The second commandment begins with these words (Exodus 20:4-6):
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
In the first commandment, we see the “what” of worship – worship only God. But the second commandment focuses our attention on the “how” of worship – worship God the right way. The second commandment is explicit; God forbids idols. God is to be invisible to the physical eyes. He is the God who is heard but not seen (Deuteronomy 4:15-18). Even when God gives the Ten Commandments, God did not allow the Hebrew people to see Him. It was Moses who brought the commandments to the people. Again, He is heard but He is not seen.
Worship Not an Image but Around a Book.
God has intentionally designed worship not around a picture of Him but around a book. The Bible repeatedly says that God is not seen by anyone (John 1:18; 1 Timothy 1:17). This is significant for worship today. Only God is allowed to make an image of Himself (Genesis 1:26; Colossians 1:15). Please note: God didn’t say, “There shall be no art in my house.” But He did say, “There shall be no image in my likeness.”
Throughout the Old Testament, the center of Hebrew worship was the Temple. At the center of the Temple was the Holy of Holies; at the center of the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark, or “chest” (in Hebrew), was roughly 4 feet long, 2.5 feet high and 2.5 feet wide. The Ark was the only piece of furniture and only the Levites could enter this central room of Israel’s Temple. The Ark was covered in gold and had two golden angels facing one another on the top of the Ark. If you were to open this box in King Solomon’s day, you would see only the two tablets Moses brought down from Mount Sinai (1 Kings 8:9). Again, it’s important to note: you wouldn’t find a picture at the center of Israel’s worship. Instead, the only thing at the center of Israel’s worship was the Ten Commandments, the law of God. So, God hasn’t given us images to worship, but rather a Book to read. In the New Testament, worship is still centered around a book, the Bible (John 4:23 ). God has divinely chosen to communicate through the written word and not an image (Romans 10:17).
The second commandment expressly forbids making idols, or pictures of God. Idolatry is not the stuff found only in the pages of a National Geographic magazine or Indiana Jones movies. Instead, idolatry occurs whenever we believe that true satisfaction can be found in anything other than Jesus Christ. Idols are all around us, even in the West. While many Americans are not into Buddha statues surrounded by flowers and incense, everyone of us still has a battle raging within us over what we love most – God or something else.
Why is God interested in forbidding idols?
- Idols are built for control. We enjoy making things. There is pleasure in building something. But when we make something, we control it. When we build a boat, you have the ability to control where and when the boat sails. When you build a house, you have the ability to say who lives in the house. And when we build an image of God, whether it is wood or on the computer screen, you attempt to control God. You control what you build.
- Idols are needy. Whenever you see temples filled with idols, you normally see people offering food for the idol. When a person gives a god something it needs, then the god would be obligated to give the worshippers back something return. This is quid pro quo. Few things are as fulfilling as having your god obligated to do something for you. But the God of the Bible doesn’t want food placed at His altar and He doesn’t want to be appeased. God doesn’t need anything from anyone (Acts 17:24-25). Instead, God requires you to live in a pure and holy manner. It’s easier to feed an idol than to live in moral purity. God isn’t needy.
- Idols are built for convenience. During the days of the Old Testament, idols were all over the place (Deuteronomy 12:2; 1 Kings 14:23). Unlike idols, God required His people to come together at the Temple at one time and in one place for worship. God required His followers to come to one central location. This was inconvenient. Worship of God required your time and your money. But idols remove all of this. An idol can be worshiped whenever you want and wherever you want. You control what is most convenient.
Seven Questions to Stimulate Worship
Think about your worship in light of God’s instructions in Exodus 20:4-6. As you do, here are some questions to consider:
- What do you enjoy the most?
- What do you spend the most time doing?
- Where does your mind drift when you don’t have to do anything else?
- What do you spend your money on?
- What makes you angry when you don’t get it?
- What causes you depression when you must do without it?
- What do you fear losing the most?
Programming Note: This is a blog series on the Ten Commandments. I will post each Tuesday and Friday for the next few weeks. Look here for the series introduction.