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Have No Other Gods!

The first commandment of the Lord our God is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3).

By G. Campbell Morgan

    Of the ten commandments of Sinai the first four deal with man's relation to God. Of these the first brings us face to face with the object of worship: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

The Name of God

    There is deep significance in the name by which God here declares Himself, JEHOVAH. It is a combination of three Hebrew words, which may be translated into an English form thus: Yehi, "He will be," Hove, "being," and Hahyah, "He was." A combination is made from the three words by taking the first syllable of the first YEHi, the middle syllable of the second, hOVe, and the last syllable of the third, hahyAH, so that we have the name YEHOVAH.

    The whole name means, "He that will be, He that is, He that was." Thus the very name brings man into the presence of the Supreme, the Eternal, the Self-existent God, Who is because He is – a great and perpetual mystery to the finite mind of man, and for the most part beyond all human analysis.

    If the mind reach out to the limitless stretches of future generations, God says, "I am He that will be." If men think of the present moment, with all its marvelous manifestations of life and order and mystery and revelation, God says, "I am He that is." If the mind be carried as far back as possible into infinite spaces of the past God says, "I am He that was."

    Whether man thinks of his origin, of his present condition, or of his future destiny, God says, "I AM"; and man cannot escape the great revelation of God which is put into the word, "I am JEHOVAH."

    Such is the statement that leads up to the first law. But God says more, "I am Jehovah, thy God. The word God here is Elohim, the plural of the word Eloah, meaning the supreme object of worship. God faces man, saying, "I am Jehovah, thy God – He that will be, He that is, He that was, the supreme object of worship." Upon that is based the commandment, and to take it without that definition of the Person of God is to rob it of its great force. "I am Jehovah thy God...Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

The Meaning of the Commandment

    If God is what He claims to be – He that will be, He that is, He that was – then He must be the supreme object of worship. If it be true that He is Jehovah, man's God – then the commandment is a reasonable one, and it must be a very unreasonable thing to have any other god beside Him. If the word spoken by God be true, then God is sufficient, and God is God. There cannot be two who fulfil that description of limitless life. Point to another god, and he must be limited. That becomes an impertinence and a sham to a man who has had a vision of the true God. Therefore it is based upon the most absolute reasonableness that God first declares Himself and His glory, and then utters the first great word, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

    Every man needs a god. There is no man who has not, somewhere in his heart, in his life, in the essentials of his being, a shrine in which is a deity whom he worships. It is as impossible for a man to live without having an object of worship as it is for a bird to fly if it is taken out of the air. The very composition of human life, the mystery of man's being, demands a center of worship as a necessity of existence.

    All life is worship. There may be a false god at the center of the life, but every activity of being, all the energy of life, the devotion of powers – these things are all worship. The question is whether the life and powers of man are devoted to the worship of the true God or to that of a false one.

    There is a center, a motive, a reason, a shrine, a deity somewhere – something which man worships. It has been said that when man dethrones God, he deifies and worships himself. There are men today of whom it may be said that they worship themselves with all their heart and with all their strength and with all their mind, and themselves only do they serve. In every case man demands a god, a king, a lawgiver – one who arranges the program, utters the commandments and demands obedience.

The Genesis of Idolatry

    This undeniable fact reveals the genesis of idolatry. The moment a man gets out of touch with God and loses the vision of Him Who says, "I am Jehovah Elohim, the Lord thy God," he puts something else in the place of God.

    Think of the gods of the heathen as mentioned in the Bible – Moloch, Baal, and Mammon! The worship of Moloch was the descent of man into the realm of awful cruelty, that of Baal took men through the depths of bestiality and impurity, and that of Mammon debased its devotees to the lust which dreams that power lurks in possession.

    Moloch, Baal and Mammon were the gods of the heathen, and these are they that men are worshipping until this hour. Although these gods go by other names in this cultured and enlightened twentieth century, yet the world is crowded with idolaters who worship them. In the great cities today are hundreds of men who are offering human sacrifices to the Moloch of their lustful cruelty. Such care not how many people die in the struggle, so long as the base cravings of their hearts are satisfied. Great numbers of men worship Baal, the god of bestiality. How true this is may be shown by the fact that tonight and last night there were thousands of fallen women on our city streets. Who keeps them? The worshippers of Baal. Is it realized that all the horrible carrying away of the life of young manhood in this terrible and damnable whirlpool of impurity is worship? It is so. It is the homage of the man who, losing his God, worships at the shrine of a fallen Venus.

    Mammon worship is another evil form of devotion which has also survived until this hour. The lust for gold is getting such a hold upon the hearts of men today that it is time the first commandment was preached with new emphasis. The worship of the god of gold is cursing the age.

    It is a sad proof of the power of Mammon when a man worships the things that provide him with fatness and with meat. Are there not a great many today who worship their business instead of God? I shall most quickly reach my point by a story.

    A boy was bringing home a loaf of bread, and one said:

    "What have you there?"

    "A loaf."

    "Where did you get it?"

    "From the baker."

    "Where did the baker get it?"

    "He made it."

    "Of what did he make it?"


    "Where did he get the flour?"

    "From the miller."

    "Where did he get it?"

    "From the farmer."

    "Where did the farmer get it?"

    Then the truth dawned upon the boy's mind, and he replied:

    "From God."

    "Well, then, from whom did you get that loaf?"

    "Oh, from God!"

    Here is a boy who, in the last resort, acknowledges God to be the Giver of good.

    In this materialistic age, a man says: "My business supports me and my family." It is a lie. God supports him and his family. Men deal with God only as a last resource, and yet go on hoping to sneak into God's heaven when they have done with His world. But the God of Sinai is thundering out to this age, "Thou shalt put Me first, and the business second."

The New Testament Enforcement

    A New Testament picture of idolatry is seen in Philippians 3:18-19, "For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is perdition, whose god is their belly." That is the kind of thing that is too often passed over.

    How many there are who have just that one god of their animal appetites! "What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed? How shall we satisfy the cravings of the flesh?" These are their gods. A man of this sort has gone down very low when the things for which he lives and strives, and to which all the glorious possibilities of his manhood are consecrated, consist of eating, drinking and other forms of merely sensual gratification.

    These are but instances of widespread idolatry, but in the presence of it all, God's perpetual message to man is this: "I am Jehovah Elohim; thou shalt have none other gods before Me."

    If men put Moloch, Baal, Mammon, appetites or aught else, into the place that demands devotion and energy, to the forgetfulness of God, they are idolaters, even though they recite the Creed every Sunday of their life. Man was made for the God Who declares that His creature shall have none other god before Him. He will be the God and the center of every man, and the very nature of man's being makes the demand a reasonable one.

    Upon all these commandments the New Testament throws a flood of light, and far from abrogating them, it emphasizes, reiterates and invests them with new force. There is a sense in which Christians are not "free from the law." It is only when grace enables men to keep the law that they are free from it, just as a moral man who lives according to the laws of the country is free from arrest. God has not set aside law, but He has found a way by which man can fulfil law, and so be free from it.

    Has God in this Christian era given up His claim to worship, and said that men may have another god? Far from it. New Testament light upon the point may be found in the words of Jesus, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:37); and again, "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve" (4:10).

    There is but one excuse for idolatry, namely, ignorance, and there are cases in which even that fails to justify. If a man does not know God, he cannot worship Him, but if he lives in a place where God has revealed Himself perfectly, and where he may have the light if he will, then the last excuse for idolatry is swept away.

    Let men take five minutes to shut out everything save the great fact that they stand alone with God. Some are terribly afraid to spend even as much time as that with their own thoughts. If they will, if they dare, let them ask, as they stand in the light of that first commandment, "What is my god? To what is my life devoted?" If the answer indicates anything that puts God into the background, then in the name of heaven and of their own safety, let them "Break down every idol, cast out every foe," and let the God Who will be, Who is, Who was, be their God!

    – From The Ten Commandments by G. Campbell Morgan.