This post is by Daniel Davis (M.Div., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary). Daniel serves as the Content Editor for The Gospel Project, and Student Pastor at Edgefield Baptist Church in Nashville, TN.
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When my family and I are about to enter a sea of people at a game, a mall, or a store, honestly, I get paranoid (introvert). I’ll tap my pockets to make sure my keys, wallet, and phone are accounted for (and I’ll continue tapping), but more importantly, I make sure my children are within arms reach. I might even prep them before we dive into the crowd—“I want you to hold my hand as we go. Understand?” Then, I hold out my hand and wait for my child to grab it. Once I feel his hand in mine, I hold on tight and do not let go.
What if I went to a random kid at a game and said the same? Would he then hold my hand and go where I went? Probably not. He’d run for his dad or mom or the nearest uniformed officer, and then I’d be facing a lot of serious questions.
Why the difference? Why would my son willingly (hopefully) take my hand while another child runs? Well, I have loved, raised, protected, disciplined, provided for, wrestled, and played with my son; I’m nothing but a fearful unknown to another child. Obviously, the relationship matters.
When God gave the Ten Commandments, He prefaced the First Commandment (indeed all of them) with these words of relationship—“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (Ex. 20:2)—and then He commanded, “Do not have other gods besides Me” (Ex. 20:3).
Don’t you find it interesting that the God of all the universe, the Maker of the earth and everything and everybody in it, that this great God would point to the exodus instead of the genesis to ground His words to the Israelites? He could have said, “I made you, so obey Me,” but instead, He said, “I saved you, so obey Me.”
The Lord God deserves to be worshiped and obeyed because He alone is the Creator of everything and everyone. No other god has added anything to our existence, only subtracted by way of distraction from the one true God—and we have all been distracted. In fact, we have chosen to suppress our knowledge of this Creator and chase after other gods (Rom. 1:18-23). It seems that our natural, sinful bent is to run from this Creator that we should know but choose not to.
So what does God do? He demonstrates His power and majesty in, perhaps, a more intimate way—through saving His people from oppression and slavery. He crushed the Egyptians and mocked their so-called “gods” with the result that the Israelites “feared the LORD and believed in Him and in His servant Moses” (Ex. 14:31). No longer slaves, they were free to worship and obey the one true God with whom no other god can contend.
The message of the gospel is this—In matchless wisdom, power, and majesty, the Lord God sent His Son Jesus to save us from our oppression and slavery to sin. Those who believe in Him are free indeed (Rom. 10:9-10).
Once the relationship is settled, it seems rather superfluous to go on and command, “Do not have other gods besides Me.” Clearly He’s powerful, gracious, and good; who would want to have another god? Well, the Israelites, for starters, and hot on their heels are the rest of us. Can you deny that you have sought after other gods? Have you loved the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37-38)? No? Neither have I…
But thank God, Jesus has and His perfect obedience counts for us too. More than that, He shows us what it means to obey this First Commandment—hold tight to the Word of the Father: “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him” (Matt. 4:9-10).
So remember, the commandment follows the relationship. As you and I live and breathe, as we fight against Satan and sin, as we walk through the crowd of this world with its trials and temptations—the Father speaks to His children, “Hold My hand; I won’t let go.”