Thou Shalt Not: Exodus 20 1–3


And God spoke all these words (20:1,2) These are words from God. That simple truth lies at the heart of everything. It explains why the ’10 Commandments’ are not ‘10 bits of advice’. It spells death to the relativism ‘that you can have your standards but I’ll have mine’.

These are absolutes, but not impersonal ones. ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery (20.2). At the heart of the Commandment lies a personal relationship between God and His people. He reveals Himself, uses His personal name, and tells who He is and not just what He has done. He has revealed Himself in history and now He reveals Himself, as He speaks, to be a moral God. I cannot be true to His revelation of Himself and divorce God from morality. He is speaking to those whom He has loved, rescued and redeemed through the Exodus. Omit 20:2 (as those lists on walls of churches often do) and we can handle these commands in very dangerous ways. They are not given to tell us how to get right with God but to people already rescued by Him. They reveal how redeemed people ought to live, what it means to be God’s people (1 9-.4-6).

Exodus was just the trailer for the rescue that was to come; a rescue not from slavery to Egyptians but to sin; not from Egypt but from hell. A rescue bought about through the full horror of the cross (John 3:16). That loving God is this loving God who shows what He is like, what pleases Him and what He hates in these words. Rescued people. grateful people, His people will want to live like this.


As David Field puts it “this is pillow talk, not the language of a Solicitor’s office or worse a Police Interview Room’’.

‘You shall have no other gods; before me’ (20.3) It could come out of a wedding service : ‘Will you take … and forsaking all others be faithful … as long as you both shall live’.

To be one of the redeemed people of God is to enter a monogamous, relationship with God. This is the contract or covenant we, enter in to, an exclusive one. To turn to other gods is as devastating as to desert a marriage partner, and as damaging as adultery; which is why it is described in those terms when God’s people do it. (see e.g. Hosea 3: 1, 4:1, 10-12).

This is how New Testament as well as Old Testament people relate to God. Constantly Jesus echoes this same Commandment, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest Commandment’. Matthew 22:34,35,

He too leaves no room for any other gods. He too alerts us to what might shape our minds (books, TV, peer group), capture our hearts (music, sport). demand our strength and energies (career path) and so spirit away our souls. Yet Jesus will accept Thomas’ worship: ‘My Lord and my God’.

To love the Lord my God with all my heart is to enter an exclusive relationship with the God who is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It explains why Christians will always he wary of moves that seem merely to add Jesus to a pantheon of Gods; of a Commonwealth Day Service that seems to make little if any distinction between Jesus the other gods; of a would-be sovereign content to be a defender of faith and not Defender of the Faith; of the dangers in Masonic rituals and New Age syncretism.

Visser t’Hooft, the first General Secretary to the World Council of Churches, was asked what he considered to be the greatest danger to the church. ‘Syncretism’, he replied. ‘It is a for more dangerous challenge to the Christian church than atheism is ever likely to be’.

That is why the Commandants provide a needed reminder to Christians of their marriage vows.

Hugh Palmer is on the staff team of Christ Church, Fulwood, in the diocese of Sheffield