Commandment Numero Uno: Not what you think

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Most people, when they consider the Ten Commandments, start in the middle with, “Don’t kill”, “Don’t steal”, etc…

They also think Moses gave the Ten Commandments to the people of Israel on tablets of stone. While true, that was not the first time the children of Israel heard the commandments.

In Exodus 19, the chapter before Exodus 20, which contains the Ten Commandments, the record states that God commanded Moses to purify the people of Israel and bring them to Mount Sinai. The people did so, and Moses went up to the mountain to speak with the Lord before coming down again to face the people. At this point, the Lord God spoke with his own voice to the people of Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments.

Imagine that! We often think Moses acted as an intermediary between God and the people, but here we see that God gave his law first directly to the people, in their own ears, so they could hear his voice. At the end, the people rejected God and told Moses they were too scared to deal with Him. They would rather have Moses be their communicator than God.

This is the sort of being God is. He is infinitely powerful. But He is trying to reach us. He wants to speak to us with His own voice directly into our very souls. But how do we treat God? We send Him away, and want someone else to bear that burden. We don’t want to be in contact with Him.

Nevertheless, the awful reality of God is reality. It is only awful when we refuse to accept it. The moment we accept God for what He is and what He wants to do, we can see clearly and act properly.

God’s first message to the people of Israel could’ve been “You Idiots!” The people of Israel, up to that point, had complained and whined and rejected pretty much everything God did for them. The moment he would give them one thing, they would whine for something else.

Or perhaps God could’ve said, “Look how powerful I am! I created the heavens and the earth! I rule over everything!”

That’s not what he said, and that’s not what we should remember God for.

Instead, he said:

I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

Think of that! This is a God who wants to be remembered as a great liberator. He took us out of bondage and slavery, and brought us out so we can be free. I hope that rather than remembering God as the Creator God, or the Destroyer God, or the God of Justice or even the God of Mercy and Love and Kindness, we remember that he is the Liberator God. His first act with us was to grant us our free will. We have the power to choose between good and evil. It is our choice and our choice alone, and he has already moved heaven and earth to ensure we all get that choice.

If there is a reason why God is distant, it is because we want Him to be. He will not come where He is not invited. He will not act unless He is asked.

And so, in that context, a Divine Being of Supreme Power and Omnipotence, speaking directly to His people “I liberated you”, this is the first commandment:

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

The utter sublimity of this commandment cannot be exaggerated. After pondering on it for decades, I still feel like I have a lot to learn. Let me share some of my insights.

First, what god could possibly be greater than a Liberator God? Can there be any greater act than saving us from ourselves? Can there be anything more meaningful? Other cultures and religions talk of gods who created things and gave birth to mankind and did amazing things and such, but really, why should anyone care about any of that? It is the gods who saved people that give us reason to pay attention and worship. Only that sort of god has any meaning and any relevance in our lives.

Next, why would we want to place anything in front of that aspect of God? Think for a moment with me. Suppose you are an atheist and you believe that gods are things we invent for whatever reason and aren’t real. OK, let’s invent a god. Let’s make it a really, really good god, something that we would actually want people to admire and worship and honor and respect and model. Can anything be better than liberty, a god who grants liberty and turns slavery into freedom? This is, after all, what I think most people buy into atheism for: They think they are being freed from the shackles of misinformation and tradition by adopting no gods at all. In a way, aren’t all atheists really worshipers of the God of Liberty? Isn’t that the one force of nature they really want to connect to?

And then there’s this: Suppose you had a thousand different gods to choose from. What would you be like if you voluntarily chose something else besides the liberty god as the supreme god? I think there are some things we rightfully rule as right out: death, wealth, pleasure. But what about love? Can love supersede liberty? We often watch the tragedies of people who fell in love and became slaves to it, and we silently wish they would break free and instead live their own lives rather than let someone else control theirs. It’s pretty trivial to show how everything is really less important than liberty. As Americans, we rightfully tout freedom, liberty, individual rights and such as what makes us better than anyone else in the world. I mean, England has a queen. Is that really better than liberty?

But there’s this, too. Sometimes, people become gods in our own minds. We mock the Romans for allowing them to think of their Caesars as gods, but do we not also mock people who foolishly put their trust in Napoleon or Hitler or Stalin? If there’s going to be a god we all worship, let it not be any one of us! It seems the moment we place someone on that pedestal, we’re soon going to find our liberty lacking. One of the most serious complaints I had against Barack Obama in 2008 was that people were setting him up as some sort of savior when he had no power to save. What is going to happen when they finally realize they have misplaced their trust? I similarly feel sorry for those who put their trust in any politician or public figure.

Let me summarize:

  • The most important aspect of God in our lives is the fact that he liberates us.
  • There is no more important aspect of anything that is superior to liberty.
  • We certainly don’t want to put any person ahead of that aspect.

This is what God is truly asking. He’s not asking us to worship God. He is saying, “Don’t put things in front of me” and by “me” he means “that Thing that saved you from slavery”. So he’s saying, “Don’t put things ahead of your liberty”.

The first commandment is definitely not, “Worship me!” It’s simply this: Don’t worship anything more than your liberator and your liberty. Those are the most important things, and you need to hold on to those things jealously.

The Ten Commandments are not a recipe for restriction and pain. That’s not the point, and that’s not the effect. It is a recipe for liberty, and preserving liberty, and gaining liberty. If libertarians could agree on what key behaviors would lead to maximum liberty, it would be the Ten Commandments. If atheists could agree on what is wrong with religion, they would write the Ten Commandments to prevent us from doing those bad things.

This is the message God chose to share with the people of Israel. This is the preface to the Ten Commandments and this is the first commandment, the most important of them all.

I freed you. Don’t let anything get in front of that.

Need I say more?

PS. I should add one note: The people of Israel rejected this God. How often do we see people, in the very moment we work a miracle in their lives such that they become free for the first time, that they turn back to their bondage? This is the sad state of humanity, and something we must continually remember. Rather than mock the Israelites, why don’t we recognize how we are doing that to ourselves? How we jeopardize our own liberty by our own actions, and squander the precious gift of liberty we have been given by forces seen or unseen?

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One Response to “Commandment Numero Uno: Not what you think”

  1. Jason Says:

    Honest question… I happen to know you’re not Jewish. I mean not at all Jewish. Not even Semitic. You’re a tall Nordic white guy of Germanic origin. You have nothing whatsoever to do with the house of Israel. I can’t stress this enough… Nothing at all.

    Let’s assume the bible is 100% true. God exists and gave the people of Israel (his chosen people) commandments. The fact is that the commandments, and the bible as a whole (even Jesus said at least twice he was only for the Jews), is not for you. It’s for the house of Israel.

    The bible states this literally, like, 100 + times.

    Your ancestors were thousands of miles away in Northern Europe doing their thing when the bible was recorded. God never said in the bible “the house of Israel and the seed of Nordic / Germanic people that reside on mine chilly northern shores to the northwest.”

    The bible states clearly that the bible is for the house of Israel. Not the Asians. Not the blacks. Not Nordic white guys.

    Here are a few examples I found looking at my bible in about 3 minutes:

    Isiah 45:25 – In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

    Genesis 17:7 – And I will establish my covenant between me and thee (Abraham) and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.

    Matthew 10:5 – These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:

    Matthew 10:6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

    Matthew 15:24 – But he (Jesus) answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

    God and Jesus are saying, extremely explicitly and without any ambiguity (in multiple places) that God is in a covenant with Israel and the descendants of the Israelites.

    Not you.

    God explicitly says the bible ain’t for you.

    Honestly, what gives?

    Did you not read the bible? Do you think your Jewish? How do you rectify this incongruity?

    As an outsider it seems weird that so many non-Jews follow the bible. It’s like a football player I don’t know gets a contract with the Seahawks and I just randomly show up to practice and do the wind sprints even though I have no contract and am promised no pay.

    It’s weird.

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