The Second Commandment


“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, Yahweh, your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Exodus 20:4-6)

The First Commandment forbids idolatry, the worship of any other gods than Yahweh—false gods. The Second Commandment forbids “the worship of the true God in a false way” (Alec Motyer). It refers to our “projecting” onto Yahweh by representing him with images drawn from creation that make sense to us, that don’t offend our sensibilities, that seem relatively manageable. Aaron led the Israelites in doing this very thing when Moses lingered on Mount Sinai (Exodus 32:1-8). They fashioned the golden calf with a graving tool, proclaimed it to be the God who had brought them up out of Egypt, and held a feast to Yahweh, making sacrifices before the statue. They didn’t call it some other god. They said, “This is Yahweh; this is what Yahweh is like.” They imported their own ideas of potency (the calf) and splendor (the gold) into their worship of Yahweh.

But God says our assumptions about him drawn from the world by our own senses and our own judgment will always be wrong. God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We would never anticipate his moves. We would never guess what he is really like. We cannot conceive of him or imagine him for ourselves, because our imaginations are shaped by our own sin, which is opposed to knowing and worshiping him as he truly is. If we are going to be in a relationship with Yahweh, we must learn about him from him. We must know him and worship him according to his own revelation. We must come to him on his terms, and not just according to our own whims and sentiments.

Jesus is the fullest revelation of God for our relationship (Hebrews 1:1-3). He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life—the only way to know and worship Yahweh (John 14:6-7; Acts 4:12). To keep the Second Commandment means coming to God through faith in Jesus. Only Jesus has truly known and worshiped God, and he shares his own relationship with God with us. God is jealous that you know him as he truly is: a God who has made himself known in Jesus Christ to be a God of justice and steadfast love. He’s better than you imagined!

When was the last time you broke the Second Commandment? What are some common examples of ways you and others in our culture break it? How can you recognize when you might be breaking it? Would you ever have guessed God was Triune (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)? Would you ever have guessed that God would forgive you and make you his beloved child? What are some ways in which God has revealed himself to be better than you imagined? What do you do with parts of God’s revelation that are difficult for you, parts that don’t make sense or that offend your sensibilities?

Previous post:

Next post: