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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

Have No Other Gods

"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

The Decalogue opens with the expression, "I am the LORD your God," suggesting that the One who speaks is the only one; a kind of calling card of the God whom Moses met before the burning bush. On that occasion he had heard, "I am He who is," and later, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:14). The allocution "I am He who am" in the text refers to the divine tetragrammaton (YHWH), a term this is never pronounced by the Hebrews, not even during the reading of the biblical text. The tetragrammaton turns out to be unpronounceable not only because it is composed of only consonants, but also out of a kind of reverence for God. In Hebrew, the term "God" does not exist, but there are only names, attributes of the divine. The tetragrammaton, in fact, does not correspond to a noun noun, but to a verb noun: "hwh, hjh." Rather than a revelation of God's mysterious name, the text affirms only the unreachable and unknowable being of God, a moving present, whose action, however, is visible and operative in history. I am YHWH, thus not an empty unintelligible appellation, but an effective and supreme presence intervening alongside the people with His liberating hand. From this perspective, cognition of God enters into a projection of time. It follows that one does not have an appellation or a way of identifying a figure, but a way of keeping in mind that God is the One who is always near us.

This His being would a priori exclude potential rivals, although immediately afterward the text alludes to them. The "having no other gods" could refer to the polytheistic context, such as that of the writing of the tablets, as well as to the placement of the people in idolatrous territory. The people had come out of the land of Egypt, where they had witnessed and participated in Egyptian cults, whose deities were multiple, one for each reality of human existence, from that of fertility to that of death; one god, therefore, for each circumstance of life. One could assume that in a polytheistic reality the text under consideration is the proclamation of monotheism and, likewise, repute that the Eternal One was saying to this people, "I am the only one and of the others you can do without!" This concept must be considered in connection with the second word, where it is forbidden to make sculptures and images. I will only anticipate the reminder of this in part to point out how the other gods are represented with images, which are nothing but the product of the human mind, an elaboration of it. Can man represent divinity? Everything that he produces with his own hands is the product of what the mind sees and imagines. The image belongs to the imaginary, and what is imaginary is a product of the imagination, so it does not exist!

God is saying, "There are no other gods! Have no others because by doing so you are following your imagination, you are following an image produced by the imaginary potential of your mind. I am the one, your God, the One who brought you out of the land of Egypt." The relationship God establishes with the people is based on a fact, a demonstration: that He has drawn them out of Egypt is an undeniable and incontrovertible fact. That demonstration grafts in a demand for faithfulness, that of having no other gods, as if to say, "You must be faithful to me alone." Unfortunately, reckoning with impatience will instead show unfaithfulness and immediately lead to the making of idols. Chapter 32 of Exodus recounts precisely what happened in the camp during the time Moses had gone up the mountain to receive the Tablets. Moses' delay prompted the people to ask for an idol. The first word goes in the direction of patience, "Remember who I am and what I have done," the next words toward mastering drives and possession. We learn with patience to acknowledge YHWH. Man cannot reproduce his Creator; he can neither visually imagine Him nor represent Him, and any attempt will be detrimental. The Bible teaches this truth from the very first pages. God is knowable never visually and only audibly, always and only through a word. Moses gained His knowledge from hearing a voice speaking to him from a burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). The same chapter 20 begins, "Then God spoke all these words...." God's revelation comes through a word. Therefore, my invitation is to reading and listening to the Word.


Weekly Bible Reading Plan #39

September 18, Proverbs 30-31; 2 Corinthians 11:1-15

September 19, Ecclesiastes 1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:16-33

September 20, Ecclesiastes 4-6; 2 Corinthians 12

September 21, Ecclesiastes 7-9; 2 Corinthians 13

September 22, Ecclesiastes 10-12; Galatians 1

September 23, Songs of Solomon 1-3; Galatians 2

September 24, Songs of Solomon 4-5; Galatians 3

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