"And God spake all these words, saying, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:1, 2). This Preface to the Moral Law is to be regarded as having equal respect to all the Ten Commandments (and not to the first one only), containing as it does the most weighty arguments to enforce our obedience to them. As it is the custom of kings and governors to prefix their names and titles before the edicts set forth by them, to obtain the more attention and veneration to what they publish, so with the great God, the King of kings, being about to proclaim a Law for His subjects, that He might affect them with a deeper reverence for His authority and make them the more afraid to transgress those statutes which are enacted by so mighty a Potentate and so glorious a Majesty, blazons His august Name upon them.
What has just been pointed out above is clearly established by those awe-inspiring words of Moses to Israel: "That thou mayest fear this glorious and fearful name, THE LORD THY GOD" (Deut. 28:58). "I am the Lord thy God." The word for "Lord" is "Jehovah," who is the Supreme, Eternal and Self-existent One, the force of which is (as it were) spelled out for us in "which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8). The word for "God" is "Elohim," the plural of Eloah, for though He be one in nature yet is He three in His Persons. And this Jehovah, the Supreme Object of worship, is "thy GOD," because in the past He was thy Creator, in the present He is thy Ruler, and in the future He will be thy Judge. In addition, He is the "God" of His elect by covenant relationship and therefore their Redeemer. Thus, our obedience to His Law is enforced by these considerations: His absolute authority, to beget fear in us—He is "the Lord thy God"; His benefits and mercies, to engage love—"which brought thee out of the (antitypical) house of bondage."
"Thou shalt have no other gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3) is the first Commandment. Let us briefly consider its meaning. We note its singular number: "thou" not "ye," addressed to each person separately, because each of us is concerned therein. "Thou shalt have no other gods" has the force of, thou shalt own, possess, seek, desire, love or worship none other. No "other gods;" they are called such not because they are so, either by nature or by office (Ps. 82:6), but because the corrupt hearts of men make and esteem them such—as in "whose god is their belly" (Phil. 3:19). "Before Me" or "My face," the force of which is best ascertained by His word to Abraham, "Walk before Me and be thou perfect" or "upright" (Gen. 17:1)—conduct thyself in the realization that thou are ever in My presence, that Mine eye is continually upon thee. This is very searching. We are so apt to rest contented if we can but approve ourselves before men and maintain a fair show of godliness outwardly; but Jehovah searches our innermost being and we cannot conceal from Him any secret lust or hidden idol.
Let us next consider the positive duty enjoined by this first Commandment. Briefly stated it is this: thou shalt choose, worship and serve Jehovah as thy God, and Him only. Being who He is—thy Maker and Ruler, the Sum of all excellency, the supreme Object of worship—He admits of no rival and none can vie with Him. See then the absolute reasonableness of this demand and the madness of contravening it. This commandment requires from us a disposition and conduct suited to the relation in which we stand to the Lord as our God, who is the only adequate Object of our love and the only One able to satisfy the soul. It requires that we have a love for Him stronger than all other affections, that we take Him for our highest portion, that we serve and obey Him supremely. It requires that all those services and acts of worship which we render unto the true God be made with the utmost sincerity and devotion (implied in the "before Me"), excluding negligence on the one hand and hypocrisy on the other.
In pointing out the duties required by this Commandment we cannot do better than to quote the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are "the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God (1 Chron. 28:9; Dent. 26:17, etc.); and to worship and glorify Him accordingly (Ps. 95:6, 7; Matthew 4:10, etc.),by thinking (Mal. 3:16), meditating (Ps. 63:6), remembering (Eccl. 12:1), highly esteeming (Ps. 71:19), honoring (Mal. 1:6), adoring (Isa. 45:23), choosing (Joshua 24:15), loving (Deut. 6:5), desiring (Ps. 73:25), fearing of Him (Isa. 8:13), believing Him (Ex. 14:3 1), trusting (Isa. 26:4), hoping (Ps. 103:7), delighting (Ps. 37:4), rejoicing in Him (Ps. 32:11), being zealous for Him (Rom. 12:11), calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks (Phil. 4:6), and yielding all obedience and submission to Him with the whole man (Jer. 7:23), being careful in all things to please Him (1 John 3:22), and sorrowful when in anything he is offended (Jer. 31:18; Ps. 119:136), and walking humbly with Him" (Micah 6:8).
Those duties may be summarized in these chief ones. First, the diligent and lifelong seeking after a fuller knowledge of God as He is revealed in His Word and works, for we cannot worship an unknown God. Second, the loving of God with all our faculties and strength, which consists of an earnest panting after Him, and deep joy in Him, and a holy zeal for Him. Third, the fearing of God, which consists of an awe of his majesty, supreme reverence for His authority, and a desire for His glory: as the love of God is the motive-spring of obedience, so the fear of God is the great deterrent of disobedience. Fourth, the worshipping of God according to His appointments, the principal aids to which are these: study of and meditation upon the Word, prayer, and putting into practice what we are taught.
"Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me." That is, thou shalt not give unto anyone or anything in Heaven or on earth that inward heart affiance, loving veneration, and dependence that is due only to the true God; thou shalt not transfer to another that which belongs alone unto Him. Nor must we attempt to divide them between God and another, for no man can serve two masters. The great sins forbidden by this Commandment are these: first willful ignorance of God and His will through despising those means by which we may acquaint ourselves with Him; second, atheism or the denial of God; third, idolatry or the setting up of false and fictitious gods; fourth, disobedience and self-will or the open defiance of God; and fifth, all inordinate and immoderate affections or the setting of our hearts and minds upon other objects.
They are idolaters and transgressors of this first commandment who manufacture a "God" as a figment of their own minds. Such are the Unitarians, who deny that there are three Persons in the Godhead. Such are Romanists, who supplicate the Savior’s mother and affirm that the pope has power to forgive sins. Such are the vast majority of Arminians, who believe in a disappointed and defeated Deity. Such are sensual Epicureans (Phil. 3:19), for there are inward idols as well as external. "These men have set up their idols in their hearts" (Ezek. 14:3). The Apostle Paul speaks of "covetousness which is idolatry" (Col. 3:5) and, by impartial reasoning, so are all immoderate desires. That object to which we render those desires and services which are due alone to the Lord is our "God," whether it be self, gold, fame, pleasure, or friends. What is your God? To what is your life devoted?