Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The First Commandment

The First Commandment

Sometimes we underestimate how really smart God is. And I think sometimes we are too critical of the expectations God has for us. We read a commandment or some directive from scripture and think “I can’t believe God expects that of me!” But sometimes we aren’t really reading what God is saying and we need to take a step back instead of just reacting to what we think we hear! As we look at the wording of the First Commandment, I want you to think about what God is really saying to us.
One of my seminary professors was also an archeologist. I learned a lot about what archeologists do and how the system works in the archeology world. Of course it is like most professions where you have to work your way up from the person who lays on the ground with a little brush and and slowly brushes away the sand and the dirt making sure that nothing is missed or damaged…. from that you gain more responsibilities and you become the one who receives the treasures found in the ground and work on cleaning them up and then you become a cataloger who keeps track of all the finds and does research to find out about a particular item. Eventually, with enough experience and enough education and enough letters after your name, you become responsible for an entire archeological site as my seminary professor did. The locations of these places where digs take place usually mean someone with lots of money ‘buys or leases’ the land from the country where the dig is taking place and the archeologist in charge can work in this area as long as the country they are in allows them and as long as the funding stays put.
My seminary funded my professor who ran a archeological site in Israel - and as a result we have one of the premier museums of artifacts at the seminary!
Where this is going is that Dr Tappy found something very interesting as he was supervising this dig in Israel - which was actually a large portion of a town full of houses of the ‘everyday Hebrew people’. It was a Hebrew town and he got a glimpse into the normal life of a Hebrew. But what he found was really interesting…. in the Hebrew house, the people who lived with the 10 Commandments, the people who knew the first commandment to be “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” - these people had shelves full of little gods….
In the culture in those days, for those who were not Hebrews and did not have the Almighty God to care for them, it was the custom to have a god for every need. And to represent those
gods you would have a little figurine to represent the god of whatever you needed. So if you wanted to catch fish you would have a little figurine to the ‘catch more fish god’ and if you wanted to have safe travels on your vacation you would have a little safe travel on your vacation god - for whatever need you had, you had a little god on your shelf. If you came up with a new need - your tomatoes weren’t doing so well so you would go to the store where they sold little gods for your shelf and you would buy whatever you needed and take it home and then pray to that god for your tomatoes. Eventually you would accumulate lots and lots of these little gods which served whatever need you had……
And the Hebrews, even though they knew they were to only worship the Almighty God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, had decided to hedge their bets and ‘just in case’ the Almighty God didn’t come through with a particular need, they had their little back up gods to go and worship and pray to.
Let’s look at the wording of the 1st Commandment:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3. It is interesting in this commandant God first points out which God he is - Hey People - remember me? I


am the God who brought your forefathers out of Egypt, out of that horrible life of slavery, who brought you through the wilderness, who gave you this land to live in. I am the God your have been taught about all your life.”
That is the first portion of the commandment and sitting here in this sanctuary in the midst of worship we think - ‘Yes. That is who God is. God, the creator of the world, God the creator of me, God the provider of our salvation through his son Jesus Christ. I know who God is.” And we do, when we are sitting here. But what happens when we leave and go out into our every day lives, are we really any different that those Hebrews who looked to little statues for help and security?
What is your first reaction to a need? Is it prayer or is it action? Is your first thought when you need something to go to God or is it to find a solution to the problem? Go to the store and buy what you need? Ask your financial advisor or your banker? Call a Hot Line or go to a website? Buy or download a self-help book?
Book stores aren’t that popular anymore but if you go to one, gauge the self help section of books as compared as to the other section of books….. or google self-help and see what you come up with. It is amazing the amount of ‘self-help’ opportunities out there that don’t mention anywhere relying on God, or bringing the need to God.
We aren’t really any different than those Hebrews of thousands of years ago. We just have a more educated approach to where we look for help…. The ancient Hebrews went to the cupboard and found the proper little wooden god and asked it for help - we go to books and resources and ‘experts’ for the same reason.
Back to the first commandment:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. Exodus 20:2-3
God has identified himself and at the same time reminded the Hebrews of what it meant to get out of slavery. The Hebrew would then immediately think about the wilderness journey where they learned what it meant for God to take care of them and provide for them. And that is what God wants. When God says I am the Lord your God he wants us simply to remember who he is - God is the creator and God wants nothing more than for us than to go to him first with our wants and our needs and our problems and our questions. Doesn’t mean that the solution may not be a book or a person or a website that God will send us to.
Notice how the commandment says - don’t have any other gods
before me. That before is a key word and notice how the word ‘gods’ is plural. What God knows, and this is where I started with reminding us how really smart God is, and how God is not only smart but he is also realistic. God knows that the human heart will lead us to things other than God. God knows that we are so easily swayed by the things that are around us all the time. God knows that we will have other gods. But what he is saying is “I realize that you will go to other things beside me for your help, but I want to be first. Come to me first - let me be the number one God in the face of all the other avenues of help you can receive. Consult me before those other gods.
Remember this Psalm (Read Psalm 121).
This first commandment reminds us who we are and who God is. We are the people of God. There is a verse in the book of Revelation that says that we are:
his called, chosen and faithful followers. Revelation 17:14. And that is all God really wants from us… he wants us to remember who he is and who we are…. He is our God and we are his called and chosen and what he wants from us is to be faithful followers.
God says: I am the Lord your God. I have called you, I have redeemed you in the blood of my son Jesus Christ, I have gifted you with my spirit who lives in you and what I want from you, is to put me first. Amen