“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
This first commandment, written by the finger of God Himself on Mount Sinai—twice (Exodus 31:18; 34:1)—contains a very intriguing choice of words.
“Thou shalt have no” is rendered from the Hebrew word lo, which is an emphatic negative: “never,” “neither,” “not,” etc. The word “other” translates the Hebrew word acher, which is derived from another word meaning “behind” or “less.” This word is also translated “following,” “next,” “[an]other,” or “strange”—in the sense of being less than the previous object. Elohim is the Hebrew word for “gods,” the term for “powerful ones.”
The Holy Spirit’s most unusual choice of words is the phrase ‘al paniym at the end of the sentence, translated “before me.” That phrase literally means “against the faces” or in the sense of “on top of.” So, a direct translation of the command would be “Never place a less powerful being on top of my faces.” It can also be rendered “Don’t ever let any other god get between your face and my face.”
Moses gave several instructions on how we are to observe the command. We are not to worship (prostrate, bow down to) any other god (Exodus 34:14), or mention (call to memory) the name of other gods (Exodus 23:13), or walk behind other gods (Deuteronomy 6:14). We are not to forget (mislay, be oblivious of) YAHWEH and in so doing serve other gods (Deuteronomy 8:18-19). We must not allow our hearts to be deceived (become broad, liberal, “open”-minded) and worship other gods (Deuteronomy 11:16). And we are not to go aside (turn off, withdraw) from the words of God and by doing so serve other gods (Deuteronomy 28:14).
No wonder our Lord Jesus called this the “first and great commandment” and insisted that we must “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart” (Matthew 22:37-38). HMM III
From Days of Praise