Tim Barnett responds to two atheist challenges to the command to “have no other gods before me.”
Atheist: So, you know the Ten Commandments? Well, you want to go through them real quick? Okay, so commandment number one. The first one’s got to be something universal like love and treat everyone with respect, right? No. It’s “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” Oh, so Christians believe in multiple gods, then? No, no, no. They only worship this God. Well, why does God have to say “no other gods before me”? It kind of implies you can worship other gods after you worship this one. That seems really insecure.
Tim: This video offers two challenges to the first commandment. First, he says the command to “have no other gods before me” implies you can worship other gods, to which I say, yeah, that’s the whole point. Now there’s some disagreement about what’s meant by “other gods.” Some take it to mean anything that’s worshiped as god, like an idol, but “other gods” might refer to lesser spirit beings. The Hebrew word for “god” or “gods” is “Elohim.” Over 2,000 times, “Elohim” refers to Yahweh, the unique, one, true, Creator God of everything, but sometimes that same word “elohim” refers to other lesser spirit beings. Like in Deuteronomy 32:17, demons are referred to as “elohim.”
Now, making the same distinction, the apostle Paul says there are many so-called gods in Heaven and on earth. Yet, for us, there is one God, the Father, who made everything. So, whether this command refers to things being worshiped as god or real spirit beings worshiped as god or both, it doesn’t undermine the claim that Yahweh is the one true God who alone is worthy of worship.
Second, he says this claim makes God seem insecure. After all, why does God need to say “don’t worship anyone but me”? Well, for starters, God didn’t need it. The Israelites did. They had just escaped Egypt, who worshiped a pantheon of gods. So, God reminds them not to worship any other gods but him. Second, worshiping God is right because God is worthy of worship. He deserves it, and we ought to give him what he deserves. But it’s not merely a duty. It’s a delight. As C.S Lewis says, we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment. Third, worshiping something unworthy of worship has bad real-world implications. Just read the Old Testament. People were burning their children as an act of worship to Molech. Bottom line, this command is for our good, not God’s. It’s because God loves us and wants what’s best for us.