is the Fear of God in 21st Century America?


Why do so many people, even professing Christians, demonstrate such little reverence for God? The sin debt piling higher and higher in America provides ample undeniable evidence that there is little fear of God among the American populace. The first of the Ten Commandments requires an absolute reverence and awe of the Living God. We are reminded in Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Nor should we soon forget what God declares in Hebrews 12:29: “For our God is a consuming fire.” There probably are many reasons why even professing Christians do not fear God as they should. But one reason towers above the others. It is simply because so many millions believe they are essentially good in nature, when they actually are desperately ignorant over just how absolutely unworthy, wicked, and unacceptable they are to stand one day before a holy God at the day of His Judgment!


In former generations, clergymen expounded on the Doctrine of Original Sin from the pulpit with great passion and authority. Today, that foundational doctrine has all but disappeared. The Doctrine of Original Sin is clearly designed to help every sinner understand his complete state of depravity before a holy God. All of us must again be made aware of how acutely every part of our being—spirit, soul, and body—is vile and sinful before the righteousness of God. We must have a basis for understanding that every aspect of our being is wicked in the sight of our perfect and righteous God.   This doctrine will humble the most proud, arrogant, and narcissistic person imaginable—if we understand how sin (both “original sin” inherited from Adam and our own actual sin) places us in a state of bondage, corruption, and total depravity before our most holy God.


To illustrate the fact that far too many people, believers and unbelievers alike, fail to understand how truly depraved we are, consider the case of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus in search of eternal life. This story is found in three Gospels: Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30. The following words from Mark 10:17-22 confirm that far too many people simply do not understand that no one is good, for all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Every one of us in every part of our being is depraved and unacceptable in God’s sight. Think about this as you read the following from Mark 10:17-22:


“And when he (Jesus) was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.”


Ponder these words carefully. We can all rejoice that the young rich man went to Jesus to inquire about inheriting eternal life. What could be more important than to reflect upon the state of your soul and where you will spend eternity? Can you think of anything in this life that would be of greater significance than to be concerned about eternal life? For this we applaud the rich young ruler. If only every person numbered in the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-Israel would consider the question of eternity!   Regarding eternity, before us are only two options: either we shall spend eternity with Jehovah in His Kingdom, or we shall spend eternity in Gehenna in eternal separation from God.


Notice how the first point Jesus made to this young rich man was that there is none good, absolutely no one. Jesus then referred the young man to the commandments and expressly mentioned the second table that relates to man’s relationship to others. The young man was quick to tell Jesus that from his very youth, he had obeyed these commands. The rich young man must have felt great pride when he was able to answer in the affirmative to the commandments Jesus brought to his attention. It was at this point, however, that Jesus flushed out the real problem in this young rich man’s life. When Jesus told him to “sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me,” the young rich man became very grieved. Why? Because Jesus quickly identified the real problem in this young man’s life: his wealth was his god. He had passed over the First Commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Sadly, this young man’s riches possessed him. There is nothing wrong with wealth. We must take care never to allow riches to occupy priority in our lives. That place must be reserved for Jehovah!


How many millions of people, believers and unbelievers alike, honestly believe they are good people and yet fail to realize the utter depravity of their sinful condition in the sight of God? How many of us if questioned by Jesus would not be found guilty of violating one or even all of these Ten Commandments? Would about you? Read the Ten Commandments and decide this day which of these ten commands you have violated. Or better still, which ones have you not failed to obey?   An honest self-evaluation will surely shame us all.


The law was given as our schoolmaster to bring us to Jesus Christ and His saving grace. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing. Our good works will not save us. Our wealth, looks, education, fame, piety—nothing can save us but the blood of Jesus Christ.   We cannot earn our salvation. Salvation is the gift of God and is our present possession by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Good works are a future attainment that will come when we stand before the Lord Jesus Christ to receive this commendation: Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21).


May all who fear the Living God bow in humble reference before the majesty of this altogether holy and righteous God. May we seek His face with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and with a contrite and penitent heart seek to make Jehovah, the Almighty God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the first priority in our life.






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