Shortly after the people of Israel were rescued from slavery in the land of Egypt, they were given the 10 commandments. The first of those, most people can cite with relative ease;
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” – Exodus 20.2-3
Outside of context, this sounds pernicious and smug. Like God is some kind of jealous, vengeful deity looking to ensure his people stay under his thumb and making this thought so clear as to insert it as his first commandment. God comes across as petty and insecure; desiring worship for himself for it’s own sake without regard to the welfare of his people.
Outside of context, that is.
But context matters. For 400 hundred years, the Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians; by pharoahs that called themselves “gods”. The Israelites struggled theologically trying to hold a monotheistic faith in a polytheistic society and forced through chains and whips to serve an earthly “god” with their bodies while struggling to serve a cosmic God with their whole hearts and lives. 400 years of theological tension, spiritual and physical imprisonment, torture and humiliation; everything challenging a belief that there is only one God while forcibly serving a second. Now? Those days were suddenly, dramatically, miraculously (Dead Sea) gone.
Put in context, the first commandment to the Israelites sounds more like this:
“I AM indeed the Lord your God! I am not dead and gone. I pulled you out of Egypt; out of slavery into glorious freedom. From this point forward, you will have no other gods but the Freedom God; the other gods you were forced to serve, have no hold on you any more. The God who releases you from bondage into a glorious future full of promise and opportunity is now your God and the only God you will serve from this day forward.”
Powerful stuff for a people now free; their old masters are dead. They are alive to serve the master that offers them freedom, promise and a life of joy and abundance; not ease and peace but that’s another blog for another time.
So if this commandment is to be relevant to your life, then what now? Who are your “gods” and “masters”? With what kind of confidence can you say that you have been released from slavery and bondage BY a God of freedom and now serve ONLY a God of freedom? To what degree is your life your own? Your time your own? Your service to God alone?
Masters are tempting. The people of Israel complained no less than seven times while in the wilderness that it would be better were they to return to Egypt. Freedom is tricky, messy and often uncomfortable. But always preferred to slavery (or should be).
The church is not a nation in the same way the Israel was and so working out this freedom requires some work. But it’s work worth doing.
Life’s too short to serve other masters. Be free. Start today.