Q: What are we specifically taught in the first commandment by the words “before me”?
A: The words “before me” in the first commandment teach us that God, who sees everything, notices and is very offended by the sin of having any other god.
Sometimes when we consider the first commandment, we mentally interpret “You shall have no other gods before me” as a matter of hierarchy or priority. As we say, God should be number one, in the driver’s seat, first in love, etc. etc.
Here we are told that it is not a matter of having other items of worship in their proper place, secondary to the Lord of Lords, but that any worship at all not to the true God, our God, is an egregious offense. “Before me” is not a matter of hierarchy, but a matter of visibility, visibility before an omniscient God, one who sees even what is invisible, hidden, or private. It indicates the comprehensive absoluteness or absolute comprehensiveness of this commandment. Any unfaithfulness is a blatant one; any falter is done in the hothouse spotlight center stage before the Lord of hosts. No sin is secret; no disloyal thought is not shouted out.
The omniscience of God is a terrifying notion to some kids; as well it should be. It should be a terrifying realization to all of us as sinners, and we have dystopic nightmares about lesser powers that hint at this kind of surveillance. Of course these fears are compounded with a fear of injustice if the authority can be in any way imperfect, but even with a perfect judge like God we know how we cannot bear such vulnerability and scrutiny.
And yet, to us on the other side of salvation, that watchfulness, once oppressive, is now extremely comforting. It is the eye, not of the judge and jealous God, but of the shepherd and father. Our sin, even though it is committed again and again, is forgiven again and again, none of it not unnoticed and none of it not redeemed. And even as we flail within the entrapments of misplaced worship, we are sure to be rescued from them by that same watchful God.
Let us teach our young ones that we see, and yet we forgive, we know, and yet we let, to allow growth, to permit experience, to reach deeper in love. And our heavenly Father above sees more, and suffers more, and allows more, and saves more, to those before Him.