The Second Command: God Doesn’t Want His Picture Taken

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).

Idols

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:

  1. What do you enjoy the most?
  2. What do you spend the most time doing?
  3. Where does your mind drift when you don’t have to do anything else?
  4. What do you spend your money on?
  5. What makes you angry when you don’t get it?
  6. What causes you depression when you must do without it?
  7. 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.

I’m a New Christian – What’s Next?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking to several new Christians. While these new Christ-followers range in age from near retirement to the beginning years of college, their question is the same: “Now that I am a Christian, what do I do next?”

I can understand why many people have asked this question as many churches and pastors are quite skilled at explaining how to become a Christian but we are tragically neglectful in pointing new Christians to the next step(s). In light of this confusion, let me encourage you to pursue four avenues simultaneously.

1. Understand Grace. Unlike every other religion, Christianity teaches grace. Christians are made by grace. There is nothing like it in the entire world for the Biblical view of grace is without comparison. Few words capture the essence of Christianity like the word grace. Grace is used to describe Jesus Himself (John 1:14, 17). And Jesus’ impact upon his followers is grace on top of grace (John 1:16).

Grace was, no doubt, explained to you in the process of your decision to follow Christ, but what may surprise you is that you’ll spend the remainder of your days exploring and discovering new vistas of God’s grace for you. Grace is God’s kindness and mercy toward you when you don’t deserve it. Grace is God’s actions toward you when you deserved hell itself. But grace is also the way you are built up in the days after your conversion (Acts 20:32). So, grace starts your journey, but it is also acts as your guide in navigating everything else (Titus 2:11-12). Pay close attention so that you can experience everything grace has to offer.

2. Go to Church. So many Christians hear the message of grace only in terms of their own individual lives. The false start of Christianity is that you can live this life in isolation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity brings you a new family. You’ll need this family in the coming days. You’ll need their encouragement, their love, and their accountability.

The church needs you in the coming days as well. As you mature, other Christians will need your love and your encouragement. God designs every Christian with certain gifts and your gifts make up the church just as every your physical body needs the various parts of your body.

Staying connected with a church cannot depend on when you feel like it. Instead, you must make a decision to participate in a church and follow through even when you do not feel like it. If you go by your feelings, you’re likely to find tragedy and loneliness in the coming days as you fail to stay connected to other Christians (Hebrews 10:25).

Make sure the church you choose has at least three ingredients to it.

2.1 Be Sure the Church Teaches the Bible. Every pastor has their own personality. Whatever his personality, he should continually ask you to track with him in the pages of the Bible.

2.2 Be Sure You Are Involved in Small Group Bible Study. Besides knowing God’s Book better, this will provide you with a excellent opportunity to make friends with other Christians. Don’t settle on friendships that are only, “Hello,” as you enter the worship center and, “Nice to See You,” on the way out. The Bible continually calls on Christians to show hospitality to one another (1Peter 4:9). You’ll need counsel from others and you’ll give counsel to others on a wide-range of matters. Plus, longterm Christians friends will bring you a great deal of joy throughout your life.

2.3 Be Sure You’re Church Connects You to Different Generations. It’s been said that the American church has been racially divided for a long time. Yet, today’s church is also generationally divided. More and more of our churches are styled to make themselves attractive to one generation. You can’t let this happen to you. You’ll find so many good things come your way when you connect to people outside of your generation. Younger men need older men and older women need younger women (Titus 2:2-3).

3. Read Your Bible. I know it can be confusing when going to a bookstore to find a Bible as there are so many choices. Nevertheless, find a readable translation such as the English Standard Version (my translation when preaching) or New American Standard Bible, the New King James Bible, or the Holman Christian Standard Bible.

Once you have found a translation, you are comfortable with, I would encourage you to read the Gospels first. Be sure to look the Table of Contents over as you’ll notice the Bible has an Old Testament and a New Testament. You’ll want to find the New Testament where the first four books are called Gospels. I would encourage you to start reading there.

When reading the Gospels, you will essentially reading the best biographies on the life of Jesus Christ. If you read straight through the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) you’ll find they repeat themselves a great deal. That’s fine as people have read and reread these stories their entire lives. You will continue to come back to these pages for comfort and inspiration for years to come.

4. Share the Gospel with Your Friends and Family. There will be some massive changes in your life as well as some gradual changes. The people closest to you will wonder why you have changed. I want to encourage you to share your experience with Jesus Christ with them as you weave the story of the Gospel into your story. Paul would often do this (see Acts 24 and Acts 26).

One of the best ways to share what has happened to you is to invite your friends and family to your baptism. While baptism doesn’t save you, it’s important as it communicates to everyone around you the important change that has occurred in your life. You’ll want to follow through with your conversion by being baptized just as Christians throughout time have done. Your friends and family can participate in this special time by coming to church with you on the day you’re baptized.

So there are four items that I encourage to put into practice in your life. There is much more to see and learn in your Christian journey and that will come. But be encouraged by God’s love and mercy for you. You were a rebel and God’s grace chased you down!