Remember Not To Forget
Posted by Ros Clarke, 6 Mar 2018
Ros Clarke continues our Lent series with a look at the first commandment. See all the posts in the series here.
The first commandment
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.”
Imagine living in a world that was full of gods. A god of the sun and a god of the moon. A god for fire and a god for water. A god who could make the crops grow and another who could bless you with children. A god who demanded sacrifices and a god who kept changing his mind. Who would you worship? Who could you trust?
These days, we are accustomed to the idea that there is just one God, but the ancient world in which the Israelites lived was full of gods. In Egypt, where they had been enslaved for hundreds of years, the people worshipped many gods, some of which were benevolent and others not, some of which were associated with natural phenomena, and others which were associated with particular locations. And in Canaan, the land which God was giving the Israelites, there were also many gods: gods with particular abilities such as warfare or healing; gods with complex myths surrounding them; and gods who had to be kept happy.
But God, when he gives the first commandment to the Israelites, identifies himself clearly by his name and by his actions. There is no doubting which God this is.
He is the LORD. This is an English translation of the Hebrew word ‘Yahweh’, which older English Bibles wrote as ‘Jehovah’. Yahweh is the name God revealed to Moses (Exodus 3:14) and it asserts God’s god-ness. It means something like, “I am who I am”, implying that there is nothing and no one else God can be compared to. There is no other ‘god’ who is like Yahweh. There is no other ‘god’ who was not created. There is no other ‘god’ who is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing. There is no other ‘god’ who is God.
Yahweh says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” He does not mean that he is the ‘first among equals’, leader of all the other gods, because there are no other gods. He means that the Israelites must not acknowledge any other gods at all. In God’s presence, there is nothing and no one else to worship. There is nothing and no one else to trust. There is nothing and no one else to obey. There is only the Lord our God, who saved his people.
There is no other ‘god’ who could save his people. The Israelites knew that to be true from their experience escaping from slavery in Egypt. How much more do we know that to be true from our experience of being saved from slavery to sin! The only God we are to acknowledge, the only God we are to worship, is the God whose name is Yahweh, the God who “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14).
In the introduction to the Ten Commandments we saw that there are three ways the law is important for Christians: as a mirror, a deterrent and a standard.
How is the first commandment a mirror?
As we have already seen, the first commandment shows us who God is: his name and his action. He is a God who saves. That is how we know who we mean by ‘God’, we mean the God who saved us.
But the first commandment also holds up a mirror to us. It’s shocking to think that the Israelites needed to be told to remember who God was and what he had done for them. Surely they couldn’t – wouldn’t – forget that in a hurry? And yet, before Moses even comes down the mountain, they have made a idol out of gold and begun to worship it in the very presence of God’s holy mountain (Exodus 32).
We are no different to those Israelites. Given half a chance we will forget who God is and what he has done for us. Given the smallest temptation we’ll set our eyes on some other ‘god’ which promises protection, fulfilment, or fun but which is no god at all.
How is the first commandment a deterrent?
Don’t get complacent. Don’t assume that your faith will never waver or wander. Don’t think you’ll never forget who God is and what he has done. The commandment is there to remind you never to turn away to another ‘god’ and it does so by reminding us who God is and what God has done.
How often do you remind yourself of the simple gospel by which you are saved? How often do you rejoice at what God has done in rescuing you? Do you ever look back at your own life to consider your personal history of God’s salvation? Remember, the first commandment teaches us. Remember not to forget!
How does the first commandment set a standard for us?
Faith doesn’t come by looking inwardly at who we are or how we have changed. It comes by always looking up to God in heaven and back to God’s saving actions in history. God himself is the reason for our worship and our obedience.
When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, he had no hesitation in putting God first: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 26:37). God first, God most, God above all.
“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
Questions for reflection:
1. Why do you think this is the first of the commandments?
2. How can you make sure you keep remembering not to forget what God has done for you?
3. What things are you tempted to trust or to worship before God?
Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for saving your people through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Help me never to forget who you are and what you have done for me. Guard me from the temptation to trust and worship other gods before you. Amen.
Ros Clarke is Associate Director of Church Society
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