A Certain Trumpet: The Ten Commandments — 'You shall have no other god before or beside Me'comment (0)
January 9, 2014
By Jimmy E. Jackson
The Ten Commandments given by Yahweh God to His people Israel are recorded by Moses in Exodus 20:3–17 and in Deuteronomy 5:7–21. Although specific to God’s covenant with Israel, these laws have a universal application for all mankind.
My purpose in this message is to present and attempt to apply the first of these commandments to your life and mine. God engraved on tablets of stone these loving and liberating words: “You shall have no other gods before or beside Me” (Ex. 20:3).
Consider the Context — The people of Israel have complained all the way to the foot of Mount Sinai.
God had met with Moses and had instructed him to speak to Israel. In Exodus 19 we find the details of God’s message — a reminder of His covenant with Israel and of His past blessings based upon that covenant (vv. 3–4), His promise to continue His blessings and to use Israel for His glory if they keep His covenant (vv. 5–6) and some practical instructions concerning His descent upon Mount Sinai to speak to them in three days (vv. 9–15).
When that day arrived, God did exactly what He said He would do. What a blessing that we have a God who is true to His word. We can depend on His precepts and on His promises.
The people were standing in the valley as the Lord descended upon the top of the mountain. Lightning was flashing. Thunder was rolling. Billows of smoke rose from the mountain, and an earthquake shook the whole area. The people were trembling with fear. Then God spoke to Moses loud enough for the people to hear. What He said, we know as the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. Make no mistake. This is divine revelation, clear, concise, inerrant.
Consider the Intent — The response of the people is recorded in 20:18–21. They retreated from the mountain as far as possible. They feared for their lives and asked Moses to have God speak to and through him, but not to speak any more directly to them.
What an insight this is into the spiritual condition of these people. They had spent so much of their time concentrating on themselves, their perceived needs — which were more often wants instead of dire necessities — that egocentrism blinded them to the loving and liberating nature of God.
Moses attempted to calm the people by explaining that God’s presence and His commandments were for His glory and their good. That is still true of His dealing with people today.
God was testing the faith and loyalty of His people by allowing them to get a glimpse of His holiness and power (cf. Ex. 20:20). His presence and laws were not intended to limit but liberate His people. They missed the point and paid an awful price.
The most rapidly growing category of people in America with reference to belief in God is called “nonreligious.” Perhaps people are bolder in their denial of faith, or maybe we are more efficient in gathering viable statistics, but this is a disturbing matter, although it is not new.
When I was born, neither my parents nor my grandparents were Christians. God, church, religion, etc., were not a part of our life. Sunday was like any other day of the week. We were not necessarily mad about or at God. We were just getting along pretty well without Him. So we thought.
As I grew up, I could have been the poster child for Isaiah 53:6a: “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned each to our own way.” I was born with a determination to have my own way. I detested restrictions and rules.
I was rebellious, but I was not ignorant. When I did things in defiance of my parents or my grandparents and got caught, I did not sit in time out. In fact, I was hurting too much to sit anywhere.
I learned to be obedient publicly but disobedient secretly. Although unsaved, my parents were respectable people. There was no cursing, drinking, stealing or immoral conduct around our house. However, by the time I was 8 years of age, I had a bad habit of lying, cursing, stealing and anger. The older I became, the more diversified and habitual my sins. I was one person around my family and an entirely different person around my friends.
In my twisted thinking, rules were my enemies. This attitude controlled most of my actions and my relationships until I was saved in 1968. The first thing God revealed to me once I opened my heart to Jesus was that He loved me. I began to see how blind and misguided I had been. God’s authority over me, whether direct or delegated, was not negative but positive, because He wanted the best for me. The roots of my rebellion were deep and had poisoned my thinking. Some restrictions continued to trigger instant rebellion and anger in my heart.
I talked to a trusted pastor friend who reminded me that God’s limitations are really His liberations. He reminded me that the rails around the perimeter of a cruise ship were to keep passengers from falling overboard. Sure they do restrict the people to the safety of the deck just like God’s laws restrict us to the safety of His will. His laws are to set us free to worship, honor, love and serve Him with the joy of a clean conscience.
Consider the Content — This gracious commandment is both personal and practical. The pronoun “you” is singular. While God’s covenant is with all of His people, the keeping of that covenant rests upon each believer. Each person is both important and responsible.
It is practical. God adds, “No other gods before or beside Me.” Since God is the only God, He is saving us a lot of trouble. The only proper position for God is No. 1. He has no equal. He is in a category all His own. To love and give our heart to anyone or anything other than Him is pure foolishness and is disastrous.
In Conclusion — Also note that the first commandment has its position logically. It is the principal and foundational commandment. Get this one right and the others will fall in line. Fail here and lose the divine resources to succeed in all of the others.
Is it any wonder Jesus said: “The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”? His love for us puts us first; our response is a love that puts Him first.
Jimmy Jackson is senior pastor of Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, and a former Alabama Baptist State Convention president. He also served for many years as a parlimentarian for the SBC.