WSC Q&A #49

Q: Which is the second commandment?
A: The second commandment is, you shall not make unto yourself any graven 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 yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord your 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; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
Romans 1:22-23 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping thing

There is a lot of confusion about this commandment. Some believe this commandment is simply referring to the building and worshiping of idols, or visible statues of false gods. However, this would then make this commandment nothing more than a redundancy, a repeating of the first commandment. The first commandment already condemns worshiping false gods, whether it is a statue of Zeus, made of wood, gold, etc., whether it's our money or possessions, or whether it is an invisible god that we dream up in our heads. Whatever we worship, if it is not the true and living God, it's idolatry. It's covered under the first commandment. The second commandment is going beyond the worshiping of false gods, or rather, it is expanding upon the definition of a false god. What this command is forbidding is the making of visible images of the true and living God. Like the first commandment, the confession will give us clarifying questions and answers in the weeks to come, diving more into what this command forbids, etc. However, to set the stage, I would remind us of the account of the golden calf in Exodus 32. While the people bowed before the golden calf and said, “these are your gods O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt”, notice Aaron's words in 32:5, “When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast unto the LORD (Yahweh).” Aaron, here, is attempting to soften the idolatry of the people by making the golden calf a symbol of Yahweh. There are really two sins in this account. There is the sin of worshiping a false god which the Israelites are guilty of, but then there is Aaron's sin of making a visible image of the invisible God and bowing before it. And even though in his mind he was bowing before Yahweh himself, even though Aaron was using the calf to direct his thoughts and worship towards Yahweh, Aaron too is guilty of idolatry. The first commandment could easily address the sin of the people, but the second commandment would address the sin of Aaron in this account. There are many theological reasons as to why making and using visible images of God is idolatry, but first and foremost is this. Any visible representation of God will fail to capture his true glory, his true holiness, his true essence, and therefore these images, quite simply, are not God. God alone has the right to use symbols and give visibility to his invisibility. God had done this in various ways throughout the Scriptures (one could think of the smoking pot and torch in Genesis 15, for example), but ultimately, he did it finally and fully in the person of Jesus Christ. All other human attempts, no matter how noble, no matter how much we may say, “well this is here to help us worship God”, is nothing more than idolatry.

Posted on December 8, 2015 .