This is the second part in the Beyond Today Bible study series: The Ten Commandments. Why did God make a rule about images? Was it something that just applied in ancient times? Today, we live in an image conscious culture, a world where images surround us at almost all times. Is it possible that in a modern, digital, visual society, this law applies now more than ever? Join Steve Myers for this week’s Bible study on the Second Commandment.
[Steve Myers] Good evening everyone. Welcome to our bi-weekly Bible studies. Glad to have you with us here in the room at the home office of the United Church of God as well as those of you visiting us on the web. It’s good to be together. We’re going to get into the Ten Commandments tonight. We’re going to continue our study. Last time we talked about the very First Commandment. So tonight, we’re going to stay right in order and we’re going to go to the Second Commandment. So that’s the schedule for tonight. We’re glad to have you with us. So before we start, if you’ll bow your heads, we’re going to ask God’s blessing on our study tonight.
Great loving, heavenly Father, thanks so much for Your wonderful ways. What an awesome blessing it is to come together to open Your Word, to study it, and try to glean even more deeper understanding of Your principles and Your way. So be with us tonight. Help us to do that very thing. Help us to gain a deeper understanding of Your Word and Your will and how to more effectively apply it in our lives. We love You. We praise You. We honor You, and ask for Your presence and blessing. Not only here, but all around the world with Your people. So please guide us and lead us in all things. And so we put it into Your hands and pray and ask this by the authority of our savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
All right, tonight as I said, we’re going to begin a study on the Second Commandment. So without wasting any time, we’re going to jump right to Exodus 20 and read through that particular commandment right off the bat. Exodus chapter 20, Second Commandment, begins in verse 4. Begins in verse 4, it’s a familiar one. It starts out by saying, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” That’s the New King James translation. Regular King James says a graven image. A carved image. It says, “don’t make 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. 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 upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me keep My commandments.”
So as you quickly read through the Second Commandment, I had to ask myself, now is there a one command here or are there two commands? Is it one or two? Don’t make a carved image or any likeness of anything, and don’t bow down. So is there one command for all of the things that are mentioned here or is it two? Carved images, graven images, and bowing down. How does that play out together? It sounds simple enough. Or does it mean, don’t make any likeness of anything?
Does that mean, if I give my little one a beautiful stuffed animal, let’s say, a beautiful elephant, that that would be a graven image? If I give my child a little doll to play with, that is certainly a likeness, isn’t it, of something that’s on the earth? Would that qualify for this or not? And if not, why not? You know, some people think that. That, well, a doll or a toy that’s used as a toy, if it’s in the shape of anything that’s described here – fish under the water – that shouldn’t be allowed because that’s in violation of the Second Commandment. Is that really the case though? And if not, why not? And why these things then?
There’s an interesting passage that’s just a little bit over from this. If you go over to Exodus 25, look at Exodus 25:18 Exodus 25:18And you shall make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shall you make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
American King James Version×. Because here, it almost sounds like something that might be in violation of that commandment. God gave that commandment, Exodus 20. Just a couple of chapters later, look at Exodus 25:18 Exodus 25:18And you shall make two cherubim of gold, of beaten work shall you make them, in the two ends of the mercy seat.
American King James Version×. This is describing the house of God, building a tabernacle, a tent for God. And as they are to build this tent, they’re told how to do a certain section of that tent. When it comes to the Ark of the Covenant, that would be the mercy seat of God, look at the description here, verse 18. It says, “You shall make two cherubim of gold. Of hammered work, you shall make them at the two ends of the mercy seat.”
Well, cherubim, those are angels. Those are things in the heavens, right? So is that a violation of Exodus 20, of what He just said? In fact, we look down just a little bit farther. Look to chapter 26, right at the very beginning of chapter 26, He says, “Moreover, you should make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine-woven linen, blue and purple and scarlet thread.” But it doesn’t stop there. He says, “You should make artistic designs of cherubim. You should weave them.” So now we have a design of the angelic realm that’s included right in the tabernacle of God. So is that a violation of Exodus 20?
In fact, it doesn’t stop there. If you go over to the Kings, go over to 1 Kings 7:19 1 Kings 7:19And the capitals that were on the top of the pillars were of lily work in the porch, four cubits.
American King James Version×. Because it’s not just the angelic realm that God talks about depictions of. Here in 1 Kings 7, we’re fast forwarding in time over hundreds and hundreds of years, but we’re fast forwarding to the building of Solomon’s temple. So we move from a temporary dwelling, a temporary tabernacle that was set up in the wilderness to a permanent temple, a temple that Solomon built. And in the description of this temple, let’s notice what it says in verse 19, 1 Kings 7:19 1 Kings 7:19And the capitals that were on the top of the pillars were of lily work in the porch, four cubits.
American King James Version×. As they’re building the temple, he made pillars. He made pillars, in fact, it says, he made…this is verse 17, “He made a lattice network with wreaths of chainwork for the capitals, which were on top of the pillars.” So they’re describing these pillars that are in the tabernacle. Verse 18, “He made the pillars and two rows of pomegranates above the network all around the top of the capitals.” So these pillars were decorated with things at the top. In fact, it wasn’t just pomegranates. Little bit farther down, verse 19, it says, “on top of the pillars in the hall were the shape of lilies.”
So we’ve got lilies, we’ve got pomegranates, we also have representations of cherubim. Does that go against “things that are on the earth”? Or does God mean something else? In fact, if we look down a little bit farther, here’s this sea in verse 23. He made the sea cast of bronze. This sea was a gigantic basin that held water for the priests to do sacrifices. So on this giant basin, notice what’s holding up this giant basin. Verse 24, it says “below its brim were ornamental buds.” So that’s a depiction of living things. And then holding up this gigantic basin, verse 25, “it stood on twelve oxen, three looking north, three looking west, three looking south, three looking east.” Are these depictions of oxen a violation of the Second Commandment? Depicting things that are in the earth. And if it’s not, why isn’t it?
You see, normally, people would say, “Well, God told them to do it that way. God said to build it that way. He gave them the design, so that’s okay. But that little stuffed animal that you have that might be a depiction of a horse or an elephant or something like that, that would be a violation to that commandment.” Is that the way we should understand that? That it’s okay because God said so, or what exactly is the definition of a carved image or a graven image? Do these fulfill that definition? And if they don’t, is it simply because God said it or is there more to it than just that? Whoever guessed there’s probably more to it than just that, right? Absolutely.
If we were to put ourselves back, especially in ancient times, what would be the definition of a carved image or a graven image? How were they used? Well, in ancient times, a graven image was the standard for pagan worship. You know, the people would honor false gods – pagan deities – by their images. So it would be the standard way of worship to gods who weren’t really gods, right? They would use images in order to honor those various gods. So what were they? They were representations of those false gods, right? They were representations of those false gods. So then the question would be, is an image that’s not made for worship acceptable? So would my little stuffed animal be acceptable? Well, yeah. It doesn’t fit the definition of what a graven image or a carved image…in fact, it’s not really an image at all. The cherubim that are described are not images at all because they’re not intended to be worshiped, and so that becomes the definition.
Only in ancient thought was an image something to be worshiped or honored. And so if there’s a depiction of a cow like the oxen that held up that giant basin, if there were depictions of angelic beings that were not intended to be worshiped, it doesn’t fit our definition. So whether it was, you know, just a statue of a person, does that fit the image of what’s being talked about in the Second Commandment? Well, no, because it’s not something that would be worshiped. So just the appearance of something that sounds like it might be described back in Exodus 20, something in the heavens, something in the earth, something under the water, it gets right down to what is its purpose. What is its purpose? And so, by definition, it comes down to what is the focal point of its purpose? You see, a graven image or a carved image served as a focal point for the worship of that false god, that false deity.
So if we begin to try to define this graven image or carved image, we’ve got a focal point. And it’s focused on the worship or the presence of a power. The presence of a deity. Now, a false deity of course, but it points to that very thing, we’ll say, the presence of a false deity. And I’ll just say a false god, right? The presence of a false god. The presence that is the focal point of this object of worship.
Can you think of any biblical examples of that? There’s an interesting example with King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In fact, it wasn’t just Babylon. Whether it was other places, Egypt would’ve been a good example, where the rulers, they themselves channeled their deities, right? That the pharaoh oftentimes was worshiped as a god. A Nebuchadnezzar is a great idea, not just because they looked like a deity, but because they represented that deity. They were representative of that deity’s power and authority. And so, that deity could work through them in that way, so that they themselves would then be deified. Does that make sense?
Let’s think of an example. Nebuchadnezzar’s one I mentioned. You might just write down the fact that, through Daniel 3, it talks about an image that King Nebuchadnezzar made. I think many are familiar with that story. He had this dream about this amazing statue and didn’t know what it was. Asked Daniel, “What does this mean?” Well, comes to find out. “Well, King Nebuchadnezzar,” Daniel explains by the inspiration of God, “You’re the head of gold, and the other parts of this statue represent other kingdoms that will come after you.”
Well, what does Nebuchadnezzar do? Well, once he understands what the dream is all about, he goes and he builds this statue. And not just a little, little thing. He builds a statue that’s 90 feet tall, this monstrosity. And instead of making just the head gold, do you know what he makes gold? All of it. He makes the whole thing gold. Why did he do that? Well, he was told, he’s in charge. He’s the head of gold. By making it all gold, was he using that as a graven image? Was he using that as a carved image? Does that fulfill the definition? Does that focal point represent the authority of his pagan gods that would be channeled through him? I think so, because what did he make the people do? See, if you read through Daniel 3, it says, when you hear the music, you bow down and you worship the statue. You worship this graven image because that’s the focal point. The presence of a false god, the authority of this false god, the power that would be through this image of Nebuchadnezzar through that statue is significant when it comes to worshiping the pagan deity or maybe deities when it came to Nebuchadnezzar.
Now you might say, “Oh, that’s kind of far-fetched, isn’t it?” But that’s what it says. That’s what it says. When you read through Daniel chapter 2 and Daniel chapter 3, you might take some time to study those things, you’ll see that very thing because that deity’s power and authority was thought to operate through, through these images, through the image to the king, to the people. And so that was ancient pagan thought.
In fact, maybe instead of saying ancient pagan thought, that’s just human thought. And why do I say that? Because we would say, “Well, we’re much too educated to fall for that these days,” right? “We would never be taken in by something like that.” Well, let’s look over at Revelation chapter 13. Revelation chapter 13. History in a way will repeat itself. This is something that’s on the horizon. But when you look at what Revelation 13:14 Revelation 13:14And deceives them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live.
American King James Version×describes, isn’t it describing this very thing? Notice what it says. It says, “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs which he was granted to do in the sight of the beast.” So we have a great false prophet, false religion, we’d say pagans, not honoring God. We have this gigantic, powerful entity of a nation with a powerful king or emperor. And this false prophet is bringing honor to this powerful head of state.
And notice what it says, “He was granted to do this in the sight of the beast,” this great power, “telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who was wounded by the sword and lived.” So like a Nebuchadnezzar, building this gigantic statue that has to be honored and this deity then is channeled through this great statue, this great leader as well. Could it happen again? Absolutely. Verse 15, “He was granted power to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak and cause and cause as many who had not worshipped the image of the beast to be killed.”
You hear the music, you don’t bow down, you’re going to die. Sounds like Nebuchadnezzar. Of course, miraculous things happening here as well, giving power to this image to breathe. Yeah, could we be taken in by that? Is that a graven image? Yeah, because now we’re channeling this as our god, not the true God. But now this is a representation of deity, of a false god, and that is our focal point as the presence of this pagan deity. And so yeah, that is an object of worship. Certainly, that was the focal point, will be the focal point. But when you think about those other things that we looked at – whether it was the bulls at Solomon’s temple, or whether it was cherubim in the tabernacle, the cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant, those kinds of things – God’s command was not violated in those because those were never intended for worship. They were never intended for that.
And so when we look at that definition of what is a graven image or a likeness or a carved image, those words are fairly interchangeable because an image and a likeness are really from the same base word when you look that up in the Hebrew, you get down to this very fact. We’re looking at a focal point for the presence and power of a false deity, a false god. So we look at that and we say, “Well, I wouldn’t be taken in by that.” And so can we limit our definition simply to this focal point of a false deity? Well, kind of depends. Kind of depends what you mean by that, because I think today, we’re not taken in by, well, golden calves, right? Right after the giving of the Ten Commandments, they had a problem with you know, literally, they made a golden calf. Other examples of that, this beast power, in the end, is going to have this image that’s…there’s going to be forced worship of that image. And so, we might think, “well, that doesn’t impact us. That’s not something that I worry about or I’m concerned about.”
But I think then the question becomes, do we bow down to other deities? Do we bow down to other things that are just as dangerous as this? Let’s think about graven images in our modern world for just a moment. Do we bow down to our jobs? Money? Sex? Power? Prestige? Prestige. Imagine that. Being important. Are those things that take us in? What about just position? Authority? Approval? Education? You know, do those things…even relationships. I mean, the list could go on and on and on. So we can’t just limit this to the idea of a false pagan god because in our world today that takes on, I think, a greater meaning, when you think about the significance of those kinds of things.
So if we were to add to this particular definition when the Bible talks about an image, and boy, do we live in an image conscious world today? Wow, I’ve read “image is everything.” Isn’t it? Oftentimes, it is. You know, how many ugly people do we have in Hollywood? Not very many, right? It doesn’t work that way. So when we think about this definition, I think we’ve also got to point out the fact that it can be anything, anything that occupies our time more than God. I’m running out of space here. Can that be an addition? An image occupies your time more than God.
What takes center stage in our life? Does God become second? We know we’re supposed to love the Lord with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul. All that is in us. God is supposed to come first. We talked about the First Commandment last time. But when we depend on other things, when we obsess over other things, when we become addicted to other things, and maybe not even that extreme. Maybe it’s not addictions or obsessions or dependency. But what about wastefulness that dominates our time or our thinking? What about compromises to our loyalty to God? What about misplaced priorities? Can those become carved images in our modern world? Well, certainly God forbids graven images, and when you literally think about that, yeah, nothing measures up to what the true God really is, right? You can’t design something physical that’s going to adequately represent the true God. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Not going to be possible.
But when we think about it today, I think we read over this command and maybe we think right away, “Okay, I don’t have any literal things, literal idols that I bow down to.” But when we think about, well, even…well, we might say, “I don’t bow down to any heroes. I don’t bow down to any stars or celebrities or people like that.” What about yourself? What about yourself? I was reading a book awhile back. It was called, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. It was written by a couple of authors. Twenge and Campbell are their names. And they said some pretty interesting things when it comes to what our world is like today. And all too often, maybe what we’re like today.
And as I give you a couple of quotes from this particular book, think to yourself if it fits with this concept of a graven image. Of course, narcissism, you know what narcissism is. Narcissism comes from the old Greek myth of a guy named Narcissus. Narcissus, you know who he was? He was supposedly this guy that was the Adonis of the age. He would’ve been, you know, the be-all and end-all of the most masculine representation of what manhood should be, right? That was Narcissus and he was hot, right? That’s what he was. He would’ve been the man at the grocery store tabloid that says, “Sexiest Man in the World.” His picture would’ve been there, right? Well, you know what happened to Narcissus. He would look in a pool and see his reflection, and he’d fall in love with his own reflection. That was Narcissus. So narcissism comes from that myth, that story of this man who was so beautiful that he fell in love with his own image, his own reflection. So that’s where narcissism comes from. So this idea of self-love.
Here’s one of the things that this Narcissism Epidemic book talked about. This is a quote from the book, “People who score high in narcissism tend to have trouble in their relationships basically because they’re focused on themselves rather than anyone else.” Consider our definition of a graven image. How about this? They said, “More and more babies are born to unmarried couples rather than married couples.” Yeah, big deal. So what? What does that have to do with anything? Well, they go on, “People don’t stay married for as long. They get married later in life and there’s a trend toward hooking up rather than being in a committed relationship.” Now why would that be a problem? It was pointing back to selfishness, right? Back to being self-focused, a focal point of your life. Oh, is that fitting in with our definition here? What’s our focal point? Well, maybe it’s not another thing out there or a physical object, but maybe it’s me? Is that possible?
According to the book, it went on and said, “Narcissism correlates with materialism, a greater focus on money, fame, and image.” They give an example of this. They did a study of high school and college students. What do you think is one of the most important goals that high school and college students express? Eighty-two percent of them said an important goal is to be financially well off, 82% of them. It’s kind of interesting because they compared that same data, same age group, to people back in the horrible ’60s. You know that awful time, you know of hippies and rock and roll and all of that sort of stuff. What percentage of people said that was an important goal to have? Forty-five percent.
Are we becoming a more narcissistic society? Of course, they come to the conclusion more materialism is consistent with that whole self-focus. And of course, they couldn’t help but address the whole concept of social media. Social media focused on narcissism in any way? Yeah. Guess what their studies found? When it came to those who scored high in narcissism, their studies found that those people have more friends on Facebook. Is there a connection there? I mean, it doesn’t mean that everybody that’s on Twitter or Facebook is a narcissist. I don’t think that’s the case. But what the book concluded, they said this, “What that means is the average person you’re connected with on Facebook is probably a little more narcissistic than the average person you’re connected to in real life.” That was the conclusion that their studies drew.
And so, are we more self-focused today? When you read different sources like this, and it does point to that. It does point to the fact that we are becoming a more self-centered society. Are we more concerned with that view rather than other? And see, that’s the challenge for us as God’s people. Are we more concerned about those things? Are we taken in by those images that are around us? Are we more concerned about ourselves than we are with our relationship with God? And that’s what God is concerned about in this Second Commandment, that it doesn’t have to be a physical thing. It can be even ourselves, because all too often, we set ourselves up in that way.
Jeremiah put it a little bit differently. I think it’s the same thought, but he mentioned it a little bit differently. Jeremiah chapter 1 verse 16. Jeremiah 1:16 Jeremiah 1:16And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
American King James Version×. He gets down to this concept of a graven image, and see if this fits with this focal point that all too often we tend to have as human beings. Jeremiah 1:16 Jeremiah 1:16And I will utter my judgments against them touching all their wickedness, who have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands.
American King James Version×, it says, “I will utter My judgments against them concerning all their wickedness, because they’ve forsaken Me.” Okay, how have they forsaken God? It says, well, “they burned incense to other gods.” Well, I don’t do that. But it also says, “they worshiped the works of their own hands.” I am so concerned about me and what I do and my work and things that are important to me, that it takes the place of God. That is a violation of the Second Commandment, isn’t it?
In fact, he says it a little bit differently just over a couple of pages. Chapter 16, Jeremiah 16, look at verse 20. Jeremiah 16:20 Jeremiah 16:20Shall a man make gods to himself, and they are no gods?
American King James Version×. He says, “Will a man make gods for himself?” That’s a good question. Well, they certainly did in the past. Nebuchadnezzar sure did. Others certainly have. “Will a man make gods for himself, which are not gods?” I think it’s kind of a rhetorical question, isn’t it? Yeah, I think the answer is yes, we do do that. Yeah, we might not set up a golden calf, but what about those things that dominate our time? What about those things that use up our time, that compromise us? Compromise our loyalty to God? Those things that get in the way of the things that really are supposed to be important? These are the priorities in my life and yet, because of all these things, even distractions, that God somehow takes second place in our life.
You see, those are those graven images, that we begin then to compromise. I mean, a couple of things to think about. Maybe we all could consider this for a moment. Where do we spend our time? We had talked about anything occupying our time more than God. And when that becomes more important, well, do I spend more time on my phone than I do with God? Do I play my video games more than I study His Word? Do I spend more time deciding what to wear in the morning than praying to God? Do I have a better relationship with my screen, my app than I do with God? Because you know, that’s the kind of world we live in. We live in a world that I want to be entertained. Do I have a better relationship with Netflix than I do with my Creator?
I mean, it may sound kind of funny, but are those graven images? Are they the focal point or those things that try to take the focus from our relationship with God and send it in a whole different direction? You see, I think all too often, it does, doesn’t it? It kind of works that way, that we focus on those things. We focus, sometimes on others and our image with them. We want to be honored. We want the praise. We want the pat on the back. We want the ‘atta boy. We want people to recognize our accomplishments. And we have that desire that, well, then I’ve got to look that way, act that way, be that way. Yeah, even personal appearance can be a form of idolatry if we’re not careful, can’t it? It can be. Because, hey I want to be a beautiful person, too. “Well, if you do, you’ve got to look like this.” And we see all those examples before our eyes every time we go through the line at the grocery store. Are those graven images? I think they do fit our definition of the things that can take the focus off of God, off of anything that doesn’t measure up to God, and send us in a whole different direction.
And of course, Jeremiah wasn’t afraid to talk about the difficulties and the consequences of doing that, of being caught up in that kind of thinking. If you’re still in Jeremiah, turn over to chapter 10. Jeremiah 10. Notice what it says in verse 14. Jeremiah 10:14 Jeremiah 10:14Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
American King James Version×. I’m going to read this from the NET, the New English Translation, might be just a little bit different than your King James or your New King James. But it just says it like it is. Jeremiah 10:14 Jeremiah 10:14Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
American King James Version×. It says, “All these idolaters will prove to be stupid and ignorant. Every goldsmith will be disgraced by the idol he made. The image he forges is merely a sham.”
Now think about that in the modern context that we’ve been talking about. The image that we forge – is that a scam? Says “there’s no breath in any of these idols. They’re worthless. They’re mere objects.” Verse 15 says, “They’re worthless, mere objects to be mocked. When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed.” You see, because ultimately, nothing can stand before the true God. None of these made-up gods. And so, he says, ultimately, that’s what it’s going to come down to. They are worthless.
In fact, you might write down Isaiah 41:29 Isaiah 41:29Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.
American King James Version×. Isaiah 41:29 Isaiah 41:29Behold, they are all vanity; their works are nothing: their molten images are wind and confusion.
American King James Version×also points to that very thing. It says, “They’re worthless. Their works are nothing and those images are like wind and confusion.” That’s the way the New King James puts it. Idolatry, worshiping carved images, graven images – it’s just wind and confusion. Uselessness. Vanity is another word that’s used there.
So does worshiping modern, graven images still result in the things that Isaiah talked about? Still have the same results as what Jeremiah talked about? Yeah, I think so. When you look at the values of the culture that we live in, is it confusion? Is it vanity? Is it uselessness? Is it really just something that just as fleeting? Yeah, I think it is. All too often, we find ourselves caught up in that. In fact, it’s interesting how the apostle Paul talked about this as well. How we can be fooled by those kinds of things. In fact, he spends the better part of a whole chapter in 1 Corinthians talking about this, in his first letter to Corinth, chapter 10. If you want to turn over there for just a moment, maybe we can take a quick view of what he told the Corinthians. 1 Corinthians 10. Notice what he’s talking about here. In chapter 10, let’s read the conclusion and then we’ll go back to see how he reached that conclusion. In the New Testament, it says this many times over. Here is one of those moments. 1 Corinthians 10:14 1 Corinthians 10:14Why, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
American King James Version×. Paul the apostle says, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
All right, this is something we can’t have anything to do with. Well, does that only limit itself to these carved images that you might have, a little statue, a little representation of a god? Well, he just got done saying, “look at ancient Israel.” If you go back to verse 1, he says, “I don’t want you to be unaware.” Unaware of the example of Israel coming out of Egypt. What happened to them? Well, they passed through the sea, they drank the spiritual drink that was Christ. But he said, most of them, God wasn’t pleased with. Verse 5, “they were scattered.” Well, why were they scattered? Almost sounds like what Isaiah was saying. They’re just like wind. They’re just scattered all over. It’s useless. Why? Well, verse 7 says, “Don’t become idolaters as were some of them.”
So what immediately comes to your mind when you think of ancient Israel and idolaters? I mean, if you’re like me, I think of the golden calf. Yeah, they’re all bowing down to the golden calf. And that’s what comes to my mind. But that’s not what’s mentioned here. That’s not the obvious thing that’s mentioned here. What’s mentioned, verse 7, “Don’t become idolaters as were some of them. As it’s written, ‘The people sat down to eat and drank and rose up to play.’” Then he starts talking about sexual immorality. Don’t get into that like some of them. Don’t tempt Christ. Don’t complain. Wow, you mean even that frame of mind can be a form of idolatry? That’s what he’s saying. That’s what he said. So it’s not just this golden calf that’s getting in the way. He’s talking about a self-interest of eat, drink, and be merry. “I’m more concerned about food sometimes than I am about my relationship with God. I’m more concerned about playing than I am concerned with my relationship with God. I’m more concerned about expressing my attitude, my disagreement, my complaining attitude than I am with expressing Godly character.” Can that be a form of idolatry? Well, it seems like, yeah, Paul’s saying that very thing, isn’t he?
In fact, there’s a consistency in the New Testament that leads us in that direction. It’s not so focused on just a physical thing. The apostle John said the same thing in a different way. 1 John 5. Look at verse 21. The very last thought that he has as he finishes this letter is a significant one. 1 John, he concludes this letter by saying something, I think, extremely significant. What does he say? It almost sounds like what we just read in 1 Corinthians 10:14 1 Corinthians 10:14Why, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
American King James Version×. He says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” So be it. This is an important truth. Keep yourselves from idols.
Well, if we go back just a little bit farther, he gives us a little more insight into this whole concept. Just back up to verse 19. Verse 19, he says, “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” What kind of relationship does that have to this whole concept of idolatry? Of graven images? Of carved images? Why would he say that and then conclude by saying, “Keep yourselves from idols?” What does satanic influence in this world have to do with idolatry? Wow, that is a connection, I think that is so rock solid. When you think about the relationship to Satan and this world, what is a leading attack plan of Satan, the devil? Could idolatry be one of the leading attack plans of Satan, the devil? I think it is. Proof of that? How about the temptation of Christ?
If you go back to Luke 5. Luke chapter 5. Lest we think, “well, I’ve got a handle on all of this,” right? How did Satan attack Jesus Christ? If you go to verse 5 of chapter 4, here is where Satan is tempting Christ. And in verse 5, it says, “The devil took him up on a high mountain.” So imagine this scene playing out. Satan, the devil takes Jesus Christ up to a high mountain. It says, “He showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time.” He saw it all before Him. “And the devil said to Him, ‘All this authority I will give You.’” And of course, he had that authority. It had been given to him. It was his to give. He says, “I’m going to give this to You, and their glory.” He says, “For it’s all been delivered to me, I give it to whomever I wish.” And he could. But there was a catch. And how did he attack Christ? How did he try to deceive Him? It was through idolatry. “Because I’ll give it to You,” verse 7, “if You will worship before me, all of this will be Yours.”
And so, here we see Satan wanted the focal point to be him. He wanted to be the focal point. He wanted to be the one that Christ would bow down to. He wanted to be the god that Jesus Christ would worship. And so, Christ said, “No, get behind me, Satan.” All right, “no way, I’m not doing it.”
And that’s the challenge that we all face because even with obvious idolatry. I mean, obviously, I take this little image and I set it up and I worship it because I think I’m honoring the true God by doing this. I mean, that’s what Aaron was doing way back with the golden calf, remember. He said, “I’m going to take this golden calf and tomorrow, we’ll have a feast to the Lord.” So he could somehow take that thing and honor the true God through this representation. Well, that’s not possible. So I use this material representation to worship the true God. Is that possible? Well, see, the image doesn’t start out to be a god. It just is a thing. It’s at first a symbol of God, right? It’s a representation. It symbolizes God. Right, are you with me? Because this becomes very critical. It’s a symbol of God or a symbol of godly worship to me. And so, this function of this idol, this thing, this object is to make the worship of God easier. Right, when you really get down to it, that’s kind of the idea. That’s the function of this, is to make the worship of God easier.
But what does God warn about that? God says you can’t do that because then the thing becomes the god. The thing, the idol, that representation ends up to be the thing that’s worshiped. The symbol is worshiped rather than the true god. All right, you might say, “Well, no, that’s silly. That wouldn’t happen.” There’s a good example of that over in the book of Acts. We’ll just write down Acts 19:26 Acts 19:26Moreover you see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
American King James Version×. Acts 19:26 Acts 19:26Moreover you see and hear, that not alone at Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away much people, saying that they be no gods, which are made with hands:
American King James Version×plays this out so perfectly in the idea of a pagan goddess, Diana. Everybody was mad at the apostle Paul because he showed their gods were nothing and everybody was upset because Paul said, “These gods that you say are gods, they’re not gods that are made with hands.” But today, most Christianity doesn’t believe that. Most Christianity would say gods are gods that are made with hands. Most Christianity would say, it’s okay to have objects, to have statues, to have crosses, to have images because they’re just symbols that help me worship the true God that much easier.
God says, “No way. No way, that is unacceptable.” That is unacceptable because it’s a violation of the Second Commandment. No matter how good-hearted you are. No matter what your good intentions are. “Yeah, I’m sincere, I could adapt this to worship the true God.” But what does God say? He very clearly says, “Don’t do that. That is unacceptable.” And it’s not only that it goes back to Exodus 20, but the New Testament era, it was no different. No different.
John chapter 4 describes this same approach that’s described in Exodus chapter 20. Look at John 4:23 John 4:23But the hour comes, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship him.
American King James Version×. Here, Christ Himself is describing the worship of the true God. Notice the way that he defines it, and see if it matches with what we’ve been talking about here all along. So if you go down to verse 23 of chapter 4 in the Gospel of John, Christ says, “The hour is coming, and it now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”
You see, no representation can take the place of God. No physical representation should interrupt that connection, no matter whatever good intentions are behind it. It’s not possible. Nothing that we spend our time in should replace that connection with God. In other words, God has to be our focal point, not some image, not some representation, not some other aspect of our life that can get in the way. That’s worshiping in spirit and in truth. And so that’s what God is after. In fact, He says the same thing to the Pharisees. “People honor Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me.” And He says, that’s because they’re teaching doctrines of men, interpretations of men that change the focal point.
And to the Jews, that was their traditions and all their dos and don’ts that were all extras. And that became a graven image to them. And He said that’s unacceptable. So here, we find that Christ is repudiating any addition, any subtraction of anything that would get in the way of our focus on the true God. That becomes critical. And it is such a powerful thing. And in fact, we miss it sometimes. I know I have. If you go all the way back to Exodus chapter 20 for just a second. Exodus chapter 20, go back to the command itself again. Exodus 20:4 Exodus 20:4You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
American King James Version×is where it began. “You should not make for yourself a carved image, any likeness of anything that’s in heaven above, or in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”
It is one command, isn’t it? You make these things in order to bow down to them. You use your time in a way that doesn’t honor God and disrupts your relationship in putting God first in your life. That is a carved image, and you should not do that. Why? Well, verse 5 says, “I the Lord, your God am a jealous God.” We have a jealous God. And do we really understand how jealous God is? Not just a little bit. In my notes, I put down, “Wow.” Because you turn over a couple of pages, go to Exodus 34. Exodus 34 builds on that very concept. Let’s notice what he says here. Exodus 34:14 Exodus 34:14For you shall worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
American King James Version×. Exodus 34:14 Exodus 34:14For you shall worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
American King James Version×, and in fact, you read through this whole chapter and you’ll find that it’s in the context of false worship, false gods, graven images, that sort of thing. And notice what he says, verse 14. Exodus 34:14 Exodus 34:14For you shall worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
American King James Version×. “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Wow. One of God’s names is Jealous. You think this whole concept of graven images is important to God? And why would He be described as jealous? I mean, His name is Jealous. By what context would that fit? Why is He a jealous God? And what exactly does that mean? Is He envious? Not exactly. But yet, yeah, maybe. How does that fit?
Well, if you look this up in various sources, I did a study on this word a while back and there’s a book that’s called, “Exegetical Studies in Zechariah” because it uses the same word there. So it’s a book by Charles Feinberg. And here’s how he describes what this jealous means. He says, “This Hebrew word carries the idea of redness of face that accompanies a strong emotion.” Redness of face, what does that have to do with jealous? Well, it can be good or bad, right or wrong jealousy. But what is that pointing to? Why redness of face? Well, when you put it together, it’s showing a really deep-seated, strong emotion that’s actually communicating love and a zeal. A love and a zeal, that we have a zealous God, we have an emotional God that has a strong red face on our behalf.
And you know when some people get excited about things, their face turns red? Some people are just like that. I’ve got some relatives that are exactly like that. You know, if they blush, boy, just in a second there, just bright red.
And it’s showing that, it’s that exhibiting emotion. Exhibiting emotion. Does God exhibit emotion? What it’s getting at, we have a God who is named Jealous because He is so affectionate and so emotional in regards to our relationship that He would do anything for us. He is jealous for our fidelity. He is jealous for our time. He is jealous for our relationship in a very, very good way, not in an envious way, but in a way for our good. That this is the best thing for us. This is the best relationship for us.
We read Adam Clarke’s commentary on this very word and it points to that, “God wants our happiness.” He wants the best for us. He is jealous for us in that way. Jealous for our loyalty. Just in the way Paul described the Corinthians that way. He said, “I’m jealous for you.” That Paul wanted the best for them. He had their best interests in mind. He was guarding them, watching over them, protecting them. Intolerant of anything that was wrong or evil, but looking out for the good.
And boy, when you think of God in that way, He is jealous for our sakes, for our own good. And when it comes to idolatry, God has deep-seated, strong emotional feelings to that very thing. He doesn’t want us to have any part of idolatry because that means it would separate us from a right relationship with Him. So He’s concerned about us. He’s jealous for us and doesn’t want any false image, idol, time to get in the way. That’s how much He cares about us.
It’s no wonder then that He says the things that He does because we’ve got to make sure that that doesn’t come between us. In fact, He’s very specific about how the ancient Israelites were supposed to handle it. Go back just a verse or two. Well, it’s actually just a verse, verse 13. Look at Exodus 34:13 Exodus 34:13But you shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
American King James Version×. Here’s what they were to do if something got in the way. If something got in the way of their relationship with God, He said, “You shall destroy their altars, break down their sacred pillars, cut down their wooden images.”
So think about that in a modern context. We are to break them down, burn them out. Do we really detest these things? Do we really detest these modern forms of idolatry in our life, so that we are focused in our time, in our efforts, in our energies on the one true God? Or do we allow all these other distractions to get in the way? You see, that’s what God, He’s jealous for that time. He’s jealous for that relationship. He wants the best for us. So what can we do? What can we do?
Well, there’s one passage that I think we can use as a key to fight idolatry in our lives today. This particular passage, and there’s a number you can turn to, but this one struck me. And it’s over in the Psalms, Psalm 139. Beginning at verse 23, 139:23, it’s right near the end of that particular passage. Psalm 139 is a song that David wrote. It’s interesting how it starts out. The beginning of the psalm is David talking to God. And he says, “God, You’ve searched me, You know me, You know my sitting down, You know my rising up.” God knows everything about us, right? He knows our path. He knows our thoughts. He knows our desires. He knows all, everything. He knows everything about us.
Well, understanding that, we get to the end of that song. At verse 23, David says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, know my anxieties; see if there’s any wicked way in me, lead me in the way everlasting.” And I think in a way, that’s a mini formula to make sure we’re getting rid of idolatry in our life today. When he says, “examine me,” he’s saying, “God help me. Help me to recognize these forms of idolatry in my life. Help me to ascertain how things are influencing me. Help me to identify my personal items. Help me to realize where they are. Help me to read your Word, in a way, through prayer, through scripture, that will help us to identify the idols that we may have in our life.” So I’ve got to identify them first. He also says, “Try me, know my anxieties” or know my concerns, test me, know my concerns, probe my thoughts, one of the translations says. Probe my thoughts.
Because where is his help? Well, he’s realizing his help is in God. That God can guard him, God can protect him, God can watch over, God can help us change the way we think. Because that’s what it comes down to. My focal point has to be something else. It has to be God. It can’t be in all these other things. So I’ve got to change the way that I think.
As Isaiah said, my thoughts aren’t God’s thoughts. Well, I want my thoughts to be God’s thoughts. So help me, guide me. Help me, God, for my thoughts to be Your thoughts. And of course, if that happens, then lead me in the way everlasting. That means I’ve got to recognize those idols in my life today. I’ve got to submit myself to God, and then I’ve got to act on it. I’ve got to act on it. I’ve got to do those things. I’ve got to walk God’s way. I’ve got to go His direction. I’ve got to let His Word and His way govern my thinking and my actions and my relationships and my thoughts. And ultimately then, I can be that different person. I can be transformed. I can be an individual that is fulfilling that great calling that God’s given us. So it really comes down to prioritizing our loyalties, doesn’t it?
When you think of the Second Command, it’s what’s most important to you. Is it reflected in our priorities? Is our loyalty to God reflected in how we think and how we act? And if it doesn’t, well, then I’ve got to re-adjust and turn those affections back to God. Make sure that they’re focused in His way. And so, maybe you could remember this little section of Psalm 139. Maybe come up with others on your own to help identify, guard ourselves, and act in the ways that God would have us to. And I think, when we begin to do that, we’re not going to be taken in. Certainly, not taken in by the obvious, the symbols, the items, the idols. But more importantly, that we’re not going to be taken in by other things that distract us from the right relationship we need to have with God.
So we’re going to spend our time connecting with God. We’re going to immerse ourselves in His way, in His Word. We’re going to pray. We’re going to honor Him. We’re going to praise Him. We’re going to fellowship with those that have the same priorities because that will help us then to be focused in the right way, because we really want that relationship with God. In fact, when we really put God at the top, when we fulfill that First Commandment, the Second one becomes easier to follow as well. Because when we put God at the top, when we desire Him the most, more than anything else, then we end up returning the affection and love that He has for us. We return it to Him. And when we do that, we can’t help but root out those idols in our life. And probably most importantly, like God, we return that emotion and we become jealous for God.
All right, that’ll do it for our study for tonight. I hope you found it helpful. We’re going to continue going through the Ten Commandments in this series. We’ll back up in two weeks from tonight with number three. And so, I believe it’s Darris McNeely with command number three next time. So we hope you’ll join us in two weeks as we continue this study on the Ten Commandments. Have an enjoyable evening, thanks for joining us, and we look forward to seeing you next time.