Lecture 05: Second Commandment
Lecture: Second Commandment
E. Second Commandment – You shall Make no grave images
Interestingly, in the Catholic and Jewish numbering system; the first and second commandments are combined into one prohibition against idolatry. I think they are different in their meaning for they are different aspects of idolatry. The first commandment makes the point that we have to have the proper object of our worship. It must be the one true God who alone is God. The second commandment is similar but yet different in that when we put the one true God as he truly is. Literally, the commandment says that you must not make any graven images of your God for the sake of worship or bow down to any graven image you may find. This reference to physical images to God would have been seen all over the ancient world.
1. False physical images come from false mental images
A graven image that is physical is actually an extension of a false image in the mind. If someone makes a physical image and says that this is God; the problem is not what it is physically, it represents a deep misconception about the meaning of God. This is one of the things that Isaiah plays with when he mocks idolatry of the days. The passage in Isaiah where the person takes a log and cut half of it and burns it keeping himself warn and the other half he crafts into an idol and worships it. What is he thinking about? False physical images represent a deeper level of false mental images.
2. We craft an image of God in our minds
We may not be guilty today of making false physical images and setting them up as Gods. But many of us have crafted images of God in our minds. If you talk to a non-Christian, who often say that they like to think of God as such and such. All of these would be violations of the second commandment where we try to create a God that is acceptable or tolerable for us, and that becomes the object of our worship. It is a different aspect of idolatry.
3. Exodus 32
This is the story of the golden calf. We know that this is an episode about idolatry, but is it concerned with the first or the second commandment? In verse 1, the people saw that Moses was so long coming down from the mountains, they gathered Aaron and said come, make us gods who will go before us. As for as Moses, who brought us out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him. So, Aaron tells them to take their gold earrings and bring to him. So, Aaron took what they handed him and made it into an idol, a golden calf. Then he said, these are your gods Israel who brought you out of Egypt. Aaron built an altar in front of the calf and the next day they sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings which they ate and drank. The Lord told Moses to return for they have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. Now, on the surface of what we just read on a strictly grammatical level, is there any confusion in the story? How many idols are we talking about here? Is there one idol or more than one idol? My guess, there was one and then when it says, these are your gods. The word for gods is Elohim. The word itself is a plural form, which means that it can be translated as gods or a god and is often translated in the Old Testament, God. So, the most common word for God in the Old Testament is a plural word but we know that we are not talking about gods, but God. In this passage, there is actually a translation question. So, it could say that these are your gods but in fact, most Bibles have a note at the bottom of the page saying, or, this is your God. This is singular, one single image and it isn’t so much a violation of the 1st Commandment; that they are setting up a substitute for the one true God. This is a violation of the 2nd Commandment; this is not to be someone in place of God, this is God. This is to represent God, Yahweh.
4. Limiting of the Glory of God
This isn’t any god or some golden calf god that they have newly created, this is an idol of God. It is a reduction of the one true God made into the image of a calf. That is the heart of what is going on in the 2nd Commandment; in making any kind of physical image representing the true God. This is a different aspect of idolatry. This is a limiting, even belittling and watering down of the Glory of God. Of course, we know that any kind of physical image that claims to represent God or to be a likeness of God; by the fact that it is physical, it becomes an unlikeness of God because God is Spirit. In the historic interpretation of the 2nd Commandment being taken and mediated upon and to remember that it is spoken to covenant people having relevance even for the church today.
5. Worship God as he truly is
It is important in worshiping God, we need to worship God accurately. In John 4:24, we have a verse that is a positive restatement of the 2nd Commandment. We used Deuteronomy 6:4-5, we use it to positively state the 1st Commandment. I would use John 4:24 to positively state the 2nd Commandment. God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship him in Spirit and in truth. Our worship must be spiritual and truthful. John 4:24 takes us back to John 4:22 where Jesus says to the woman, you worship what you do not know. The problem with this woman’s understanding of worship in the passage, it is rooted in a deeper problem. She misunderstood God. Once we understand that God is Spirit; that changes our understanding of worship. We must worship God according to knowledge. In Romans 10:2, Paul says that I testify about my fellow Jews, they have a zeal for God, but it isn’t according to knowledge. In Exodus 3:14, with Moses and the burning bush, saying, ‘I don’t know your name’. God responds, ‘I am, who I am. Tell them, I am has sent you.’ I think of this statement in relation to the 2nd Commandment. ‘I am who I am.’ I am not whoever you want me to be. Or whatever you think I am.
The true worshiper has to accept God as he is. We can’t craft a god that we want; we can’t worship a god that we wish he was and we can’t take away some aspect of God’s character. We have to accept God as he is, his testimony in Scripture. Even though we would exclusively like to sing about the love of God, we can’t. We can’t deny or ignore or downplay the other attributes of God. God is not only a God of love, he is a God of righteousness and holiness, a God of wrath and a God of jealousness. In Exodus 20:5 when he says that you shall not make for yourself an image in the form of heaven above or the earth below; you shall not bow down to them or worship them for I am a jealous God. I show love to those who love me. Individually, we can’t put our own definition to God or our own description of God. God is who he is; God is God. This isn’t spoken to pagans but to covenant people.
Some misconceptions about God that we may have. One such concept of God is that he is too remote from us; he is too concerned with bigger things. God can’t be put into a box or made bite-size. This is what is at work in the open theology movement. If we take the Scripture as they are, it doesn’t fit in our boxes. If God truly had known, he would not have allowed this or that. So, we rewrite theology based on human reasoning and our own experience. We think we are doing God a favor by making him fairer and more just, instead of bowing our knees before mysteries that we don’t understand. We do in terms of theology a lot. One of my professors once said, we will come to something in Scripture and it will present itself to you as truth and then you will come to something else in Scripture that seems contradictory and it presents itself as true as well. Your mind will want to do all kinds of gymnastics and mathematics; you try to figure a way around it, but if it doesn’t compute in your brain, that is just too bad. That is the mystery and you bow before it.
Other misconceptions include God being a great genie who is in a bottle which we can uncork when we want to. We have so many misconceptions that is perhaps formed by society or by early experiences or even family experiences. It could be how we were raised in church; the kind of church we were in; the kind of image of God that was portrayed to us. If it is critical that we worship what we know as opposed to worshiping what we do not know (John 4:22). Why was the worship of God for the Samaritans so wrong? Partly, they had rejected the Word of God. Their Bible was made up of the first five books of the Bible; the books of Moses. They rejected the rest of the Old Testament. So, what are we going to do to help people worship God in truth, not according the whelms or the latest fashion or theology? Paul said that he didn’t hesitate to proclaim the whole counsel of God among the Ephesians. We preach all the Scripture. If we are going to be preachers who have pet themes and topics and stay there all the time; instead we must have a disciplined approach to make sure that we deal with all the Scriptures. There are lots of implications for the songs that we are choosing. We should know what they are revealing; what aspect of God’s character? Is there a balance to be considered? Are the actions of God being revealed in Scripture in any given culture; there are somethings that are difficult to preach about. In North America, suffering isn’t something that is taught very well in how it relates to our faith and theology. We teach a victorious and a triumphant Christian life.
In terms of the experience, I wish that we would help our people have some exposure to theological traditions because there won’t be just Presbyterians in heaven or Baptists or Methodists or Pentecostals or Charismatics. There are so many theological traditions; our prejudice will be from our own tradition. My guess, we all will be a little surprised. I think if we have a different exposure of theological traditions, our view of God begins to open up. We have a natural tendency to find people who think like we do and congregate together. Once we do that, we cut ourselves off to features that we would otherwise be able to see. Both theologically and culturally I think this is important. If I only worship perpetually with people who are just like me culturally, we will tend to see God through similar lenses. God is much bigger than this.
I love the opportunity to worship outside of my culture because God gets bigger in my experience. If we are not careful and continually criticizing our self, we will create a god who will simply put a stamp of approval on the status quo. We will want a god who maintains the status quo and therefore will not allow the Scriptures to be dangerous as they should be. Unless we are challenging ourselves to different cultural experiences, we may be hindered in growing in the Lord. In terms of race, this usually relates to physical differences. Culture has nothing to do with physical differences; it is involved with human construction like our ideas, our values, and our patterns. It is really on the social plain. Ethnicity is an interesting link in these concepts. Sometimes an ethnic group is a group which is set apart because of physical or language features. Within any ethnic group, we can experience racial and cultural aspects. It is easier for a church to be multi-ethnic than multicultural. You can have people who look different in your church who come from different ethnic backgrounds but in fact, that church may be very monocultural. Who has the power in the church and which cultural stamp is dominating the church? It may look multicultural but not be multicultural.
In regards to the public reading of Scripture; Paul told Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture. Today, some of the better Bible-teaching churches ironically get less amount of Scripture to people. If I am in a church where the pastor is preaching through the Gospel of Matthew covering only half a verse at a time; sometimes that will be the only Scripture read the whole week. We need to have multiple readings of Scripture in church; this makes sure that we are given the whole council of the Word. If we sing ninety percent of our songs with a simple theme, ‘I Love you Jesus,’ there is a cumulative effect about what we are teaching. We are teaching that Christianity is personal and individualistic and that it is all about you and Jesus. This is also corrupting our understanding of who God is.
7. Reasons behind the second commandment
The 1st Commandment is concerned with having the right object of your worship. The 2nd Commandment is about worshipping the true God accurately in the way that he has prescribed. This has implications of becoming like the object of your worship. Even if we think that we have settled the issue of idolatry and we aren’t worshipping any false gods and worshipping the only one true God. Our conceptions of that God may be misguided and perhaps these misconceptions are dominating our teaching and our worship of him. If that is true, then we may become like the god that we have conceived in our minds. One of the historical criticisms of the Christian view of God has been where people takes Genesis 1:26 where it says that God created man in his own image; people say, no, man created God in his own image. The one true God created us in his own image, but in very real ways, people create their own gods after their own likeness and their own image. The 2nd Commandment comes with a reason; God is jealous. The jealousy of God is given for the explanation of the 2nd Commandment. God will not share his glory with anyone else. This would also apply to false conceptions of God that have created after our own image and likeness.
8. What about physical images in the church?
This is something that the church has debated greatly over its history. There are some churches today that still have icons. One Greek Orthodox Church in Greece that I visited had wall to wall icons. I found it interesting to see how the Biblical narrative was portrayed through the icons. But, right alongside this there will be some obscure tradition that has nothing to do with Biblical authority. Some would be so extreme to say that we shouldn’t make any physical image of anything. Some have said, because of the 2nd Commandment, historically Jewish people are not known for their great art. I think it would be difficult to say that the production of any kind of images is forbidden by the second commandment. For, right in the furnishing in the tabernacle there are images. Interestingly, Bizzell is spoken of as being filled with the Holy Spirit for the making of these furnishings. It doesn’t mean that the making of images are forbidden, it is the bowing down to those images or the worshiping of images that is forbidden and making them for the purpose of worship. And any physical likeness that is deemed to represent God is automatically an unlikeness as God’s glory cannot be captured that way. In the New Testament, Jesus is called the icon of the invisible God. Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:15 also have the statement that Jesus is the exact representation of the invisible God. The Colossians 1 passage makes use of the word, icon. Hebrews 1:3 doesn’t use the word icon but instead a parallel term. He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being. God has made himself visible in the person of Jesus. This is also seen in the Gospel of John. John 1:14, the Word became flesh and dwell among us.
Then in John 14:9, whoever has seen me has seen the Father. This is, of course, true but there is no justification for making or creating more icons. We are still forbidden from doing anything like that ourselves. If God has made himself incarnate, in flesh and if we really believe and affirm that the Word of God, that the eternal Son of God became truly human. Then is it inappropriate to try to picture his humanness? I don’t think that it is inappropriate to try to picture the humanness of Jesus in some form. The problem becomes if we look at any physical representation of Jesus of Nazareth and fall into the myth of thinking that somehow this is him. There is some danger that no one would prepare for or anticipate that such a portrait would have been intended to be really Jesus. There will be some, however, who will have that in their minds. They will grow up thinking, ah, that is what Jesus looks like. In Korea, there are some superstitious practices that people will have when they have pictures of Jesus present. There is usually a disconnect in what the theologians will say and what the practitioners really believe. Theologians may have all the rational which may fit and have a nice apology; we are not really worshiping these things, but in practice, there is a physical action. Someone will say that I’m not praying to saints, but with the saints. That is a nice theological rational and you could build on that. They say that the saints are alive and we are alive. Theologically, that makes sense but in practice that isn’t what happens. I think people are often praying to saints; for example, to Mary in an inappropriate way. However, I do like stain glass windows portray Biblical dramas and narratives. We should be careful with all of this, making sure that we don’t turn it into any kind of law or making it gnostic because it denies the material in the physical. Even though we have a good rational for what we are doing, it is often picked up differently. What they see will probably become ingrained as to their image and probably will see things differently. For example, I grew up with the image of Moses as Charleston Heston. That is the image in my mind.
9. Clarity in Worship
For the 1st Commandment, I will use the word fidelity. It reminds us of the importance of fidelity in our worship and also faithfulness. It is God and God alone that we worship. The 2nd Commandment, the word that comes to mind is clarity in our worship. We have to worship God as he truly is, not as we imagine him to be or desire him to be. We have to hold ourselves accountable. We need to make sure that we are not dwelling on our two or three favorite attributes of God and letting that dominate the worship experience. We need to let God be God as he has truly revealed himself to be. I wasn’t raised in a Christian setting where we follow a lectionary. It isn’t picking the Scriptures based on how you feel or based on my perception of what the church needs this week. It is following the Scriptures in a disciplined pattern.