Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

Let us briefly consider its meaning:

  • "Thou" – We note its singular number (thou, not ye), addressed to each person separately, because each of us is concerned therein.

  • "Thou shalt have no other gods" – Has the force of you shall own, possess, seek, desire, love, or worship none other.

  • "No other gods" – They are called such not because they are so either by nature or office (Psalm 82:6), but because the corrupt hearts of men make and esteem them such—as in "whose god is their belly" (Philippians 3:19).

  • "Before Me" – Or, "Before My face," the force of which is best ascertained by His Word to Abraham: "Walk before Me and be thou perfect" or "upright" (Genesis 17:1)—conduct yourself in the realization that you are ever in My presence, that My eye is continually upon you.

This is very searching. We are so apt to rest contented if we can but approve ourselves before men and maintain a fair show of godliness outwardly; but Jehovah searches our innermost being and we cannot conceal from Him any secret lust or hidden idol.

Duties Required

Let us next consider the positive duty enjoined by this First Commandment. Briefly stated, it is this: you shall choose, worship, and serve Jehovah as your God, and Him only. Being who He is—your Maker and Ruler, the Sum of all excellence, the supreme Object of worship—He admits of no rival and none can vie with Him. See then the absolute reasonableness of this demand and the madness of contravening it. This Commandment requires from us a disposition and conduct suited to the relation in which we stand to the Lord as our God—as the only adequate Object of our love and the only One able to satisfy the soul. It requires that we have a love for Him stronger than all other affections, that we take Him for our highest portion, that we serve and obey Him supremely. It requires that all those services and acts of worship which we render to the true God be made with the utmost sincerity and devotion (implied in the "before Me") excluding negligence on the one hand and hypocrisy on the other.

In pointing out the duties required by this Commandment, we cannot do better than quote the Westminster Larger Catechism:1

The duties required in the First Commandment are, the knowing and acknowledging of God to be the only true God, and our God;a and to worship and glorify Him accordingly,b by thinking,c meditating,d remembering,e highly esteeming,f honoring,g adoring,h choosing,i loving,j desiring,k fearing of Him;l believing Him;m trusting,n hoping,o delighting,p rejoicing in Him;q being zealous for Him;r calling upon Him, giving all praise and thanks,s and yielding all obedience and submission to Him with the whole man;t being careful in all things to please Him,u and sorrowful when in anything He is offended;v and walking humbly with Him.w

a. 1 Chron. 28:9; Deut. 26:7; Isa. 43:10; Jer. 14:22 b. Ps. 95:6–7; Matt. 4:10; Ps. 29:2 c. Mal. 3:16 d. Ps. 63:6 e. Eccl. 12:1 f. Ps. 71:19 g. Mal. 1:6 h. Isa. 45:23; Ps. 96 i. Josh. 24:15, 22. j. Deut. 6:5 k. Ps. 73:25 l. Isa. 8:13 m. Ex. 14:31 n. Isa. 26:4 o. Ps. 130:7 p. Ps. 37:4 q. Ps. 32:11 r. Rom. 12:11; Num. 25:11 s. Phil. 4:6 t. Jer. 7:23; James 4:7 u. 1 John 3:22 v. Ps. 119:136; Jer. 31:18 w. Mic. 6:8

Those duties may be summarized in these chief ones:

  1. First, the diligent and lifelong seeking after a fuller knowledge of God as He is revealed in His Word and works, for we cannot worship an unknown God.

  2. Second, the loving of God with all our facilities and strength, which consists of an earnest panting after Him, and deep joy in Him, and a holy zeal for Him.

  3. Third, the fearing of God, which consists of an awe of His majesty, supreme reverence for His authority, and a desire for His glory—as the love of God is the motive-spring of obedience, so the fear of God is the great deterrent of disobedience.

  4. Fourth, the worshiping of God according to His appointments. The principal aids to which are: study of and meditation upon the Word, prayer, and putting into practice what we are taught.

Sins Forbidden

"Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me"—that is, you shall not give to anyone or anything in heaven or earth that inward heart affiance, loving veneration, and dependence upon, which is due only to the true God; you shall not transfer to another that which belongs to Him alone. Nor must we attempt to divide them between God and another, for no man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

The great sins forbidden by this Commandment are:

  1. First, willful ignorance of God and His will through despising those means by which we may acquaint ourselves with Him.

  2. Second, atheism or the denial of God.

  3. Third, idolatry or the setting up of false and fictitious gods.

  4. Fourth, disobedience and self-will or the open defiance of God.

  5. Fifth, all inordinate and immoderate affections or the setting of our hearts and minds upon other objects.

They are idolaters and transgressors of this First Commandment who manufacture a God out of the figment of their own mind. Such are the:

  • Unitarians, who deny that there are three Persons in the Godhead.

  • Romanists, who supplicate the Savior's mother and affirm that the pope has power to forgive sins.

  • Vast majority of Arminians, who believe in a disappointed and defeated Deity.

  • Sensual Epicureans (Philippians 3:19), for there are inward idols as well as external—"these men have set up their idols in their hearts" (Ezekiel 14:3); "covetousness which is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5) and by parity of reason so are all immoderate desires.

That object to which we render those desires and services which are due alone to the Lord is our "God," whether it be self, gold, fame, pleasure, or friends. What is your God? To what is your life devoted?

Taken from Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 20, No. 3, March 1941.


  1. ^Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 104.

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