Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other Gods before Me.”
I remember as a teenager reading this. The preposition banged around in my head. Was it “before Me” in a list kind of sense? Was it “before Me” as in front of me? My instamatic idol factory of a brain was kicking out apostasy more quickly than M & M assembly line kicks out colors.
It was years later, translating this text, that it came back to me with a renewed righteous force. The word translated as “before” was the Hebrew phrase “in the face of.” Sometimes the “face” word is translated Presence. When this phrase gets translated in relationship to God, it gets less “prepositional” and more tricky. The basic grammatical form takes on new vigor and vitality. So what hit me was translating it like this “You shall have no other Gods in My Face.”
A new immediacy and intimacy, a new convicting power hit my soul. This wasn’t casual or abstract anymore. I realized, with a sense of fear, that there simply wasn’t any impersonal or abstract sin here. There wasn’t an impersonal or abstract God to sin against! When Moses wrote this it strikes me how it must have had a visceral, immediate, and intimate power. Moses was the one who spoke to Him “face to face.” He knew what it meant down to his toes. The finger of God had etched this in front of him. On stone. In his face. This means that fear can now give way to intimacy. This is what Christ meant when He said “he who has seen Me has seen the Father.” This command could now finally be fully fulfilled in Jesus.
One NT equivalent of this command would be “there is no other Name under heaven by which you may be saved.” (Acts 4:12) We become law keepers the moment we fully put our trust in Christ! With nothing else in His Face. Now intimacy is possible. Now all the commands hang together, and the Face of the Holy One shines on us and makes us holy. Intimacy with God is all our work. We see now that sin is always in His Face. It’s always personal. A new hunger for holiness comes in and a new joy in prayer and worship invades.
Look at us, dear Father! Stare at us Lord Jesus! Teach us not to look away, or drag any unholy and ugly thing into our field of vision. Your shining smile is an answer to all our prayers. Hear us as we ask for You to look at us, turn Your radiant face on San Francisco and our whole generation, turn us now to look at You – with not one idol in the corner of our eye. In Christ.