I am the God who redeemed you out of slavery, therefore you shall have no other gods before me.Exodus 20:2
There is only one God, Yahweh, eternally existent, who liberates from worldliness, and separates a people for himself. No one and nothing else must rival or supersede God’s importance in life.
Israel was admonished to always remember why God was worthy of their allegiance: he had redeemed them out of their bondage in Egypt. This is so central to the entire Bible narrative that it cannot be overstated. It is of such primary importance that it is memorialized for all time as the first of the Ten Commandments.
The Hebraic and Christian traditions differ on whether this is the first commandment, or if this statement is just an introduction, and the first commandment is the verse that follows: “You shall have no gods before me,” (Exodus 20:3).
Part of this misunderstanding arises from our use of the word “commandment” in this passage. In reality, the Hebrew text speaks of the Ten “Words” of God, not necessarily commandments. There are other Hebrew designations that designate specific aspects of commandments, statutes, and requirements. But here, what we call the commandments should really be considered the Ten Words, sayings, or statements of God.
Because verses 3 and 4 of Exodus 20 are linked together with speaking of other gods and their representations (idols), the Hebraic understanding of isolating the “introduction” in verse 2 as the first of these Words makes sense. This is consistent with the overarching view that there has been revealed to them only one God who deserves complete allegiance.
Love Yahweh your God with all of your heart, soul, and mind.Deuteronomy 6:5
Because they viewed God’s revelation of himself in this manner provided a solid basis for every commandment that follows. The motivation for abiding by any or all of the commandments rested in the realization of why there was any reason to listen to God at all: because he had recently redeemed them from slavery. This was a miraculous and undeniable testimony as to why he was worthy of their worship over any of the gods that existed in the “superpower” nation of Egypt, or anywhere else, for that matter.
Why should anyone follow a king who has not liberated them? Or why should anyone obey a king’s commandment if they do not believe he is all-powerful?
The King of the kingdom that was being formed in that desert wilderness of Sinai deserved to be king because he had demonstrated himself faithful to the promises that had been made to the forefathers. He had exhibited real, demonstrable power in breaking them free from their yoke of slavery that had overcome them. There was no greater exhibition of power than that which had not only removed them from their oppressors, but destroyed those former masters completely so they could now worship and obey Yahweh in that freedom which he had obtained for them,
A true king establishes and maintains the freedom of his people, and is therefore worthy of all allegiance. Sometimes, in our day, we become so enamored with trying to understand the kingdom that we lose sight of the King. If the primary motivation for all we do does not stem from a recognition of the power and authority of the King, then we need to reevaluate our participation in his kingdom.
However, if we take to heart the example of how God has revealed himself as the God who redeems out of slavery and worldliness, we can be reminded of why we have been drawn to follow him in the first place.
The God of the universe has provided us a way out of our blind and unthinking bondage to worldliness. In this new freedom, we have been liberated to worship him in spirit and truth which then enables and motivates us to abide by his instruction.
This is all the motivation we should need to make him central to all of our thoughts and actions each day. In so doing, we demonstrate we are his people, and that we are seeking his kingdom first by honoring him as he truly deserves to be, as our King.