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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
The Large Catechism – part 40

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From the Word: Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way with his sword drawn in his hand. And he bowed his head, and fell on his face. (Numbers 22:31)

From the Confessions: The Large Catechism, The Ten Commandments

The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods before me.

That is, you shall have and worship me alone as your God. What is the force of this, and how should it be understood? What does it mean to have a god, or indeed, what is God? Answer: A god is that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress. So, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him from the whole heart. As I have often said, the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your god is also true. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you do not have the true God. These two belong together: faith and God. That upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.

Pulling It Together: The story of Balaam can be confusing. We might be tempted to take his side against God, unless we understand that God allows us to pursue those things we truly desire. He shows us, often in mysterious or hidden ways, what his will is, as he did with Balaam. Putting him above all else is the only way we will see the will of God, hidden in the way before us. Balaam did not do what he knew to be righteous, but turned this way and that in order to pursue his greed (2 Pet 2:15). He was bent on monetary gain, even if it meant doing the wrong thing. This revealed his true god.

We must put all our faith in God alone, not in things, lest they rule over us. That is what gods do, whether they be false gods of our own devising, or the one true God. We should recite the Ten Commandments often, if only to give ourselves the opportunity to ask, Do I have any other gods than the Lord?

Prayer: Stand in my way, Lord, so that you alone are my God. Amen.

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