Chapter 1 – No Other Gods

No Other Gods

The First Law of Love: No Other Gods

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

“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of  Egypt, 
out of the house of bondage.
You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Deuteronomy 5:6-7

The Emblem of YHWH

On the sixth day of Creation, God formed man out of the dust of the ground. He then breathed life into his nostrils, making Adam into a living soul. This exodus from the earth marked the beginning of a covenant that would last forever. An eternal covenant between God, the Life-Breather, and Man, the Life-Receiver. This relationship between Creator and creature was a covenant of love. God had no need for the world or anything in it, but out of His abundant goodness He chose to speak this world into existence. He then filled it with sun, moon, and stars, fish and birds, beasts and men. Like a king’s seal upon wax, God impressed His own insignia in Adam. From the misty earth arose a being unlike the rest: Man, made in the image of the invisible God, a living icon of the immortal Creator. It is from this origin story that we arrive at the first law of love, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Or to use Jesus’ words, “‘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” (Matt. 22:37-38).

Hierarchical Harmony

Because there is no-one and no-thing that existed prior to God, and because there is no-one and no-thing that is more glorious than the LORD, man is forbidden from giving worship to inferior creatures. This prohibition on idolatry is what protects the fountain of all that is true, good, and beautiful in the world. To deviate from this command is to deny the cosmic hierarchy, and to lie about the way the world actually is. Untune that string, and hark, what discord follows! To worship another God besides the LORD is to pollute the streams of living water from which we drink, and yet idolatry dines with demons, desperate for a drop of poison. Sin from the beginning is suicidal, it is the exchange of infinite glory and eternal life for images that pass away and go down to death. Sin is utterly unreasonable, irrational to the core; it cannot be argued with, only destroyed. The first commandment requires us to put sin to death, to set the entirety of the heart’s affections, the soul’s delight, and the mind’s meditation upon the infinite God of life. “In Your presences is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).

Love Is Not Your Feelings

This command to love God more than anyone or anything else cuts through the heart of modern man. If love is merely a psychosomatic experience, the result of chemicals in the brain, or if love is just a word we assign to describe pleasant feelings and emotions, then love is not something we do of our own volition, but rather something that just happens to us. This is why our generation has such a hard time defining what love is. There is nothing fixed or immovable in our social imagination, everything is in flux and subject to change. In this polytheistic fantasy world, love can be whatever we want it to be, or as the Secular Catechism Question 2 asks, “What is love?” Answer: “Love is love.” Against this tautology, the Bible gives us a different answer, “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). God’s essence gives form to our earthly conceptions, and this means that love has a universal and unchanging definition, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and “Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). Love then is not our ever-changing feelings. Love is submission and obedience to God’s Word. Love is the pathway to life.

Love Excludes

It is within the context of a gracious covenant that God gives to Israel the Ten Commandments. The preamble declares that YHWH is the one “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” and because of this act of redemption, “You shall have no others gods before Me.” This law is akin to the covenant vows of marriage. The man promises to be a loving and faithful husband, and the woman promises to be a loyal and obedient wife. In marriage, this love is expressed by sexual exclusivity. The man’s body belongs to his wife, and the woman’s body belongs to her husband, neither belong to themselves. In a similar way, the people of Israel belong exclusively to the LORD. No other god can claim them, and they must claim no other god. This law of exclusion is what makes Israel special; they are God’s elect, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation, chosen to extend God’s blessings to the world. As a son bears the likeness of his father, Israel is to the bear the likeness of YHWH, but this will only happen if Israel is exclusively monotheistic, no other gods allowed.

The Weight of Glory

By Jewish reckoning there are 613 laws in the Torah. Every single law is inspired by God and instructive for believers, but according to Jesus, some laws weigh more than others. For example, justice, mercy, and faith are heavy, while tithing from your herb garden is a lighter matter (Matt. 23:23). If we were to place every law on a scale, the first commandment would be the heaviest of them all. Just as gravity pulls us to the earth, loving God lifts us to heaven. The force generated by keeping the first commandment puts everything else into orbit. Marriage, childrearing, work, and leisure, all find their place and proportion when the love of God is central. For the carnal man, life revolves around Me. But for the spiritual man, upon whom the Sun of righteousness has shone, everything revolves around God. Whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do, it is all for the glory of God. This is the positive duty of keeping the first commandment and it is also how God changes us, “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18).