The Second Commandment: Worshipping God on the Walls or in the Word
November 9, 2008
Introduction: I faced a great dichotomy that I was never able to resolve as a Roman Catholic. On one hand, I was taught that without the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church I could never understand or know God. On the other hand, the transcendent features of Romanism left God far off and out of reach in everyday life. I felt as though God was never near unless I was within a stained-glass cathedral filled with mystical relics and old, artfully lit crucifixes.
The crucifix, censers, flowing robs of priests, hand lavers, and mysterious statues of church selected saints or biblical figures all combined as a potent reality: God was in Heaven, far away and unsullied by the evils of this world. The lesson I learned was that I was part of that evil; therefore, I was left alone, abandoned because of sin. However, when I entered the churches of Catholicism, I could find God on the walls and in the statues.
The idolatry of Catholicism was as deceptive as all idolatry is. It was also very blatant at the same time. My fellow Catholics and I were able to manipulate God by bringing him down to us and hanging him upon our walls. When I became a true believer, I learned quickly that God is in His Word and not upon the walls. A faithful church proclaims God from the pulpit; it does not frame God in a portrait. A faithful church understands that believers are the image of God; inanimate objects are not.
Transition: Our series on The Ten Commandments continues this evening with the second. The thought provoking lesson learned from it is as valuable today as it was when the finger of God recorded it. You didn’t come to church to look at God on the walls; you came to church to listen to God in His Word!
Exodus 20:4-6 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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; 5you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
This command is reinforced in several NT passages:
Acts 17:29 “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.”
Romans 1:22-23 “Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
1 Corinthians 10:7 “And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.’”
1 Corinthians 10:14 “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
Correcting the Roman Catholic Understanding of The Ten Commandments:
Two weeks ago, we began our study of The Ten Commandments with the first - “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exo 20.3). Roman Catholicism teaches that Exodus 20.3 through verse six form one command. We teach at Heritage that verse three states the first command and verses 4-6 state the second. As a matter of fact, many of you have the Believers’ Study Bible. The following explanation appears as a notation for this passage:
“Contrary to the opinion of some, it is proper to consider v. 3 as a separate commandment from vv. 4, 5. The first commandment (v. 3) forbids worship of other gods; the second commandment (vv. 4, 5) forbids the use of visual portrayals of God in worship, or the use of aspects of God’s creation as symbols of God in worship.”
· How do we know the right interpretation of the passage? Before we answer this question, you might be thinking, “How do Catholics come up with ten commands if they combine the first two?” The answer is that they divide the 10th command about coveting into two commands.
· Our understanding of the break down of The Ten Commandments is correct:
o The first command is concerned with Who we worship; the second command is concerned with how we worship.
o The first condemns the worshiping of false deities; the second condemns the worship of the true God in a false manner.
o The distinction between the two commands is clear. It is also illustrated later in Israel’s history.
§ King Jehu put Jezebel to death when he assumed power over Israel (2 Kings 9:30-37). He was also rather cunning and thorough about eliminating the priesthood of Baal in Israel (2 Kings 10:18-27).
2 Kings 10:28 states, “Thus Jehu destroyed Baal from Israel.”
o So, the king refused to worship any other god beside the true God. He obeyed the first command. But this is not the whole story.
2 Kings 10:29 “However Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan.”
o The king continued to tolerate the worship of God in a false manner; therefore, he broke the second commandment.
o The golden calves of Jeroboam mentioned here were never intended to be false gods; they were used to worship the true God falsely.
Transition: Now, looking to the command itself. There is a four-fold progression of thought which begins with a simple statement of a prohibition from God. We have first…
The Deception of Graven Images (Exodus 20:4-5a)
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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; 5you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.”
Creating a carved image of a god is deceptive because by so doing, devotees to this image seek to manipulate the god they’ve created. Jeroboam did this with his golden calves in order to maintain control over God and His people. We create gods in order to manipulate them - its human nature.
God desires that people take their place as creatures of His creative hand not the other way around. Even as the image may stand in the place of the true God, people tend to worship it rather than the God it was supposed to represent. They have been deceived by the graven image. Nothing in heaven above, the earth beneath, or the water under the earth could serve Israel as a representation of God.
Idolatry perpetually deceives us. Mankind during the Tribulation will face great plagues and they will still not repent of the works of their hands. Revelation 9:20 states that they will worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk. They are deceived and they worship or serve idols rather than God. Idolatry is forbidden because it hides God rather than reveals Him.
Application: Before we leave this thought, we must ask whether or not it is permissible to wear a cross on a necklace or lapel. Some religious groups like the Jehovah Witnesses believe the second command forbids wearing such.
“Christians wear a cross because they worship and venerate Christ. It is merely an outward symbol for an inner worshipful attitude toward Christ. If anyone did worship a cross (or any other symbol), or bow down before it, then it would be a form of idolatry (Exod. 20:4).” - Norm Geisler
The key to our understanding is found in the fact that Israel was not to worship any other god or any image of any god. Art with depictions of angels, humans, or animals is not forbidden in these verses. The use of those images as idols is prohibited. We are not to bow down to them or serve them states the text.
“Even language about God in the Bible contains images. God is both a shepherd and a father. But each of these is appropriately qualified. God is not just any father. He is our Heavenly Father. Likewise, Jesus is not just any shepherd, but the Good Shepherd who gave His life for His sheep (John 10:11). No finite image can be appropriately applied to the infinite God without qualification. To do so is idolatry. And idols are idols whether they are mental or metal.” -Norm Geisler
Transition: You didn’t come to church to look at God on the walls; you came to church to listen to God in His Word! We must worship God in truth not deception! The second thought in our progression involves…
The Desire of God (Exodus 20:5c)
“For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…”
Jealous? Does that strike you as somehow not fitting in with the other perfections of God? It sounds strange to us: Omnipresent, Omniscient, Merciful, Holy, Loving, and Jealous? Yet this is the reason why God forbids idolatry.
The first commandment in Exodus 20:3 shows clearly that there is no other god - only One True God. The second forbids the crafting of another or the representation of the true God with creation. God loves and desires to be loved exclusively. God’s love is faithful and loyal. When He is spurned, He is jealous.
The root meaning of the Hebrew word jealous actually means red. What does red have to do with jealousy? It is probable that it suggests the color of someone’s face when they are deeply jealous for another.
2 Corinthians 11:2 indicates that Paul was jealous “with godly jealousy.” Why? Because he had betrothed the Corinthian believers to one husband, namely Christ, and they were not being faithful to Him. There is godly jealousy and human jealousy. Human jealousy often involves discontentment. It is coveting that which does not belong to us. That type of jealousy is sin. However, godly jealousy is the preservation of that which already belongs to God. We are His possession. He is full of zeal to keep it that way.
We see this on a human level in marriage. Would you ever want to find your spouse in the willing embrace of another? Normal people recoil at the thought of this. We are jealous to protect our marriages; God is jealous to protect His relationship with His people. This is the earnest desire of God!
Transition: You didn’t come to church to look at God on the walls; you came to church to listen to God in His Word! What you hear from the Word of God this evening is that idolatry is forbidden because God jealously desires our devotion to Him. This brings us to the third thought in our progression…
The Danger to the Third and Fourth Generations (Exodus 20:5d)
“…visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.”
The intensity of godly jealousy leads to danger and delight. The danger is found at the end of verse 5 while the delight is found in the whole of verse 6. Why does our jealous God visit the iniquity of fathers upon children? Two reasons: 1) The fathers set in motion a pattern of idolatry that perpetuates generationally and ensnares their children; 2) The children hate God as much as the fathers did.
The words, “of those who hate Me”, are key to understanding this passage of Scripture. Some think it refers only to the parents; others to both. I believe it refers to both. That is, both the parents and children hate God and continue to perpetuate idolatry. They are deserving of the wrath of a jealous God whose love has been spurned.
Ezekiel 18:20 is a clear Scripture about individual responsibility for sin: “The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.” Therefore, the children are not bearing their fathers’ guilt in Exodus 20:5.
The passage in Exodus is referring to the consequences children face when they have idolatrous fathers. Often that idolatry is passed on to succeeding generations. This happens with other sins as well. If a mother drinks alcohol or smokes cigarettes while pregnant, this may negatively impact the forming of her baby in her womb. If a father leaves his wife for another woman, the children will often become bitter and impoverished. Sin defiles many. But the baby in a mother’s womb and the children of broken homes are not responsible for the sins of their parents; they simply reap the consequences of those sins.
If the children of the third and fourth generation in Exodus face the visitation of their fathers’ iniquity, it is precisely because they have sinned against God as their fathers had done. They hate God. Romans 5:12 states that through one man sin entered the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. The soul that sins dies.
God does not lock families into the perpetuity of idolatry. I’m glad for that; aren’t you? But this ought to be a sober warning to all of us. There is a great danger posed for our children and grandchildren when we live sinfully before them. When fathers fail to love God exclusively …when they fail worship Him properly, their children will face the consequences. They have a millstone tied to their spiritual necks. Fathers leave legacies.
Transition: You didn’t come to church to look at God on the walls; you came to church to listen to God in His Word! Idolatry spurns God and has far reaching consequences impacting future generations. However, there is a fourth and final thought in the progression of the second commandment…
The Delight to the Thousands of Generations (Exodus 20:6)
“…but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
If the cycle of hatred is broken, thousands of succeeding generations will witness a demonstration of God’s mercy. The reason is people chose to love God instead of hating Him. They kept His commandments!
Of course, this is not communicating a perpetual heritage of mercy just because you are in a certain family. Each generation still makes a choice, but the consequences of loving God become a delight to thousands of generations while the consequences of hating Him reach comparatively to the third and fourth generations. The emphasis belongs on the mercy of God in this passage.
Isn’t it wonderful to know that when fathers worship the true God in the right way, they will find mercy? New everyday with the opportunity for our children to respond in kind! There is nothing like it. What life are you perpetuating? A God on the walls or a God in the proclamation of His Word?
Conclusion: One man wrote that the human heart is a ‘perpetual factor of idols.’ It is still true today. How so? How is that we manufacture our own gods and break this second commandment?
· During the preaching services at Heritage, we’re going to preach. I know that sounds rather obvious, but think about the marginalization of preaching in our media-saturated culture. People would rather see on God on the projection screen rather than listen to Him from the Word. The command is to preach not visualize.
· The idolatry is also in the search people undertake for a god they can use and control. A god that can give 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential. A god that helps you Become a Better You or a god that provides 7 Keys to Improving Your Life Every Day. Perhaps a search for a god that heals when you touch the television preacher, or mystically pray the prayer of Jabez, or follow the appropriate method of 1,2,3 parenting for godly kids. We can’t control or manipulate God. The second commandment tells us to love Him and keep His commandments. If we do this, we are successful no matter the lack of money, fumbling prayer, or rebellious kids.
· Idolatry enters into play when we fail to see God in the Scripture. Many love to emphasize certain attributes of God while neglecting others. That’s why we have homosexual and feminist theologians. These people craft a god they can use. But this god is not the God of the Bible. It is a god they’ve created to justify their sin.
The only full and complete portrait of God is found in Christ:
Hebrews 1:3 states that Jesus is the “brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
John 14:9 Jesus said [to Philip], “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father…”
The great truth of the second commandment is that a god on the walls could never speak as powerfully as Christ in you. We are created in the image of God. That image should shine brighter every day.
Hymn: Whiter Than Snow (310)