The Ten Commandments: The Second Commandment

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”

The second commandment was amplified more than the other nine. There were solemn obligations related to it, in keeping with the character of God – He is jealous in His love and concern for His own. Blessings or judgement would follow, depending on a person’s response to this command.

Disobedience would produce a bitter harvest among succeeding generations. Children would not be held directly responsible for the actions of their father and mother (Deu 24:16), but they might suffer indirectly because of God’s discipline upon the parents. The worst outcome would occur if the children followed their parents’ bad example. The severity of this statement – judgement affecting a third or fourth generation – is countered by the truth of God’s mercy being extended for a thousand generations.

The Greatness of God

The Bible teaches that God is a spirit and He must be worshipped in spirit and in truth (Joh 4:24). He does not have a physical form. When the Scriptures refer to Him, using such terms as His eyes, ears and hands, they are seeking to convey the truth that God sees and knows, and He hears and acts. He is omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent.

God is without beginning and without end. He is outside the time-space-matter framework of the universe. He is before, above, and beyond it, the self-existent and eternal God. And yet, the Bible expresses His purposeful involvement in the universe He created. He has revealed Himself to His creatures through His Word and He is interested in their welfare. He has intervened in man’s history; in fact, He is in control of it and is working out His purposes according to the good pleasure of His will.

No physical representation could ever do justice to God’s greatness and majesty. An image or fabricated idol would limit the truth rather than fully expressing it. However, the brightness of God’s essential glory was glimpsed from time to time. Moses had to be covered and protected from seeing the full blaze of it (Exo 33:22-23).

In the tabernacle and the temple, although there was no visible depiction of God, His glory was there. He dwelt between the cherubim above the mercy seat (Exo 25:22; 1Sa 4:4). When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies, he burned incense to produce a cloud that shielded him from the dazzling sight; otherwise, he would face certain death (Lev 16:13). A pillar of cloud, signifying God’s presence, led the Israelites by day through the wilderness; at night, it appeared as a pillar of fire. It was visible but must have been dimmed; otherwise the people could not have looked upon it directly.

After Moses had been called to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the commandments of the law, the people waiting below became impatient and restive. They persuaded Aaron to make them a golden calf. Their subsequent behavior was not unlike the degenerate and immoral veneration of false idols they would have witnessed in Egypt. It had little to do with anything they had ever learned about Jehovah. The Scriptures relate that they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play; they shouted and danced naked around the image (Exo 32:6,17,19,25).

Moses came down from Sinai, and when he saw the unseemly chaos and unrestrained idolatry, it broke his heart. No wonder that in his anguish he cast the two tables of the law to the ground, dashing them in pieces. Ironically, God’s law had been broken even before the people had formally received it.

The only true representation of God to mankind was seen in the Person of Christ: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him” (Joh 1:18).[1] Christ declared, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (Joh 14:9). The fulness of His divine glory was veiled while He was here upon earth, but other aspects such as His grace and truth were always evident (Joh 1:14). On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James and John were granted the privilege of having a preview of the radiant glory that would be manifested in the coming kingdom. At the same time, they had been reminded that the pathway of Christ’s suffering and death still lay ahead as the necessary prelude to the glory which was to come.

The Folly of Idolatry

Regarding idolatry in general, the psalmist drew attention to the powerlessness of inanimate things which men had made (Psa 115:4-8), but the idols of today are not all physical objects made of gold and silver, wood and stone. Many people are sacrificing their lives for that which this world offers. The idols of prosperity, pleasure and power hold millions of souls enthralled. These are pursued in different ways: for example, those who lust after riches may regard a good education and a top career as the guaranteed pathway to success. Others may have the same goal but decide to take a shortcut by lying, thieving or defrauding to enrich themselves at the expense of others.

There are also idols of a more primitive and sinister kind, even in the western world. There is an upsurge of interest in the occult, magic arts and sorcery. Some who regard Christianity as being outdated and irrelevant to modern society are reverting to the ancient cultic practices of paganism. This is a reminder that when men reject God, they must fill the vacuum with something or someone. The devil is always ready to provide a tangible substitute.

A rich young ruler came running to the Lord Jesus Christ, seemingly anxious to learn how he might inherit eternal life. He regarded himself as a faithful keeper of the law, but the words of Christ probed his heart and revealed that what mattered most to him were his personal riches. Christ was not teaching that salvation could be gained by selling one’s possessions; He was exposing the young man’s priorities. This teaches us that anything that comes between a believer and God has the potential of becoming an idol. The apostle John ended his first epistle with this heartfelt plea: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1Jn 5:21).

What can wean our souls from pursuing things that have no eternal value? It is not a precept of law but indwelling love, love for Christ, that will strip every idol of its apparent beauty.

What have we to do with idols
Who have companied with Him?[2]

[1] All Scripture references in this article are from the KJV.

[2] Ora Rowan