IDOLATRY — the worship of something created as opposed to the worship of the Creator Himself. Scores of references to idolatry appear in the Old Testament. This shows that idolatry probably was the greatest temptation our spiritual forefathers faced. While we find bowing down to a statue no temptation, they apparently slipped into idolatry constantly. So serious was this sin that the prohibition against the making and worshiping of images was included near the beginning of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:4–6). (Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary)
While the first commandment prohibits worshiping gods other than the one true God, this commandment prohibits worshiping the one true God in a way that makes us think of him as having a physical form like something in his creation. To think of God’s very being as having a physical form is to diminish him, to dishonor him, to ignore the immense difference between the Creator and the creature. (Wayne Grudem)
After the first commandment rejects all other gods, so that only Yahweh remains, the second commandment rejects every wrong form whereby people desire to worship Yahweh. The first commandment opposes foreign gods, the second opposes self-willed worship of Yahweh. If you stand with your back to idols, then you must still learn to kneel properly before the God of Israel. You can get rid of all your religious idols, but in their place you must not erect an image of Yahweh. You may serve no other gods; but the Lord in turn wants to be served in no other way than He has commanded. (J. Douma)
We often think of idolatry as worshiping a false god. We even understand idolatry as placing any person or priority in our lives before our commitment to God. And it is proper for us to think of idolatry in both of those ways. And yet, the second commandment also helps us understand that God requires us to worship him rightly. That means, among other things, we must be careful about too closely associating images with God himself. Religious images in our places of worship or prayer closets, or jewelry we wear around our necks, need to point beyond themselves, and not become the objects of our worship and devotion. Thus, even holy icons such as a sanctuary cross or stained-glass window, if they garner our adoration, can become idols, or graven images, as the second commandment puts it.
Moreover, in some Christian traditions, to worship God in any other way than what he has explicitly commanded in Scripture, is to violate the second commandment. What does that mean? There has been no consensus in Christian history, but that does not mean Christians should not seek to be faithful to God regarding what he has said about our worship of him. We never want to be careless or too casual when it comes to our worship of God. The Old Testament is filled with examples of those who were not necessarily worshiping false gods, but they were guilty of worshiping the one true God in a way he did not prescribe. This lesson will help us think more thoroughly and carefully about what it means to focus too closely on images in our spiritual lives, as well as doing our best to worship God in the ways he has commanded, and by which he is most glorified.
Bible Study (Each chapter in the book is followed by an in-depth Bible study)