And God spoke all these words:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”
(Exodus 20:1-3)

A quick summary of what happened after the creation accounts in Genesis: God made man and woman, placed them in a perfect garden, and gave them one rule – don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A serpent showed up and convinced them otherwise. They ate, they got expelled, their oldest son killed his younger brother – you know…typical family stuff. Things got worse until God sent a flood to wipe the slate clean and begin again with Noah and his family.

Then God called Abraham who would become the father of a great nation and through whom all the peoples of the world would be blessed. Miraculously Abraham and Sarah were able to have a baby boy in their old age. They named him Isaac. Isaac had twin sons named Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricked Esau out of his blessing and birthright – you know…typical family stuff.

Jacob wrestled with God and had his name changed to Israel. He also had 12 sons, one of whom was named Joseph. The other brothers hated Joseph and sold him to slave traders going to Egypt. One thing led to another and Joseph found himself as Pharaoh’s right-hand man. When famine struck, the rest of Joseph’s family eventually made the move to Egypt, the only land with any food left. And then they just kind of…stayed. For a long time.

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A new dynasty arose in Egypt who did not appreciate the contribution of this family of outsiders, known now as the Hebrews. The new Pharaoh ended up enslaving the population until God rose up a leader named Moses to free his people and lead them into their own homeland to fulfill a promise God made to Abraham.

Are you with me so far?

By some accounts, the people of Israel had spent nearly 400 years in Egypt, speaking their language, sharing their customs, learning about (and possibly worshiping) their gods. Now God must turn this ragamuffin smattering of tribes into a holy nation, a kingdom of priests. God took Moses up onto Mount Sinai and gave him a set of laws by which to establish these newly freed slaves as one nation under God.

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What’s the absolute most important thing for them to know? What’s number one on the list? What is going to be “pinned” to the top forever? Read it again with their history in mind:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
“You shall have no other gods before me.”

It’s almost like a formal introduction. “Hello, my name is YHWH. I am your God. Nice to meet you.” But think about it. These people have grown up knowing Ra and Horus and Isis and Osiris and Set and Hathor. Which one of these gods freed us from slavery? None of the above. Odds are they had mostly forgotten the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from their collective memory.

When I was growing up, I learned that the first of the 10 Commandments was “You shall have no other gods before me.” But that’s not what the Jews would say. The first commandment is “I am YHWH your God.” The no other gods clause flows from that declaration.

Also, I find it interesting that God doesn’t say “there are no other gods except me.” That would have been simply unbelievable to these people. Of course there are other gods! YHWH is just one among many. The Egyptians have their gods. We have our God. It’s not until much later that the prophets make the case against the existence of other gods (see Isaiah 44).

Here’s the reality – there are other gods. Anything we place in front of God becomes our god. Anything apart from God to which we cry out “save me!” becomes our idol.

What does that look like for us today? We so easily turn things into modern-day idols – celebrities, government & politicians, bank accounts, stock portfolios, social media profile, academics, sports, food. Our new gods are named “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Jesus put it this way:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
(Matthew 6:33)

We get it wrong when we talk about “priorities.” There can really be only one priority – everything else is secondary or tertiary. If God is not your priority, your number one, then whatever else is in that spot is your idol.

How would you fill in this blank?
“I am the LORD your God who ____________________________.”

The Hebrew people needed to know and remember that it was YHWH who delivered them, not some other god or deity. They did not do it themselves. It wasn’t the Egyptian government’s idea to set all the slaves free. It was only God. He delivered them from slavery and brought them out of Egypt. When they forget that – and how forgetful we humans are! – they always fall into temptation and sin. Always. Remember who God is and what he has done.

May we know God today as our God. May we always remember what God has done for us – life, breath, joy, resilience, health, material blessings, family, friends, forgiveness, salvation, freedom.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
(James 1:17)

And may we never place any other god before God. May nothing in all creation take his place at the top.

The heavens praise your wonders, Lord,
your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.
For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord?
Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings?
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared;
he is more awesome than all who surround him.
Who is like you, Lord God Almighty?
You, Lord, are mighty, and your faithfulness surrounds you.
(Psalm 89:5-8)


What other “gods” feature most prominently in your life? What “gods” are in the most competition with YHWH for priority in your life?

Why is it important to remember what God had done for us? How often do you share those stories with others? What’s your favorite story about what God has done for you?

 What happens when we forget God and what he has done for us? (See Exodus 32)