Exodus 20:3
You shall have no other gods before me.
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(3) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.—Heb., There shalt be to thee no other god before me. The result is the same, whether we translate Elohim by “god” or “gods;” but the singular verb shows that the plural form of the name is a mere plural of dignity.

Before me—literally, before my face—means strictly, “side by side with me”—i.e., “in addition to me.” God does not suppose that the Israelites, after all that He had done for them, would discard Him, and substitute other gods in His place, but fears the syncretism which would unite His worship with that of other deities. All polytheisms were syncretic, and readily enlarged their pantheons, since, when once the principle of unity is departed from, whether the plurality be a little greater or a little less cannot much signify. The Egyptian religion seems to have adopted Ammon at a comparatively late period from Arabia; it took Bar, or Baal, Anta, or Anaïtis, Astaret, or Astarte, Reshpu, or Reseph, &c., from Syria, and it admitted Totuu from Ethiopia. Israel, in after-times, fell into the same error, and, without intending to apostatise from Jehovah, added on the worship of Baal, Ashtoreth, Moloch, Chemosh, Remphan, &c. It is this form of polytheism against which the first commandment is directed. It asserts the sole claim of Jehovah to our religious regards.

Exodus 20:3-6. The first commandment is concerning the object of our worship, Jehovah, and him only: Thou shalt have no other gods before me — The Egyptians, and other neighbouring nations, had many gods, creatures of their own fancy. This law was prefixed because of that transgression; and Jehovah being the God of Israel, they must entirely cleave to him and no other, either of their own invention, or borrowed from their neighbours. The sin against this commandment which we are most in danger of, is giving that glory to any creature which is due to God only. Pride makes a god of ourselves, covetousness makes a god of money, sensuality makes a god of the belly. Whatever is loved, feared, delighted in, or depended on, more than God, that we make a god of. This prohibition includes a precept, which is the foundation of the whole law, that we take the Lord for our God, accept him for ours, adore him with humble reverence, and set our affections entirely upon him. There is a reason intimated in the last words, before me. It intimates, 1st, That we cannot have any other god but he will know it; 2d, That it is a sin that dares him to his face, which he cannot, will not overlook.

The second commandment is concerning the ordinances of worship, or the way in which God will be worshipped, which it is fit himself should appoint. Here Isaiah , 1 st, The prohibition; we are forbidden to worship even the true God by images, Exodus 20:4-5. First, The Jews (at least after the captivity) thought themselves forbidden by this to make any image or picture whatsoever. It is certain it forbids making any image of God, for to whom can we liken him? Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 40:25. It also forbids us to make images of God in our fancies, as if he were a man as we are. Our religious worship must be governed by the power of faith, not by the power of imagination. Secondly, They must not bow down to them — Show any sign of honour to them, much less serve them by sacrifice, or any other act of religious worship. When they paid their devotion to the true God, they must not have any image before them for the directing, exciting, or assisting their devotion. Though the worship was designed to terminate in God, it would not please him if it came to him through an image. The best and most ancient lawgivers among the heathen forbade the setting up of images in their temples. It was forbidden in Rome by Numa, a Pagan prince, yet commanded in Rome by the pope, a Christian bishop! The use of images in the Church of Rome, at this day, is so plainly contrary to the letter of this command, that in all their catechisms, which they put into the hands of the people, they leave out this commandment, joining the reason of it to the first, and so the third commandment they call the second, the fourth, the third, &c.; only to make up the number ten, they divide the tenth into two. For I the Lord, Jehovah, thy God, am a jealous God — Especially in things of this nature. It intimates the care he has of his own institutions, his displeasure against idolaters, and that he resents every thing in his worship that looks like, or leads to, idolatry; visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation — Severely punishing. Nor is it an unrighteous thing with God, if the parents die in their iniquity, and the children tread in their steps, when God comes, by his judgments, to reckon with them, to bring into the account the idolatries their fathers were guilty of. Keeping mercy for thousands of persons, thousands of generations; of them that love me, and keep my commandments — This intimates that the second commandment, though in the letter it is only a prohibition of false worship, yet includes a precept of worshipping God in all those ordinances which he hath instituted. As the first commandment requires the inward worship of love, desire, joy, hope, so this is the outward worship of prayer and praise, and solemn attendance on his word. This mercy shall extend to thousands, much further than the wrath threatened to those that hate him, for that reaches but to the third or fourth generation.20:3-11 The first four of the ten commandments, commonly called the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbour to love. It cannot be expected that he should be true to his brother, who is false to his God. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, JEHOVAH, and him only. The worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes short of perfect love, gratitude, reverence, or worship, breaks this commandment. Whatsoever ye do, do all the glory of God. The second commandment refers to the worship we are to render to the Lord our God. It is forbidden to make any image or picture of the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to worship any creature, image, or picture. But the spiritual import of this command extends much further. All kinds of superstition are here forbidden, and the using of mere human inventions in the worship of God. The third commandment concerns the manner of worship, that it be with all possible reverence and seriousness. All false oaths are forbidden. All light appealing to God, all profane cursing, is a horrid breach of this command. It matters not whether the word of God, or sacred things, all such-like things break this commandment, and there is no profit, honour, or pleasure in them. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. The form of the fourth commandment, Remember, shows that it was not now first given, but was known by the people before. One day in seven is to be kept holy. Six days are allotted to worldly business, but not so as to neglect the service of God, and the care of our souls. On those days we must do all our work, and leave none to be done on the sabbath day. Christ allowed works of necessity, charity, and piety; for the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath, Mr 2:27; but all works of luxury, vanity, or self-indulgence in any form, are forbidden. Trading, paying wages, settling accounts, writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling visits, journeys, or light conversation, are not keeping this day holy to the Lord. Sloth and indolence may be a carnal, but not a holy rest. The sabbath of the Lord should be a day of rest from worldly labour, and a rest in the service of God. The advantages from the due keeping of this holy day, were it only to the health and happiness of mankind, with the time it affords for taking care of the soul, show the excellency of this commandment. The day is blessed; men are blessed by it, and in it. The blessing and direction to keep holy are not limited to the seventh day, but are spoken of the sabbath day.Before me - Literally, "before my face." The meaning is that no god should be worshipped in addition to Yahweh. Compare Exodus 20:23. The polytheism which was the besetting sin of the Israelites did not in later times exclude Yahweh, but associated Him with false deities. (Compare the original of 1 Samuel 2:25.)3. Thou shalt have no other gods before me—in My presence, beside, or except Me. Heb.

There shall not be to thee another god, or other gods, to wit, idols, which others have, esteem, and worship as gods, and therefore Scripture so calls them by way of supposition, Deu 32:21 1 Samuel 12:21 1 Corinthians 8:4,5; but thou shalt not have them in any such reputation or veneration, but shalt forsake and abhor them, and cleave unto me alone.

Before me, i.e. in my presence, in my house or Church, which you are, where I am especially present; and therefore for you to worship any other god is most impudent idolatry, even as when a woman commits adultery before her husband’s face. He may also intimate, that all the idolatry which any of them shall hereafter commit, though never so cunningly and secretly managed, is manifest to his eyes, Psalm 44:20,21. Others translate it with me, or besides me, as it is rendered Matthew 12:30. He forbids the worship of all others, not only in opposition to him, but also in conjunction with him, or subordination to him. See 2 Kings 17:33 Exo 32 Ac 7:41 Revelation 19:10 22:8,9. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. This is the first command, and is opposed to the polytheism of the Gentiles, the Egyptians, from whom Israel was just come, and whose gods some of them might have had a favourable opinion of and liking to, and had committed idolatry with; and the Canaanites, into whose land they were going; and to prevent their joining with them in the worship of other gods, this law was given, as well as to be of standing us to them in all generations; for there is but one only living and true God, the former and maker of all things, who only is to be had, owned, acknowledged, served, and worshipped as such; all others have only the name, and are not by nature gods; they are other gods than the true God is; they are not real, but fictitious deities; they are other or strange gods to the worshippers of them, that cry unto them, for they do not answer them, as Jarchi observes: and now for Israel, who knew the true God, who had appeared unto them, and made himself known to them by his name Jehovah, both by his word and works, whom he had espoused to himself as a choice virgin, to commit idolatry, which is spiritual adultery with other gods, with strange gods, that are no gods, and this before God, in the presence of him, who had took them by the hand when he brought them out of Egypt, and had been a husband to them, must be shocking impiety, monstrous ingratitude, and extremely displeasing to God, and resented by him; and is, as many observe, as if a woman should commit adultery in the presence of her husband, and so the phrase may denote the audaciousness of the action, as well as the wickedness of it; though, as Ben Melech from others observes, if it was done in secret it would be before the Lord, who is the omniscient God, and nothing can be hid from him: several Jewish commentators, as Jarchi, Kimchi, and Aben Ezra, interpret the phrase "before me", all the time I endure, while I have a being, as long as I live, or am the living God, no others are to be had; that is, they are never to be had; since the true God will always exist: the Septuagint version is, "besides me", no other were to be worshipped with him; God will have no rivals and competitors; though he was worshipped, yet if others were worshipped with him, if others were set before him and worshipped along with him, or it was pretended he was worshipped in them, and even he with a superior and they with an inferior kind of worship; yet this was what he could by no means admit of: the phrase may be rendered "against me" (c); other gods opposition to him, against his will, contrary to obedience due to him and his precepts: this law, though it supposes and strongly inculcates the unity of the divine Being, the only object of religious adoration, yet does not oppose the doctrine of the trinity of persons in the Godhead; nor is that any contradiction to it, since though the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, there are not three Gods, but three Persons, and these three are one God, 1 John 5:7.

(c) "contra me", Noldius, No. 1801. p. 731.

Thou shalt have no other gods {b} before me.

(b) To whose eyes all things are open.

3. The Covenant: esp., and probably first, in Dt. and Deuteronomic writers (cf. above, p. 175): Exodus 34:28 (?; see the note); Deuteronomy 4:13 ‘his covenant’ (cf. 23, Exodus 5:2-3); and in the expressions, ‘the tables of the covenant,’ Deuteronomy 9:9; Deuteronomy 9:11; Deuteronomy 9:15, 1 Kings 8:9 LXX. (see Skinner); and ‘the ark of the covenant (of Jehovah),’ Deuteronomy 10:8; Deuteronomy 31:9; Deuteronomy 31:25-26; Joshua 3:3; Joshua 3:6; Joshua 3:8; Joshua 3:11; Joshua 3:14; Joshua 3:17; Joshua 4:7; Joshua 4:9; Joshua 4:18; Joshua 6:6; Joshua 6:8; Joshua 8:33 (all JE or D2[173]); Numbers 10:33; Numbers 14:44 (both JE); Jdg 20:27; 1 Samuel 4:3-5, 2 Samuel 15:14; 1 Kings 3:15; 1 Kings 6:19; 1 Kings 8:1; 1 Kings 8:6; and several times in Chr. (In the occurrences in JE and other pre-Deuteronomic writers, ‘the covenant of’ is probably the addition of a redactor or scribe familiar with the Deut. expression1[174].)

[173] Deuteronomic passages in Josh., Jud., Kings.

[174] This supposition is not arbitrary: because—at least as far as we know—until Dt. was written, the conditions for calling the ark the ‘ark of the Covenant’ did not exist: no covenant is concluded on the basis of the Decalogue in Ex.; this is first and to have been done in Dt. (cf. Chapman, Introd. to the Pent. p. 113 f.).

3. The first commandment, against polytheism. The fundamental principle of Israel’s faith, presupposed throughout the OT., but specially insisted on when there is any danger of other gods, esp. Canaanite gods, being preferred to Jehovah, or worshipped equally with Him.

other gods] so Exodus 23:13; cf. in the singular Exodus 34:14 (אל אתר). Very frequent in Dt. and Deuteronomic writers (compilers of Judges and Kings; and Jer.), as Deuteronomy 6:14; Deuteronomy 7:4; Deuteronomy 8:19 al.; Jdg 2:12; Jdg 2:17; Jdg 2:19; 1 Kings 9:6; 1 Kings 9:9; 1 Kings 11:4; 1 Kings 11:10; Jeremiah 1:16; Jeremiah 7:6; Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 7:18 al. Otherwise first in E (Joshua 24:2; Joshua 24:16), 1 Samuel 26:19, 2 Kings 5:17, Hosea 3:1 (not in other prophets, except Jer., and never in P).

before me] or, more distinctly, in front of me,—obliging Me (un-willingly) to behold them, and also giving them a prominence above Me.Verse 3. - Thou shalt have. The use of the second person singular is remarkable when a covenant was being made with the people (Exodus 19:5). The form indicated that each individual of the nation was addressed severally, and was required himself to obey the law, a mere general national obedience being insufficient. No one can fail to see how much the commands gain in force, through all time, by being thus addressed to the individual conscience. No other gods before me. "Before me" literally, "before my face," is a Hebrew idiom, and equivalent to "beside me," "in addition to me." The commandment requires the worship of one God alone, Jehovah - the God who had in so ninny ways manifested himself to the Israelites, and implies that there is, in point of fact, no other God. A belief in the unity of God is said to lie at the root of the esoteric Egyptian religion; but Moses can scarcely have derived his belief from this source, since the Egyptian notions on the subject were tinged with pantheism and materialism, from which the religion of Moses is entirely free. Outwardly the Egyptian religion, like that of the nations of Western Asia generally, was a gross polytheism; and it is against polytheistic notions that the first commandment raises a protest. After these preparations, on the morning of the third day (from the issuing of this divine command), Jehovah came down upon the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20), manifesting His glory in fire as the mighty, jealous God, in the midst of thunders (קלת) and lightnings, so that the mountain burned with fire (Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:20), and the smoke of the burning mountain ascended as the smoke (עשׁן for עשׁן), and the whole mountain trembled (Exodus 19:18), at the same time veiling in a thick cloud the fire of His wrath and jealousy, by which the unholy are consumed. Thunder and lightning bursting forth from the thick cloud, and fire with smoke, were the elementary substrata, which rendered the glory of the divine nature visible to men, though in such a way that the eye of mortals beheld no form of the spiritual and invisible Deity. These natural phenomena were accompanied by a loud trumpet blast, which "blew long and waxed louder and louder" (Exodus 19:16 and Exodus 19:19; see Genesis 8:3), and was, as it were, the herald's call, announcing to the people the appearance of the Lord, and summoning them to assemble before Him and listen to His words, as they sounded forth from the fire and cloudy darkness. The blast (קול) of the shophar (Exodus 19:19), i.e., the σάλπιγξ Θεοῦ, the trump of God, such a trumpet as is used in the service of God (in heaven, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; see Winer's Grammar), is not "the voice of Jehovah," but a sound resembling a trumpet blast. Whether this sound was produced by natural means, or, as some of the earlier commentators supposed, by angels, of whom myriads surrounded Jehovah when He came down upon Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), it is impossible to decide. At this alarming phenomenon, "all the people that was in the camp trembled" (Exodus 19:16). For according to Exodus 20:20 (17), it was intended to inspire them with a salutary fear of the majesty of God. Then Moses conducted the people (i.e., the men) out of the camp of God, and stationed them at the foot of the mountain outside the barrier (Exodus 19:17); and "Moses spake" (Exodus 19:19), i.e., asked the Lord for His commands, "and God answered loud" (בּקול), and told him to come up to the top of the mountain. He then commanded him to go down again, and impress upon the people that no one was to break through to Jehovah to see, i.e., to break down the barriers that were erected around the mountain as the sacred place of God, and attempt to penetrate into the presence of Jehovah. Even the priests, who were allowed to approach God by virtue of their office, were to sanctify themselves, that Jehovah might not break forth upon them (יפרץ), i.e., dash them to pieces. (On the form העדתה for העידת, see Ewald, 199 a). The priests were neither "the sons of Aaron," i.e., Levitical priest, nor the first-born or principes populi, but "those who had hitherto discharged the duties of the priestly office according to natural right and custom" (Baumgarten). Even these priests were too unholy to be able to come into the presence of the holy God. This repeated enforcement of the command not to touch the mountain, and the special extension of it even to the priests, were intended to awaken in the people a consciousness of their own unholiness quite as much as of the unapproachable holiness of Jehovah. But this separation from God, which arose from the unholiness of the nation, did not extend to Moses and Aaron, who were to act as mediators, and were permitted to ascend the mountain. Moreover, the prospect of ascending the holy mountain "at the drawing of the blast" was still before the people (Exodus 19:13). And the strict prohibition against breaking through the barrier, to come of their own accord into the presence of Jehovah, is by no means at variance with this. When God gave the sign to ascend the mountain, the people might and were to draw near to Him. This sign, viz., the long-drawn trumpet blast, was not to be given in any case till after the promulgation of the ten words of the fundamental law. But it was not given even after this promulgation; not, however, because "the development was altogether an abnormal one, and not in accordance with the divine appointment in Exodus 19:13, inasmuch as at the thunder, the lightning, and the sound of the trumpet, with which the giving of the law was concluded, they lost all courage, and instead of waiting for the promised signal, were overcome with fear, and ran from the spot," for there is not a word in the text about running away; but because the people were so terrified by the alarming phenomena which accompanied the coming down of Jehovah upon the mountain, that they gave up the right of speaking with God, and from a fear of death entreated Moses to undertake the intercourse with God in their behalf (Exodus 20:18-21). Moreover, we cannot speak of an "abnormal development" of the drama, for the simple reason, that God not only foresaw the course and issue of the affair, but at the very outset only promised that He would come to Moses in a thick cloud (Exodus 19:9), and merely announced and carried out His own descent upon Mount Sinai before the eyes of the people in the terrible glory of His sacred majesty (Exodus 19:11), for the purpose of proving the people, that His fear might be before their eyes (Exodus 20:20; cf. Deuteronomy 5:28-29). Consequently, apart from the physical impossibility of 600,000 ascending the mountain, it never was intended that all the people should do so.

(Note: The idea of the people fleeing and running away must have been got by Kurtz from either Luther's or De Wette's translation. They have both of them rendered וגו ויּנעוּ, "they fled and went far off," instead of "they trembled and stood far off." And not only the supposed flight, but his idea that "thunder, lightning, and the trumpet blast (which were silent in any case during the utterance of the ten commandments), concluded the promulgation of the law, as they had already introduced it according to Exodus 19:16," also rests upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Bible. There is not a syllable in Exodus 20:18 about the thunder, lightning, and trumpet blast bursting forth afresh after the proclamation of the ten commandments. There is simply an account of the impression, which the alarming phenomena, mentioned in Exodus 19:16-19 as attending the descent of Jehovah upon the mountain (Exodus 19:20), and preceding His speaking to Moses and the people, made upon the people, who had been brought out of the camp to meet with God.)

What God really intended, came to pass. After the people had been received into fellowship with Jehovah through the atoning blood of the sacrifice, they were permitted to ascend the mountain in the persons of their representatives, and there to see God (Exodus 24:9-11).

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