“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 20:2-3
Idolatry isn’t just one of many sins; rather it’s the one great sin that all others come from. So if you start scratching at whatever struggle you’re dealing with, eventually you’ll find that underneath it is a false god. Until that god is dethroned, and the Lord God takes his rightful place, you will not have victory. Idolatry isn’t an issue; it is the issue. All roads lead to the dusty, overlooked concept of false gods. Deal with life on the glossy outer layers, and you might never see it; scratch a little beneath the surface, and you begin to see that it’s always there, under some other coat of paint. There are a hundred million different symptoms, but the issue is always idolatry.
That’s why, when Moses stood on Mount Sinai and received the Ten Commandments from God, the first one was, “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 20:2-3). When God issued this command during the time of Moses, the people were familiar with a lot of other gods. God’s people had spent more than four hundred years in Egypt as slaves. Egypt was crowded with gods. They had taken over the neighborhood— literally. The Egyptians had local gods for every district. Egypt was the Baskin-Robbins of gods. You could pick and choose the flavors you wanted.
The Bible’s paradigm is different. When we hear God say, “You will have no other gods before me,” we think of it as a hierarchy: God is always in first place. But there are no places. God isn’t interested in competing against others or being first among many. God will not be part of any hierarchy. He wasn’t saying “before me” as in “ahead of me.” A better understanding of the Hebrew word translated “before me” is “in my presence.”
God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board. And life doesn’t work until everyone else sitting around the table in the boardroom of your heart is fired. He is God, and there are no other applicants for that position. There are no partial gods, no honorary gods, no interim gods, no assistants to the regional gods.
God is saying this not because he is insecure but because it’s the way of truth in this universe, which is his creation. Only one God owns and operates it. Only one God designed it, and only one God knows how it works. He is the only God who can help us, direct us, satisfy us, save us.
As we read Exodus 20, we see that the one true God has had it with the imitation and substitute gods. So God tells the nation of Israel to break up the pantheon; send it home. All other god activity is cancelled. He makes sure the people understand that he is the one and only. He is the Lord God.
You may be thinking, Thanks for the history lesson, but that was a long time ago. After all, in our time, the problem doesn’t appear to be that people worship many gods; it’s that they don’t worship any god. Yet my guess is that the list of our gods is longer than theirs. Just because we call them by different names doesn’t change what they are. We may not have the god of commerce, the god of agriculture, the god of sex, or the god of the hunt. But we do have portfolios, automobiles, adult entertainment, and sports. If it walks like an idol, and quacks like an idol . . . You can call it a cough instead of calling it cancer, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly.
Excerpted from gods at war: defeating the idols that battle for your heart by Kyle Idleman. Twitter #godsatwar