the second commandment no idols

The Second Commandment: No Idols

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10)

In the first commandment, God forbad the recognition of any other god. Basically He told them, “I’m your God, not only because I chose you to be mine, but because in reality there are no other gods. Not even one.”

Now, God goes a step further and told His people that they were not to give the worship due to Him to any other thing—anything in heaven, in earth, or in the ocean depths. Nothing made (e.g., a wooden idol), nothing imagined (the power of the sun, moon, stars), nothing experienced (feelings, external forces), nothing natural (trees, rocks, gems) were to take His place as our object of worship.

Is that to say that we should not have crosses, or stained-glass windows, or other objects that represent God’s presence in our churches or in our homes? Not necessarily—although it could certainly come to that. Rather, what is prohibited here is “the worship of these objects as if they were God himself.”[1] If you are perfectly happy with gazing at the cross rather than hearing from God’s Word, then you probably have a problem. If the stained-glass window serves as your focus of worship rather than the person of Jesus, you probably have a problem. As Kevin DeYoung explains, “God is not against beauty. What he prohibits is infusing any object with spiritual efficacy, as if man-made artifacts can bring us closer to God, represent God, or establish communion with God.”[2]

Why is this a problem for us, even today? Philosopher Blaise Pascal famously said, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”

Albert Mohler explains that “fallen sinful human beings [are] born idolaters…. The reason is simple—we must worship, we will worship. Even as nature abhors a vacuum, so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven. We are born idolaters.”[3]

It behooves us, then to spend quality time both in God’s Word and in communication with God (prayer) to figure out exactly who our God is, and what He requires of us. If we do not learn who God truly is, we will create an idolatrous picture of Him. As Dan DeHaan warns, “The Bible calls idolatry any form of thinking about God wrongfully.”[4]

But God is also gracious. He has not left us to try to figure out who and what He is on our own. He has revealed His true self to us through nature, through His written Word, and through His Son Jesus Christ. Just read these verses and reflect on what they tell us about the God we are to worship:

  • The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1)
  • For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made… (Romans 1:20)
  • Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21; cf. Psalm 19:7-14).
  • The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4).
  • The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3).
  • No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known (John 1:18).
  • The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy (Colossians 1:15-18).
  • Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).

Let me quote Romans 1:20 again, this time adding the final phrase: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

We have no excuse. We can learn who God truly is. We can learn what He truly expects of us as we worship Him. We can learn what He expects of us in regard to the way we live. And we can learn what He has promised to those who worship Him “in the Spirit and in truth.” All this is written in His Word which, the psalmist explains, “are more precious than gold,” which “keep your servant also from willful sins,” and allow us to be “pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:10, 13, 14).

[1] T. Longman III, How to Read Exodus (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), p. 121.

[2] Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Crossway, 2018), p. 42.

[3] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words From the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments (Moody Publishers, 2009), p. 47.

[4] Dan DeHaan, The God You Can Know (Moody Publishers. Kindle Edition), p. 14, emphasis added.

ABOUT DR. JOHN ANKERBERG Dr. John Ankerberg is an American Christian television host, author, and speaker. Dr. Ankerberg is a graduate of the University of Illinois—Chicago,...

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