The 1st Commandment teaches that God stands alone as the source of all blessings and so we are not to imagine any other god as a source for life’s blessings. The 2nd Commandment further teaches that life in God’s presence is to be mediated on His terms, not mans’.
The bible does not forbid art and the depiction of things in creation. The priests’ garments were woven with the imagery of pomegranates (Exodus 28:33-34) and the ark conveyed golden statues of angelic beings called Cheribum.
What is forbidden is imagining that things created can mediate Gods blessing or bring us into contact with divine power.
The only elements that should be present in our worship together are those elements commanded by God either through express command or by implication. Singing, dancing, bread and wine are a few examples.
Faith in Words, Not Things
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything… (Exodus 20:4)
In Numbers 21 we have the account of a bronze serpent being lifted up on a pole. This was in response to the fatal bite of serpents God had sent to discipline Israel in their rebellion.
The pole was commissioned by God and represented a promise of life from the dead.
If bitten and you looked at the serpent on the pole, you lived. If you didn’t, you died.
But there was nothing at all magical about the pole. The power of life was in the promise made by God, “Look and live”. Those of faith looked – and lived. Those who didn’t believe didn’t look and died.
Some years later, this pole was incorporated into Israelite worship (2 Kings 18:4) with the mistaken view that it had the power to confer blessing. God responded by judging them for their idolatry.
Like Israel’s misuse of the serpent on the pole, all idolatry is an attempt to localise and imagine divine power in things created.
And so we are cautioned not to imagine or make an idol of anything that is,
…in heaven above, in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. (Exodus 20:4-5)
The Bible teaches that the land is resting on the great deep (Psalm 24:1-2). Above is the dome of the firmament (Genesis 1:6; Job 37:18) in which are fixed the sun, moon and stars which move around us in their courses above (Genesis 1:17). It’s within these three realms; heaven, earth and the waters under the earth, that man seeks out his idols.
Idolatry can take on many forms including religious devotion to the environment, hero worship, entertainment and an obsession with created things, people or groups.
Such devotions are often considered acts of righteousness by our culture. For example, devotees of the environment turn off their lights for one hour each March in order to acknowledge and atone for their guilt as consumers of the earth’s resources, or football fans who dress in team colours to show their allegiance and inclusion. All these are a form of idolatrous slavery in the making. Slavery which believers can cheerfully reject.
God is Jealous for us
…for I the Lord your God am a jealous God… (Exodus 20:5)
God is not an essence, a force, a material being or a vibe. God is a person, He is Spirit and His presence is relational.
As a man is with his wife, so God will not share our devotion with anything or anyone.
The consequence of all idolatry is judgement.
…visitng the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6)
Our idolatry has consequences. The father who blows the family inheritance on Hagan’s Pride, track three, race nine, is committing an idolatry that will directly impact his children.
This is not God arbitrarily dishing out judgement on helpless kids. The consequences of sin are woven into the fabric of His creation.
Likewise, we must not presume that obedience to the 2nd Commandment forces God’s hand to reward us. God is looking for faith and faithfulness, not blind obedience.
Finally, Jesus, as the faithful Son whom God brought out of Egypt, fulfils the 2nd Commandment by rejecting all idolatry (Luke 4:7-8).
He is the substitute that God provides (1 Corinthians 5:7). He is the power of God localised (1 Corinthians 1:24). He is the mediator of God’s blessings (2 Timothy 2:15).
And those who look to Jesus and flee from idolatry stand to enjoy all that God mediates through His Son.
Those who look to idols will get an idols reward.