Summary: God is passionate about us worshipping him accurately and on his terms.
It was an exciting week at our house. Our tadpoles changed into frogs this week, so we’ve all be reflecting on the wonder of metaphorphasis. You see, with four boys in our home we don’t have pet dogs and cats, but we end up with iguanas, skinks, lizards, and most recently a corn snake and frogs.
When you really think about it, the idea of having a pet is a funny concept. We’re the only creatures in the world that domesticate animals. From ancient times when humans first started breeding cattle and sheep, we’ve found more and more ingenious ways to harness animals for our own pleasure and comfort. We create zoos, even circuses. Yes, human domestication of the animal world is a wonder to behold.
But this wonderful ability to domesticate things loses its wonder when we try to domesticate God. In many ways the history of religion is a history of people try to find ways to put God on a leash, to pound in a stake in the ground that will hold God in one place. Humans have tried virtually everything to try to create a low maintenance god, a god who demands little and offers much.
We’ve been in a series through the 10 Commandments in the Bible called LANDMARKS FOR A NEW MILLENNIUM. Last week, in looking at the first commandment—to have no other gods before the true God—we saw that nothing’s more important in life than having the right God in the right place. No relationship, no cause, no job, no house, no lover…nothing’s more important than knowing God and putting him first. Today we come to the second commandment, the command against making idols, or as the old King James Version puts it, "graven images." In looking at this second commandment we’re going to answer four questions: What are images? Why is God against them? How do we know if we have one? And if God forbids images, how can we know anything for sure about him?
1. What Is An Image?
Let’s look at the second commandment together:
"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" (Deu 5:8-10 NIV).
In the ancient world, everybody used images and idols in their worship. But here God tells Israel not to make, bow down to, or worship any image thought to represent God, whether it’s a bird or a star, a snake or a fish. The Hebrew words "idol" and "form" in v. 8 describe any sort of manufacturing, whether chiseled from stone, carved from wood, or cast in a mold (NIDOTTE 3:645).
Now in Judaism and also in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches this command is simply seen as part of the earlier commandment to not have any other gods. So Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy don’t see this as a separate commandment. But I think this second commandment deals with something very different than the first. This second commandment calls us to break our idea of God out of our puny, little boxes.
When God gave the first commandment, in one broad, sweeping statement he declared there’s only one true God, in contrast to all the false gods worshiped by various people. Other gods have already been ruled out in the first commandment. So this second commandment tells us that in worshipping the one true God, we shouldn’t make, bow down to, or worship any images in our devotion to that one true God. So this command is about how we worship the one true God, not about worshipping other gods. The first commandment eliminates all false gods, so only the true and living God remains; the second commandment eliminates every false way of worshiping of that true and living God (Douma 35).
The reason given for this command is that the Lord—-the Hebrew word here is God’s Old Testament name Yahweh—-is as a "jealous" God. Now we immediately feel uncomfortable with God being jealous, thinking that this means God is stalking us, his eyes green with envy. Undoubtedly the Hebrew word for "jealous" describes an intense emotion (NIDOTTE 3:938). One Jewish Old Testament scholar translates it, "I, the Lord, am an impassioned God" (Tigay 65). But it’s not the jealous envy of a stalker that’s in view here, but the zealous passion of a spouse. This is God’s way of saying, "I will have nothing less than your full devotion, and you will have nothing less than all my love" (Miller 76). This is the zealous passion a husband feels for his wife, that they’ve entered into an exclusive, relationship, forsaking all others, and violation of that sacred bond causes a legitimate, passionate jealousy. Only in this sense is the God of the Bible a jealous God.