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).


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.

The Ten Commandments: Three Reasons Why They Remain Important

In a brief series of ten articles over the next month, I want to explore the significance of the Ten Commandments. My aim is to show their value for our lives today throughout the series.

The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, even at 3000 years old, serve as the backbone to our moral, religious, and legal thought. When Moses walked down from Mount Sinai among the Hebrew people, little did he know that the two tablets he held in his hands would have such widespread influence across both time and space. Despite the distance between their introduction and today, these “ten words” represent a treasure of insight and wisdom.

The Bible tells us that Moses brought these two tablets down from the Mountain called Sinai and placed them in what the Hebrews called the Ark of the Covenant. This golden box was kept at the center of Israel’s Temple in Jerusalem in order to signify that God’s law was to be at the center of the people’s existence. In addition, it is important to consider that these ten laws were written by the very finger of God Himself to speak of their enduring value and permanence to every culture (Exodus 31:18). Again, God Himself wrote and spoke these words.

In light of their importance and in anticipation for my series to come, here are three reasons the Ten Commandments are important, even today.

1. They communicate the character of God. You get a sense of the value of the Ten Commandments when you understand they are repeated numerous times throughout the pages of the Bible. The prophets Jeremiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel all repeat aspects of them even though they lived centuries after God spoke these words to Moses. Even more importantly, Jesus Himself tells us that not one iota of the Ten Commandments will be relaxed until the end of time (Matthew 5:17-20). Each of these important religious figures point to the Ten Commandments as valuable in understanding the nature of God Himself throughout time.

You can better understand God’s character through the Decalogue when you consider where the laws were first given. Exodus 19:7-25 describes the scene vividly. In the wilderness of Sinai, we are told the whole mountain was ablaze with fire as God showed the greatness of the Lawgiver, and not simply, His law. It is significant to understand that God chose not to reveal the Ten Commandments with the sweet sound of a harp and the song of angels, but rather with thick clouds and lightening. All of this reinforced the fierce power and splendor of His nature. The mountain itself began to shake while the dreadful scene was completed by the sound of a loud trumpet blast (Exodus 19:19). God told Moses to prepare to meet Him for a full three days before they came near the mountain. Even more significantly, the people were forbidden to touch the mountain as a line was drawn around its foot (Exodus 19:22). No wonder scripture rhetorically asks, “Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live?”

The setting of Sinai is intentionally designed to cause us to feel the force of God’s law on us. The law thunders over and inside us. Much later, the prophet Habakkuk speaks about his experience in meeting God as a time when his body trembled, his lips quivers, and legs gave away from beneath his body (Habakkuk 3:16). This is God’s intention in giving the law for He wants us to see His moral perfection through these ten words. God’s law is an excessively bright light designed to search our inmost thoughts. While the thought isn’t popular in contemporary American culture, God designed the setting of Sinai as the place where all humans abandon any hope of being accepted by God through their efforts. God’s law is designed to tear any such hope to pieces (Hebrews 4:12-13).  More than anything, we should sense that it is no trifle thing to stand before the face of a holy God.

2. They show you need a mediator. The frightening scene of thunder, smoke, and flashes of lightning surrounding the giving of the Ten Commandments caused the people to be afraid and call for their leader, Moses. Their response is recorded: “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). The people were terrified by the very presence of God, and they cried out in fear like a child afraid of the dark. Instinctively, the Bible tells us that people are consistently afraid when they approach the God of the Bible. Like entering shark-infested waters, people understand they need the protection of something larger than themselves. They need a mediator.

A mediator is another word for a go-between or a peacemaker. As Moses was the mediator of the Israelites (Exodus 33:12), we have an even better one in Jesus. The Bible says these words, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…” (1 Timothy 2:5). Those who love Christ and express faith in His death on the cross for our sins, have a go-between (Romans 5:1). The Ten Commandments are God’s rules, or His yardstick. When we understand the Ten Commandments are God’s standard for each one of our lives, we grasp just how wrong our lives are. We realize we need someone to stand in our place. Jesus is that go-between (2 Corinthians 5:21).

3. They show you God’s grace. Long before God laid the law, God worked to free His people from Egyptian slavery. Remember, the Hebrew people were mistreated and abused while they worked as slaves for the people Egypt. The law was given after God set His people free. The commandments follow God’s act of undeserved deliverance. Salvation has always come by God’s grace. The law is not God’s capricious desire to kill happiness all over the earth. The law is instead an act of God’s gracious love and mercy on behalf of His people. God delivers us and then He instructs us. God delivers His people so that they may encounter Him and enjoy His presence (Exodus 5:1).


Programming Note: I will post on the Ten Commandments each Tuesday and Friday morning for the next five weeks.

The Decalogue

I find myself in the middle of a series on the Ten Commandments. We’ve issued a church wide challenge to memorize the Ten Commandments. I hope your house will join me.

A lot has been said over the past five weeks and much of it is so very important. As a way of reminder for our church family, I’ve included a few important notes from the series so far.

So here are Ten Hits on the Ten Commandments.

1. The Ten Commandments were first spoken by God and then written in stone by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18). The Ten Commandments are fixed in stone and are permanent ;

2. You’ll find the Ten Commandments in two places in your Bibles (Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5);

3. When the Ten Commandments were given, God descended upon the Mount Sinai so that the entire mountain was set ablaze with fire. God wanted the people to see the greatness of the lawgiver before they studied His law (Exodus 19:18). God is not to be taken lightly;

4. When God spoke the Ten Commandments to Israel, everyone was terrified of God’s presence. The people asked for a mediator (Moses) between God and them because they were so afraid of God (Exodus 20:18-21). God is just as scary now as He was then. Only, Christ is now the better mediator than Moses (1 Timothy 2:5);

5. God reserves the first four commandments to tell us why He is so important. While many things in the world our meant to be shared, God’s glory is not one of them. Think for a moment about the implication of God reserving the first four commandments for Himself. This is huge as God knows how important He is (Exodus 20:1-11);

6. When I worship an idol, I control it. When I worship God, He controls me. Idols are built for control as it is easier to worship the god I imagine than to worship the God who makes demands of me (Deuteronomy 4:15-19);

7. God protects the copyright on His name. People cannot use His name for whatever purposes they desire. Instead, God intends to punish anyone who misuses His name (Exodus 20:7);

8. God cannot be defined only as a God of love. He is also a just and holy God. The Ten Commandments define who God is.

9. The Ten Commandments were eventually placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:16). They were carried around wherever Israel went. This shows the importance of the Ten Commandments even for us today – they are to be continually with us;

10. A quick glance at the Ten Commandments should convince you that you have no hope of being accepted by God. The only hope you have available is through Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; Romans 10:13). Christ is the mercy of God Himself and the only way to avoid the wrath to come.