And Elohim spoke all of these words, saying:
I am YHWH, the Elohim which brought you from Egypt land, from the slave house.
There will not be for you any other Elohim over-facing me.
Don’t make for yourself any image, in the form of anything which is in the heavens above, which is on the land under, or which is in the water under the land.
Don’t bow to them and don’t serve them, because I, YHWH, your Elohim, am a god who is jealous, bringing curses to children based on their parent’s sin – hating me – up to three or four times as much.
But I make lovingkindness for those who love me, those who keep my commands, multiplying it by thousands.
Notice how the passage begins: “Elohim spoke.” There are echoes here of creation. God spoke creation into existence, and now, at the creation of a people, God speaks again, in order to form something from chaos.
Notice that what follows, according to God, is dependent on knowing which God is speaking. This is YHWH, the slave-saver, the rescuer, the emptier of the slave house, the enemy of the empire. YHWH is personal. YHWH heard your cry. You owe YHWH your very existence. Therefore, what you are about to hear connects you with this God.
Notice the implication of henotheism. Monotheism is not in view here. These people came from Egypt (where Ra, Horus, Osiris, Bast, Isis, Set, Anubis, etc. were as real to them as gravity is to us) and are traveling to Canaan (where they will encounter very seductive cults of Ba’al, Dagon, Molech, Ugarit, Asherah, Lotan, Astarte, etc.). God are assumed, and taken seriously. It is also the case that they did not look at gods the same way we do. Gods in these pantheonistic senses relegated the gods’ power to their sphere of influence. It is actually quite similar to the idea of spirits in many far eastern cosmologies. These “gods” are more like really powerful spirits, many of which influence human life. The Bible, all throughout, is very comfortable talking about entities, which are not YHWH, having power to influence humanity. Whether these are personal isn’t clear, but the scripture warns that to ignore seats of power, outside of personal human control, is not wise.
The point being, that YHWH is your ultimate authority. You serve YHWH. It should be noted here that the phrase “Elohim” is the plural form of “Eloah.” In the ancient Levant, Elohim referred to the divine counsel. This is the idea that the gods would meet together in the heavens to decide the fate of humanity. It appears as if YHWH likes this language. YHWH encourages this idea of divine counsel to continue, but with a caveat. YHWH IS the counsel. Whereas the surrounding nations had many gods to decide fate and influence the people, YHWH’s elohim is a counsel of one. Try this on for size. Dueteronomy 6:4, the Shema, “Hear o’ Israel, YWHW is Elohim. YHWH is one.” Pretty cool, eh? You also see this kind of thing happening in Job when the accuser comes to YHWH among the “sons of Elohim” in a sort of divine counsel room.
From now on, those other gods hold no power over you. YHWH is the divine counsel. YHWH is “the gods”. YHWH is one.
By recalling Genesis 1 earlier, the pump is primed for what comes next. Don’t make any images. Where have we heard this word before? Ah yes. We are made to be God’s image. We are not to make any images of gods because WE are the image of God already. What do you do with images that you make of gods? you serve them. Why is this problematic? Because God agrees that you are to serve your deity through images. The problem is, God has already given us images to serve, thereby serving God in the process. He has given us each other.
Sound familiar? Didn’t Jesus say something like this? What is the most important commandment? Love God. Just like the first commandment. And the second is like it – love your neighbor as yourself. Which is actually found in the second commandment. Is it strange that Jesus is referred to in terms of renewing creation?
My point is not to get into how YHWH curses kids for the sins of their parents. Although in the context of slavery, which this is, if someone were to, say, benefit uncritically from their ancestors owning slaves, would this bring curses on them? Probably not today, but it probably did back then (note the sarcasm).
It should be noted that YHWH multiplies lovingkindness a thousandfold when people obey the commands. Which commands? Worship YHWH and YHWH’s image(s).
Go and do likewise.