4.04 - Second Commandment: Do Not Make Idols
“You shall not make yourself any 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“ (Exodus 20:4-6).
The second commandment complements and elaborates the first commandment. For this reason, it is regarded by some dogmatic systems as a part of the first commandment. Yet some commentators still see the second commandment as the most difficult because it has often been the object of great misunderstanding.
4.04.1 - Against Christian Images
Muslims and Jews accuse the majority of Christians of breaking the commandments of the Most High. They accuse us, “You are the ones who break the main commandment of God. You paint all kinds of images of the Almighty and present to people what your inadequate imagination has produced.“ Proper application of this commandment has caused great controversy even among Christian denominations. The members of some churches have broken into other churches and burned their sacred objects. We must acknowledge that God, in His glory, cannot be portrayed. Any drawing of God mocks and insults His divine majesty. Pictures of saints or angels are often vanity. God is far superior, far holier, more omnipotent than our imagination can convey to us. He is completely different from what men can picture. This includes even the fine drawings of artists like Michelangelo!
God reveals Himself to people in two ways in the Bible. He reveals Himself first through the word He speaks to the hearer and second, through a vision for the seer. In the Old Testament the Lord revealed Himself more often through His powerful word, and less often through visions. But when the Son of God was transfigured into His original glory before His apostles, they fell to the ground as if they were dead because divine holiness revealed and condemned their uncleanness. Whoever saw visions was not able to describe fully what they saw. They could only describe it in imagery.
4.04.2 - Resisting Worship of Idols and Imagery
If we examine the second commandment carefully, we can see that it does not forbid making pictures of God. Rather, it warns us against every form of idol worship. Those who honor or worship other gods, statues or carved images are the object of His wrath.
Large carved statues stood on the mountaintops in the Near East in Old Testament times. They were made of stone and used in public worship. There were also wooden, stone, silver or golden idols in the homes which were worshiped. But whoever does not believe in the true and only God opens the door for Him to leave, and then the unclean spirits rush in. The Greeks in the time of Jesus thronged before their gods to indulge in sensuality. Earlier, Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians did the same. That is why Moses and the prophets waged a fierce war against idol worship. Today we can see these idols, which were cursed by prophets in the past, on display Cairo, Baghdad and Beirut museums. They became the object of the tourists' fascination, whose shoes wear down the stairs of the Acropolis and the kings' tombs more than the shoes of ancient Greeks and Egyptians did. People try to make the unseen visible and are often not satisfied with the preaching of God's Word. Man wants to see more than to hear. The invisible and untouchable remain foreign to him. This is one of the reasons that television is a temptation for people who want to obey the second commandment.
4.04.3 - Images Banned by Jews and Muslims
Television, videos and magazines are absorbed rapidly and received with pleasure in the Muslim world in spite of the ban placed on images 1,350 years ago. This ban on any picture has led to the art of Arabic ornamentation, which is evident everywhere in Islamic culture in Saudi Arabia, in mosques in China and in the castles of Morocco and in South Africa. The effect of the second commandment on Muslims can be seen in their drawings of flowers and gardens in the form of geometrical figures on paper, wood, metal and stone. The Oriental carpet especially, with its magnificent designs of gardens or symbolic paradises, has been highly appreciated by the whole world.
Muslims in Saudi Arabia must use figures of a man without a head to indicate a pedestrian crossing at an intersection. It is not lawful to draw the head even today. But in Iran, Turkey and India, Muslims do not feel strictly bound to these prohibitions in the Quran. They even drew pictures of Muhammad and Gabriel, which is unlawful for Arab Muslims until today. When an Arab country recently produced a film about Muhammad, they never allowed his face to appear. The whole film was produced as if Muhammad saw all the scenes with his own eyes and spoke with his own voice. He never appeared in person. For this reason, Christian film producers have to be careful when presenting pictures of the prophets of God, angels or Christ in films for Muslims.
Jews have also applied the second commandment thoroughly by refraining from drawing images of God. When Titus, the Roman leader, took over Jerusalem in AD 70 and went into the temple, he entered the holy of holies expecting to find a golden statue or precious vessels. Yet he was disappointed. The holy of holies was empty because God is spirit, not matter. He cannot be enshrined or limited to an image or a statue.
4.04.4 - Are the Pictures of Christ Against the Scriptures?
Christians do not interpret the second commandment as Jews and Muslims do. Christ became a man at His birth. Every eye could see Him. He stated, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father“ (John 14:9). The goal of creation was reached in Christ. The Bible declares, “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them“ (Genesis 1:27). Adam and Eve were appointed to represent God. Man's image is meant to reflect the glory of God even until today.
We have the privilege of enjoying God's creation and can draw His flowers, animals and people. But we should never deify them or worship them. All creatures remain creatures. They do not reach the level of the Creator Himself and should never be worshiped. The image of God in man was distorted after his fall into sin, when evil permeated our world. But, Jesus, the second Adam, restored the image of God in man. No wonder Paul called Jesus “the image of the invisible God“ (Colossians 1:15).
Jesus was born, died and rose for all men. So everyone is entitled to draw Him according to his own concept, with his own African, Oriental, European or Near Eastern features. He is the image of God in the form of a man in all cultures. His joy, peace and patience were not theoretical, but most practical. In Christ, God has drawn near to us. He did not appear in the form of a fierce war-lord, nor with an ugly face, but as the humble Lamb of God who was willing to bear the wrath of God on our behalf and die for our sins so that we can live with Him forever. He has taught us what sacrifice means. The cross has become the symbol of divine love. The resurrection of Christ from the grave was completed in His appearance, which showed us His spiritual yet tangible body (Luke 24:39).
4.04.5 - The Image of Christ in His Followers
Jesus filled the hearts of His followers with His gentle spirit so that the love, holiness and joy of God might appear in them. He has appointed us to be the image of God in the midst of a world filled with hatred and death. He has given us the privilege of being living “letters of Christ“ speaking through our conduct to our families, neighbors and friends. Jesus has put His own picture in us so that we may reflect His attributes. Whoever meets active followers of Jesus in Africa, Asia, Europe or America or wherever can notice and recognize the light of the peace of Christ shining in their faces. When the spirit of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus dwells in someone's heart, rich or poor, reader or not, old or young, he reflects the brilliance of the heavenly world. It is not enough to categorize the world as poor or rich, capitalists or socialists; it should rather be divided into those born again and those dead in sin. Whenever Christ finds a dwelling place for Himself in a man's heart, the life of God becomes manifest and is seen by all.
The Holy Spirit does not guide us to boast about ourselves, but helps us to glorify the Son of God. We should not draw attention to ourselves as if we were the centre of the world. All glory should be given to the Lamb that was slain for us. Mary, the mother of Jesus, as well as all the saints, would protest at people honoring their statues and pictures. They would destroy them wherever they would find them, on altars, in houses or in public places. No one has ever reflected the glory of God except Jesus. There is no one that is good except God. We have been justified and sanctified by His grace alone. It is against the Bible to pray to Mary or to the saints and ask for their intercession. This is an obvious violation of the second commandment as though we were not relying on our Father in heaven but dividing our trust between Him and His temporal creatures. There is no image, statue, memorial or relic that could perform miracles or grant healing power. God saves us only through Jesus Christ His son. All idols, even in the churches, are an abomination in the sight of the Lord.
In the new covenant, we experience personal contact with God our Father as His beloved children. This privilege is guarantied only by the atoning death of Jesus and His priestly continuous intercession at the right hand of His Father. The Son has made direct contact between us and the Father possible. Whoever does not make use of it does not believe in the Fatherhood of God. We have received grace, righteousness, forgiveness and life only from the Father and His Son, through His Spirit. For this we ought to thank the Triune God alone, with all our heart.
4.04.6 - God's Zeal
The chasm lying between the people who love God and those who turn away from Him can be seen in the difference between the threat of punishment and the promise of blessing in the second commandment. Here again, God defines Himself as “I“, which indicates that He is a living person with a will and the ability to speak. He emphasizes that He is the faithful Lord who changes not and controls everything. He has bound Himself to us in an eternal covenant and expects the same in total submission and faithfulness from us.
God demands our love. He refuses to share our submission to Him with an idol, a founder of a religion, a king, or gold or silver. He is God alone, and there is no other Savior!
4.04.7 - Those Who Hate God Shall Fall
Woe to those who despise the love of God or treat it lightly! They are like a branch cut off from the vine. They will become dry and wither, and their destination is eternal fire. If we refuse to abide in God, who is our source, we commit spiritual treason because we open ourselves to foreign spirits, idols or unclean powers, or make ourselves demigods. God does not share His glory with anyone except His Son and His Spirit. There is no other Creator. He is the only Judge over time and eternity.
If a man would not turn to the true God, but look to other gods or to himself as though he were the center of all, he will become proud and harden his heart to love of His Creator. Such a man becomes cruel and wicked. He takes advantage of others instead of serving them. He who does not love God cannot love his neighbor either. He cannot understand the world and its spiritual problems because he lacks a sound standard. Consequently, his conscience becomes dull, his morals degenerate. He will become perverse and worse than an animal in his relentless struggle for survival.
God lets those who insist on separating themselves from Him fall, after He warned them and often showed His love to them. He delivers them to the lusts of their hearts so that they destroy themselves. King Saul and Judas Iscariot are prime examples of this. This divine principle of judgment applies to the individual as well as the nation. Even spouses are often influenced to do evil by their mates and, in turn, affect the lives of their children. This is how godlessness will be inherited from generation to generation. A family dominated by stinginess or envy will manifest this in its atmosphere and behavior. Whether the family climate is influenced by superficial humanism or socialist atheism the result is the same. The spirit of a family is reflected in the children's eyes. Some families have been involved in divination, necromancy or witchcraft in the hope that they might get healing, or uncover hidden matters. All these practices are condemned by Jesus and yet He does not cast someone out if he repents. Instead, He joyfully receives him and frees him from the curse of Satan. Jesus said, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed“ (John 8:36). The authority of Christ is beyond our comprehension. He alone can break any demonic bondage.
God teaches us that the family's hardheartedness will be punished until the third and fourth generations unless true repentance occurs and the family members turn to God. Often children and even adults are a product of a chain of ungodly ancestors. Nevertheless, we should not condemn those corrupt at heart, but we should seek to understand their background and love them. There are Jews and Muslims who are indoctrinated with the teachings of their grandfathers which reject the Son of God categorically. They live in a collective bondage to sin and reject the Savior of the world. Whoever wants to be free of such anti-Christian powers must deny his previous association with them and cut off his cultural ties for the sake of Jesus. Yet when we let go of our family's protection and country's security, we see that God truly is our Father. He will take the responsibility for our future. He always assures us, “I am the LORD your God, your ever-loving Father. I know you, I have called you by your name, you are Mine, hold on to Me, and let go of the wicked and unclean ties completely. Trust in My faithfulness and My authority, and you shall be free and safe forever and ever.“
4.04.8 - The Abundance of Blessing for Those who Love God
If anyone loves God and honors Him, he will meditate on His Word and live by His strength. Whoever realizes the depth of His grace for us will continually thank Him for His deliverance and patience. We eloquently express our love for Him by being thankful with all our heart. A grateful believer will find treasures, power, blessings and guidance in the Word of God daily. What would you think of a bride who, after receiving a letter from her groom, does not even open it and forgets all about it? We would say that she doesn't love him. Yet a faithful bride would wait impatiently for her husband's letters. Whenever she receives a letter, she will immediately open it, read it over and over again and ponder over certain phrases, which would soon be indelibly imprinted upon her memory. When we love God, we study His Word as if they were love letters from heaven written personally to us. We would always read them and memorize the significant texts. Our hearts would be filled with the Word of God, which empowers us to fulfill His will.
If parents pray sincerely for their homes they bring the blessing of Jesus upon their family members. Their children would not grow up ungodly or indifferent. Instead, they would have a solid foundation. Of course, parents cannot force their children to believe in Christ, much less cleanse them of wickedness by beating them. But the example of an affectionate parent is gradually but deeply impressed upon their subconscious. Children often remember their parents' behavior more than they remember their words. A mother's eye will sometimes speak louder than her words, and her love reaches beyond the grave.
God promises those who love Him to be blessed until the thousandth generation! This promise offers a great comfort to parents if they have to raise their children in a time full of temptation and godlessness. The power of God's love penetrates darkness as sunlight penetrates a dark room. The spiritual inheritance of the home will be multiplied when parents are praying believers.
Have you ever tried to calculate the period that lies in a thousand generations? If we set 25 years for one generation, then we have 25,000 years of God's abundant blessing as a result of only one real believer. Or if we think in terms of grandchildren in a big family, then we have a huge number of descendants, as big as a spiritual battalion, all of whom will be blessed through believing and obedient parents. God assures His beloved ones that every faithful believer will be a source of love to hundreds of people. A follower of Jesus never claims to be the spring of godliness himself, rather he considers himself a channel for the grace of God. Out of His abundance, God gives grace upon grace unconditionally to those who love and trust Him.
If we have experienced the effect of our physical or spiritual parents' blessings on our lives, then we can appreciate the different cultures of the world. Where the Word of God has influenced a village or a city or people hundreds of years ago, you will see and feel it. Where people have been set free by Jesus they offer thanksgiving and serve one another. When God can influence a certain culture by His Holy Spirit, then family, schools, economy and politics are affected more than we can understand.
The opposite is true of countries that deify blood-stained gods as in India or worship ancestors as in China or Africa, where idol worship and magical spells are meant to give security. These communities are dominated by fear, slavery and anxiety. Too often a woman's dignity is dragged in the dirt when a man lords it over her. Tribal wars hinder progress, and the poor become even poorer. If you enter a Muslim, Hindu or a Christian village, you will quickly sense the spiritual atmosphere of the place. Even animals feel whether they are beaten mercilessly or treated gently.
4.04.9 - Summary: Crucial Separation
The blessings of believing parents are seen in what they produce in the individual or families as a result of the grandparents' unswerving love for God. Such grandparents prayed and worked hard and lived a decent life until their old age. Truly, a dividing line separates those who love God from those who hate Him throughout the world. If you truly trust God the Father, you rest in Him like a child and develop the fruit of His love. Yet if someone resists the call of God, then he will go astray from godliness. It is not surprising to see the love of many waning in these last days. If man does not return to God he becomes a source of wickedness. Dangerous theories will emerge as a result of rebellion against God. Karl Marx was godly as a young man, but when he was caught up in divination and entered the world of the occult, he led millions astray, who chose dead materialism as a way of life. Nevertheless, his followers will not be able to establish the workers' paradise on earth, even if they shake their fists in God's face. Whoever will deny God, the true source of love and life, and deify people instead of Him will revive the bitterness and spite in his heart and thereby reap the anger of the Holy One on the day of judgment.