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published: 10/8/13

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The 1st Commandment: You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me

What does "you shall have no other gods before me" mean?


You shall have no other gods before me is the first of the 10 Commandments.

Summary: "The 1st commandment prohibits the worship of any god other than Yahweh. " (ISBE)

Scripture: Exodus 20:3, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (KJV)

Relationship focus: People and God

Prohibition: Yes

The First Commandment

This commandment establishes the exclusive nature of the relationship between the nation of Israel and its national god, Yahweh the god of Israel, a covenant initiated by Yahweh after delivering the Israelites from slavery through the plagues of Egypt and the Exodus.

In a general sense, idolatry is the paying of divine honor to any created thing. In ancient times, opportunities to participate in the honor or worship of other deities abounded. However, according to the Book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites were strictly warned to neither adopt nor adapt any of the religious practices of the peoples around them.

Nevertheless, the story of the people of Israel until the Babylonian Captivity is the story of the violation of the first commandment by the worship of “foreign gods” and its consequences. Much of biblical preaching from the time of Moses to the exile is predicated on the either-or choice between exclusive worship of God and false gods.

The Shema and its accompanying blessing/curse reveals the intent of the commandment to include love for the one, true God and not only recognition or outward observance. In the gospels, Jesus quotes the Shema as the first and greatest commandment, and the apostles after him preached that those who would follow Christ must turn from idols.

The Catholic Catechism as well as Reformation and post-Reformation theologians teach that the commandment applies in modern times and prohibits the worship of physical idols, the seeking of spiritual activity or guidance from any other source (e.g. magical, astrological, etc.), and the focus on temporal priorities such as self (food, physical pleasures), work, and money, for examples.

The Catholic Catechism commends those who refuse even to simulate such worship in a cultural context, since “the duty to offer God authentic worship concerns man both as an individual and as a social being.”


The 10 Commandments

The 1st Commandment:
You Shall Have No Other Gods Before Me
The 6th Commandment:
You Shall Not Murder
The 2nd Commandment:
You Shall Not Make for Yourself Any Graven Images
The 7th Commandment:
You Shall Not Commit Adultery
The 3rd Commandment:
You Shall Not Misuse the Name of God
The 8th Commandment:
You Shall Not Steal
The 4th Commandment:
You Shall Keep the Sabbath
The 9th Commandment:
You Shall Not Commit False Witness
The 5th Commandment:
You Shall Obey Your Parents
The 10th Commandment:
You Shall Not Covet


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