Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: 23 Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.

24 “‘Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, your sheep and goats and your cattle. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make an altar of stones for me, do not build it with dressed stones, for you will defile it if you use a tool on it. 26 And do not go up to my altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.’

This is the beginning of the Book of the Covenant. It is a long speech given by the Lord to Moses, which the man of God heard alone, and later recorded.It is essentially an exposition of the Ten Commandments, in which the basic laws God has already given, are interpreted and applied to specific life-situations. It continues until the end of chapter 23. God’s people are ever to be a people whose total life is governed and directed by God’s Word: an obedient people in other words.

But…’Here, as always in the Bible, the word of grace (the altar, God meeting his people) preceded the word of law (the ‘judgments’ of 21:1-23:19). Alec Motyer: ‘The Message of Exodus’, p.239. This religion ‘…centres on the altar, the place of the shed blood (20:24; cf.Heb.13:10-13). The place of atonement has to be the focal point, the heart of religious reality.’ (Pages 242,243).

You will note that we are back to the beginning again, with the ban on idolatry (see 20:3-6).

Dressing stones with a tool was probably associated with making a stone idol (25). (Note, too, the call for propriety in worship: 26; see Exodus 28:43,44).

God makes it clear that human-beings are to have “no other gods before” Him (3), or “alongside” Him (23). The temptation for us is probably not that we will bow down to stone statues. I don’t think such an eventuality is likely. But we can define a ‘god’ as anything (even anyone) coming between us and our supreme love and loyalty to the Lord. If there is a contest between the two, who/what wins?

It seems to me that the Carmel battle is fought in our hearts every day – probably several times each day – and much hangs on the outcome.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to spot the potential ‘Baals’ in my situation, and refuse to bow down to them.