The 1st Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me” seems simple enough.
After all that God had done in rescuing the Israelites out of slavery, bearing His “mighty hand” against the Egyptians (Exodus 6:6), leading them through the desert and bringing them to His mountain, it would be hard to imagine the Israelites even considering another god. This is especially the case when you look at the context when the Ten Commandments were given. Just as God was about to give Moses the Ten Commandments, we read this in Exodus 19:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. … Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently.
Similarly, when we first become Christians, we cannot imagine that anything could ever take the place of Jesus in our lives. But, idolatry is something that comes very easily to us. John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols.”
Idolatry is a slippery slope. More often than not, idolatry doesn’t just happen in one act: we don’t wake up and suddenly decide to follow an idol. Rather, the 2 most common ways to fall into idolatry are:
1. Syncretism: Like the Israelites, we mix our own faith in with other ideas and end up compromising to the point that Jesus is no longer our Lord. The Israelites combined the worship of God with the worship of the ‘gods’ of the local Canaanite people. Thus, they worshiped both Baal and God. In our day, we don’t necessarily bring in other religions as much as letting society determine our values rather than the Bible;
2. When Good Things Turn Bad: This is when we take things that are good and give them the wrong priority. For example, we can make money our idol. There is nothing wrong with money in itself. But, if that dominates our priorities, it becomes an idol. Similar things can happen with family, relationships and even Church.
The key to avoiding idolatry is to take note of the introduction to the Ten Commandments: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Just as the key to the Israelites not falling into idolatry was remembering their loving Saviour God, the key for us is to remember our loving Saviour Jesus. The more we focus on Him, the blessings He brings into our life, the right He has to command our complete allegiance and the inheritance we have in Him, the less likely we will fall into idolatry.
Idols ultimately only disappoint. But, Jesus ultimately brings joy. That’s the difference!