Law,  Old Testament

No Idol or Likeness—The Uncommon God (Exod 20:4-6)

The first commandment stated that God is supreme above all things. The second commandment is, like the first commandment, also an application of the supremacy of the Creator. The first commandment applied the supremacy of God through mandating that nothing is to be treated as God. The theological reality which undergirds the second commandment is that God must never be brought down to creation status. So, together the first two commandments teach that nothing must ever be elevated to God’s rightful status as supreme object of our affection and worship; second, God must never be treated as common or as a part of creation.

photo of an idol

The second commandment, like the first, is rooted in Genesis 1. We see this clearly by the repetition of Genesis 1 language, “heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” This commandment focuses specifically upon making any representation of God on earth. By implication, it also covers making images to other deities as well; but, the main focus here is how to represent God. In those days, it was common for ancient Near Eastern peoples to believe that a deity actually inhabited the statue which represented the deity. However, the true Creator cannot be confined to anything created because He is above all of creation. His omnipresence cannot be confined to any representation of Him. Therefore, God cannot be represented in any common (created) way.

This command remains unchanged for believers today. God is still above creation, and He is not to be brought down to our level. This does not mean that having a picture or statue of Jesus is inherently wrong. However, any worship or veneration given to that picture or statue is wrong. However, there is further application of this command. The core idea of the command is to not treat God as common. Therefore, in our prayer and worship to God we must display His uniqueness through our reverence for Him. Yes, there is a close relationship of father and son between God and believers, yet that does not displace the fact that God is still the Creator! I am too often saddened by prayers that treat God as if He is a buddy or a boyfriend/girlfriend. Along the same lines, some of the songs we sing in our worship services are ripoffs from secular “love songs” that we apply to God and/or Jesus. Do you seriously think that God takes joy in hearing you sing a secular love song to Him? Should we use similar lyrics to those that a fornicator uses for his girlfriend? These things ought not to be.

The severity of this command is clear: “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” For Israel, the failure to give God the honor that is due to Him resulted in devastating consequences that often lasted multiple generations!

Photo by Jose Luis Sanchez Pereyra on Unsplash

Peter serves at Shepherd's Theological Seminary in Cary, NC as the professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages. He is a husband, father, and sports enthusiast.