Ex. 20:3 - The First Commandment PDF Print E-mail
User Rating: / 0
News - Sermons
Written by Tim Black   
Sunday, 05 October 2008 02:00

Note: You may download all study guides in one PDF file here.

The 1st Commandment

The text of the 1st Commandment

Exodus 20:3 "You shall have no other gods before me.”


  1. Its Background

    1. The Preface: Covenant & Redemption

      1. Before me” in the commandment refers back to “I” in the preface

        1. I am the LORD...no other gods before me.

      2. So the 1st Commandment’s requirement is based on the reality of God’s covenant with us, and in His having already redeemed us. That is why we must keep His commandments!

  2. In Hebrew (reads right-to-left)

    1. ex. 20.03 hebrew
  3. Its Meaning

    1. Be to you,” translated “You shall have”

      1. Not Ownership – we can’t put God in our box! Nor could we do so with false “other gods”

      2. But Orientation & Commitment – God is committed to be God to us

        1. This is the thought & wording of the covenant formula throughout scripture: “I will be your God, and you will be my people.”

          • The covenant formula reads literally in Hebrew: “I will be to you for a God, and you will be to me for a people.” Cf. with the KJV’s similar literal rendering.

        2. As such it recalls God’s name ex. 20.03 yahweh in hebrew, Yahweh - “yihyeh” here is the same verb; God introduced His name Yahweh to Moses in Ex. 3 with a similar form, saying “ehyeh asher ehyeh.” “I AM who I AM”

      3. The implication is this – there is no other god who can make a covenant commitment to be our god, as only Yahweh can, and therefore we must recognize Yahweh “to be the only true God, and our God.” WSC 46

        1. Is. 45:21-22: 21 And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me. 22 Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.

        2. Matt. 4:10: Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ' You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'"

      4. This implies a covenant between God & His people, whose central components are God’s foundational absolute commitment to us, and His requirement of our reciprocal absolute commitment to Him

        1. God’s commitment is expressed in His promises – “I will be your God”

        2. God’s requirement is expressed in His laws - “You shall be my people”

    2. Other gods”

      1. This implies the reality of other gods, but not their divinity

      2. Kinds of “other gods” in scripture:

        1. Spirits – angels or demons

          • Col. 2:18: Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels

          • Deut. 32:17: They sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come recently, whom your fathers had never dreaded.

        2. Imagined deities

          • 2 Chron. 32:19: And they spoke of the God of Jerusalem as they spoke of the gods of the peoples of the earth, which are the work of men's hands.

          • Ps. 96:3-5: 3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! 4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

        3. Creatures

          • Rom. 1:22-23, 25: 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 25 ...they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

    3. Before my face,” translated “before me”

      1. Presence not Priority: It does not mean “don’t worship other gods more than you worship me; don’t give them a higher priority than me,” but rather, it means “don’t worship other gods in my presence, before my face, where I can see.”

      2. God can see all things, so worshiping other gods provokes God to anger

        1. Ps. 44:20-21: 20 If we had forgotten the name of our God or spread out our hands to a foreign god, 21 would not God discover this? For he knows the secrets of the heart.

        2. Deut. 32:16 : They stirred him to jealousy with strange gods; with abominations they provoked him to anger.

The Issue of the 1st Commandment

  1. Its Requirement

    1. Love God for who He IS

      1. WSC 46: The first commandment requireth us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God; and to worship and glorify him accordingly.

      2. WSC 47: The first commandment forbiddeth the denying, or not worshiping and glorifying the true God as God, and our God; and the giving of that worship and glory to any other, which is due to him alone.

    2. Love God in accord with who He is

      1. Because God’s wholehearted commitment to us - “All of You is more than enough for all of me,”

      2. We should give our wholehearted commitment to Him - “All of me for all of You”

      3. Our whole being needs to be brought into accord with God’s whole being

        1. Matt. 5:48: Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

The Biblical Commentary on the 1st Commandment

  1. In Deuteronomy

    1. The Introduction: 6:1-25

      1. Ch.’s 6-26 are “the commandment, statutes, rules” (& testimonies 4:44) 1-3

      2. The 1st Commandment & its implications introduced 4-9

        1. The 1st Commandment paraphrased: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” 4-5

        2. The statutes & rules must be applied to the heart and life 6-9

      3. Alert to the threefold danger that will lead people away from God: riches of the land 10-12, gods of the land 13-19, self-righteousness rather than the obedience of faith 20-25

    2. The Threefold Danger of Apostasy: 7:1-10:11

      1. Gods of Canaanites 7:1-26

        1. Command: destroy Canaanites, mixed marriages, graven images 1-5

        2. Remember: Not false gods but only the true God chose & will bless Israel 6-16

        3. Command: Do not fear, but utterly destroy the Canaanites 17-26

      2. Riches of the land 8:1-20

        1. Remember: God provided in the desert 1-4

        2. Remember: Canaan is rich in water, soil, minerals 5-10

        3. Remember: Future wealth is a gift from God; forget this and perish! 11-20

      3. Self-righteousness 9:1-10:11

        1. Canaan given not because of Israel’s righteousness, but Canaanites’ unrighteousness 1-5

        2. Israel is not righteous in heart, but stubborn, rebellious 6-10:11

    3. The Threefold Encouragement: 10:12-11:32

      1. The commandment’s positive requirement 10:12-11:7

        1. Fear the Lord, love Him, serve Him, keep His commandments 12-13; 20-22; 11:1

        2. Because God “set his heart in love on” them, they must “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” 14-16

        3. Love their neighbor 17-19

        4. Fear God’s discipline 11:2-7

      2. Prospect of a rich land to be entered by obedience 11:8-17

      3. Obedience must be applied throughout all of life, and will bring blessing. Disobedience will bring a curse. 11:18-32

  2. In the History of Redemption

    1. The Old Covenant Problem

      1. Rebellious, evil heart – Dt. 9:6-10:11; Gen. 6:5 “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

      2. Need & responsibility: A circumcised heart – Dt. 10:14-16; Ezek. 18:31 “Make yourselves a new heart

    2. The New Covenant Promise

      1. God will give a new heart – Ezek. 11:19; 36:26

    3. The New Covenant Fulfillment

      1. God regenerates our hearts by the word & Spirit, so we are “born again,” a “new creation,” a “new man” – John 3:3, 7; 2 Cor. 5:17; Gal. 6:15; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10; Tit. 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:3, 23

      2. In the final resurrection God will remove our “old man,” the “flesh,” and give us new bodies as well

The Application of the 1st Commandment

  1. Duties Required – WLC 104

    1. Thinking, meditating, remembering, highly esteeming, honoring, adoring, choosing, loving, desiring, fearing of him

    2. Believing him

    3. Trusting, hoping, delighting, rejoicing in him

    4. Being zealous for him

    5. Calling upon him, giving all praise and thanks, and yielding all obedience and submission to him with the whole man

    6. Being careful in all things to please him, and sorrowful when in anything he is offended

    7. And walking humbly with him.

  2. Sins Forbidden – WLC 105

    1. Atheism

    2. Idolatry

    3. The not having and avouching him for God, and our God

    4. The omission or neglect of anything due to him, required in this commandment

    5. Ignorance, forgetfulness, misapprehensions, false opinions, unworthy and wicked thoughts of him

    6. Bold and curious searching into his secrets

    7. All profaneness, hatred of God

    8. Self-love, self-seeking, and all other inordinate and immoderate setting of our mind, will, or affections upon other things, and taking them off from him in whole or in part

    9. Vain credulity, unbelief, heresy, misbelief, distrust, despair, incorrigibleness, and insensibleness under judgments, hardness of heart, pride, presumption, carnal security, tempting of God

    10. Using unlawful means, and trusting in lawful means

    11. Carnal delights and joys

    12. Corrupt, blind, and indiscreet zeal

    13. Lukewarmness, and deadness in the things of God

    14. Estranging ourselves, and apostatizing from God

    15. Praying, or giving any religious worship, to saints, angels, or any other creatures

    16. All compacts and consulting with the devil, and hearkening to his suggestions

    17. Making men the lords of our faith and conscience

    18. Slighting and despising God and his commands

    19. Resisting and grieving of his Spirit, discontent and impatience at his dispensations, charging him foolishly for the evils he inflicts on us

    20. And ascribing the praise of any good we either are, have, or can do, to fortune, idols, ourselves, or any other creature.


  1. In the end, to keep this commandment is to keep the whole law, and to break this commandment is to break the whole law!

  2. Hence it is quite appropriate Deuteronomy calls this “The Commandment!”

Excursus on the death penalties – Which ones apply today?

  1. Death Penalty for worshiping other gods – God’s right of vengeance was temporarily delegated to a human court

    1. Noahic covenant – universal for all men

      1. In the Noahic covenant God limited human courts to meting out no greater punishment than that which fits the crime. God made this covenant with all mankind, so this limitation applies to all human courts.

        1. Gen. 9:5-6: 5 And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. 6 Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.

    2. Mosaic covenant – includes elements particular to the uniquely theocratic nation of Israel

      1. The Noahic limitation on human courts is expressed in the “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle called the Lex Talionis, the “law of the tooth.” Its limitation was not rescinded by the Mosaic death penalties, and was applicable to citizens of other nations. The punishment must still fit the crime.

        1. Ex. 21:23-25: 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

        2. Lev. 24:16-22: 16 Whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall stone him. The sojourner as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death. 17 Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. 18 Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. 19 If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. 21 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death. 22 You shall have the same rule for the sojourner and for the native, for I am the LORD your God.

      2. The sin is against God when someone worships other gods, and the offense committed against God is worthy of death.

        1. Deut. 17:2-3: 2 If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the LORD your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the LORD your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden,

      3. Yet in the Mosaic covenant, the sin’s investigation & punishment were delegated to a human court, which remains under the Lex Talionis’ limitation.

        1. Deut. 17:4-6: 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

      4. The death penalty taught the heinousness - “the evil” - of the offense against God

        1. Deut. 17:7: 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

    3. New Covenant

      1. The Lex Talionis limitation still applies in the NT. Personal retaliation is forbidden; only the civil courts may execute the death penalty. But the NT does not give human courts the right to execute the death penalty for offenses against God; rather, it reserves that punishment to be executed by the hand of God alone.

        1. Rom. 12:19 : Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."

        2. Hebrews 10:26-31: 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

      2. Christ does not abrogate the principle of justice, but more fully expresses the limitation of our desire for personal retaliation

        1. Matt. 5:38-41: 38 You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.

      3. The pedagogical purpose of the death penalties—to teach how heinous sins against God are—has been accomplished by their OT practice and now consummated in the death of Christ, rendering their practice no longer necessary.

        1. Gal. 3:24: The law was our pedagogue until Christ came

    4. The upshot:

      1. The death penalty for murder is still required, because human courts must execute punishments that fit the extent of the crime’s offense against one’s fellow man.

      2. The death penalties for committing an offense against God are no longer required, because God reserves the right to execute those punishments Himself.