Some people think the Bible is an outdated book of rules that don’t apply to them. They look at what they call “archaic” laws, especially in the Old Testament, to prove their point. One of the places they may go is the second commandment out of the Ten Commandments
As we have been looking at these relationship rules we have found that they help us connect with God. He has given us ways to connect with him that outlast the difference in time and culture.
People say that there are no idols in many of our cultures. In Western culture they highlight the fact that there are very few places where you can get a carved image to worship. But their thinking and definitions are just as much in the past as they think the Bible is.
Let’s dive in and take a look at how the second commandment still affects us in 2021 in America. We will start by taking a look at what the second commandment tells us about ourselves and God.
“You must not make for yourselves a carved image or any likeness of the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters underneath the 6.
You must not bow down to them and you must not serve them, for I am the Lord your God, a jealous God, inflicting the guilt of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of my haters, 6 but showing steadfast love to those who love me and keep my commandments.”Exodus 20:4-6 (My Translation)
The first myth we all tell ourselves is that idols don’t exist in the Western world. Unless you are worshiping an idol that comes from and Eastern religion or something like that we don’t have them here. But you would be dead wrong.
When people tell me this myth I point to certain things that we have on our person all the time. I pull out my wallet and pull out some money. Many people worship money, working long hours away from their family or never wanting to go home from work.
Workaholics devote their lives to hoarding money so they can show they are powerful and rich. What does the Bible say about money? The love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Jesus told us not to worship Mammon, the idol of money (Luke 16:13). So money can be an idol if we live for it instead of God.
There are other physical objects all around the nation that we don’t even think of. If we live for entertainment, the movie screen or the TV sitting at home can be our idols. If we spend more time watching TV than focusing on God it’s an idol.
We have a lot of idols that are not necessarily physical but can still become idols if we worship them more than God. If we prioritize or worship fame, celebrity, sex, entertainment, sports, and work. Virtually anything you prioritize more than your relationship with God is an idol.
We deceive ourselves if we think there aren’t any idols in Western culture. Now that we see them everywhere, we must worship the Lord and serve him only. The second commandment becomes extremely relevant to our lives.
A Plethora of Idols
There are even more pervasive idols than the ones we have already realized are right in front of us. There are ones we didn’t know were there and we had nothing to do with as far as making them.
One of my mentors opened my eyes to national idols we have in America. Believe it or not they are all around us, lurking in the shadows of our ignorance. Let me give you one example found in our national capital of Washington DC you never knew we had.
Some of the places we go to visit in Washington DC could be considered idols. The most obvious one is the Washington Monument. Just think through this with me for a second. Why do we have a giant shaft of concrete extending into the air with a giant pyramid on it?
How is any of that American? Here’s a bit of background of how the Washington Monument has idolatrous symbols. It’s best resemblance is something I don’t even want to say in this post. If you think about it long enough I shouldn’t have to.
Yes, the Washington Monument is a giant fertility symbol rising into the sky. It’s no different than the Asherah poles you read about in the Old Testament in the land of Canaan and in Israel.
Although America was built on the Judeo-Christian system of laws and values, the Washington Monument points to the gods of fertility. Instead of trusting in these fertility gods you see in the Old Testament we need to trust in God’s provision for our nation. He will take care of us.
And on top of the Washington Monument we put a giant pyramid that has nothing to do with America and everything to do with places like Egypt. Pyramids housed the pharaohs who thought they were gods. It was the housing for their bodies after they died.
The Egyptians continued to worship them as gods even though they were dead. And these are the things we choose to put as symbols all around us. Take a look at a one dollar bill and you will find on its back a pyramid and an all seeing eye. All of these are idolatrous symbols.
Every culture, nation, and society has its own false gods and idols. Many of us have no idea that they are even there. It’s not like we worship them, or at least we don’t realize it’s possible to. But we live in a nation that has its own gods. As Christians we must reject the plethora of idols around us. We must know that they are there and not give them opportunity to even me in the backgrounds of our lives.
Our Jealous God
God gives a reason for why we must not make idols or worship them. He says he is a jealous God. This doesn’t mean jealous in the ways that we think of jealousy. Humans define jealousy as wanting something someone else has.
When a man is jealous it is because his wife or girlfriend shows interest in another man. A woman is jealous when her man is looking at other women. But when God is jealous he doesn’t want us flirting with idols.
God has invested his time and energy in you. He has fully committed himself to you and has been faithful to you. He expects the same from you. This is what God means when he says he is a jealous God.
If you commit to him and then chase after other gods you are unfaithful, going back on your promise to keep him first in your heart. If you break the second commandment and flirt with idols, or even worse, you hurt the very heart of God.
Those who go back on the promise to be faithful to God hate him to love others. He wants a complete and full commitment to him, and him alone. There cannot be another. God views are relationship with him as we view marriage.
Throughout some of the prophets God expresses this marriage relationship with Israel, his people. Hosea marries a prostitute to show how God feels with Israel. Jeremiah and Ezekiel graphically describe Israel’s spiritual adultery as the nation chases idols.
This clarifies the wording of the first commandment when God says, “You must not have other gods before me.” We talked in our previous post about what “before” means. Some say that it can mean “besides” so that we can have relationships with other gods but that God must be first. But this is not what that word means.
The second commandment tells us explicitly that we cannot any-idols of any kind in our relationship with God. We cannot share our allegiances. So the word “before” cannot mean that God is first and there can be others. God makes himself abundantly clear. There is no wiggle room.
Along with God’s explanation that he is a jealous God is also a promise. God promises cursing for those who pray this commandment and blessing for those who keep it. He says that he will visit this sin of the fathers upon their children to the third and fourth generations. This is the curse for breaking this commandment.
People wonder about things like this because Ezekiel 18 clearly teaches that God deals with individual according to his or her sin. He says explicitly that he does not make the children pay for their parents’ sins. So what does this mean?
Think of it more as a learned practice that continues generation after generation. Fathers teach their children and so the children will generally live the way the father does. This becomes the way the family is throughout its generations.
Those who don’t put God first in putting away idols teach their children even through practice alone how to break this commandment. The children continue to do what they have learned from their parents. And they teach their children the same practices. And God punishes each generation for violating the relationship agreement with him.
But then there are those who remain faithful to the Lord and they keep their covenant with God. They also teach their children the same practices. We can see from other parts of Scripture like the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 that God tells them to teach their children with words why they are doing what they do.
They are even more intentional about keeping their relationship with God pure than those who look for ways to try to do both, to give lip service to God and worship other things. I offer as an example the divided kingdoms of Northern Israel and Judah in the south.
Northern Israel was destroyed in 722 BC. Judah fell to Babylon in 586 BC. Judah remained faithful to the Lord for 136 more years of blessing than Northern Israel. There is more blessing in serving the Lord faithfully than there is benefit in equivocating to idols. God only visits evil upon three or four generations of idolaters. But his blessing pours out the thousands of his faithful worshipers.
Art and Idols
This commandment doesn’t keep us from admiring beautiful works of art or making them ourselves. But we must not worship the work of our own hands. Creativity is part of the image of God he has placed in each of us.
When the Bible uses the word “create” it only uses it of God. But it does say that humans build and make. We do these things creatively. But when we go from admiring the beauty of the things we create to worshiping them we cross the line into idolatry.
Paul describes it as worshiping created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:23). There’s a big difference between worshiping created things that can do nothing and worshiping the Creator who designed and created those things. He creates them for our benefit but they cannot fill his place.
Idols cannot cover the entire gamut of God’s amazing attributes. The Israelites created the golden calf to worship right after God gave these commandments to them on Mount Sinai. They tried to claim that the golden calf just jumped out of the fire already made.
But the Bible tells us that they organized a gathering of all of their gold and that Aaron made the golden calf. A golden tan was supposed to represent strength. Even if they were worshiping the golden calf as the strength of the God they saw on the mountain, whose presence came to them with earthquakes, fire, darkness and clouds, billows of smoke, with a voice that sounded like thunder, God has more attributes than strength.
God is strong for sure. But the golden calf and its representation of strength ignored God’s other attributes. It didn’t cover his compassion and mercy, his steadfast love, his justice and righteousness, his Holiness, or any other attribute. Images fall short because they can only represent one or two of God’s attributes if we understand them to represent him in any way. They fall short of showing us who God is.
So there’s nothing wrong with creating images, with carving statues and beautiful works of art. At the moment our hearts turn to them and worship we have gone into idolatry. It is better for our works of art to be created in honor of God and for his glory and to give him all the credit for the creativity he has placed in us. The gift is from him and not something our own hands have made without him.
We have seen this danger between creating beautiful works of art and worshiping them as gods. God wants us to understand his exclusive relationship with us as a marriage. When we look for other God’s we break his heart and his commandment.
Let us seek the Lord and never come close to worshiping anything or anyone other than the loving God who blesses us beyond measure every day. Let us look to him for every need we have and not look to any of his created things.
Leave a comment and describe how you follow the second commandment and keep yourself from coming close to worshiping anything or anyone else.