In Exodus 20:3 God says to the Israelites: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” This means: you should allow nothing in your life take up the place that God rightfully deserves: your total devotion and love should go out to Him. Do not make anything else your god, be it your house, your car, your wife or your career. Only the Creator should be God, nothing of creation should take that place.
The heart of the people
I take it that this command is primarily about the heart of the people addressed. They (and we) should not make anything into a god, into something we worship instead or next to the one true God. In Isaiah 44, the foolishness of worshiping idols instead of God is very clearly explained. People cut down a tree, use part of it as firewood and make another part into an god. They don’t even stop and ask themselves: “Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” (Isaiah 44:19). Idols are completely meaningless. There is no one other than God who has created the heavens and the earth and all there is in it (Isaiah 44:24). This is why He is worthy of our undivided love and worship.
Other gods than God?
In 1 Chronicles 16:25 it says: “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and He is to be held in awe above all gods.” Does this mean that there are indeed other gods than God? The next verse gives a clear answer to this: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (1 Chronicles 16:25-26). In other words: only God is the true God who is the Creator of the heavens; other gods are nothing but idols with no power to create or save.
The heavenly realms
However, in the New Testament Paul talks about the “rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This clearly suggests that there are spiritual beings or forces other than God, and they have some power. This refers to Satan and his helpers, the demons. Satan is called “the prince of this world” by Jesus (John 12:31). This ‘prince’ or ‘ruler’ will most certainly not have the last word, but he has been given some authority. People who don’t know Jesus and worship other religions, are often in some bondage brought about by Satan and his demons. This is why Paul urges believers to be well armed in the battle against these unseen powers and authorities.
But even these ‘powers’ were created by God. This is why they should not be worshiped, because God does not permit us to worship anything that is created by Him at all (Exodus 20:4-5).
Throw away everything that has to do with idols
When a person decides to follow Jesus, it is essential that he throws away everything that has to do with idols. The idols in themselves are just dead pieces of material, but they can nevertheless be used by demonic forces to exercise a hold on the owner’s life. On a similar note, even though one might not have amulets or statues, there can still be things that usurp the place in one’s heart which only God should occupy. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5).