The First Commandment is recorded in Exodus 20:3: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” It tells us to put God first.
What is the First Commandment?
God began the 10 Commandments this way: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3).
First Commandment Catholic and Jewish
Since the Bible doesn’t number the 10 Commandments, several numbering systems have developed. The one we give above is also accepted by most Protestants. The Catholics and Lutherans expand the First Commandment to include what we call the Second Commandment, found in Exodus 20:4-6, about not having idols. We believe this can serve to reduce the emphasis on the command against idols.
Some Jewish sources list only verse 2 as the First Commandment. We consider this just the prologue, since it does not include a command.
See “The 10 Commandments and God’s Way of Life” for more on these numbering systems.
What does the First Commandment mean?
“You shall have no other gods before Me” means we must put God first in our lives. He is more important than anyone or anything else.
God loves us deeply, and so we should love Him with all our hearts.
The First Commandment and the great commandment
This First Commandment sets the tone for the first four commandments, which can be summarized as, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). Jesus Christ called this summation the great commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).
The First Commandment and Jesus’ example
Jesus set the example of putting God first. Even after fasting for 40 days, He responded to Satan’s temptation by saying, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).
Living by every word of God involves a commitment to always listen to what God teaches us in the Bible and not to lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).
In facing Satan’s temptations, Jesus also quoted two other passages from Deuteronomy.
When Satan misapplied Psalm 91 to encourage Jesus to jump off the temple, Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not tempt the LORD your God” (Matthew 4:7). We are not to treat God like a genie to do our bidding and protect us even if we do something foolish.
Satan again tried to tempt Jesus to immediately receive the kingdoms of the world without having to go through the struggles ahead, including the crucifixion. Satan said he would give all this if Jesus would “fall down and worship me” (verse 9).
Jesus replied, “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10; quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13).
Jesus expounded on this when He pointed out that we can’t serve God and serve the god of materialism (Matthew 6:24). He said our focus and priority must be to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33).
The First Commandment reminds us of God’s greatness and how we should respond
The First Commandment is a reminder to focus on the awesome power and majesty of our Creator God. God’s power was on display when He thundered these commandments from Mount Sinai.
“Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off” (Exodus 20:18).
Respect and awe of God’s power is not a bad thing. Moses told the people the result that our loving Creator wanted: “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin’” (Exodus 20:20).
Wise King Solomon explained, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
And Jesus Christ put things in perspective for His disciples: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). We humans tend to fear other people we can see and forget the Almighty God we can’t see.
The right type of fear of God is not terror or torment, but reverence and deep respect that recognizes God’s almighty power and puts God first.But Christ followed this up with a discussion of our awesome God’s purpose and love for us. The God who notices every sparrow that falls and who knows the number of hairs on our head tells His faithful followers, “Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31).
The right type of fear of God is not terror or torment, but reverence and deep respect that recognizes God’s almighty power and puts God first. This healthy respect should grow into a deep appreciation of God’s love and His laws and way of life. We must grow from obeying God out of fear to obeying God out of love (1 John 4:18; 5:3).
First Commandment violations by not putting God first
There are many pitfalls and temptations that can lead us to disobey the First Commandment. This commandment is not just about pagan gods and false religions. Anything that we put as higher priority than the true God causes us to sin.
Pride, that common human failing, breaks this command by putting self above God.
As James wrote: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:6-10).
We need to seek God’s help to see things from God’s perspective—to get outside our own selfish worldview.
The Bible also warns of the common human failings of forgetfulness and neglect (Deuteronomy 8:11-19). Both good times and bad times can test our commitment to put God first. How we respond in our trials shows Him whether we always put God first.
More passages to study about the First Commandment in the Bible
The Bible amplifies the First Commandment in a number of passages. Here are a few:
“But you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and cut down their wooden images (for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God)” (Exodus 34:13-14).
God loves us so much, He is jealous of anyone or anything that will fool us or cheat us of a real relationship with Him. See more about what the Bible means by jealous in our article “Jealous God: What Does That Mean?”
God also tells us that He sent His prophets to warn us not to break the First and Second Commandments: “Do not go after other gods to serve them and worship them, and do not provoke Me to anger with the works of your hands; and I will not harm you” (Jeremiah 25:6).
But people then and now have not listened, and our longsuffering God, though slow to anger, warns us of His righteous, controlled wrath. The Bible clearly points to the coming Day of the Lord as a time when His wrath will be powerfully displayed to fulfill His long-term purposes. Thankfully, that time of wrath will be followed by a beautiful time of peace. (Learn more by searching on this site for articles about the wrath of God and about the Millennium.)
The Bible also tells the story of how even the pagan Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar learned about the power and uniqueness of the true God. He cast three followers of God into a superheated furnace for not bowing down to an image he set up. Then he saw that they weren’t being burned up! When they came out, not even a hair on their heads was singed.
So Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!
“Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this” (Daniel 3:28-29).
“No other gods before Me” in the New Testament
In the New Testament, Jesus also stressed the importance of putting God first, before all the things we grasp for in this life. Just before the famous passage where He told us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), He said:
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
“Mammon” is an uncommon word in English. It means “material wealth or possessions especially as having a debasing influence” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary).
According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, mamonas was “a common Aramaic word for ‘riches.’” Jesus was not referring to the mere “possession of money, but the unshared service of it as a slave serves his owner. … Ultimate loyalty belongs to God alone” (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, “Mammon”).
For further study of all the commandments, read the article “What Are the 10 Commandments?”