The Issue with Images: Unpacking the Second Commandment

The Bible on Images.

Last Wednesday, during our study through the book of Exodus we spent our time looking at the Second Commandment. We talked about the differences in the first and second commands. The First Commandment commands that we worship the RIGHT God (the only God). The Second Commandment commands that we worship the right God in the RIGHT way. Specifically, God tells us that He does not want to be worshiped or equated with images or things made with human hands. 

God isn't just trying to be difficult here. God is infinite, holy, matchless, omnipotent, and the Bible makes it clear that His ways are above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). The Creator and Sovereign God of the universe cannot be captured or represented accurately by a finite and inanimate object created by the the hands of sinful man. 

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The prophet Jeremiah spoke about the inescapable differences between created images and the Living God. 

"They cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good."

Paul, in Acts 17, addresses a group of men in Athens. His spirit is troubled because of all the idolatry he sees in Athens. Paul wants these people to see the futility of trying to worship God by using these images, statues, and objects. 

"The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth... we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man."

You see, the issue with images is that they inevitably dishonor God. They cannot honor God and so they distract and distort and thus dishonor him. This is why God's anger was kindled against the Israelites at Mount Sinai in Exodus 32. God was not angry because they created a NEW God, but rather, because they were worshiping the TRUE God in a dishonoring way.

Today our images rarely come in the form of a golden calf or a carved shrine. But make no mistake, these images still exist. They are still distracting us from God. They still distort God's character and attributes. They still dishonor Him. And thus we must be careful to recognize their presence in our lives and we must be diligent in removing them.

How do we recognize these images?

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The golden calf was an attempt to worship God in the way other people worshiped false gods. The Israelites had spent a lot of time with the idolatrous Egyptians. They were quickly learning the customs of the Baal worshiping Canaanites. The Israelites had been exposed to many forms of idolatry. They liked that these other religions had physical tangible gods to worship. They wanted to have something physical, something they could see and touch. 

But the true and living God has chosen to reveal himself to His people in WORD, not form (Deuteronomy 4:15-16). As God's people we should not need any physical thing to help us worship God. God's people worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We do not need a special building to worship God. We do not need any special clothes to worship God. We do not need special songs or instruments to worship God. We do not need a pulpit or an altar or a communion table or a cross on the wall or a portrait of American Jesus in the foyer. These things are not bad in and of themselves, but then again, neither is a statue of a cow. But if we begin to think these things are necessary in order for us to have genuine worship then we begin to violate the Second Commandment. Any object, any image, any man-made thing that we believe is necessary for the true worship of the true God has become an idol that will ultimately distract us from true worship and dishonor the true God. All that is necessary for the worship of God is a believer (or group of believers) indwelt with the Holy Spirit of God and equipped with the Truth of God's Word. 

For Reflection.

Consider these questions this week as you continue to dig deeper into the Second Commandment. I would encourage you to put thought, prayer, and Scripture behind your answers. Make sure that your answers are in line with the truth of the Word of God:

  1. What things do I believe are necessary for worship? Are there things that I cannot worship without? Should these things be so essential to me?
  2. Are there things that keep me from worshiping? Should these things keep me from worshiping? 
  3. How can I practice worshiping in spirit and truth? How can I honor God through my worship? What pleases God in worship.