August 14, 2006

Second Verse, Same as the First?

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God… Exodus 20.4-5

‘I like how you always repeat yourself.’ That’s what I sometimes get at the end of a sermon. I’m not always sure if it is a complement, or a coy, yet constructive critique. At any rate, the repetition is usually intentional. Preachers often repeat important thoughts, either for emphasis, or to aid the congregation’s memory. I am no different. And when I read the second commandment, I am tempted to think God is doing the same thing. The first commandment was ‘Don’t have any other gods’ and the second one is ‘Don’t have any idols.’ Two ways of saying the same thing? Well, not exactly.

The first commandment has to do with worshipping false Gods. The second commandment teaches us not to worship the true God falsely. Or to quote Alistair Begg again, “The first commandment teaches us to worship the correct God. The second commandment teaches us to worship the correct God correctly.” What God is saying in this second of His Top Ten is this: ‘Don’t try to worship Me, the true God, by means of idols. Remember that I am Spirit, and those who worship Me must worship in spirit, not in a shrine.’

The second commandment presents the possibility that we may attempt to worship the true God, and yet be idolaters. Isn’t that what Aaron and the children of Israel did at the foot of Mt. Sinai (Ex. 32)? The problem wasn’t worshipping Baal or some other false God. No. According to verse 5 they had “a feast to the LORD.” They weren’t breaking commandment one, but commandment two. They were worshipping the correct God, but incorrectly—by means of an image.

Now you probably haven’t built any golden calves lately. But I wonder if you’ve ever gotten caught up in one of these rituals where a cross is placed in the middle of a room and people are urged to gather round it for prayer, or to write down their sins and nail them to the cross. That is a violation of the second commandment. We come to Christ by faith in His blood, not through a piece of wood.

It is interesting, too, how many people have pictures of Jesus in their homes. Some people even pray or sing in their direction, as though Jesus were really locked up in the paint and canvas. The same phenomenon can happen when we see video representations of Jesus. The problem is not with our intent. The problem is that we are substituting a picture of Jesus for the real thing. We do not need pictures, statues, or crosses in order to help us draw near to God. We simply need faith in the man Jesus Christ.

There is not room here to go into detail about angel figurines, holy water, rosary beads, prayer cloths, and so on. We can make an idol out of anything. And any object that we employ to ‘help us worship God’ is an idol. God means for us to come to Him in spirit, by His Son, and through the Word, period. Anything else is a breach of the second commandment.

Thanks be to God who, through the death of His Son, has allowed us to “turn to God from serving idols, to serve a living and true God" (1 Thess. 1.9)!


am said...

The second half of verse 5 (visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me),

poses some real problems for us and more for our children.
However, last week in
1 Peter 1:18ff
"knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,

19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ."

I noticed afresh the great redemption from even the iniquity of our fathers and their futlity.

Kurt Strassner said...


Yes! Praise the Lord Jesus for 1 Peter 1.18-19! That is a great connection that will be helpful to me now whenever I read commandment 2!