When Moses came down from the smoke and fire of Sinai, the tablets he bore proclaimed as God's first commandment: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. The second, third and fourth amplified that theme - things like making no graven images, not taking God's name in vain, keeping His sabbath holy.
Not until the last half of the list do we get the practical rules to govern our conduct. And then we are told in the briefest possible terms not to kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness, covet.That seems curious. Why aren't the Ten Commandments given in order of importance?
The answer, of course, is that they are. All other commandments rest on the first. God is truth, love, justice, mercy. Worshipping any other god, putting any other value - wealth, power, fame, pleasure - before Him, is the worst kind of idolatry. No other commandment would be necessary if we obeyed the first.
Pride is the commonest and most pernicious form of idolatry. It lies at the root of all the other forms. When we rely on our own strength, our own wisdom, our own abilities, when we fail to acknowledge our dependence on God, we are putting another god before Him. Few if any among us are entirely guiltless.
Pride has been called the Nephites' downfall. Throughout the Book of Mormon, their history repeats; when they humbly worshiped God, they prospered. But again and again, they put other gods first. Again and again they were raised up in the pride of self-sufficiency, with all the evils attendant to such an attitude. Each time they suffered, and ultimately they were destroyed.
You'd think they would learn. It's hard to comprehend why they didn't - until we realize that the Lord's warnings about the idolatry of pride are intended for our day as well, and that many of us don't listen any better than did the Nephites.
It was 2,500 years ago that, through Nephi, the warning came, but the message is as modern as today:
. . . and their priests shall contend one with another, and they shall teach with their learning and deny the Holy Ghost . . . And they deny the power of God, the Holy One of Israel; and they say unto the people . . . behold there is no God today, for the Lord and the Redeemer hath done his work, and he hath given his power unto men; . . .
O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, . . . at that day shall he (Satan) rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good. And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: all is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well - and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. . . .
Wo be unto him that shall say: We have received the word of God, and we need no more of the word of God, for we have enough! . . . .
Cursed is he that putteth his trust in man, or maketh flesh his arm, or shall hearken unto the precepts of men, . . . . (2 Ne. 28.)
Why did our Savior teach so eloquently and repeatedly the importance of humility? Why did He Himself set such an example? Because He knew the First Commandment. Pride in our wisdom and learning, in our wealth, in the flesh of our arms must never blind us to our dependence on God.
The truth is that the work of our Lord and Redeemer is far from finished. He accomplished His part of the divine mission in Gethsemane and on the cross, but that didn't complete the Atonement. For each of us, there is no atonement until we take upon ourselves His name, keep His commandments and perfect ourselves in Him.
In pride, we can never accomplish these things. No one can stand in His presence but through His grace. Until we truly obey the first commandment, we cannot return to Him.