Bible Basics Explained | Ten Commandments

Day 1 of 6 • This day’s reading


Day 1 | Exodus 20:1-6 | No Other Gods, No Idols

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Kris: Hello and welcome to Bible Basics Explained. My name is Kris Langham, and this is The Ten Commandments. You don’t get much more foundational than this. The Law of Almighty God summed up in ten concise commands. His will for mankind, His clear directions, at the very foundation of righteousness and justice, and no small controversy here three thousand years later—all right here in one chapter: Exodus 20. 

So that’s our topic for the next six days. We’ll cover one or two commandments each day, and we’ll explain them. That’s what Bible Basics Explained is all about. We take some of the most important topics in the whole Bible, find the key verses that get right to the heart of it, and we walk through them together with you. Now for this series, I invited my good friend and fellow Bible teacher, Jonathan Ferguson, to join us. We worked together on the Exodus explained series, but we agreed that this chapter—these Ten Commandments—deserve their own series. 

So to catch you up on the story here, the Israelites have followed Moses and followed God into the wilderness. They are camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai. A thick cloud covers the mountain, and the Lord Almighty has descended to the top of Mt. Sinai in fire. Lightning flashes, thunder shakes, and the voice of God resounds through the valley for all to hear. 

Jonathan: The words that God speaks are known as the Ten Commandments. It is rare in the Bible for God's voice to be heard by all, but these commands are for the world. 

K: The Ten Commandments are moral law—the foundational basics of right and wrong. And to be clear, Mt. Sinai was not the invention of moral law, but the declaration. God gave mankind a conscience from the beginning, and every society in history has displayed a clear sense of morality and justice. But here, the Lord declares His foundational commands.

J: Verse 1:

"And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery'" (Exodus 20:1-2).

So God introduces Himself. This is His law—not Moses's law, and not man-made. And He reminds Israel that He freed them from slavery. That's an important foundation to the Law: because of who God is and what He has done for us, He has the right to command us. And God's will for us is freedom, and the ultimate purpose of the Law will be freedom. 

K: Verse 3:

“You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3).

Commandment number one is foundational. No . . . other . . . gods. Nothing comes before God—He is priority and authority number one. He is foundation, cornerstone, roots, vine, source, maker, Creator, preeminent. If we miss commandment one—if I move the foundation—everything else is dislodged. Morality, justice, equality, truth, love, wisdom—without God preeminent, all of it begins to crack, and fails to answer the simple question: why. Why right or wrong? Why equal rights? Why love? But when we set God as God, we have foundation for everything. 

J: The words before me do not imply that you can have other gods after God. It literally means “in my face.” Sort of like God saying, "Look, I see you. I see everything. That other god you made - I see it right there before me. So get rid of it."

K: And speaking of making gods, verse 4:

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them” (Exodus 20:4-5).

J: For Catholics, this is still Commandment one. The Orthodox and Protestant churches mark it as number two. No idols. Don't carve something to look like a god or represent a god. Historically, some have taken this as a ban on all carvings and statues, but later in Exodus God Himself commands the carving of cherubim images for the ark. Verse five makes it clear that the issue here is carving images to bow down to in worship. That is idolatry.  

K: More arguments have arisen over icons—artistic images of Jesus or the saints. I'll leave that debate to theologians. But if you worship anything other than God, that is by definition idolatry. Any substitute for God. Ephesians 5 explains that any immoral, impure, or greedy person is an idolater. They have replaced God with money, pleasure, knowledge, success, alcohol, drugs, guns, power, anything—even just self. You will know your idol by the altar where you sacrifice.

Early on in my walk with God, I felt called to give up secular music. I didn't understand at the time, but I later realized that music had been my idol. In both joys and sorrows, music was my substitute for prayer and devotion to God. It wasn't the music at issue; it was my worship.  

J: So if worship is the heart of the matter, what is so dangerous about carving an image? I think it comes down to a reversal of order. God made us in His image, we should never attempt to make Him in our image. Carving an image of God sets us as creator and designer.

K: And when we create a god to match our own imaginations, that denigration of God's nature—in turn denigrates us. We reflect what we worship, and idolatry is a downward spiral.

J: And we'll close out our study right there for today. Go ahead and read through all Ten Commandments for yourself here in Exodus 20, and we'll pick it back up at verse 5 tomorrow. 

Next: Read Exodus 20:1-6 

For Thought & Discussion:

1. The very first commandment forbids having any other gods. Why do you think this rule is foundational to all the others?

2. The second commandment forbids idolatry. In the past, idolatry involved carving images to worship. What do you think idolatry looks like in your world today? Pastor Kris gave us a hint: “You will know your idol by the altar where you sacrifice.”

All verses are quoted from the NIV.