You Shall Have No Other Gods

This devotion, written by Pastor Beth Wartick, is the first of a series on the Ten Commandments.

 

The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?

We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.

-The Small Catechism, Martin Luther

God is exclusive. I don’t mean that God is picky about who gets to be a child of God. The only qualification for forgiveness is to be a sinner, and we’ve all got that going on. I mean that when God commits to us, promising to be our God—the God who is for us, who forgives and loves and restores us—it’s not an open relationship. “You shall have no other gods.” In Martin Luther’s words, there shall be nothing and no one that we fear, love, and trust above God. There shall be nothing and no one that we long for or revere or value above God. God is exclusive.

For the ancient Israelites, the idols that tempted them were often in the form of what we’d call actual false gods. Like Asherah, the Canaanite goddess of motherhood and fertility, or Baal, the Canaanite god of storms. Understandably, the Israelites were sometimes tempted to worship those false gods as well as the true God. Why not make an offering to Baal for good weather to nourish the crops and say a prayer to Asherah for a safe delivery along with the annual temple offering for God? Would God really expect them to come through life without a backup plan?

Yes, apparently. God insisted on being their one and only God, not vying for love and trust with idols.

The thing about idols is that they usually come in the form of something that is actually quite good, as long as it’s in proper relationship to God and humans. That’s what makes false gods so tempting. Good weather is great; it was only when the Israelites began to worship Baal in hopes of getting it that it became an idol. Family, financial stability, career success, happiness, health, security, education, and more; they can be good gifts used and valued properly. They can also very easily become idols. 

Three thousand years ago, the Israelites had a problem with idolatry of Baal and Asherah. Right now, Americans have a problem with idolatry of normal. 

If things were only back to normal, we have sighed. We have longed for normal, even if it is a new normal. We have prayed for normal. We have wept for loss of normal. We have hoped that back to normal will resolve all our problems, or at least the big ones. We have loved normal more than we have loved our neighbors. We have trusted normal more than we have trusted God.

Normal doesn’t have to be an idol. If we put normal back in its place, recognizing that it cannot and will not save us or our institutions, including our church, then normal will stop being a false god. We’ll recognize that normal has a time and place: predictable routine can be good! It is not, however, God. God is exclusive. Only God is to be loved and trusted and longed for and revered above all else.

The thing about idols, including normal and all the others, is that they don’t just hurt our relationship with God. They also hurt us. If we expect our false gods to be God, they will always let us down. That’s why God is exclusive: because God knows that only God can love, forgive, and stand by us always.

Don’t join in the idolatry of normal. Normal won’t save you. God will. For that matter, normal doesn’t care if you’re saved at all. God does. God loves you, and so God has commanded: you shall have no other gods. Only God, and God is enough.