The Ten Commandments - First - No Other Gods

Bible Book: Exodus  20 : 2-3
Subject: Ten Commandments; God, One
Series: Ten Commandments - Paul Brown
Introduction

Recently I preached two messages in which I dealt with some basic facts about the Ten Commandments. Those commandments are unique in all of history. God himself spoke them audibly, and wrote them on tables of stone. They were given as guidelines for maintaining a safe, sane society. No person except Jesus has ever kept them perfectly, but to the extent that a nation strives to honor the 10 commandments, to that same extent will God bless that nation.

But the Ten Commandments were also, and in fact primarily, directed to individuals. Their purpose is three-fold: they show us our sin, they point us to Jesus for salvation, and they serve as moral guidelines for the Christian in his daily life.

Now this morning I want to deal with the first of those Ten Commandments, and I want to do that under two main headings: God’s introduction of himself, and then God’s instruction concerning himself.

I. God’s Introduction of Himself

God doesn’t launch into lofty arguments trying to prove his existence. If you see a house, you realize that it had to have an architect. If you look at a watch, or if you look at a computer, you know that it had to have a designer - all those intricate parts didn’t just happen to come together. And when any right thinking person looks at this world, with all of its wonders and complexities, he realizes that there had to be a Creator. Psalm 53:1 says very plainly, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  The word “fool” in that verse doesn’t refer to intellectual deficiency--it refers to moral deficiency. The verse doesn’t say, “The fool hath said in his head,” it says, “The fool hath said in his heart.” Atheism is not a head issue, it is a heart issue. The person who denies God’s existence usually has some serious moral hang-ups and, if you study the lives of prominent atheists, that’s generally what you’ll discover.

So, God doesn’t argue about his existence, he simply introduces himself. Although he had already revealed himself in numerous ways, in this first commandment he introduces himself afresh to the people of Israel, and to people of all generations. He has other attributes in addition to the ones mentioned here, but in this first commandment he emphasizes certain truths about himself that are foundational.

A. I am the “LORD” thy God

First, he says, “I am the Lord thy God....”

The Hebrew word for “the Lord” in that verse is YAHVEH, which is sometimes translated “Jehovah.” Dr. G. Campbell Morgan pointed out that the name Jehovah is a combination of three Hebrew words which mean, “He that will be, He that is, He that was.” In other words, God was saying, “I am the eternal one.”

God, and only God, is self-existent. No one created him. He had no beginning, and he will have no end. He is the eternal Sovereign of the universe. He breathed into us the breath of life. He sustains us day by day. It is his prerogative to direct our lives.

B. I am the Lord thy “GOD”

God not only said, “I am the Lord” [meaning Jehovah, the eternal One]; he said, “I am the Lord thy God....”

The Hebrew word for God in Exodus 20:2 is elohim, which is used often in the Old Testament for God. It is an unusual word. It is used here as a singular, but technically is a plural, which may allude to the fact that God is one, yet expresses himself in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Some believe that the plural, elohim, is used as “a plural of majesty,” to denote the greatness of God.

God’s supreme revelation of himself was in the person of Jesus Christ. In John 1:1-3 we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. Al things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” Verse 14 says, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, [and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,] full of grace and truth.” 

Colossians 2:9 says, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” [That term “Godhead” means, literally, “divine nature” or “divine essence.”]

Matthew 1:23 speaks of Jesus as “Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” Jesus said, in John 10:30, “I and my Father are one.”

C. I am the Lord “THY” God

Now, notice that in Exodus 20:2 God said, “I am the Lord thy God.”

He was calling attention to the fact that he is a personal God, who makes himself known in a unique, intimate way to those who meet his conditions.

Some aren’t interested in getting involved with God because they fear that he will require them to change their behavior, and that’s exactly right, but what they don’t realize is that those changes will be for the better. The devil has duped a lot of folks into thinking that God is some kind of cosmic killjoy just waiting to “zap” anyone who threatens to have a good time. But that’s a lie. The truth is that Jesus said, in John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” God wants you to experience the highest and best in life.

D. I am the Lord thy God who “DELIVERS”

In this first commandment God continues his introduction of himself by reminding the Israelites, and all the rest of us, that he is the God who delivers. He said, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”

And he is still the God who delivers.

1. He delivers from sin’s bondage and condemnation.

Jesus said, in John 8:34, “...Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin,” literally, the “bond-slave” of sin. The Greek word which is translated “committeth” is what the language experts call a verb denoting continuity. The point is that the person who goes on and on in sin is a slave of sin. Jesus is referring to the person in whose life sin is on the throne; it has the “upper hand;” it has dominion.

But look at what Jesus went on to say in John 8:36: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” When you repent of your sins and in faith surrender your life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior, he sets you free from sin’s dominion. No, you won’t be perfect, but he will lift your life to a whole new level, and as you call on him day by day he will give you an ever-increasing degree of victory, and when you come to the end of this earthly life, you’ll go to heaven instead of hell, which is where you were headed so long as you were under sin’s dominion.

2. He also delivers as we call on Him

He also delivers in various other ways, as we call on him throughout life.

a. Deliverance from temptation.

As we yield ourselves afresh to him each day, he gives us victory over those enticements that Satan throws in our path. 2 Peter 2:9 says, “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation....”

b. Deliverance from sorrow.

He delivers us from sorrow, in that he empowers us to survive life’s hurts and to go on in spite of them.. Psalm 147:3 says, “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.“

c. Deliverance from life’s adversities.

God delivers us from life’s adversities when we abide in Christ and call upon him earnestly. In Psalm 59:15 God says, “And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.“ That doesn’t mean that he necessarily removes the trouble. He does in some cases. But sometimes he delivers us in the midst of our afflictions--that is, while allowing the problem to remain, he gives us grace and strength to be victorious in spite of it.

He is the God who delivers. The author of Psalm 116 said, in verse 7, “Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.” Then in verse 8 he said to God: “For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.”

The song-writer expressed it this way:

‘Tis the grandest theme thro’ the ages rung;
‘Tis the grandest theme for a mortal tongue;
‘Tis the grandest theme that the world e’er sung;
Our God is able to deliver thee.
‘Tis the grandest theme, let the tidings roll
To the guilty heart, to the sinful soul;
Look to God in faith, He will make thee whole:
Our God is able to deliver thee.

Now, let’s look at

II. God’s Instruction Concerning Himself

A. The SPECIFICS of his instruction.

Exodus 20:3: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me“ or, literally, “before my face.” The Hebrew expression is such that It could be rendered, “beside me” or “beyond me.” The point is obvious: God is saying, You are not to have any other gods - period. In Matthew 4:10 Jesus, resisting the devil, said, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.”

The Creator of heaven and earth, who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, is the only true God; all other gods are counterfeit. Yet the Israelites were continually turning to false gods and to idols.

B. The VIOLATION of his instruction.

We modern day Americans don’t worship images of stone and brass but we are often guilty of idolatry nonetheless. One modern writer said that our god is that to which we give our greatest devotion, as evidenced by the way we use our time, our strength, and our resources. That definition is in keeping with the spirit of Biblical teaching. The fact is that a person can make a false god, an idol, out of anything, and many who profess to be followers of Christ are, in reality, worshippers of one or more false gods. Here are a few examples of modern-day idolatry.

1. Money/Things

Some people’s god is MONEY, or the things that money can buy

In Colossians 3:5 the apostle Paul speaks of “covetousness, which is idolatry.” Dr. Harold Songer says, “This term meant basically ‘having more’ in the sense of ‘wanting more.’ It referred to striving for material possessions, or to greediness for the things of life.” There is certainly nothing wrong with money, so long as we earn and use it properly, and so long as we have a right attitude toward it. But the problem is that all too many of us place too high a priority on money. The Bible says, in 1 Timothy 6:10, that “the love of money is the root of all evil.” We may or may not actually have a lot of money--that isn’t the point. The point is that if we are overly preoccupied with the issue of money, then we have made money our god.

Jesus said, in Matthew 6:24, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” The Greek word for “mammon” means, literally, “wealth,” or “riches.” In Luke 12:15 Jesus warns us that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.”

2. Pleasure

There are some people who make a god, that is, an idol out of PLEASURE.

Having warned that perilous times would come in these last days, Paul went on to say, in 2 Timothy 3:4, that many will be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God.” Anything we love more than God is our idol. When “having a good time” is your number one priority, then pleasure has become your god, and you are just as much an idolater as if you bowed before an image of stone or brass.

The pursuit of pleasure can take either of two directions:

Satan wants you to experience what the writer of Hebrews 11:25 calls “the pleasures of sin for a season.” There are certain unGodly indulgences which do provide pleasure--but what Satan doesn’t tell you is that once that superficial, short-lived “high” is over, what tasted like a sweet morsel becomes bitter, and the pleasure is replaced by misery and defeat. Not only do you still have the troubles from which you thought you were escaping, but you also have a whole batch of new ones to boot.

Others are preoccupied with pleasures of a different, more “socially respectable” sort--sports, or boating, or hunting, or golf, and the list goes on and on. Many such activities can be wholesome and beneficial and God honoring if engaged in with moderation, and kept in proper perspective, and not allowed to interfere with worshiping and serving God. But the problem is that for many people these pursuits claim too high a priority, to the point that they have become gods. 1 Timothy 5:6 warns: “...she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth.”

3. Appetite

There are individuals who have fallen into another type of idolatry, closely related to what has just been said. In Philippians 3:19 Paul speaks of those “whose god is THEIR BELLY.”

What a tragic thing, for people to be so enamored with food that they habitually eat things that they know are bad for them. What a sad thing for a person to be a glutton, and overeat. Not only does that show a pitiful lack of self-discipline, and not only does it mar a person’s testimony, it also shortens his life, and dishonors God. Habitual carelessness in our eating habits amounts to idolatry, plain and simply.

It is not, however, your prerogative or mine to judge others in that regard. That’s between the individual and God and he will do the judging. The fact is that you and I simply don’t know all that is going on in a person’s life. For example, I know an individual in another state who is very much overweight and yet is on an exercise and diet regimen that would make you and me as skinny as a rail, but this person has a severe metabolism problem. So we mustn’t jump to conclusions and assume that a person is making his belly his god when we don’t know all that is involved.

But the person who makes the fulfillment of bodily appetite, whether or food or anything else, his number one priority has made his belly his god.

Conclusion

No list of false gods is ever complete. A person can worship his occupation, his house, his vehicle, or any number of other things. You can make a god out of your computer, or out of television. The late Eddie Cantor was appalled at how so many people, even in his day, seemed glued to that little box with a screen. He said that if there is anything to the principle of disuse causing attrition and use resulting in growth, in a few years we Americans will have eyes the size of mush melons and brains the size of a field pea!

Stan Coffey told about a developer who bought a large plot of land, consisting of several acres, for a very cheap price, the reason being that all of those acres had served for many years as a garbage dump. Instead of making a good, solid landfill, letting it settle, and then coming back and adding more fill, he did a “hurry up” job. He gave it a “once over lightly,” shallow fill. Then he laid out streets, curbs and gutters, planted trees, and built beautiful, expensive houses. But after a few years the streets began to sink. Ugly cracks began appearing inside the houses, and the foundations began to crumble, so that the houses were unsafe. And it was all because the subdivision was built on garbage. If you build on the trash of this world--if you build your life on materialism, or worldly pleasure, or selfish indulgences, you may seem to be o.k. for a while, but sooner or later it’s all going to crumble and you’re going down. Galatians 6:7 says, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

I want to challenge each of us, right here and now, to make an inspection tour of his life. A person can only have one ultimate loyalty, and if your ultimate loyalty is not to God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, then you are an idolater and you are living in disobedience to the first commandment.

But you can correct that situation right now. If you’ve never done so, I challenge you to be saved this morning. Repent and, in faith, ask Jesus Christ to come into your heart and be your Lord and Savior. He promises, in John 6:37, “...him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.”

If you’re already a Christian but have let false gods creep into your life, face up to what you’ve allowed to happen, and ask God to forgive you and help you get back on the right track.

Let the words of this great hymn be your prayer:
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole;
I want Thee forever to live in my soul;
Break down every idol, cast out every foe:
Now wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.