Why Are the First Two Commandments Separate?

Why Are the First Two Commandments Separate?

The 10 Commandments were first given from God to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai. At this time, Moses and the Israelites had been freed from slavery under the Egyptians. God had sent Moses to Pharoah asking for the Israelites to be freed. After Pharoah relented, the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, which was parted by God, so they could have a safe and quick passage away from Egypt into the land of Canaan, the promised land. Unfortunately, due to their unbelief, the Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years before they entered the land God had for them.

About 3-4 months after being freed from Egypt, God called Moses and the people to Mount Sinai and it was there that God gave them the 10 Commandments.

God loved the Israelites and as He gave them the 10 commandments, He reminded them that He alone was their God. He cared for them and brought them out of slavery and into freedom. The commandments were a reminder to the people that freedom came with a responsibility. God wanted the best for His chosen people. These commandments were meant to help them live freely, peacefully, and righteously.

But today, when someone reads the first two commandments, they may struggle to understand the difference between them.

“And God spoke all these words: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. 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’” (Exodus 20:1-2).

The first two commandments are certainly similar, as they both establish that God alone is God. However, they are separated into two commandments because they teach two distinct concepts. The first commandment establishes that God should be their only God, while the second commandment highlights that they should not engage in idolatry by making for themselves graven images to worship or bow down to.

What Is the First Commandment?

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

The first commandment God gave to Moses and the Israelites was for them to worship no other gods before Him. Nothing was supposed to come before God in their hearts or lives. God alone was their Lord. God alone was their creator. God alone was the one who loved them and watched over them.

This was important for the Israelites, who lived in a time when they were surrounded by pagans that worshipped many false gods. No matter what, it was crucial that God’s chosen people commit only to God. He alone is worthy of all praise, honor, and glory.

This commandment is vital to following the Lord. The Lord requires that His followers let nothing become their god over God Himself. Believers should not set their hearts or commitments toward any other god, person, or thing. God wants His children to be singleheartedly devoted to Him, not lukewarm or having a divided heart. People can only love and serve one God (see Mathew 6:24).

Related article: Why Is the First Commandment, You Shall Have No Other Gods, Significant?

What Is the Second Commandment?

“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; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

The second commandment God gave to Moses and the Israelites was for them to not make any graven images to bow down and worship. God once again made it clear to His chosen people that He alone was their God. Pagans nearby would create images or statues and worship them; this was common practice in the time of Moses. But God wanted His people to stay away from idolatry. God was setting His people apart. They were to be different. They were to worship the one true God and not make their own graven images which they would then worship or idolize. God wanted them to worship Him, not their depiction of Him or anything else.

God also added to this commandment the reality that anyone would suffer consequences if they hated Him, but those who loved Him would be shown His love and mercy. God stated in this second commandment that, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” God was not meaning that He is jealous of people or has a toxic jealousy that we see when one person longs for what someone else has. God’s jealousy for His people is a passionate love for His creation to be in right relationship with Him. God has always been jealous for His people, and He has desired that people would love Him and follow Him, so that they can enjoy a loving relationship with God and the abundant goodness He has for them. God’s mercy and love is available to anyone who puts their faith and trust in Him.

Related article: 5 Things Christians Need to Know about Idolatry

Why Are the First and Second Commandments Separated?

The first and second commandments are similar in nature, leaving many to wonder why they are separated into two commandments instead of just being one commandment.

Although they are similar, each of these commandments addresses a distinct part of one’s love and devotion to God. The first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” clarifies that God is god alone. There are no others. His people should only serve and follow Him. Humanity has always struggled to keep God first. Many turn away from Him completely. There are plenty of distractions, addictions, and things to acquire that people devote themselves to instead of God. This commandment makes it vividly clear that there is one God and one God only that we should devote our hearts and lives to.

The second commandment builds on this first commandment by asserting that because God is God alone, no one should attempt to make for themselves an image which they would bow down to or worship. We do not worship an image of God or anything else – we worship God alone. Humanity can become obsessed with images or things people create. God is warning His people to not let their created things take the place of Him. He is making it abundantly clear that He alone is worthy of praise.

Following God’s Plan

The 10 commandments given to Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai were God’s gift to His people. The commandments served as laws that would guide the Israelites to live well in freedom and in the promised land they were headed to. God wanted the best for His chosen people, and He wants the best for His followers.

Part of enjoying God’s goodness and hopeful plans is to follow the commands that God gives. The first two commandments may seem very similar, but they are two separate commandments which make two clear distinctions: warning the people against devotion to any other God and warning the people against making images and engaging in idolatry. For God, these are two separate issues and matters that must be taken to heart by His followers.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/allanswart

Pamela Palmer 1200x1200Pamela Palmer is a writer, speaker, and the founder of upheldlife.com, the platform on which she produces devotionals and faith resources to inspire keeping faith at the center of life. She is in pastoral ministry and gets to share in the emotional and spiritual lives of others. She lives and thrives on Jesus, coffee, and music. She is the author of Living a Deeper Faith: Nurture Your Relationship with God and Live a Faith-Fueled Life. Pamela married the perfect man for her and they have two beautiful kiddos. She has been published on herviewfromhome.com, and you can follow her at upheldlife.com or on Facebook.com/upheldlife.