The First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods,” seems to imply that other gods are real and that one can have a relationship with them. One may rightly ask, is this true?
The Bible consistently speaks against the idea that the figures of idols are true gods. Perhaps the best example of this is the prophet Isaiah’s satire of a person carving an idol from a block of wood (Isaiah 44:9–20) and then using the wood trimming to warm his room and bake his bread—an excellent example of humor in the Bible!
But seriously, those who worship idols usually regard them as representations or manifestations of spiritual realities. In fact, archaeologists now believe that a bull calf idol of the ancient Near East actually represented the mount or throne for the god (typically Baal) who stood upon it. So, the idolaters were really directing their devotion beyond the wood, stone, gold, or silver that stood in front of them. The idol was a way to reach beyond and to “have” a connection to the god it represented. Modern religions that use idols have a similar understanding.
The apostle Paul strongly warns against idolatry and sacrifices to idols when he writes: “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20; cf also Revelation 9:20). The biblical view then is that there are indeed spiritual realities—demons/false gods—standing behind idolatrous and false worship. So false worship can in no way honor the one true God.
In the First Commandment God is delivering something like an ultimatum to us: you will have Me as God or you will have some other god, you can’t have both. To this He attaches a warning and a promise: (1) as the only true God, He will punish those who hate Him (Exodus 20:5) but (2) He will likewise show steadfast love to those who love Him and heed His word (20:6).