THOU SHALT HAVE
GODS BEFORE ME
You shalt have
other gods before Me.
is: You shall have Me alone as
God. You shall not make for
any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above,
or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the
You shall not bow down to them and serve them.
Briefly stated, this means that We should fear, love, and
trust in God above all things. If you truly have faith in Christ, then
you have the True God. On the other hand, if you do not have faith in
then you do not have the true God; for faith and God go together. A god
is that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to
refuge in all distress. For that reason, that in which you place your
is your god.
Therefore, the intent of this commandment is to require true
faith in Christ. Faith that clings to the Triune God alone, looks to
alone for every blessing, and trusts in Him alone for help in every
Far too many people think God is pleased with them just
everything is going well in their lives, or because they have a lot of
money and possessions. Earthly wealth gives men a false sense of
Such men have a false faith and, therefore, a false god -- Mammon by
Their trust is not in the True God, but in their money and possessions.
Those are the things on which they set their heart. This is also the
common idol on earth. On the other hand, those who lack money often
doubts about their salvation, or are despondent and bitter, as if they
had no God. This glorification of money and the things that it can buy
sticks and clings to our nature,even to the grave.
Whoever trusts and boasts that he possesses great skill,
power, favor, friendship, and honor also has a god, but not the true
only God. This appears again when you notice how presumptuous, secure,
and proud people are because of such possessions, and how despondent
they no longer exist or are withdrawn. Therefore I repeat that the
explanation of this point is that to have a god is to have something in
which the heart entirely trusts.
Since a person's god is that in whom he trusts, devotion to
the saints, as taught by the Papacy, is false worship. Under the
if any one had a toothache he fasted in honor of St Apollonia. If he was
afraid of fire he chose St. Lawrence as his helper in need. If he
pestilence he made a vow to St. Sebastian or Rochio. There were a
number of such abominations, where every one selected his own saint,
him, and called to him for help in distress. Such false worship belongs
in the same class as that of sorcerers and magicians, whose idolatry is
most gross, and who make a covenant with the devil in the hope that he
will give them money, help them in love-affairs, preserve their cattle,
or restore lost possessions, etc.. All such people fail to place their
trust in the true God. They neither seek His mercy nor expect anything
good from Him.
Thus this commandment requires us to place our confidence
in God alone and trust in no one else. We cannot take God with our
We take Him with our heart by clinging to Him in faith, trusting in
and looking to Him in every need. For this reason, He wishes to turn us
away from everything else that exists outside of Him, and to draw nigh
unto Him, for He is the only eternal good. He alone can give you
and pour out upon you all good things.
Only when we so place our confidence in God, trusting in
and Christ alone for salvation are we able to honor or worship God in a
way that is pleasing to Him. He commands such worship under penalty of
eternal wrath. Rather than be torn from Him, we should risk and be
to disregard everything on earth. How far short the world falls on the
matter. You can easily see how the world practices only false worship
idolatry, for every one has set up as his special god those things he
to for blessings, help, and comfort. We can see this illustrated in the
lives of the heathen. Those who put their trust in power and dominion
Jupiter as the supreme god. Those who were bent upon riches, happiness,
pleasure, and a life of ease worshiped Hercules, Mercury, Venus or
Women with child worshiped Diana or Lucina, and so on. They made a god
of those things they trusted in for comfort, so that in which they put
their faith became their god. They are often sincere, but they are
They have a false faith, for they have not trusted in the One True God.
Their self-invented notions and dreams of God became their idol, and
put their trust in that which is altogether nothing. Likewise, those
trust in science deny God, or invent a god who used evolution. All
is the same, for idolatry does not consist only of erecting an image
worshiping it, but of placing ones trust in something other than God.
lost seek consolation from creatures, saints, or devils, but they do
care for God, look to Him for help, or believe that all good they
comes from Him.
There is another type of false worship prevalent in the world.
It is a false worship that concerns the conscience alone, a false
that seeks help, consolation, and salvation through works. Those who
this false worship would wrest heaven from God by their works. They
to put God in their debt by tithing, praying, fasting, and attending
They trust in such things and are unwilling to receive anything from
as a gift. They would have God serve them, as if He were their debtor
they His landlord. Such devotion to works is just another way in which
men attempt to reduce God to an idol who will do their bidding, while
to make themselves His master.
The important thing to stress when teaching this commandment
is that we are to trust in God alone, look to Him alone, and expect
good from Him as we would from a loving Father. We should understand
it is He who gives us our body, our life, our food, our drink, our
our health, our protection, our peace, and all necessities both
and eternal. He also preserves us from misfortune, and if any evil
us He delivers and rescues us. All the good that we receive comes to us
from Him alone, and it is by His grace that we are delivered from evil.
For that reason, it is fitting that our word, "God" comes from the
"good" -- elegantly expressing the fact that He is the only and eternal
source of all good; the source of every blessing.
For even though we experience much good from men, whatever
we receive by God's command or arrangement is received from God. For
parents, our rulers, and our neighbors have received from God the
to do us good, therefore any good we receive at their hands does not
from them but through them from God. Men are only the hands, channels,
and means whereby God gives all things. He gives to the mother
and milk to offer to her child and corn and all manner of produce from
the earth for nourishment. All of those things are blessings of God
no man could produce in and of himself.
Therefore, that all good might be acknowledged as God's gift
and thanks rendered to Him for it, we should never presume to take or
anything except as God has commanded. For that reason, we should never
refuse what is given to us according to God's command, nor should we
to gain by ways and means other than those God has commanded. To do so
would not be receiving from God, but seeking of ourselves.
Everyone should realize the importance of this commandment
and take it seriously. Those who examine their own heart, being honest
with themselves, will know if their heart clings to God alone or not.
you look to Him alone for salvation, believing, even in want and
that He will make all things work together for your good, then you have
the only true God. If, on the other hand, your heart looks to Mary, the
Saints, or any other thing for help while fearing that God wants your
then you have an idol, a false god.
In order to make it clear that He will not have this
thrown to the winds but will most strictly enforce it, God has attached
to it a terrible threat, and a beautiful, comforting promise both
of which are to be impressed upon young people, that they may take it
and remember it.
[Exposition of the
Appendix to the First Commandment.]
For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity
of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation
them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love
and keep My commandments.
Although these words relate to all the commandments (as we
shall hereafter learn), they are joined to this chief commandment
it is vitally important for us to have the right foundation. If our
rests on the right foundation everything else will be right. On the
hand, if it rests on a wrong foundation then everything else will be
These words impress upon us God's wrath against all who do not trust in
Him and His grace which is freely extended to all who trust in His
The fact that His anger does not cease until the fourth generation --
His blessing and goodness extend to many thousands -- should be a
to all who lapse into a false security and commit the final resting
of their soul to chance. It should likewise be a warning to those
who think that their way of living does not make any difference. If men
turn from God, He will have vengeance and will not cease to be angry
the fourth generation, even if that means their utter extermination.
He is to be feared and not to be detested.
History is filled with demonstrations of this truth. The Bible
and everyday experience provide us with many examples. From the
God has uprooted all idolatry. His judgement upon those who reject Him
has fallen upon both heathen and Jews, and false worship continues to
before the power of His Word. For that reason, all who remain therein
finally perish. The rich, powerful, and proud worldlings who are secure
in their riches and care less if God is angry at them shall be
with all in which they trusted. They shall suffer the same fate as all
others who have thought themselves secure or powerful, yet died without
Since God does not always destroy such hardened souls
they often assume that God is ignorant or does not care about such
Yet He will deal them a smashing blow that will extend even unto their
children's children; so that every one may take note and see that this
is no joke to Him. Those who persist in their defiance and pride are
ones He is speaking of when He says, "Who hate Me". They will not
to what is preached or said to them. Nor will they amend their ways
the punishment begins. When they are reproved they become angry and
making themselves even more deserving of God's wrath, as we see
daily in the behavior of bishops and princes.
However, as terrible as these threatenings are, God's grace
is greater. Those who cling to God alone have the sure promise of His
in Christ. If the warning of His wrath is powerful, the promise of His
mercy is even more powerful. Those who cling to God alone can be sure
He will show them mercy, and His blessing will extend to their children
and children's children even to the thousandth generation and beyond.
a great promise ought to impel us to trust ourselves fully to God's
and grace. Who could reject His offer knowing that in Christ we have
temporal and eternal good?
Everyone should take this promise seriously, and realize that
it is not merely the word of man but the sure Word of God. Every
of heaven belongs to those who heed God's commandments, admit their
and place their trust in His promise of mercy. In contrast, those who
to hear God's commandments shut out the truth and deny their need of
mercy. On the day of judgement they will receive only wrath and
Therefore, it is a question either of eternal blessing, happiness, and
salvation or of eternal wrath, misery, and woe. What great comfort it
to know that God so kindly promises to be ours with every blessing, and
to protect and help us in all need.
But, alas! The world believes nothing of this, nor regards
it as God's Word, because it sees those who profess to trust in God
poverty or find it difficult to make ends meet; while those who serve
have power, favor, honor, possessions, and every comfort in the eyes of
the world. These words teach us that we should not base our judgements
on such outward appearances. We must realize that God's Word does not
or deceive, but must come true.
What is gained in the
long run by those who devote all of
energy to amassing wealth? Can you tell me of any who have not wasted
toil and labor? What have they finally attained? We often hear of men
have gained great wealth yet have never found happiness. In the end all
that they have accumulated is dispersed and scattered, never reaching
third generation. There are many examples of this in history. Older
are often personally aware of such a situation. Ponder the folly of
people and put God first in your life.
Saul was a great king who had everything going for him. He
was a godly man who had been chosen by God to rule Israel. However,
he let his heart decline from God and put his trust in his crown and
he lost everything, including his own life, so that none of his
David, on the other hand, was a poor, despised man, hunted
down and chased so that he was in constant danger; yet he remained and
became king in spite of Saul -- for God's Word had to come true, since
God cannot lie or deceive. Therefore, do not allow the devil and the
to deceive you with their show, which indeed remains for a time, but
From the First Commandment we learn that our faith must be
in God alone because He will not tolerate those who put their faith in
another. We should commit our lives to Him and trust in Him for every
while using the things which He has given us to provide for our needs,
as a shoemaker might use an awl, without allowing any of those things
become our idol. Let this suffice with respect to the First
which we have had to explain at length, since it is of chief importance
because, as before said, where the heart is rightly disposed toward God
and this commandment is observed, all the others follow.
[The above explanation is
upon and closely follows Martin
Luther's explanation of the First Commandment.]