Exodus 20 is what is commonly known as the Ten Commandments or the Decalog. God gives His standards and the people hear. Later in this chapter, the people will ask Moses to stand between God and them; for Moses to listen to God directly and relay God’s words to the people.
God begins with an re-introduction: I am the LORD your God. The all caps LORD tells me that I am reading the YHWH; the covenant Name of God that He gave to Moses at the burning bush. This is the personal God Who wants to not only enter into a contract with me, but wants much more to have a relationship with me. He wants to be my Friend and Counselor; my Comfort and Strength.
God then proceeds to a reminder: I … brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Israelites did not set themselves free in a glorious rebellion and through heroic struggle. They whined and complained their way to freedom. If there were awards for “Least Likely Rebellion to Succeed”, then the Israelites would have won, hands down. Moses kept going in front of Pharaoh and making the same demand — Let God’s people go — and pronouncing a new plague on Egypt every time Pharaoh did not meet the demand. Meanwhile, the Israelites, who were still slaves, saw their work get harder and their supplies taken away and they complained. These guys were Thomas Paine’s “Summer Soldiers” if ever there were such people.
Finally, God begins setting down the rules. And Rule #1 is You shall have no other gods before Me. It is a completely reasonable rule to begin with. The God saying this is the same God Who made a covenant with their grand sires and is making good on His promise, even though most contract law would release Him given that the other party is dead — unless I take into account that an afterlife means that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are still alive and therefore God is still under the contractual agreement that He made … just a thought. The God Who says this is the same Who delivered them from Egypt; from slavery; from oppression. He is their liberator and His command is that they not supplant Him. The Bible tells me that He is regularly supplanted and that the consequence of the Israelites’ disobedience to this rule is that they get what the supplanter has to offer: nothing good. They return and God welcomes them back with open arms. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
This sequence is true for me, as well. I am not an Israelite, but Jesus Christ established a covenant with me — and anyone who wishes to enter that contract — in His own blood shed on the cross. He has a Name by which I can call on Him and have relationship with Him. He is no Thunderer or Wanderer that might show up knocking at my door, but the familiar Friend Who walks in and makes Himself at home. He is my Advocate, standing before the Father and reminding Him that my sins are wiped away by Christ’s blood. He has delivered me from the bondage to sin and slavery to the various lusts and urges that come along with that bondage. Do I always act on that freedom? No. Sometimes, I behave as if I were never set free. The same is true for anyone who has been liberated from anything. It can take time to learn how to live in that new freedom. In light of all of this, it is reasonable that God wants to be the one and only object of my worship. It is rational that He should tell me that I set up none beside Him, because none can stand there and bear the comparison that will inevitably come. It is the least I can do when I consider all that He has already done just to make possible a relationship between Him and me.
Father, thank You for saving me and for even wanting to have a relationship with me. Thank You for the covenant in Christ’s blood that washes me clean and allows me to live at peace with You. Please teach me how to make You the only object of my worship. I confess that I am easily distracted and that I am, as the hymn says, prone to wander and prone to leave the God I love. As that same hymn continues, please take my heart and seal it for Your courts in Heaven.