You shall not have any other gods in my face!

The Hebrews did not work with abstract ideas; truth is always made vivid by concrete ideas or “motifs” ─ images from nature. So it is here with the Ten Commandments, beginning with the first one. The prepositional phrase often translated “before me” can literally be translated “in my face” (`al-pānāy). I always look on in fascinated horror when angry baseball managers, after chewing tobacco for hours on a hot summer day, stick their faces nose to nose with the umpires and scream at them at the top of their lungs. We use the metaphor “in your face” often in our sports culture when someone humiliates an opponent. We do not like it when someone we do not want gets in our face. On the other hand, we love it when loved ones get in our face! The first commandment has to do with the “face” of God.

Concentrated on our faces are the five senses, making the face the most sensitive place on our bodies. Of course, God does not have a “face” so to speak, like we do, but the Bible has much to say about the “face” of God. Our faces somehow reflect a divine reality. Some theologians think that the human face is the one part of our bodies that reflect most the image of God. Be this as it may, the commandment, seen in this light, is clear. When we love something transient and earthly as ultimate, in place of God, we are actually sticking that thing in the face of God and saying, “this is my God!” This, of course, is offensive to God. Since we are made in His image, we are made exclusively for Him. We are the only ones that are made “to be in God’s face.” Earthly things, no matter how good they may be, cannot be placed between us and the face of God.

Everything transpires before the face of God. In fact, to see the face of God is the ultimate of human experiences. It is what Moses most dearly wants to see (Ex. 33:20). The face of God is terrifying on the one hand (Rev. 1:16), yet transforming on the other hand, for “we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:32). When the Children of Israel were blessed by their priest, they received the words “may His face shine upon you” (Numbers 6:25). In the Psalms, when God hides His face, everything becomes a spiritual night. When He invites us back, He opens His face to us (27:8-9). In this life we see God only through a dark glass, but in the end of our journey, “we shall see Him face to face” (I Cor. 13:12). Salvation is to see the face of God.

The first commandment is the negative of the great positive commandment in Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all…” To love God is not to place anything temporal or created “in His face.” It is the commandment of competition. God is sensitive; he doesn’t like competing with things that cannot even begin to compare with Him, whether they are material things, persons, family members, or even spiritual things. What a joy it is to have this commandment in our spiritual possession! Oh, how we can meditate on this the whole day long; it gives us life! It informs us who we are, and who God is!

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