Question: "Why is 'You shall have no other gods before me' in the Ten Commandments?"

Answer: The Mosaic Law is built upon the Ten Commandments, and the law was built upon the first commandment: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me” (Deuteronomy 5:6-7 NKJV). Here we see not only God’s prohibition against idolatry, but His reasons for that prohibition. It was the Lord God who had the power to bring His people out of bondage in Egypt. He alone cared enough for them to choose them to be His own, and He alone delivered and protected them. For all this, He declares that He alone deserves to be worshiped and reverenced. No idol made of wood or stone is God. Idols are deaf, dumb, blind, and powerless (Isaiah 44:18).

Paul’s letter to the Romans indicates the worship of things in creation themselves—not just their images—is wrong in the eyes of God (Romans 1:25). Paul also warns the Colossians against worshiping other supernatural beings: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (Colossians 2:18a). Jesus expanded the definition of “other gods” to include concepts in addition to images, living things and other supernatural beings. In Matthew 6:24, He warns against the worship of material things. “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”. The Greek word mammonas, translated here as “money,” does not mean the money in one’s pockets. It is the personification of wealth or money (especially wealth gained through greediness), the love of which, in modern terminology, is “materialism.” The dangers of worshiping material things are clearly outlined in the story of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-26) who turned away from Christ because he could not part with his wealth.

Samson (Judges 14–16), even though he was set apart for God as a Nazirite, worshiped another god that was much closer than the rich man was to his wealth. Samson’s god was himself, and his pride and self-worship led to his downfall. He was so confident in his own abilities that he believed he no longer needed God, and in the end—beaten, blinded, and humiliated—Samson seemed to be more concerned with revenge and his eyesight than with God’s plan for His chosen people. He served himself and his priorities, making them his idols.

Those who worship “other gods” will ultimately face the same fate as the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel where they were challenged by Elijah the prophet to a duel. Elijah and the prophets of Baal offered sacrifices to their respective deities, but they did not burn the sacrifices. The god who responded to their entreaties and took their sacrifice would be declared the one true God for all Israel. The prophets of Baal started early and prayed and pleaded with Baal to burn their sacrifice. Meanwhile, Elijah taunted them. “Shout louder…Surely he is a god. Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened” (1 Kings 18:27). In the end, the prophets of Baal were all killed by the Israelites after the one true God demonstrated His power, burning up the offering, the water, the wood, the stones, and the soil at the altar.

Our God is never busy, asleep, traveling, or distracted. Paul describes the sovereignty of God: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. …Therefore, since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the Divine Being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by man’s design and skill” (Acts 17:24-25, 29). God commands us not to serve other gods because there are no other gods except the ones we make ourselves. David describes what awaits the person who puts God ahead of all else: “Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods” (Psalm 40:4).