You shall have no other gods before me (Exodus 20:3).
Years ago when my children were small I took them out for an afternoon hike on the trails of the Chattahoochee National Park. This park system has a number of locations along the Chattahoochee and this particular site features some beautiful wooded paths that snake along large outcroppings of rock. The main attraction to which all trails lead is the stone-speckled creek that feeds the Chattahoochee River.
Having tossed a water bottle and a pack of saltines into a small backpack, we set out for what I thought would be a pleasant stroll through the woods, an easy and wholesome way to get my suburbanite kids outdoors. Once we had parked and made our way to the trailhead I had to do a reality check.
Turns out our simple stroll wasn’t going to be so simple. And we would not merely be strolling. We would be hiking – leaning into some healthy climbs and digging in our heels on some sharp descents here and there. All of this was complicated further by the fact that the park is made up of a network of trails, multiple paths of varying length. If you wished, you could be gone for the better part of the day. Did I mention that my children were small?
I chose a path that would allow us to have adventure, start to finish, within a two hour block of time. As we set out I gave my kids one simple word of instruction: “Stay with me.”
The entire experience would depend upon their willingness to heed that one simple instruction. “Stay with me: do not go running off; do not deviate to other interesting trails; do not rush ahead out of my sight; do not linger behind in isolation. Sometimes I’ll walk in front leading the way; at other times I’ll behind you urging you on. Just stay with me.”
I did not say to them, “Study the map and meet me back at the car in two hours.”
When God gave his ‘ten words’ of command to his people he started with this very instruction: Stay with me. “I am the Lord your God . . . you shall have no other gods.” If we rush past this in our hurry to find out what God wants us to do, we will never truly understand the Ten Commandments.
Most of us think that the Ten Commandments are about behavior, doing what God wants us to do. But before God speaks about behavior he speaks of belonging. We are God’s people. God does not simply want us to be good. God wants us to be his. “Stay with me.”
Until we know to whom we belong, we will not know how to behave.
Allow this simple truth to rest gently on your mind throughout the day: you belong to God. Stay with him. Don’t rush ahead where has not led you. Don’t linger behind or turn aside to another path that seems appealing. In his Law God offers a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. But first he offers his love.
“I am the Lord your God . . . stay with me.”
Whatever this day brings, wherever this day leads, we will stay with you O God. Thank you for your faithfulness: going before us making a way, ever behind us urging us on. Thank you for claiming us and making us yours in your son Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.