First Commandment


A definition of language I came across says that, language is “A systematic means of communicating by the use of sounds or conventional symbols.”
I found this definition in WordWeb, a virtual dictionary copyrighted by Princeton University, USA.

In this definition there are two components of a language.

1.      Sounds or conventional symbols – means of communication
2.      Communication – that is the purpose of language

Language is often considered as a way of communication.
Alphabets, sound, gestures or objects are used for communication.
These are only means of communication.

Communication is the purpose of language.
Language exists and used for communication an idea from a person or community to another.
If that purpose is fulfilled, any medium can be called a language.

Thus we have words and sounds.
Gestures are used by the deaf and dump people.
Animals, birds and all living creatures have their own language.
We even speak of the language of nature.
Computer programmers are also said to use language.

Communication is the purpose of language.
Communication is not just a beautiful speech or lecture.
Communication includes expressing the idea in the mind of a person and receiving and understanding by the other person.
If the second person cannot receive and understand what is expressed by the first person, the communication fails in its purpose.
It is not communication at all.
There will be a communication gap or communication problem.

But all languages have their own limitation in communication.
That is why we use gestures, face expressions and body language too in addition to sounds to communicate our ideas.
Objects are directly used to communicate ideas.
For example, a bottle is shown to communicate the idea of a bottle.
This is called the direct method.

Abstract ideas are difficult to communicate to another.
Abstract ideas are always personal.
Abstract ideas include colors; emotions like joy, despair, sorrow; personal concepts like beauty etc.
It is often difficult to communicate whatever we fell in our heart in its full sense.

Jesus used parables to communicate because an otherwise preaching may not communicate what he exactly meant.
 Still the Jews of the time could not receive or understand Him.

There is always a communication problem between God and Man.
The way God communicates in Heaven is different from the way Man communicates to each other.

So for an effective communication, God chose a method that is familiar to man and that would contain the thoughts of God.
That is Covenant.

Why covenants?

It is the means God in His authority has chosen to communicate with man.
Covenants have three characteristics:

1.      Covenants are everlasting.
God means to fulfill it not to break it at any circumstances.

2.      The parties of the covenant must have the authority and power to fulfill it.
God has the authority and power to fulfill His part in the Covenant.

3.      They should remain faithful to the covenant.
God is faithful to fulfill even the minute detail of the covenant.

No other gods in this world except Yahweh the Lord has chosen covenants to communicate with man.
Because only Yahweh has a purpose to fulfill it; the authority and power to fulfill it; and hence can remain faithful to it.

The Ten Commandments is a part of the Mosaic Covenant.
Mosaic Covenant is a progressive covenant of the Abrahamic Covenant.
What God left to prescribe in the Abrahamic Covenant is said in detail in the Mosaic Covenant.
Ten Commandments are condensed, pithy statements of all details in the Mosaic Covenant.

The first of the Ten Commandments is stated in the following verse:

Exodus 20 : 2, 3
2     "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
 3    "You shall have no other gods before Me.  (NKJV)

Before we go further into the commandment, let us look at the cultural and religious background of the time.

Everything starts with Abraham, the great patriarch of Jews.
Abraham was living in a polytheist society.
That means belief in more than one god existed during the time of Abraham and the Sinai covenat.
We read about Terah that he served other gods in Joshua 24:2

In a polytheist society everybody had the freedom to believe and worship their choice of god.
And Abraham worshiped Yahweh the Lord.

A polytheist society believed that there is more than one god.
In polytheism, supernatural forces are personified and organized into a cosmic family.
This "family" becomes the nucleus of a particular culture's belief system.
These gods are distinguished by particular functions, and often take on human characteristics.
Egyptians believed that gods could take on the form and characteristics of objects found in nature, including trees, sacred herbs, cattle, animals and animal-human hybrids.

The basic argument of polytheist religion is very simple.
They argue that one god cannot manage all the affairs of a vast universe.
One means chaos in the universe.
So there must be more than one god, a god for distinctly separate areas.
All these gods may have or may not have one supreme god who looks over all activities and settle disputes among them.
They are living peacefully doing their own assignments.
Disputes are rare.
They have created the universe and everything in it.
They have pronounced the fate of each creature and the universe itself.
They have announced all duties of man towards gods and towards man.
And then they have ascended to the heights of mountains.
They speak no more on matters they have already spoken.

Soothsayers are not prophets like the prophets in Israel.
They are not go between gods and man.
They are people with special abilities to see into the future.

Prophets who claim to stand between god and man and speak on behalf of gods are dangerous to a society.
Gods have spoken all and nothing more to say.

These were the basic principles of a polytheist religion.

So far there was not a chosen and set apart community that worshipped Yahweh.
So God chose Abraham, called him out of his own native land and separated him from his relatives and friends and asked him to travel to a promised land to his descendants.
Abraham had strong faith in Yahweh that he immediately obeyed Him.

Abraham was separated from:

·        His relatives
·        His birth place
·        Gods in his land

Abrahamic community was created against this social background by a covenant.
By the covenant Yahweh the Lord was creating a community or nation of His own.
That is why He called them a special treasure.

Exodus 19 : 5, 6
5     'Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine.
 6    'And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel."  (NKJV)

But according to the details of the covenant Abraham’s descendants will live in exile for 400 years.
As and when the sin of Amorites is ripe for God’s punishment, Israelites will be rescued from the slavery in Egypt.
They will be lead to the Promised Land and shall inherit it.

In Exodus chapter 20, we find the rescued Israelites having the first meeting with their Yahweh the Lord, as a community and nation at Sinai.
God here reaffirms the Abrahamic Covenant and makes further progressive revelations.
This is called the Mosaic Covenant.

God starts the covenant with the first principle that defined their relationship with Yahweh.
The first commandment presents God as the sovereign Creator and Ruler of His creation.

Exodus 20 : 2, 3
2     "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
 3    "You shall have no other gods before Me.  (NKJV)

The KJV and the NKJV both translate Exodus 20: 3   as, "You shall have no other gods before Me."
This translation is misleading.
It gives us room to think that other gods are permitted as long as the true God is first in importance.
Many like to interpret it as merely setting the priority of worship to Yahweh.
There is a danger in it that allows you to worship anything else as the second.
This is not what God meant.
God permits no other gods at all.

There are some other translations that show the intent more correctly.

James Moffatt, a Scottish theologian translates it as:  "You shall have no gods but me." (Moffatt New Translation - MNT)
The Knox translation has:  "Thou shalt not defy me by making other gods thy own."
The Spurrell translation reads, "You shall have no other gods beside Me."
Finally, the New English Bible renders it: "You shall have no gods to set against me."

These make it very clear that God will not share His position, glory, and praise with any competitors.

First of all it must be noted that where the title “Lord” is written with all capital letters (LORD), it means the particular name of God, Yahweh.
So Yahweh the Lord is commanding Israelites to worship Him and Him alone.

Now why did God particularly tell the Israelites that Yahweh is their only God?
God knew that He was talking to a community who had been living among a polytheist society.
Canaan, the land to which they were going also had many gods.
All these gods had particular names to distinguish each other.
There are hints in the book of Exodus and Joshua that they even worshiped the Egyptian gods along with Yahweh while they were in the exile.
God here wants to put a stop to such practice and bring them all to a monotheist community.

So the First Commandment leaves no doubt as to the name of the God they should worship
It further leaves no doubt as to the identity of the God who brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

God introduces himself by name to establish his authority behind the stipulations that follows:

·        God exists and that his proper name is “Yahweh.”
·        The reason to worship Him is the great redemption from the slavery.
·        And Yahweh is the God who has redeemed them from slavery.
·        Yahweh alone did it.
·        Since Yahweh alone freed Israel from Egypt, he is Israel’s King and the legislator.
·        Thus they are His possession and He as a legal right to demand their worship.

Yahweh establishes identity through the use of the proper name.
The mighty acts in history distinguish Yahweh from the gods of Egypt which were judged in the killing of Egypt’s firstborn.
And Yahweh stands alone and different from the gods of Canaan, the gods of the gentile nations, and the gods that are worshipped as idols, and the gods known by other proper names.
So distinguished, Yahweh demands exclusive allegiance.
“I am the LORD your God” occurs a number of other times in the Bible also.

The Covenant follows the pattern of an ancient royal treaty, known as suzerain treaty.
A suzerain was a severing or a king.
The ‘great king’ stated his identity, outlined what he had done for his prospective vassal and promised future protection.
On these grounds and basis of this he demanded exclusive loyalty and laid down certain obligations for his subjects.
Often the list of obligations contained curses and blessings.

By the Sinai Covenant Yahweh is formally acknowledged as Israel’s King.
Yahweh the great monarch accepts Israel as His subjects under the suzerainty treaty.

So they are expected to render complete submission, allegiance, and obedience to him out of gratitude for His past mercies, respect for His sovereignty, and trust in His ongoing care.
The covenant logic establishes an exclusive relationship in which the subject population may have only one sovereign.
Ancient oaths and treaties prohibit subjects and vassals from accepting alternative sovereigns or protectors.
In the ancient near east, a suzerain’s (or sovereign’s) prior benefactions to a vassal (such as deliverance from an enemy) are primary motive to accept an offer of covenant.
Here Yahweh is offering a covenant to Israelites based on the act of deliverance from slavery.
Thus the deliverance from Egypt motivates Israel’s acceptance of the covenant stipulations described in the following imperatives.

·        Israel was chosen and redeemed by Yahweh.
·        So, like a king of the time, He has every right to claim them as His own possession.
·        Israelites understood this and accepted the condition.

Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are an introductory summary of the Law.
It is the central core of the lengthier Law of Moses which will follow in the Pentateuch.
The essence of the Law is outlined for us first, and then the more detailed documentation of the Law will follow.

The Decalogue was inaugurated and promulgated at Sinai for the first time.
But the laws were not newly created or introduced.
People from Adam onwards observed as good practice all these commandments.
The Book of Genesis reveals the fact that these formalized laws were already followed, or assumed as a moral standard.
That means, all Ten Commandments had been part of the Law of God previously written on hearts of the people.

Genesis 35:1,2
1    Then God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother."
 2   And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.           (NKJV)

In the above verse, Jacob is commanding his family to put away all other gods.

Writing them on stones reveals the permanency of it.
They were codified in Exodus 20.
Yahweh made these commandments mandatory in His Kingdom

But the Decalogue is also strikingly different in its content from the popular suzerainty treaties.
The Decalogue is religious in nature, beginning with stipulations related to Israel’s relationship to her God.
The God is who delivered Israel from bondage in Egypt.
Every stipulation from beginning to end is based upon Israel’s relationship to her God.
The codes of other Near Eastern covenants are thoroughly secular.

The Decalogue is God’s standard for Israel’s culture.
By giving Israel the Decalogue, God was prescribing the moral base for their culture.
Israel had just emerged from the Egyptian culture.
As a persecuted minority, the Egyptian culture was perhaps easier to shrug off when they left that land.
On the other hand, the Canaanite culture was surely not one which was to be adopted by God’s people.
Thus, God gave the Law to Israel to dictate not only individual conduct, but to establish a corporate code of behavior.

Ancient of Days

Let us study another verse in the Bible so as to help us in understanding the claim of Yahweh as the only true God.
God is called “the Ancient of Days” in the book of Daniel.

And the title "Ancient of Days" is found only three times in Scripture.
All three are in prophetic passages in Daniel 7: 9, 13, and 22.

Daniel 7 : 9  "I watched till thrones were put in place, And the Ancient of Days was seated; His garment was white as snow, And the hair of His head was like pure wool. His throne was a fiery flame, Its wheels a burning fire;  (NKJV)

Daniel is describing his vision of heaven.
There an ancient, or venerable, Person sits on a flaming throne with wheels of fire, His hair and clothing white as snow.
The flaming throne is symbolic of judgment, while the white hair and title “Ancient” indicate that God existed before time began.

Daniel 7:13 "I was watching in the night visions, And behold, One like the Son of Man, Coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, And they brought Him near before Him.  (NKJV)

Here the term “ancient of days” refers to God the Father, and we see Him on His throne as Jesus, the “Son of Man” approaches the throne on clouds.
The son of man is a Messianic reference to Jesus.

Daniel in chapter 7: 21, 22 is describing his end time vision.
Here he refers specifically to Jesus whose judgment will be part of the end-times events.
The Ancient of Days is Jesus returning to pronounce judgment on the world.

Daniel 7 : 21, 22
21  "I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them,
22   "until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.  (NKJV)

The title of Yahweh as the “Ancient of Days” means that God existed before days were even created.
God existed from before the beginning of time.

In Isaiah 43 can help us to understand the title “Ancient of Days” better.

Isaiah 43:10 "You are My witnesses," says the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, That you may know and believe Me, And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, Nor shall there be after Me.  (NKJV)


What shall we conclude?

Yahweh started the covenant with His servant nation demanding an absolute allegiance to Him.
He is only God who can deliver us.
And He has delivered us from the slavery, alone.
He does not work in partnership with other lesser gods.
So He is the King and the only King of covenants.

He is the “Ancient of Days”.
He existed as God even before anything in this whole universe was created.
No god was formed before Him and none will be formed after Him.

So demands total allegiance from us to Him.
We enjoy peace, health, material prosperity and everything because of Him.
We are free from slavery because He delivered us.

So we are exhorted and commanded to worship Yahweh and Yahweh alone, without sharing the glory of all blessings with none else.

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