April 7, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
The Ten Commandments
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Commandment 2 – No Idols
Exodus 20:1-2, 4-6
Today, we continue our study of the Ten Commandments. These ten commandments, given by the one and only God, our creator, were foundational to the laws of Jewish society and the laws of our major western societies. From last week, we learned that there is only one God that is above all other gods and He is the one we are to worship.
But the second commandment, that we are not to make or bow down to any crafted image, is in many ways the mother of all the other commandments. This commandment is as relevant to today’s modern life as it was to the ancients of old. Why? “Because today we have as many false gods as the ancients did,” writes Dennis Prager in his book The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code. “And why is it the mother of all the other commandments?” he continues, “because if we identify false gods and avoid worshiping them, we will eliminate one of the greatest barriers to a good world – false gods.”
Folks, having only one God means we have one human race. If we all have the same Creator or Father, we are all brothers and sisters. And if we have the same parent it also means that no person or group is more valuable than any other. And lastly, one God means one moral standard for all people. For example, if God declares murder wrong, it is wrong for everyone, and you can’t go to another god for another moral standard. When anything else is worshiped, bad things result.
It all comes down to this, worship the God of the Ten Commandments and you will make a good world. Worship a false god – no matter how noble sounding – and you will end up with a world of cruelty. More about this in a minute, but first, would you pray with me?
The First Commandment commands us to worship only the one true God, and the second commands us to worship Him as He would be worshiped. “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 or serve them.”
What stands out in the Second Commandment are the first four words, “you shall not make.” Those words should hit us hard, because we are people who make things. And the things we make, we take pleasure in them. For example, we can build a house and live in it. We can build a boat and we can sail in it. We can build a table and eat at it. We make all kinds of things, material and immaterial, and find great pleasure in them. That is the problem. These things seduce us and appeal to us. We like to fashion our own gods. We are natural-born idolaters.
Since we were created in the image of our God, we have in our souls the need to worship and we will worship. Nature abhors a vacuum and so does the human soul. The human soul will find an object of worship, either on the shelf, on the altar, in the mirror, or in heaven. We are born idolaters. We like to make objects of art and then appreciate them.
But the command is clear: “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.” The command prohibits anything that is to attract the eyes in order to seduce the soul. This is a categorical command against idols. Why? Because, in this very passage, God identifies himself as a jealous God. He is filled with zeal for His own name, for His own identity, for His own worship. He is a jealous God, who demands a worship that befits His own character and identity.
In his book, Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments, Albert Mohler, Jr. knows that idols are substitutes for the real God. He writes, “every idol not only falls short of the reality of the true God, it lies about Him.” Here are those seven lies. First, idols imply finitude. In other words, idols have limits. An idol is a material thing and because it is here, it is not there. It is a poor God substitute. There is no way that a finite object can be worshiped as an infinite God. All created things are finite, but God alone is infinite.
You see, God does not invite us to gaze on Him as a thing, but rather to listen to His voice. He has provided no likeness of himself. He has spoken, He has revealed Himself, and He has defined Himself by perfections. Remember the hymn: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.” An idol is finite. Our God is infinite.
As Mohler writes: “God not only knows, He knows all things. He is not only powerful, He is all-powerful. He is not only holy, He is infinitely holy. He is not only merciful, He is infinitely merciful. He is not only just, He is infinitely just.” That is why God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures are so vital to us. Every single one of the characteristics of God in scripture points to the infinitude of God’s perfection. Idols have none of these characteristics.
Second, idols imply fabrication. An idol is a fabricated thing, created by some human agent. As I said before, we like to make things. And once we make something, we admire it. “I have done this thing,” we say. “This is the work of my hands. I will admire it and worship it.”
But God is not a fabricated deity. There is no assembly required. In fact, there is no assembly possible! Again and again in scripture, the one true and living God will say, “I made you! You did not make Me! And I made you in My image. You can’t make an image of Me.” I like what Isaiah has to say about idols and those who make them. Listen to this passage from Isaiah 44:9-11 as translated in the Message Bible:
“All those who make no-god idols don’t amount to a thing, and what they work so hard at making is nothing. Their little puppet-gods see nothing and know nothing—they’re total embarrassments! Who would bother making gods that can’t do anything, that can’t “god”? Watch all the no-god worshipers hide their faces in shame. Watch the no-god makers slink off humiliated when their idols fail them. Get them out here in the open. Make them face God-reality.”
The one true God is self-existent and not created, because Christianity requires a clear distinction between the Creator and His creation.
Third, idols imply control. They imply human control. Mohler says, “We can pick an idol up and we can put an idol down. We can move an idol to this place, and then we can remove it to another place. The idol is at our disposal. We can hide it from our sight, or we can put it in the center of the room. We will devise our own worship because we have devised our own god.” People, the true God cannot be controlled. He is the uncontrollable, the all-powerful. Let’s face it, the god we can control is no god at all. The god we can conjure, create, and construct is no true deity.
Fourth, idols imply need. Idols must be fed and clothed and housed. In fact, most of the worship activity associated with idols centers on their neediness. Travel to a country dominated by these forms of idolatry, and you will see multitudes who give themselves to the service of their idols. They create pagodas and temples and structures that draw attention to their idol. Their idol must be dusted, and cleaned.
Those who worship an idol also bring in food and gifts; they light lamps and burn incense. How sad it is to see those who bring food that could go to the hungry and place it in front of the idol who never chews or swallows. In contrast, our liturgy, service, and devotion is to be a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1 says this: I urge you, brothers [and sisters], in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. When we come to worship, we do not bring animal sacrifices; we bring ourselves.
Idols imply finitude, fabrication, control, and need. And fifth, idols imply procreation. Any time you look at pictures of many of the idols, you will find something grotesque and obvious, a perversion of sexuality. There seems to be a direct connection between worship of idols and the perversion of sexuality. Many idols are depicted with enlarged genitalia and exaggerated features. People worshiped these idols for their procreative gift and reproductive power. Many of these temples to idols also had a harem of prostitutes who would provide sexual pleasures to the worshipers to increase fertility. The Apostle Paul writes about this atrocity in his letters to the churches.
But God does not give birth, nor does He sire offspring. God is not a womb, out of which emerges creation. As Mohler says, “There is absolutely nothing physical or procreative about Yahweh, the God of Israel, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Many, many times in the scriptures, God warned Israel about its worship of the gods of fertility and the wrath that would come down on them if they did.
Sixth, idols imply physicality. There is shape and form to an idol. However, God makes clear in the Bible that He has no likeness and will not be worshiped in this way. In Deuteronomy 4, when Moses is bringing the people back to Horeb, he says this:
“And you came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while the mountain burned with fire to the heart of heaven, wrapped in darkness, cloud, and gloom. Then the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice.”
And lastly, idols imply the visual. In contrast to idols that are seen but not heard, we worship a God who is heard yet not seen. Our God is a speaking God who commands that we hear His voice, making no attempt to represent His image. The most important things in our lives are the things that are not seen. Hebrews 11:1 says this, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Over and over again, the Scripture prioritizes and honors the verbal over the visual. Jesus said to “doubting Thomas,” “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” The Jewish and Christian God is a God with a voice.
As I close today, please remember that our God is a jealous God. He is filled with zeal for His own name. God tells us specifically that we are not to bow down or serve any other gods or idols. If we do, his judgment will fall upon the idols and the idolaters. So, our getting the worship of God wrong brings spiritual death to our subsequent generations.
We are natural-born idolaters. “Our hearts are idol-making factories,” Mohler writes, “and this is yet more evidence that we are a fallen race. Idolatry is rooted in the depth of who we are.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to make no image of God or his son Jesus. We should paint no pictures of Him. If we were to know the visual image of Christ, he would have left us His visual image. He did not. And every picture or portrait of Him is an invention, and as an invention, it robs Him of His glory. God does not command or authorize the use of images in order to understand and worship Him.
As Mohler writes, “The second commandment is a clear condemnation of idols and images. We are not to use our creativity in order to fabricate an idol or to worship an image. We are called to know and love the God who made us for His glory. And that is the highest privilege any human being can know.”