Idol and Likeness

The 2nd Commandment

Mike explains the various ways the second commandment forbidding idolatry is violated in modern times.
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We are studying the 10 Commandments with the objective of truly understanding them and more perfectly obeying them as a way of growing in sanctification as Christians. The commandments are what put Jesus on the cross, are what bring sinners to the cross, and what keep Christians at the cross. In this lesson we will be looking at the second commandment.

4"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. 5You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
- Exodus 20:4-6

Note that there is the prohibition and the consequences. This commandment addresses the "mode" of worship not "the object".

vs. 4 - Note that the command does not just say kneel, or pray to, but actually "make" such things. An "idol" is a manmade object that represents what man thinks or imagines what God is like. A "likeness" is an object in nature which represents God.

vs. 5 - You shall not create or make these things for the following purposes:

  • Worship purposes - to offer devotion, prayer, trust or love to these objects and what you think they represent. The worship or reverence of Mary, or the saints as represented by pictures or statues is a form of idolatry.
  • Serving purposes - To serve as priest or disciple in temples or shrines for example.

A lot of people say that they do not worship the statue, they worship what the statue represents but the 2nd commandment says that we must not ever use a statue or image in worshipping Him.

The Consequences - Exodus 20:5-6

God will punish those who break this command. It's a promise; you cannot do this with impunity. And if you teach your children these things, they also will be punished and the punishment will occur in every generation that this sin is practiced without exception. Those, however, who obey the command, will set into motion a faith that can be blessed and multiplied. The idea here is that the effects of disobedience last only a few generations until these people are cut off altogether, but obedience guarantees life for a people - even to 1,000 generations.

How do people break this commandment?

A. Old Testament: We have many examples of pagans (Baal worship) as well as Jews (golden calf) creating objects to worship or offering worship to nature (Egyptians → Sun).

B. New Testament:

Non-Christians - Same type of Old Testament idolatry exists today in Eastern religions: Hindus burn fires before little statues. Muslims touch a sacred stone at Mecca. The statue of the Buddha is revered. Even in the West we have examples of this. For example, Mormons consider their temples sacred. Roman Catholics still use imagery in worship and devotion. Some environmentalists consider the earth sacred and serve it as one serves God. The practice of occultism, witchcraft, sorcery, divination are all forms of idolatry because they seek and serve a spiritual power that is not from God.

Christians - Aside from being subject to these things, Christians can also be caught up in idolatry in the following ways:

A. Resistance to God's will/Word

For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He has also rejected you from being king.
- I Samuel 15:23

Saul disobeyed Samuel's instructions regarding the destruction of the Amalekites and when he was corrected by Samuel, continued to justify his behavior. Resisting the Spirit or the direct Word of God is a form of idolatry because it establishes our will, our thoughts, our image of self as supreme over us. We end up serving our own will over God's will.

B. Greed

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.
- Colossians 3:5

Paul warns that greed (the insatiable desire for more) is a form of idolatry. Greed moves us to set up the satisfaction of our desire as our "god". We focus our energy and love on the people, things, possessions that we desire. We lavish our love and attention on them when we get them. Greed keeps us in a never-ending cycle of yearning, earning, and yearning again.

This world is full of temptations to idolatry because it offers many alternatives to God's Word as the basis for living; and we are constantly stimulated to be dissatisfied with what we have and yearn for more or "newer" - whether it be laundry detergent or our spouse.... we are always encouraged to desire more or different than what we already have.

How to better obey this commandment

1. Keep your eyes and heart focused on Christ

He is the image of the invisible God..
- Colossians 1:15

Prayer, worship, study, service to Christ will guarantee that we will know and serve the true God and walk in His ways. The more we know and see Christ, the more we know and see the Father (for if you have seen Christ, you have seen the Father - John 14:9). The more we know Christ the less likely we will fall into idolatry and worship another, including sinful self.

2. Be content with what you have

5Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you," 6so that we confidently say,
"The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.
What will man do to me?"
- Hebrews 13:5-6

The antidote to greed is contentment and the way to contentment has three steps:

  1. Recognize that all we have is from God - you did not produce it and without His blessings you would not have acquired it - this is true whether a person acknowledges it or not.
  2. Practice giving thanks
    • The giving of thanks to God is what sanctifies (purifies for our use) what we have - I Timothy 4:4.
    • Being grateful and showing our gratitude for what we have neutralizes the temptation to constantly yearn for more or newer.
  3. Trust God's portion
    • God knows both what you need and how much you need even before you realize it.
    • Greed moves us to search for and acquire more than what we need and thus reject God's will in this area of our lives.
    • This is why people cannot satisfy themselves with more, bigger, newer. Satisfaction comes from accepting and doing God's will.

And so, to obey the second commandment regarding idolatry: Let us keep our focus on the Lord and let us learn to be content with what we have.

Discussion Questions

  1. What "idols" have been most prevalent in your life?
  2. Some think that having a "cross" in the church building is idolatrous. Do you agree? Why?
  3. What prevents you from having a steady and clear focus on Christ?
  4. Why is "contentment" so difficult to achieve and easy to lose?
  5. What is the hardest thing to trust God within your life?