After 400 years of captivity in Egypt it is not surprising that the people of God picked up many bad habits. Worst among those habits was the worship of idols. We know from various Scriptures that following her miraculous deliverance from captivity Israel carried with her into the wilderness the gods of Egypt. So God set about correcting this vile practice.
In the first of the Ten Commandments God established His singular authority over the people and called them to exclusive loyalty and worship. After announcing His gracious disposition toward His people (Exodus 20:1-2) God commanded the first principle of covenant loyalty: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).
The first commandment is unique in the ancient world. God commanded exclusive worship and in doing so simultaneously announced that there are no other gods. There is no god but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This was a radical idea in the ancient world. The sinful mind of man cannot conceive of a cosmos populated by a single Creator and Sovereign God. But it is this one and only God who thunders forth from Sinai; who commands the loyalty of His people.
The First Commandment stands today as surely as it did so many generations ago. Idolatry is a heinous sin. And while contemporary westerners may flatter ourselves with the idea that we have rid ourselves of the vulgar idolatries of primitive cultures we are no less awash in a pantheon of our own making. Rather than Baal or Ashteroth or Dianna our gods are more pervasive and addictive: money, sex, applause, comfort, security, success, and all the other things that command our affection and trust.
God stated that His chief intention in delivering His people was so that they would worship Him. Previously their worship had been corrupted by the inclusion of idols. Such practices not only robbed God of glory but did violence of the souls of His people.
The command to have no other gods but God is an invitation to salvation. As the preamble (Exodus 20:1-2) makes clear this God who commands our worship is also the God who delivers us out of slavery. He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who sent the Holy Spirit to abide with His people forever. He is the God who by grace alone reconciles idolaters to Himself through the dying and rising of Christ.