Law,  Old Testament

The Supremacy of God in the Commandments

The Ten Commandments are one of the most beloved sections of Scripture. Even nonbelievers usually know at least a few of the Ten Commandments. However, often the commandments are misunderstood or misapplied. Thus, we will take this opportunity to go through the Ten Commandments and make some important observations.

Of great importance is understanding that the first commandment is foundational for the rest of the Ten Commandments. When God says, “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exod 20:3), He is demanding exclusive worship. This exclusive worship is unsurprising, because the theological foundation of the Ten Commandments assumes the uniqueness of God and His divine role as Creator.

Notice that the word, “LORD,” is not present in this command. The Lord is mentioned by name (“LORD”, יהוה) throughout Exodus 20 (vv. 5, 7, 10, 11, 12), yet here the focus is on God in relation to His status as the supreme God. This brings us to the underlying theological reality of the first commandment: every creature has the obligation to recognize their Creator as supreme and unequaled, solely worthy of worship.

Picture of the globe, signifying God as creator, a fact assumed by the Ten Commandments

This theological reality is built upon Genesis 1, which stresses the fact that God alone is the Creator and He shares glory with no one else (cf. Isa 42:8). An interesting exercise is to read through Genesis 1 and count how many times the word “God” (אלהים) appears.

In the NASB, within 31 verses there are 32 references to God. That is quite significant. What Moses is stressing in Genesis 1 is that there are no other rivals to the Creator God. The God of the Bible is the one who created everything. He is the one who sustains everything. He does not share His glory with other gods because everything is created by Him—nothing else existed apart from Him. He is supreme and nothing else is equal to Him.

Therefore, because God is the Supreme Being, the application that Moses brings out in the first commandment is that Israel is not to bring anything else to the status of the true God. Because of who God is (demonstrated through creation), He is unequaled and completely supreme. Israel is to demonstrate that by how they treat other created things. They are not to worship anything else and elevate that thing to god-like status, because that would not properly reflect the truth about the God of the Bible being supreme.

Likewise, believers are to live that same way. The standard has not changed for us. That is why John warns his readers to keep themselves from idols (1 Jn 5:21). We demonstrate how important God is to us by how we treat other things.  

There are three basic ways we can displace God: time, money, effort. If our time, money, and efforts are not actively engaged in making God a priority, then something is seriously wrong, and we are in violation of a creation principle—that God must always be supreme in our lives.

Is God so important to us that we are willing to sacrifice watching Sunday morning football to worship Him? Is God so important to us that we will neglect indulging in the pleasures of life (eating, TV, movies, etc.). Are we quick to watch TV, yet less inclined to spend time in prayer? In essence, do we treat God like God. If God is not the supreme priority, we need to reorganize our priorities.

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.

One Comment

  • Nathan Ownbey

    You say that the word “LORD,” is not mentioned in verse 3, which is correct. The precursor to the first commandment, though, says, “I am the LORD Your God.” The first commandment could be vv. 3-4, and so He is mentioned by name. The point is correct, however, that God is above all others.

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