Most people would agree it is wrong to steal. Or murder. In fact, most people would agree the Ten Commandments are good laws to live by. That is, unless they have actually read them. I doubt most in this country would agree with the commandment that says,
“You shall have no other gods before me. – (Deuteronomy 5:7 NIV)
And yet, that is the first commandment of the ten. Rule number one! But it sounds so intolerant of other belief systems. And it sounds petty, as though God is insecure or paranoid, afraid of sharing with any rivals the attention He wants for Himself.
Nothing could be further from the truth. God gave the Ten Commandments to a people who had lived for 400 years as slaves and who were now wandering across a desert. He gave them because they needed them so badly. Slaves only need one commandment: Do what you are told. Imagine how important it would be for hundreds of thousands of former slaves, experiencing freedom for the first time, to have a reliable ethical system to live by. (There is a reason why college students, away from Mommy and Daddy for the first time, go wild in their first experience of freedom.) The Ten Commandments were essential for their survival. He gave the commandments to bless them.
And number one, before they got to the ones about stealing and lying, was this: don’t you dare consider following any other god. If you trace the history of Israel, their times of prosperity and peace coincide with their obedience to that command. And when they forgot that command, they experienced times of ruin, exile and defeat. As inappropriate as it may sound to our ears, Israel discovered it was important. There is only one God; worship and obey Him alone. Such a command is only inappropriate if it is not true. If it is true, it is the foundation of well being. That’s why, when Jesus was asked the most important commandment,
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. – (Mark 12:29–30 NIV84)
Most important for whom? Not for God but for our own well being. The most important rule to remember in our conduct of life is to love, honor, trust and obey the real God – exclusively. If we go chasing after false gods. as interesting as they may seem to be, ultimately we do so to our own ruin.
Nothing I’ve written here would have surprised or offended the founders of this nation. They knew it was important for the government not to establish an official religion. But they were not confused about Who God is, not tempted away by different deities. But today,politically correct wisdom says we must accept all gods and goddesses alike. Perhaps it is no coincidence the United States is in decline in many ways. As offensive as it may sound to our modern ears, I wonder if we might do better to pay attention to rule number one. Maybe God was telling the truth when He said it was most important for our well being.