Summary: The second commandment keeps us from putting God "in a box"
Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson are camping. After enjoying a day of relaxation, they pitch their tent under the stars and go to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, Holmes wakes Watson. "Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you deduce."
Hoping to please his boss with his own brilliant reflections, Watson says, "I see millions of stars, and if even a few of those stars have planets, it is quite likely there are some planets like Earth, and if there are planets like Earth out there, it is reasonable to assume that there might be life on other planets."
Holmes stares hard at Watson for a minute, then says, "Watson, you idiot, somebody stole our tent!"
Sometimes our most impressive reasoning doesn’t lead to the right conclusions.
This morning we’re looking at the second of the Ten Commandments:
Do not bow down to any idol or worship it, because I am the Lord your God and I tolerate no rivals.
This commandment is very closely related to the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods.”
In fact in some Christian traditions, the first and second commandments are rolled into one, and then the 10th commandment is split into two to make up for it.
But these two commandments are not the same.
As we saw last week, the first commandment requires that we worship only the one true God as He is revealed in the Scriptures.
And that sounds very much like, “Don’t worship idols.”
But this command doesn’t just say, “Don’t worship idols.”
It says, “Don’t make idols or images for your worship.
That includes both worshipping the image or a false god and making any kind of an image to represent the one true God.
But before I get what that means for us, I feel I need to address what’s most troubling about this commandment, which is the threat attached to it:
I bring punishment on those who hate me and on their descendants down to the third and fourth generation.
It seems that God is being utterly unfair, promising to punish one generation for the sins of another.
It also seems to contradict other Scriptures, where God commands that individuals should be punished for their own sins, as in Deut. 24:16:
Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sin.
Here we see that justice demands no one should be punished for the sins of their parents or their children.
So why doesn’t God appear to play by the same rules?
I don’t have a quick and easy solution for this, but here are some observations and suggestions
The most obvious may be something we are only too well aware of: that children have a tendency to imitate the behavior of their parents
There are many ways in which children can suffer because of their parents’ behavior.
If parents don’t honor God and don’t live by His commandments, there’s a good chance their children won’t, either.
But I don’t believe that this verse is saying that if a parent doesn’t worship the one true God, that God will punish the child for it.
The reason I believe that is because of what God says through the prophet Ezekiel almost a thousand years later.
It’s a rather long passage, so I’m not going to read the whole thing, but if you’d like to read it yourself, it’s found in Ezekiel 18.
At that time, the nation of Israel had been conquered and taken into exile by the Babylonians.
The people felt that they were being punished for the sins of their parents and grandparents – for the generations of sin that had preceded them.
They also figured that if they were “serving their parents’ sentence,” there wasn’t any benefit for them to be faithful to God.
The cards had already been played, and they knew they were going to lose.
But God challenges them, saying that
5 "Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right… 9 He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign LORD.
According to this, the man’s son should also be blessed, right? But the Lord asks them what would happen if this good man’s son is not so good. In fact what if he is as bad as the day is long?
Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head.
Just to make sure the people get it, the Lord speculates about the third generation, saying,