Summary: God will not share his glory.
Rev. Brian Bill
In order to capture the heart of the second commandment, fast forward forty days from the time Moses went up on Mount Sinai. The people are getting restless, wondering why he had been gone so long. To help us get a sense of what went on, I’m going to go into a first-person narrative from the perspective of Aaron, Moses’ brother and right-hand man.
So the people come up to me and ask me to make them some gods. I guess I wasn’t prepared for their bad attitude when they referred to Moses as “this fellow.” It doesn’t take long for people to turn on their leaders, does it?
I don’t really want to blame them or to justify my own actions because I was in the wrong. I can’t believe I did this but I asked everyone to bring me their gold earrings and then I put them in a hot fire and cast the gold into the shape of a calf. I had seen plenty of these when we lived in Egypt so I knew what I was doing. They were wanting to return to the familiar and comfortable, to go back to how they were accustomed to living. You’re tempted with that in your culture, too. What’s wrong with a visual representation of God? After all, calves are strong, right? But then I was taken aback when they all shouted, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
I scrambled at this point and built an altar in front of the calf, thinking that maybe the people would get their focus back on the Lord. I told them that the next day we’d celebrate a festival to the Lord. The next morning the people brought offerings but then they sat down to eat and drink…and then they got really out of control and did things that I can’t talk about in church.
I didn’t know it at the time but God was really angry with us and told Moses that He was going to wipe us out. He called us stiff-necked. But then Moses interceded and God relented. And then I saw Moses coming down the mountain with the two tablets. He didn’t look very happy. When he saw the calf and the dancing he threw the tablets, breaking them into pieces. He took the calf and burned it, grinding it into powder, scattering it on the water and then he made us drink it.
Moses then went off on me, wondering what the people did to me that I would lead them into such great sin. I tried to get him to chill out by telling him how prone the people are to do evil. I walked through what happened but then I had the nerve to say this: “Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” How’s that for shirking responsibility?
Moses then rallied the true believers and charged them with wiping out those who bowed to the bull. About 3,000 people died that day. And it was all my fault.
Let’s read Exodus 20:4-6: “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
Let’s make some observations that will help us observe this commandment.
1. The second commandment sounds a lot like the first commandment. But here’s the difference. The first one deals with whom we worship; the second with how we worship. Ryken says it like this: “The first commandment has to do with worshipping the right God…the second has to do with worshipping the right God in the right way…the first commandment forbids us to worship false gods, the second…forbids us to worship the true God falsely.”
2. This is one of the longest commandments.
3. This commandment is the most often repeated commandment in other parts of the Bible. That shows us that God’s people are prone to breaking it.
4. Most think this is the easiest one to keep. Many of us think it’s irrelevant because we’re not bowing before golden bulls in our living rooms. By the time we’re finished we’ll see that we’re much more likely to break this one then we think.
5. This is the only commandment with both a punishment and a promise linked to the breaking or keeping of it.