Top Ten Words: Hedging our bets — No Other Gods

Top Ten Words: Hedging our bets — No Other Gods

Mar 26, 2015

Top Ten Words

Hedging our bets — No Other Gods

Sermon Series by Pastor Dusty Mackintosh

Next Step Christian Church, Thornton, CO


The first word of the Big Ten commands is to have no other gods beside Yahweh. We don’t often name or personalize our gods, but the human spirit is still prone to pantheism. We worship gods when we trust someone or something else for the Unknown of life. Our covenant with God is such that He owns us, both our known and our unknown: we are His. Breaking this first commandment reveals a lack of trust in God for our future, health, finances, relationships or anything else. We must instead say to our God “I trust you with this.”

The First Commandment

Exodus 20:3

You shall have no other gods before me. (or) You shall have no other gods besides me.

The grammar is vague…but the meaning is clear. You shall have no other gods. None, zip. Gods here can include other spiritual creatures, like angels, and you can believe they exist, but it is obviously a different thing to “have” another god. To worship another being as god. To worship is to declare with our time, attention and wealth that something is worthy. To worship another god, to have another god, then, would be to give time, attention and wealth to a someone or something other than God. But…why would someone do that?

The History of Israel – Paganism

It seems ridiculous…but there is something tremendously attractive to the human spirit in it. Why? Because over and over the people to whom this commandment was first given, the people of Israel, worshipped other gods. Constantly.

Sometimes instead of Yahweh. Sometimes next to Yahweh, one of the bunch. In fact, archaeology in the region finds almost no evidence of monotheistic culture…and that is consistent with the testimony of Scripture. The judges keep pulling the people back to Yahweh, the good kings rise up and tear down the pagan altars and the high places, the prophets condemn the people constantly for their constant worship of other gods. This was the way of the world. They had this national god, and a regional god, and a family god, and a personal god. They incorporated the local gods, and hedged their bets with some goddesses. (Yahweh and his Asherah). They were always “cleaning out the high places” because that’s where they worshipped other gods. This was a major factor in the exile and the returning remnant still struggled with pagan gods. The time of Jesus may actually represent the height of Jewish monotheism, the closest they were getting to this commandment!

All these different gods. Coming from Egyptian paganism, into Canaan paganism, there were gods all around. We see this now as something called “gods of the gaps.” Humanity invents (or adopts) gods as personifications to fill in the parts of the universe they do not understand. How does lightning work? Zeus. Why is one farming season fruitful and another barren? Gods of fertility like Dionysus…who clearly need to be worshipped with drunken orgies.

Are there spiritual realities here? Absolutely. It may start with a spiritual being telling human beings “I am the god of the sun” or people start worshipping the sun.

Or some spiritual entity shows up and says “Yeah, I am that Helios guy,” or “Ra, yeah, that’s me…I’ll take that worship, thank you.” What you end up with is a god in charge of each aspect of life. If you want help or favor in that area of life, make the appropriate sacrifices or worship to the appropriate god. If things are going poorly, you must have made that god angry and you need to appease the god. So what is it in the human spirit that seeks out other gods? What was so incredibly attractive about this setup, which sounds crazy expensive, that generation after generation of Israel adopted new gods to worship beside Yahweh?

The Ten Commandments

Hedging Our Bets

This is my theory, and you can tell me if you have some different ideas. I started listing all the reasons I could think for worshipping other gods:

• Because my neighbors are and I think they are cool,

aka, peer pressure.

• Because my neighbors are brilliant and they clearly

know how life works… I want what they have.

• On the off-chance these gods are real, I don’t want

them angry at me for ignoring them.

• And if they’re real, why not hedge my bets and gain

some favor or advantage in life?

And I think that last potentially sums them all up. I have this area of my life that is known: I own a few things, I have a few skills, I have some time that I pretend is mine to do with as I please. But outside of those narrow boundaries I have the UNKNOWN. And the unknown is scary. If I can trade some of my known, some of my wealth, or my time, or my attention, and I can gain favor or advantage in the unknown, I hedge my bets. I am less afraid. I have a little more confidence or hope in the future. I can’t control the weather or my crops or invading armies or plague or any of a thousand things that can bring me and my family from “making it” to dead and dying. If this guy, or that god can help, yes please. We turn to gods to trade the known for favor or advantage in the unknown.

Our Pantheon of gods

We do this today. I do this. I just don’t use the names today. There are a whole lot of things about my life today and especially my life tomorrow that are “Unknowns”. And to stand in the gap of the unknown, to hedge my bets against the unknown…I am willing to sacrifice some known things.

I am willing to sacrifice hours of my day to work hard so that I can have Job Security. I sock away money to build an Emergency Fund. I contribute funds towards a future life of ease called “Retirement.” I am willing to pay money for health insurance and go to the doctor so that I can have “Health.” I exercise and pay the gym for my Health but also for Energy and Good Looks. How about Fame and Fortune? How about Companionship, Family. How about Long Life? These are all potential gods in my pantheon. We might add to those our forms of Entertainment: Internet, TV, Sports and Video Games. Things which fill our life with enjoyment and distract us from the Unknown, or give it some excitement and adventure.

Anything we look to for favor or advantage in the unknown. Or to say it another way: Anything or anyone we trust with our future.

Taking it to the Crazy

Now there is a version of this that sounds wise and super-spiritual…but is actually stupid:

“I am not going to put my trust in doctors and medicine, God alone is my God and I will trust Him to heal me.”

“I don’t need car or health insurance, my one God will be my provider.”

“I don’t need a job, to work hard, or to get an education, God will provide for me like the sparrow.”

Is it just possible that the God who spoke the cosmos into motion might love to work in and through His creation for your provision? The God who, ridiculously, entrusts you with sharing His gospel, His story, His love with the world… might love to heal you working through doctors and nurses and medical researchers? That He might wish to provide for His sparrow by educational and job opportunities? Receive your blessings from the hand of God and they become opportunities for worship and thanksgiving, not rival gods.

What Are You Trusting

But there is that within our spirit that constantly elevates things into our inner pantheon. Sometimes we talk about “putting something on the throne of your life.” Letting something else rule your life is obviously breaking this commandment…but I think we more often let things sneak in on the side. We trust in God…and

• I trust in God…and some well-padded bank accounts

for my future.

• I trust in God…and scientists will probably fix every-

thing soon anyway. (I love science and scientists, just

not scientism.)

• I trust in God…and my own ability to handle whatever

life throws at me.

Or it could be friends or family…they are your “everything,” they are your “center.” We have the ability to take anything or anyone or any idea and make of it a god—and set it beside, or even above, the LORD, our God.

And this is a major problem…because “you shall have no other gods before (or besides) me.”

Our Broken Relationship — Application

Maybe that convicts you. Maybe something comes to mind that you have been worshipping, that you have been trusting, that you have elevated to a god in your life. We could make a list. Guilt or shame has nothing on you—your sin, guilt and punishment all died on the cross of Jesus. But if the whole point of the 10 commandments is to teach us love, to show us the course of righteousness, this question remains:

What is broken in my relationship with God that I seek other gods? If worship of gods is a question of trust, of hedging our bets to face the Unknown…perhaps what is revealed is a lack of trust. Do I trust God with my future? Do I trust God to provide for me and my family? Am I trusting wealth or insurance or any of a thousand things…or do I see right through the gifts to the Giver and trust Him? How do I learn to trust Him more? To see Him ever glorified in my own heart so no other person or thing compares? So there is no pantheon, no other gods within me…but every moment of my time, every bit of my attention, all of my treasure…in other words all of my worship is His. How do I do that? Building trust often starts with small things. Trust God with the small things. As He is faithful in those, you learn to trust Him in greater things. God is trustworthy and faithful. Say to God, “I trust you with…” I trust you with my finances. I trust you with my kids. I trust you with my job. I trust you with my church.

To worship other gods, you trade the known for favor or advantage in the unknown.

Trust God with all the known and unknown: you are His.

“I am your God, you are my people.” It is ownership.

Having committed yourself to that covenant (and that’s what we do when we take Jesus as Lord—that’s what Lord means), you have nothing to trade to other gods…and you have no need to do so.

Your future is in His hands. Both your known and your unknown are in His hands. The only reason you would seek other gods is a lack of trust or confidence in the God you serve.

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