In our last blog we referred to the Ten Commandments as the bedrock of morality for the ancient Israelites as well as (to some extent) modern Western society. We noted the attitude of a wealthy, religious Jew of Jesus’ day, who believed he had mastered the commandments: “All these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20).
One of the threads of Jesus’ teaching ministry, later picked up by the apostles, was that no one masters the commandments. In fact, we all fail miserably. As Paul pointed out in Romans 7:9-13, the commandments are a standard of holiness which show us how sinful we are when we fail to keep them.
We looked at the first of the Ten Commandments in the last blog and saw that whenever we let something compete with God for our worship, prayer, gratitude and desire, we are putting other gods before God, and breaking the first commandment.
What about the second commandment? Exodus 20:4-6 reads thus:
“4 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. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD 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, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
It could be argued that this is actually an elaboration or clarification of the first commandment, which read simply, “You shall have no other gods before me” period. However, tradition has named it a separate commandment, hence the Ten Commandments, not the Nine Commandments. It is certainly in the same vein as the previous commandment, but focuses more on tangible, physical idols as opposed to gods of the imagination.
Once again, the knee-jerk reaction of a citizen of modern Western civilization may be, “Those primitive people and their silly carved idols.” This kind of thinking suggests that there is no risk that a modern, monotheistic Christian could violate this commandment. However, the truth is that we are a lot more engrossed in carved images than the ancients were. It is just that our methods of “carving” are a lot more refined – digital, in fact. Through the media, we view hundreds if not thousands of images daily. What effect do these images have upon us? Do we not model our way of speaking, dressing, and behaving after what we see in the media – TV, movies, magazines, Internet?
We may not literally bow down to carved images, but we spend a lot of time sitting in front of digital images and being transfixed by them, during our free time that we could be using to serve God and bring his glory to the world.
If the First Commandment is fundamentally about God’s uniqueness, the Second Commandment is fundamentally about faith. Faith is “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We cannot see God (1 Timothy 6:16) or the things he has promised to those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9). So, will we model our lives after the visible things we have created that we see all around us? Or will we model our lives after the unseen One who created us? That is a choice we face many times a day; and every time we make the wrong choice, we break the Second Commandment.
So, as much as I may think I’m pure and pious when it comes to the Second Commandment, having dug deeper I have to admit that I’m a serial servant of carved images! And I bet you are too. So where does that leave us? In the next blog we will continue our march through the ever-more-menacing Ten Commandments.