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The First Commandment

Aseret Hadiberot -

The First Commandment


I am Adonai Your God.

Exodus 20:2a

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Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh


When the Jews exclaimed at Sinai, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD speaks we will do" [Exod. 19:8]), they signified an abandonment to God's will for their lives. In other words, they first chose obedience to God's voice before they understood the language (or terms) of the covenant. Only later, after Moses wrote the book of the covenant (sefer habrit) did they add v'nishmah (and we will hear/obey [Exid. 24:7]). The Jews first chose to do whatever the LORD commanded and then hoped to "hear" these words in order to understand their meaning.  As Anselm said, we believe in order to understand.  The decision to serve God comes first, and then comes understanding.

According to Jewish tradition, God created the universe itself on the condition that Israel accepted the Torah. Each of us is called to likewise order our lives as if the existence of the universe depends upon our faith. Abraham was declared tzaddik on account of his faith, and redemptive history depended upon his obedience.

And God spoke all these words, saying: (Ex 20:1)

"All these words"

Notice that the prelude to the giving of the Ten Commandments begins with the statement that "God spoke all these words." Jewish Midrash states that the Ten Commandments were spoken all at once, in a single divine utterance, and then repeated one-by-one to the Israelites. The earth was said to have been completely silent, and even the waters from rivers ceased flowing.

Note further that the LORD identified Himself as Elohim (not YHVH) when proclaiming them, indicating His role as Judge of the universe.  The phrase "all these words" is said to be pregnant with all that the Judge of the universe ever intended to communicate to humanity, including all the other mitzvot that would later be codified in the Torah. And unlike some of the other commandments given to Israel, God used the second person singular (not plural) for the verbs throughout: you (singular) shall not steal. Every Jew heard the Divine Voice personally (as well as his or her descendants), and every Jew is said to have been present at Sinai.  Anyone who disregards these commandments does so at his or her own peril.

Mitzvah HaRishona

The first commandment is the most important of them all, for from it derives the authority for all of the others. The statement, anokhi Adonai eloheykha, "I am the LORD your God" includes the idea that there is only one God, who is Judge and Master of the universe.

Note that the word anokhi ("I") is used instead of the more common word ani, suggesting the uniqueness of God. The word eloheykha ("your God") is in the second person singular, rather than in the plural. Each person (individually) must recognize that the God who created him or her is entirely unique, without rival, and entirely sovereign.

There are no mediators in this encounter -- the soul stands before God alone. We know from Exodus 20:18-21 that the Jews were unable to withstand hearing these commandments and asked Moses to be their mediator. Moses, by God's grace, was given the ability to receive the full content of the Torah at Sinai on behalf of Israel, and later Yeshua Himself became the Mediator of the better covenant than that ratified by the elders of Israel at Sinai.

It is interesting that God used the phrase asher hotzeitikha mei'eretz mitzraim ("who delivered you from the land of Egypt") instead of appealing to Himself as Creator of heaven and earth.  Why?  The sages comment that this was to instill a sense of gratitude among the Jews, since they were especially chosen to be delivered by God's direct intervention, and this was unique among all the nations of the earth.  The phrase mibeit 'avadim ("the house of slaves") alludes to the fact that the Egyptians were descendants of Ham (Gen. 10:6), and the Israelites were actually made slaves in a house of slaves.

The First Commandment and Eternal Life...

Do you see how this First Commandment -- to accept and receive the LORD as your God -- implies faith in the resurrection from the dead?  When the LORD says, Anokhi Adonai Elohekha (אָנכִי יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) - "I AM the LORD your God" - he invites you to join the life that He Himself lives, that is, Eternal Life... He is the "Living God" (אֱלהִים חַיִּים), the Source and LORD of all Life.  When you hear "I AM the LORD your God" as personally spoken to you, then you are made a child of eternal promise, and even should heaven and earth melt away in fervent heat, you keep faith that nothing can separate you from the care and love of your heavenly Father (Rom. 8:31-39).

The First Commandment is absolutely basic and fundamental to all else that follows. This is the very first word... "I am your only deliverer, the One who loves and personally choses you..."  Until we are personally willing to accept Adonai as our God, the rest of the commandments are not likely to be obeyed.

The God of Israel is calling us to obey the glorious truth that He alone is our God. Are we willing to obey?

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