Second Commandment- “No Idols”
Written by Pastor Jim Law
In our journey through the Ten Commandments, we come to the second command which is a prohibition against idols: “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. 5 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, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. ” Exodus 20:4-6
In reading this command, we can’t help but wonder why idolatry is so serious that God would forbid it? Why would the making of figures or objects of worship carry with it such severe consequences?
The Old Testament record reveals that when Israel drifted into idolatry it was met with great loss. Because of idolatry, Israel failed to reach the promise land under Moses’ leadership.
Even in the New Testament, the Apostle John warns those under his pastoral care, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” This very clearly shows that idolatry is not a throw back sin of primitive cultures, but rather a clear and present danger for all of humanity for all of time.
I think this command addresses how idolatry limits the God who is limitless, and that any attempt to make something that is like him is woefully short of reality. Since God is limitless, whenever a person makes an image or a worldview where He is absent, he limits and therefore denies God.
Idols inevitably obscure, localize, control, and diminish the one true God. They are always wrong in that they misrepresent who God is, and what is worse, they never deliver what we think they can provide.
You may not have a shrine of figurines that you worship. You may not have an altar of idols that you bow before, but please don’t think that idolatry is a sin of the past. I would argue that idolatry is alive and well in our culture. Idols include any manmade object of worship, including mental images of God, that are wrong. This could include such things as power, education, money, business, entertainment, prestige, popularity, or sex.
Even seemingly good things can move into positions of idolatry in our lives if we worship them more and esteem them greater than following God. Idols reveal the pathetic attempt to fill the spiritual void of our lives with things that always, in the end, leave us empty. Because we are created in his image, our greatest need is God. Idols keep us from our greatest need, and even worse demonstrate a distain for God.
Exodus 20:5-6 expose a contrast between idolaters and true worshipers. God warns of iniquity being passed on to the children of the third and fourth generation of those who hate him through idolatrous practice. This is not mistreatment of innocent children. This is one generation passing on a heritage of idolatry to future generations who, in turn, accelerate the rebellion against the true and living God. However, God’s grace is passed on abundantly to those who love the Lord God and worship Him with all their lives.
A. W. Tozer once said that what we believe about God is the most important thing about us. To have right thoughts about God we must go to the Scripture where he has revealed himself to us. The pinnacle of his revelation is His son, Jesus Christ, and we are commanded to look to Him, listen to Him, and trust Him. Christ has built a bridge back to the true and living God through the work of His cross and resurrection. This is where every one of us idolaters can find what we need most.