Then God spoke all these words:
I am the LORD your God who brought you
out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
You must have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:1-3)
Thirteen to fifteen centuries before Jesus was born, amidst fire and smoke and shaking ground God made this proclamation from a desert mountain to a special group of people standing in fear and awe. This was not the first time these people had experienced God as manifested in such frightening acts of nature; just three months prior, a pillar of fire and smoke had led them from the danger of Pharaoh’s army, across the Red Sea, and into the safety of the Sinai wilderness. With Moses as their leader, this motley band of ex-slaves would wander the desert for forty years before arriving at their destination—the Promised Land of Canaan. All would not go well for Moses and the Hebrews during their wandering; a lot of whining and complaining and second thoughts about leaving Egypt and their former lives as slaves would occur. But Moses was committed to his role as leader. And God was committed to protecting and providing for the Hebrews as they wandered the desert, in spite of their complaining.
Pastors Bridget and Jon, Judy Finley, and myself have embarked on a ten-week journey of sorts with folk from our five congregations. Our ‘map’ consists of the Bible and a wonderful book written by UMC pastor Adam Hamilton as we traverse the Ten Commandments. The focus of this week’s session (week one) is on the very proclamation God made amidst fire and smoke and earthquake from Mt. Sinai so long ago. For most Protestants, including United Methodists, this proclamation contains the First Commandment: “You must have no other gods before me.”
Have you ever wondered who God is referring to as the ‘other gods’? Hamilton addresses this head-scratcher by offering a short history lesson on life during the time of Moses. Recall that Moses and the Hebrews had lived in Egypt before escaping to the wilderness. At that time, there were hundreds—if not thousands—of gods worshipped by the Egyptians. Thus, Moses and the Hebrews would have been familiar with these gods--might have even worshipped them--and would have understood that God was commanding them to put God before any other Egyptian gods. Later they would come to learn that there is really only one God; the One who had redeemed them—purchased their freedom—from slavery under Pharaoh and slavery under the gods of Egypt!
This week I would invite you to ponder this question: When has God redeemed me from slavery to ‘gods’ in this world?
May you experience peace and thankfulness in the freedom God the Redeemer has given you!