Do gods exist? 22 The Lord thy God?

Picture adapted from Rembrant’s Moses Smashing the Tablets of the Law

The first commandment of the Christian god is that you should worship only him or else be stoned to death.

According to the Bible, the first commandment is

“I am the Lord thy God, who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Ex 20:2-3, Deut 5:6-7)

Outside of quoting actual Bibles, today’s Christian churches typically shorten this to some variation of “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.”

They do not focus on the part about their god bringing them out of Egypt, but in the Bible story, this claim was essential to establish the credibility of this god with the tribe of Moses.

People of this era worshipped many gods, including the sun, the moon and other celestial bodies, and this claim let the Israelites know they were dealing with a very powerful god, who had already intervened in earthly affairs on their behalf.

How had the god intervened on their behalf? According to the Bible, the god had repeatedly sent terrible plagues on the Egyptians (Ex 7-11)

  • He turned the rivers of Egypt into blood
  • He smote the territory of Egypt with frogs
  • He turned the dust of Egypt into lice
  • He corrupted Egypt with swarms of flies
  • He killed all livestock owned by Egyptians
  • He caused all Egyptians top have boils
  • He sent thunder and hail and fire onto Egypt
  • He sent locusts to eat every tree in Egypt
  • He made Egypt dark for three days

These plagues were supposedly intended to convince Pharoe to let the Israelites go. But after each plague, this same god had deliberately “hardened Pharoe’s heart”, specifically to ensure that Pharoe would not let the Israelites go, in order that he could move on to sending the next plague.

The final plague was killing the firstborn child of every Egyptian family.

“11:4 Then Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals.” (Ex 11:4-6)

12:12 ‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. 13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” (Ex 12:12-13)

After killing the Egyptian children, the god chose not to harden Pharoe’s heart, and Pharoe decided to let the Israelites go. This god’s behaviour is clearly deeply immoral, but to a primitive Bronze Age tribe, their god’s power was more persuasive than his morality.

As a more direct incentive to worship the god, they would be stoned to death if they worshipped the sun, the moon or any other gods (Deut 17:2-5).

“17:2 If there is found among you, within any of your gates which the Lord your God gives you, a man or a woman who has been wicked in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing His covenant, 3 who has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, either the sun or moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded, 4 and it is told you, and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently. And if it is indeed true and certain that such an [d]abomination has been committed in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has committed that wicked thing, and shall stone to death that man or woman with stones.”

So that is commandment number one. I will examine the second commandment in my next post.

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