The One True God vs. False Gods
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Thursday, April 8, 2010 at 11:30am
QUERY: The first of the ten commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3, ESV), or “no other gods besides me.” Also, God is often called El Elyon or “God Most High.” Why is this terminology used if these false gods do not exist? Do these gods exist, with God (Yahweh) just being at the top of a hierarchy of deities? Are the false gods demons? Or are they simply statues that never did anything supernatural?
ANSWER: There is definitely a Biblical basis for equating pagan idols with demons, based on 1 Cor. 10:19-20, “What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (ESV). This is simply a matter of Satanic deceit, though, with pagans THINKING their idols are true deities when in fact they are not. Satan is called “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), but he occupies this status only in his own mind. There are no other beings who are true deities. The transcendent Creator-God of the Bible is the only being in the category of “God.” He alone is the Creator; everything else is in the category of creature (Rom. 1:25). This is why he is called “the LIVING God” (Psalm 42:2; 1 Tim. 4:10). See my book, “What the Bible Says About God the Creator,” chapter 8, “The Living God,” for more on this theme.
It is true that pagan deities were usually represented by statues made of wood or stone or precious metals, but the Bible never puts such idols into the category of true deities. The Bible rather mocks all such attempts to identify these lifeless chunks of wood or metal as “gods.” Jer. 10:14 says, “Every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols, for his images are false, and there is no breath in them” (ESV). These “gods of wood and stone” are “the work of human hands, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell” (Deut. 4:28, ESV). “Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good” (Jer. 10:4, ESV).
I believe the language of the first commandment is simply driving home this point, i.e., “Do not try to put any humanly-devised or man-made so-called deity into the same arena with the one-and-only true and living God, Yahweh!” That he is “God Most High” means that he is above ALL things, the “King of kings and Lord of lords.” It is a title of exaltation. Such language was never meant to grant the actual existence of any false gods. The bigger picture about this is shown in Psalm 96:3-5 — “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (ESV). There is a play on words here: “the GODS of the peoples” is the common word ‘elohim (literally, “gods”), and the word for “WORTHLESS IDOLS” is ‘elilim, which literally means NOTHINGS. I.e., the pagans THINK that the objects of their devotion are ‘elohim–gods, when really they are ‘elilim–nothings! They are nobodies; they are nothings; they don’t exist at all!