The Ten Commandments:
- You shall have no other gods before me
- You shall not make for yourself an idol
- Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
- Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
- Honor your father and mother
- You shall not kill/murder
- You shall not commit adultery
- You shall not steal
- You shall not bear false witness
- You shall not covet
The Second Commandment says:
4 “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
What is an idol?
According to dictionary.com, an idol is:
1. an image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed.
a. an image of a deity other than God.
b. the deity itself.
3. any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion: Madame Curie had been her childhood idol.
4. a mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
5. a figment of the mind; fantasy.
Let us consider each of these five definitions.
An image or other material object representing a deity to which religious worship is addressed
The key points of the Second Commandment are that we should not 1) have images or likenesses that 2) we worship. The Second Commandment does not, as some have claimed, forbid artwork. It forbids the worship of images.
Many Christians wear crosses or have artwork depicting Jesus displayed in their homes. If one pulls Exodus 2:4 out of context, it would seem that any sort of God-themed artwork would be forbidden. However, verse 5 makes it clear that it’s not the artwork per se that is problematic, but the worship of these images.
Owning a cross or a statue of Jesus can be a wonderful reminder of what Jesus did for us on the cross. However, when someone prays to the statue, or uses the cross as some sort of talisman to attempt to get closer to God, this becomes idol worship.
What about worshipping the Bible? Although the Bible is the Word of God, it’s not God. Worshipping a physical book is idolatry. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humanity – it points us to Him, but it isn’t Him. By way of analogy, this blog tells people a lot about me, about how I think and what I believe, but reading my blog isn’t the same as knowing me. Similarly, the Bible tells us about the One who wants us to know Him in an intimate, personal manner. Don’t worship the Bible – worship the One who gave it to us.
An image of a deity other than God, or the deity itself.
Here, we’re no longer talking about crosses or paintings of Jesus, but of objects representing other so-called gods. Whether it’s a golden calf or a statue of the Buddha, the worship of any object representing any god other than the God of the Bible is forbidden. It doesn’t matter if one believes the object itself is a god, or just represents a god, any worship of or through an object is sin. There is only one true God – the God of the Old and New Testaments. The worship of any other so-called god takes away from our ability to have a relationship with the true God, and thus is sin.
Any person or thing regarded with blind admiration, adoration, or devotion
In modern America, few of us worship actual objects, per se. However, how many of us worship other people? Many people derive meaning and purpose for their lives from the teachings of the Pope, Billy Graham, Darwin, Barack Obama, Joel Osteen, the Dali Lama, or a host of other people. This is idolatry. When we put our faith and trust in anyone other than Jesus Christ, we violate the Second Commandment.
There are many Christian teachers whom I respect and from whom I learn a great deal. However, it is critical that I take whatever they say and compare it with God’s truth as revealed in the Bible. I am never to take what mere man says as infallible. To do so becomes idolatry.
A mere image or semblance of something, visible but without substance, as a phantom.
The worship of spirits, angels, demons, ghosts, and the like is clearly forbidden throughout the Bible. Ancestor worship, the occult, New Age practices, and so forth all fall under this category. There are numerous passages throughout both the Old and New Testaments that clearly forbid such practices.
A figment of the mind; fantasy.
This one is interesting. How many people worship a false Jesus? Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims believe in a Jesus that was just a mere man, not God in the flesh. They deny the true nature of Jesus – they hold to a fantasy Jesus.
What about people who see Jesus as only loving? A Jesus that would never allow anyone to go to Hell? Or, a Jesus that picks and chooses who He will save, and who He will not, never giving some the opportunity to be saved? Both of these views deny the true nature of Jesus as revealed in the Bible. Both views are figments of man’s imagination. Both views are idolatry. Both incorporate certain aspects of God’s true nature, but deny other aspects. To worship man-made God who ignores sin is idolatry, as is worshipping a man-made God who only loves some people, but not others.
Can anyone follow the Second Commandment?
Ultimately, the answer is no, we cannot. We all get meaning and purpose from people and things other than God. Due to the limitations of our finite minds, none of us can truly understand the fullness of the nature of God, so we all worship something less than the actual God. At times, we all put other things before our worship of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We all fall short of following the Second Commandment perfectly.
Thankfully, despite our sin and idolatry, we can still be saved. If we repent of our idolatry and other sin, and place our trust in Jesus Christ, we are saved. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” We need to acknowledge that Jesus Christ alone can forgive our sins and restore our relationship with God the Father. Any other worship is idolatry.