You shall have no other gods before me.
1. It is quite evident that this Commandment prescribes a general "fitness of things," the proper relation of man to God; aims to promote the highest happiness, directing man to seek his good in the highest source — God Himself; and describes the nature of man, setting forth a great principle of his being, that he is capable of giving allegiance to God, has faculties and powers capable of knowing and loving God. Our power of knowing and loving Him in the distinguishing power of man, separating him from the brutes with whom he is in many other respects allied, Not to exercise this power is to cast away the crown of our manhood. Of course, we cannot know God fully. Our weak, limited minds cannot comprehend the Infinite One. If we could comprehend God, we would be greater than He. The unknowable in God leads us to worship the God we know. This command calls us to a constant advance in the knowledge of God, so securing the activity and development of our power of knowing, and making it our duty to carefully attend to the revelation He has made of Himself. This certainly commends the study of nature; not only the poetic listening to its subtle teaching, but the scientific research for its great truths. This certainly commends the study of the Scriptures. Every neglected Bible should thrill the conscience with the charge, "You have not yet taken the first step towards obeying this commandment." God's revelation of Himself in the Bible is progressive. It had reached a certain stage at the time the Law was given at Sinai, sufficiently clear and full to make man's duty plain. But it did not stop there. It unfolded through succeeding ages until it culminated in the Lord Jesus Christ. So this first commandment makes it our duty to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. To reject Him is not merely to reject an offer of mercy; it is to refuse to receive the complete revelation of God made in His Son.
2. The prohibitory form of the Commandment shows that there are tendencies in our nature to break this law of our being. We are prone to give supreme allegiance to and find our highest good in some person or thing other than God.
3. But even if we had full and accurate knowledge of the one true God, and were free from all debasing superstitions, we would still have tendencies drawing us away from entire consecration to Him. Whatever we value more than God, is our god. Wherever a man makes the gratification of himself his chief aim, he takes the crown belonging to God and crowns himself.
(1) There is a strong tendency to make the gratification of even the lowest portion of our nature our chief aim and greatest delight. He only can have the highest animal enjoyment who remembers that he is more than an animal, and honouring God, seeks to discover and obey His laws of healthful living.
(2) One would think that the exercise of our reasoning powers would lead the soul to God, yet there is a very strong tendency to make this exercise end in itself. Many of the great thinkers of the world have been worshippers of their own powers of thinking, and we who can with difficulty follow their great thoughts are prone to worship our own intellectual culture and acquirements, and to claim a considerable amount of incense from our fellow-men.
(3) How prone we are to make our loved ones idols! Now the idolatry of loved ones does not consist in loving them too much, but in not loving them enough. The father who allows his child to so absorb his love that he has no thought of or love for God, does not love his child as an immortal spiritual being, nor does he regard himself as such.
(4) Above the animal, the intellectual, and the social nature in man, is the spiritual. To ignore this nature, or dwarf it, is to degrade man. To have this nature in healthful control, and giving supreme allegiance to God, is to bring the whole man into obedience to this Commandment; it is to ennoble his social, inspire his intellectual, and elevate his animal natures; it is to reach the noble manhood God designs for us.
(F. S. Schenck.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.