Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE SECOND COMMANDMENT”

Exodus 20.4-6

Please turn to Exodus 20.4-6, our text for this morning. This is the second of the ten commands given by God to the children of Israel by His servant Moses. When you have found that passage, please stand for the reading of God’s Word:

4      Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5      Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

6      And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

This second of the Ten Commandments is completely missing from the catechisms that are taught by the Roman Catholic Church to the children of parishioners. The Roman Catholic Church, utterly dependent upon the profound ignorance of the scriptures of their people, have removed this second commandment and split the tenth commandment in two, because even Roman Catholics know there have to be ten commandments. Why, pray tell, would the Roman Catholic Church, which for centuries after the Council of Trent condemned the reading of any translation of the Bible by Roman Catholics but their own Latin Vulgate, leave the real second commandment out of their catechism? One has only to read the second commandment to see that it stands as an indictment against most of what the Roman Catholic Church stands for.

By way of introduction, we will consider the entire second commandment a phrase at a time, so I can make comments for your edification. Keep in the forefront of your thinking that while the ceremonial aspects of the Law of Moses were not given to us who are Gentiles, and their observation was never required of us who are Gentiles, the Law is very much in play as a moral guide. The Law is a reflection of God’s will for all people, and is a schoolmaster to guide sinners to Christ, Galatians 3.24. “For by the law is the knowledge of sin,” Romans 3.20.

Exodus 20.4 reads, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Are we to take this to be a blanket prohibition against paintings, carvings, and statues, per se? No. The second command was never understood to be such a prohibition by the Jewish people, was never explained to be such a prohibition by any of the prophets, and was never explained to be such a prohibition by the Savior during His earthly ministry. Remember, inside the Tabernacle, sitting atop the Ark of the Covenant, was the mercy seat. The mercy seat was a gold covering that included two solid gold angels, called cherubim, Exodus 25.18-20. Additionally, sewn into the curtains of the Tabernacle were designs of those same cherubim, Exodus 36.35. If the second command was a blanket prohibition of all representations of living creatures then the Tabernacle furniture was a violation.

Thus, we understand that the prohibition of the second commandment was not against works of art, or representations of living creatures. It was a prohibition against any object fashioned with hands for the purpose of showing veneration to, or worshiping in any conceivable way. This is established in the next verse shows: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me.” God here exercises His authority to not only mandate that He was to be the only Being worshipped, as we saw in verse 3, but that He is to be worshipped in the manner that He chooses. In other words, religion, if that is what you want to call our system and method of worshiping God, is not for you, but for God; not for your benefit, but for His. So many people entertain thoughts and ideas of religion to make them happy, to please them, to fulfill them, to satisfy them. Additionally, they embrace religious principles and practices that fit well with their preconceived notions of right and wrong. That is a grave error. According to God’s Law, religious worship is to be directed toward Him, verse 3, and is to be conducted in a manner that He prescribes, or is not be conducted in a manner that He forbids, verse 5. Notice, also, that God gives a reason for His restrictive requirements. He is a jealous God, which is to say that He is not willing to share with anyone what is rightly and properly owed to Him alone. It is one thing to share blessings, to share food, to share water, since such things are not related to one’s worth. However, what about worship? Does anyone deserve worship and adoration other than God? No. Is it right to give anyone other than God worship and adoration? No. So, it is right, proper and good for God to be jealous for that which only He deserves, for that which only He is worthy to receive. We find the word “jealous” sixteen times in the English Bible, once in the New Testament and fifteen times in the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul declares that he is jealous once in his writings.[1] Twice reference is made to a husband being jealous for his wife.[2] Twice we read of Elijah declaring that he is jealous for God.[3] Nine times God is declared jealous.[4]

Listen to Exodus 34.14: “For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” As a husband ought to be jealous of his wife hanging around some other guy, and as a wife ought to be jealous when some cute young thing spends a lot of time with her man, so God is jealous for the adoration and the praise that is due to Him alone. He is jealous, and with God jealously is a virtue. Before we move on, consider God’s name again. The phrase “the LORD” means “Jehovah,” or as it is sometimes pronounced “Yahweh,” but what does the name of God actually mean? It means, “I am that I am.” It speaks of God as the self-existent one. Let me read you a poem that I found in B. H. Carroll’s An Interpretation Of The English Bible that poetically describes our God, Jehovah, the maker and keeper of covenants:

First and last of faith’s receiving,

Source and sea of man’s believing,

God, whose might is all potential,

God, whose truth is truth’s essential,

Good supreme in thy subsisting,

Good in all thy seen existing;

Over all things, all things under,

Touching all, from all asunder;

Centre thou, but not intruded,

Compassing, and yet included;

1Over all, and not ascending,

Under all, but not depending;

Over all, the world ordaining,

Under all, the world sustaining;

All without, in all surrounding,

All within, in grace abounding;

Inmost, yet not comprehended,

Outer still, and not extended;

Over, yet on nothing founded,

Under, but by space unbounded;

Omnipresent, yet indwelling,

Self-impelled, the world impelling:

Force, nor fate’s predestination,

Sways thee to one alternation;

Ours to-day, thyself forever,

Still commencing, ending never;

Past with thee is time’s beginning,

Present all its future winning;

With thy counsels first ordaining

Comes thy counsel’s last attaining;

One the light’s first radiance darting

And the elements departing.[5]

What does this phrase, “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,” actually mean? God is there stating that when the sin of idolatry is an issue, He will allow the children, and the grandchildren, and the great grandchildren of the idolaters to be so influenced by their ancestors that they will commit the same sin and receive the same punishment. What is the punishment for the sin of idolatry? Deuteronomy 27.15: “Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen.” Do I need to show you that death by stoning was the punishment for making or owning graven religious images?

Look to Exodus 20.6: “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.” God’s punishment for sinning in this way extends to three generations. However, notice what the consequence of obedience is. There are three things: “Those that love God, and keep those commandments, shall receive grace to keep his other commandments. Gospel worship will have a good influence upon all manner of gospel obedience. Secondly, God has mercy in store for such. Even they need mercy, and cannot plead merit; and mercy they shall find with God, merciful protection in their obedience and a merciful recompence of it. Thirdly, this mercy shall extend to thousands, much further than the wrath threatened to those that hate him, for that reaches but to the third or fourth generation. The streams of mercy run now as full, as free, and as fresh, as ever.”[6]

One last introductory comment. The passage ends with the words “them that love me, and keep my commandments.” Some 1400 years later, the Apostle John, the last surviving of the original apostles of Jesus Christ, would write in Second John 6: “And this is love, that we walk after his commandments.” You may not think the second command has any direct application to you. After all, unless you come from a Roman Catholic background you hardly think of yourself as a dashboard figurine idolater or a plaster image on the wall venerator. However, if you will stay with me for a bit you will see that this second command has very direct application to just about everyone . . . including you. I once more lean heavily on the venerable Texas Baptist, B. H. Carroll, at this point.[7]

We consider three things in relation to this second command:

First, CONSIDER MAN’S INCLINATION

Is worship an inclination that all men have? Consider that what we have here is a commandment not to worship any graven image, which is to say any carved or manufactured likeness. In order to provoke you to thought, I raise the question, Is worship an inclination that all men have? It most certainly is. Let me read to you from the ancient biographer, Plutarch, writing about Colotes, the Epicurean. Epicureans were atheists. Therefore, about this atheist, Plutarch writes,

“If you go through the world, you may find cities without walls, without letters, without rulers, without houses, without money, without theaters and games: but there was never yet seen nor shall be seen by man a single city without temples and gods, or without prayers, oaths, prophecies, and sacrifices, used to obtain blessings and benefits, or to avert curses and calamities: nay, I am of opinion that a city might be sooner built with out any ground beneath it, than a commonwealth could be constituted, could be preserved.”

If you find in the people of North America what you do not find in the people of South America, or if you find among the people of Europe what you do not find among the people of Asia, then whatever that difference and distinction is, it is not innate, it is not universal. Whether white or black, rich or poor, Barbarian, Scythian, Jew or Greek, bond or free, we do find in man, wherever we find him, the inclination to worship superhuman power. Plutarch’s observation is accurate. Man is a religious creature. Even in his atheism there are the trappings of religion, such as during the very height of communism the body of V. I. Lenin was preserved in a glass casket in Moscow, with people standing in line for hours every day to view his body, whispering in hushed tones at the shrine of the founder of an atheist state, so they could “worship,” which is to say “to see and show respect” for the memory of the leader of the October Revolution. While in other places it is not a corpse that is worshipped, but a rock or a stump or a carved tree or a statue. Whatever the expression, man’s inclination is toward religious expression, be it the Lakers, be it the Virgin of Guadalupe, be it a large oak tree, or a river, or a spouse or child.

Next, CONSIDER MAN’S IDOLATRY

I have gotten ahead of myself. However, that is okay. I have no secrets to surprise anyone with this morning. How can man’s natural inclination to worship become perverted, and why? Paul gives the explanation in his letter to the Romans in chapter 1. We should address the underlying reasons for the second command. Paul wrote in verses 18-23,

18    For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

19    Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20    For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

21    Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22    Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23    And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Whenever a man has knowledge of the one true and living God, the Creator of heaven and earth, either through nature or revelation, he is faced with a choice. He can either worship God rightly and truly as God, or, if he does not like to retain the thought of God in his mind, his natural inclination to worship in some way will result in him worshiping something, somehow, in some way. This is what gives rise to idolatry. Man will worship. He will seek to find some greater meaning in life and the things he does. Because of his innate sinfulness, because of his natural leanings away from God, he will construct images of some kind, idols of some kind, totems of some kind, so he can worship his god his way, thereby retaining the ultimate right of self-determination.

Do you protest, claiming that you are not guilty of idolatry because you have no dashboard figurines, no idols of a crucified Christ hanging from your neck, no statues that you burn incense to? Ezekiel 14.3-5 makes mention of idols that men set up in their hearts that have estranged them from God:

3      Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?

4      Therefore speak unto them, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart, and putteth the stumblingblock of his iniquity before his face, and cometh to the prophet; I the LORD will answer him that cometh according to the multitude of his idols;

5      That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are all estranged from me through their idols.

Perhaps you have such an idol of the heart. Rightly understood, a person’s idol is his ultimate concern if his ultimate concern is not God. What is your ultimate concern? Is it your own life? The Christian will die before he will deny Christ. Is it your child? The Christian will not stay home from church for a sick child if that child would do just as well at church, and unless that sick child would make other children sick. Is it your job? What Christian would stay home from church to work a measly job? We are talking about your ultimate concern, now. Is God your ultimate concern? If not, then you are an idolater of some kind, guilty of violating the second commandment.

Finally, MAN’S INSTRUCTION

Let me read to you the sarcastic comments of the prophet Isaiah with regard to idolatry, remembering that this applies to idols of the heart as well as idols made with hands:

·         Isaiah 40.18-20:

18    To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?

19    The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.

20    He that is so impoverished that he hath no oblation chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.

·         Isaiah 44.9-20:

9     They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.

10    Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?

11    Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.

12    The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.

13     The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.

14    He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.

15    Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

16    He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:

17    And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.

18    They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.

19    And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?

20    He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?

Consider also the remarkable statement of the Apostle Paul, while in the cultivated city of Athens. He was brought to the Areopagus, to Mars’ Hill, on the charge of setting forth strange gods. About the city, one writer said, “You could oftener see a god in Athens than you could see a man. There were gods in the valleys, on the hills, and high over all on the Acropolis was their marvelous temple of gods. And towering over the city was a colossal statue of Minerva. They were too religious, so far as the objects of their devotion were concerned.” Paul, standing in the midst of them, said, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things,” Acts 17.24-25. His spirit was stirred within him when he observed the objects worshiped by the Athenians, we are told in verse 16 of that same chapter.

Having seen how God’s men reacted to idolatry, let us ask what are the reasons for this second commandment? Let me provide three reasons: The first reason is given in Deuteronomy. Commenting upon the commandment, Moses reminded the people in Deuteronomy 4.15 that they had seen no likeness or similitude of God. They heard His voice, but did not see Him. By that God meant to convey to them the prohibition to attempt to make a likeness of Him when He had given them no likeness of Himself. Any attempt to visually portray Him would do Him a disservice. Thus, the painting of Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel portraying God the Father is a great blasphemy. The second reason for the giving of the second commandment is that Jehovah is a jealous God. His relationship with the Jewish people was likened to a marriage covenant. Jehovah is the husband of the nation Israel in a certain sense, and if the wife worships someone other than her husband, that naturally excites jealousy on the part of the husband. “I, Jehovah, thy God, am a jealous God.” As those people by that covenant were wedded to Jehovah, so we in the new covenant are also in a sense wedded to God. The church is the bride of Christ, and He performs the part of the husband. He loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify it and cleanse it with the washing through the word, and might present it to himself a glorious church, without spot or blemish.[8] Shall the church, the bride of Christ, turn away from her husband, Jesus Christ? He says, “I am a jealous God.” A third reason for the second commandment is that God takes cognizance in His government of the law of heredity in both directions, visiting the iniquity of evil men upon the third and fourth generation, and visiting upon good men to the thousandth generation their good. In view of that double law of heredity, if I today worship idols and I am the father of a family; if I turn away from Jehovah to make something else my god, the consequences of what I do passes to my children, to the third and fourth generation. However, if I love God and adhere to Him, blessings pass to the thousandth generation.

This commandment was given because human beings have ineradicable inclinations to worship. Men cannot escape worship. We will worship something, be it hunting or fishing, money or fame. It may be career or spouse, children or personal appearance. If man had not fallen into sin that inclination would have prohibited him from worshiping wrong things. As a proof of it, look at history. All through history and around the world men are idolaters. It is man’s nature to be an idolater, with some men worshiping only sex, money, and power, but worshiping nevertheless.

You, too, are an idolater. You cannot escape it. The second commandment is about God being worshiped the way He wants to be worshipped, not the way you want to worship Him. As Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”[9]

Would you worship God in spirit and in truth? Would you flee idolatry, as the Bible says? Would you seek to keep the second commandment? Then you must come to Christ, Who kept the entire Law on behalf of those sinners who come to Him. Jesus said, “ye believe in God, believe also in me,” John 14.1.



[1] 2 Corinthians 11.2

[2] Numbers 5.14, 30

[3] 1 Kings 19.10, 14

[4] Exodus 20.5; 34.14; Deuteronomy 4.24; 5.9; 6.15; Joshua 24.19; Ezekiel 39.25; Joel 2.18; Nahum 1.2; Zechariah 1.14; 8.2

[5] B. H. Carroll, An Interpretation Of The English Bible, Volume 1, (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2001), Vol 2, pages132-133.

[6] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary On The Whole Bible, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2000), bible@mail.com

[7] Carroll

[8] Ephesians 5.27

[9] John 4.23-24



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