You Cannot Escape From God
O LORD, You have searched me and known me. Psalm 139:1 NKJV
Question 106 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are we specially taught by these words [before me] in the first commandment?” The Catechism then gives the answer, “These words [before me], or before my face, in the first commandment, teach us that God, who seeth all things, taketh special notice of, and is much displeased with, the sin of having any other God: that so it may be an argument to dissuade from it, and to aggravate it as a most impudent provocation: as also to persuade us to do as in his sight, whatever we do in his service.” Last week we looked at the sin of denying or doubting God’s goodness to us. This week we consider the powerful incentive God gives us to keep the first commandment.
Dr. R. C. Sproul’s ministry is probably best known for two emphases: the holiness of God and living life coram deo, which literally means, before God. Because God is omniscient and omni-present all of our lives are necessarily lived coram deo, before the face of God. As children, we played hide and seek or guessing games, but nothing can be hidden from God. Darkness cannot keep God from seeing, for darkness and light are the same to God (Ps. 139:12). God saw us when we were still in our mother’s womb (Ps. 139:15-16). Though we keep our thoughts to ourselves, God knows them altogether, long before we speak a word (Ps. 139:2-4). Additionally, there is no place that we can travel to in order to escape God’s presence. If we were to ascend to the highest heaven or to the depths of the sea or even to the lowest parts of hell, God’s eye beholds us, He is there with us (Ps. 139:7-10). Even the future cannot limit the perfect knowledge of God, who ordains all of our days long before we were born (Ps. 139:16).
Accordingly, when God commands us to have no other gods “before Me,” He is not prescribing an order of religion where He is demanding to be first and then, if we want, other gods can be acknowledged somewhere after Him. No. The word “before” does not refer to an order of importance or sequence. The Hebrew word here literally means “face.” God is saying that we are not to have another god in His presence, that is, right in front of His face. Thus, by adding the words “before Me” to the commandment God is graciously giving us a needed reminder and a powerful incentive not to have any other gods, for we are always in His presence, His face is always turned towards us. Sometimes children (so I’ve read) are tempted to mischief when the teacher turns her back, or when the parent leaves the room. However, we adults are no better. I have never been in an office or at a work site where the employees did not work harder whenever they thought the boss was watching.
So by inspiring the words “before Me” in the wording of this commandment, God is reminding us that He is always watching; we are always in His immediate presence. Surely if we could see that God was looking right at us we would never think to turn to an idol at that moment. Yet, this commandment teaches us that, though we do not see Him, God is watching us at all times, He is with you in your room, in your car, out with your friends, during the day and at night. God is always right there with you. You are always before Him. He is always looking right at you. Therefore for you to acknowledge some false god, or, which is the same thing, for you to give in to some sinful desire is to commit a great act of provocation right in front of God’s face!
Consequently, the words “before Me,” should cause us to fear displeasing God, aggravating our guilt, and provoking him to anger, even as we would not dare to do the thing our earthly father most hated the moment He was watching us. The flip side of this incentive is that God is also watching us when we obey Him! Therefore, just as a child wants his parent to see him do that somersault, make that tackle, or get an “A” on that test, so we should be encouraged that God sees and is much pleased with our good works, for we are always before His face. May God increase both your fear of provoking and your joy of pleasing Him in all things and at all times.