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The Second Commandment - Do not worship idols

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The Second Commandment - Do not worship idols

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A carved image of a bull.Do you think you really know the 10 Commandments? How about the 2nd one which says we are not to have any "graven" or "carved" images? What does that mean? Is it OK to own a statue of any kind? Some religions misunderstand the second commandment; they combine the second commandment with the first. (Read the 1st commandment in Exodus 20:3 or Deuteronomy 5:7. What does it actually say?) The first commandment has to do with WHOM we worship, while the second commandment has to do with HOW we worship the true and only God. In this study guide, the meaning of the second commandment will be explored.

Commandment stated

EXODUS 20:4-6 "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or 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 nor serve them. For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

Some people use pictures, images, or objects to REPRESENT God in their worship. How do we know that such use of art is sin?

DEUTERONOMY 4:15-16 " Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure…."

What was one important point that God told Moses to record about their conversation on Mt. Sinai (Horeb)?
COMMENT: Moses spoke with God and God spoke with Moses but Moses did not see God directly. Therefore we can have no detailed idea of the exact form and shape of God other than Gen 1:26. It would be presumptuous of us to think that we could design or even think up anything representational of God.

1. Why would God not approve of using an object as an aid in worshipping Him?

2. How can images, pictures, or symbols such as crucifixes interfere with proper worship?

3. Is it possible to make an image of God that is true to reality? Why or why not?

4. What about pictures or images of Jesus? Does this commandment prohibit depictions of Jesus? Why do you think so?

5. In Exodus 20:5, what does the word "jealous" mean?

6. How would you react if someone misrepresented you? What consequences occur when someone is not represented correctly?

COMMENT: For God to allow anything to represent Him, which no image or picture can, God would have to accept false witness. God jealously protects His character and Being. Read Isaiah 42:8.

7. Why should we be glad that God is jealous for His people? What is the difference between being jealous OF someone and being jealous FOR someone?

8. What does the expression "visiting the iniquity of the fathers" mean?

9. How does it get passed from generation to generation?

10. How does God distinguish between those who hate Him and those who love Him?

11. To whom does God show mercy?

Christ's words

JOHN 4:23-24 "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."

1. How are we to worship God?

2. How can we conceive of God without images?

Some Scriptures to Consider

Read Judges 17. Note how Micah chose to worship God (verses 3,12). Do you think Micah was close to God? Why or why not?

I SAMUEL 4:2-8,10 Then the Philistines put themselves in battle array against Israel. And when they joined battle, Israel was defeated by the Philistines…. And when the people had come into the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD from Shiloh to us, that when it comes among us it may save us from the hand of our enemies." So the people sent to Shiloh, that they might bring from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who dwells between the cherubim…. And when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel shouted so loudly that the earth shook. Now when the Philistines heard the noise of the shout, they said, "What does the sound of this great shout in the camp of the Hebrews mean?" Then they understood that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp. So the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "God has come into the camp!" And they said, "Woe to us! … Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all the plagues in the wilderness. (10) So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated….. There was a very great slaughter, and there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers.

1. Why did Israel believe the Ark of the Covenant would protect them?

COMMENT: Often people venerate an object that represents God rather than fearing and obeying God Himself. Israel trusted God would defeat their enemies because the Ark which represented God was in their presence. In truth, however, they were not close to God.

NUMBERS 21:8-9 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Moses made an image of a snake. Why did this not violate the second commandment?
Does the second commandment forbid all works of art that represent earthly or heavenly things? How can one prove it does or doesn't? (HINT: read HEBREWS 8:1-5; 9:23-24).


1. What is the difference between the first and second commandments?

2. Name some ways in which the second commandment is broken.

3. Explain how worshipping with images or pictures prevents worshipping in spirit and truth.

4. What changes would occur in the world if everyone obeyed the second commandment?