The Second Commandment
Idolatry sounds so Old Testament. Is it possible that you have an idol?
Before you say no, consider these facts. Idolatry was one of ancient Israel’s major problems. In fact, it was this specific sin that led to the destruction and captivity of both the kingdom of Israel and Judah.
Idolatry is not just an ancient sin uncovered by archaeology. It is far more than an Old Testament problem. Paul, the devoted apostle to the Gentile Christians, warned that idolatry is real trouble for true believers.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul recounted the tragic history of Israel. It is history that every human being needs to learn not to repeat. Referring expressly to Israel, he stated, “Now these things were our examples …. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play” (1 Cor. 10:6-7).
Paul wanted the Corinthian Christians to be aware that idolatry is a problem that all must be on guard against—especially the religious. Why? This sin opens up the floodgate to a whole host of other sins. Study the passage through verse 14. Paul lists the sins of fornication, tempting (or testing) Christ, and murmuring—which means complaining against those in authority. He repeats that these sins were recorded for us, “upon whom the ends of the world are come” (v. 11). Then Paul warns that we must examine ourselves to see if we are guilty of such sins (v. 12).
In verse 13, Paul warns that we will be tempted to commit such sins—because the end times are lawless times (see also 2 Tim. 3:1-5). For emphasis, he repeats, “Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:14). We must take this subject seriously.
Idolatry carries deadly consequences. The laws of ancient Israel demanded that idolaters be executed. Even though the leaders of ancient Israel didn’t always exact that penalty, God eventually did—to millions. Jerusalem was literally burned to the ground at the time of Nebuchadnezzar. The majority of its inhabitants were either starved to death or mercilessly slaughtered by the sword—including the elderly and young children. The rest went into captivity as slaves. We must learn this lesson of history or repeat it!
The truth of the matter is that idolatry is a common sin in our time. If not repented of by all nations and individuals, the outcome for our time will be far worse than for that of our ancestors. We are destined to face unparalleled disaster! Because of idolatry, God is allowing humankind to bring itself to a point just short of annihilation. Bible prophecy warns that just ahead of us there is certain to be drought, famine, starvation, disease epidemics and massive destruction brought about by nuclear war. If Jesus Christ does not stop short the Great Tribulation by His Second Coming, not one human would be left alive (Matt. 24:21-22). There has been no time like it on Earth—and never will be again—thankfully!
No one need suffer the penalty of idolatry. It is time to get to know the true God. It is time for us to smash our idols.
Teaching Commandment Keeping
We must not take commandment keeping lightly. Many who call themselves Christians teach that Christ did away with the Ten Commandments. But that does not square with Christ’s personal example. He said, “I have kept my Father’s commandments” (John 15:10). Jesus Christ also taught the disciples to keep the Ten Commandments. In fact, Christ restored God’s law to its deserved place of honor. So must we in our modern world.
Notice this all-important verse: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19-20). Throughout this section of Scripture, often called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ clarified, illustrated and amplified the Ten Commandments.
He left no doubt that true ministers of Christ both obey and teach about all ten of God’s commandments—not just a select few. In addition, He made it clear that God’s leaders must not change, misapply, dilute or give a private interpretation of God’s law. The scribes and Pharisees were guilty of such actions—as are many religious leaders today.
Study all the verses in this passage carefully. Christ showed that there was not just a physical application, or letter of the law, but also a deep spiritual dimension. For example, hatred for any human being is a spirit of murder (v. 22). Looking lustfully on a woman (or man) is a spirit of adultery (v. 28).
Although not specifically addressed by Christ in these passages, we could also be guilty of a spirit of idolatry. Speaking of our time, the Prophet Ezekiel wrote: “Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart …” (Ezek. 14:3).
Last month, we discussed the first, the great,commandment. It establishes that there is one God, the Almighty Creator of heaven and Earth. To worship or obey any lesser, created being or thing is expressly forbidden. The Almighty God requires that the men, women and children of all nations obey Him. God administers government over the limitless universe. He must also rule our thoughts, actions and desires. The First Commandment has everything to do with the establishment of God’s Kingdom, or government, on Earth and man’s part in that government. The true gospel of Jesus Christ is all about government. (Write for a free copy of The Incredible Human Potential by Herbert W. Armstrong. This book fully explains what the true gospel of Jesus Christ is.)
When men and nations break the First Commandment, they cut themselves off from the true God—the very source of their life, protection, peace and happiness. Men cut off from God are empty, frustrated, miserable—incomplete. They lead purposeless lives. They bring upon themselves the inevitable penalty of suffering.
The true worship of the true God keeps men in the wonderful knowledge that God has a purpose for all men. Fulfilling that purpose makes life exciting, thrilling, exhilarating. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a command that carries with it fantastic and eternal rewards.
Continuing our history from Exodus, the Almighty God thundered out a second time, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy 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” (Exod. 20:4-6).
The First Commandment forbids putting anything or anyone into the place of the true God. We could make an idol out of our family, friends, job, hobbies, interests—even celebrities. The Second Commandment shows us how to worship the true God. This commandment condemns idolatrous religious practices. God is the great Educator—He demands that we worship Him in the manner He chooses. God lovingly shows us what dangers to avoid with worship. And He explains the penalty and blessings that come upon our offspring as a result of the way we worship Him.
The natural, carnal mind of man desires some aid in the worship of God. Remember that the carnal mind wants to look righteous yet doesn’t necessarily want to be righteous (Rom. 8:7-8). Men want some physical object to remind them about God. This is exactly what is forbidden by this commandment. We must never limit the all-powerful Creator God by making an image or picture of Him. Images and pictures give us a false concept of the true God. This commandment also demands that we take heed not to worship God in the wrong way.
God seeks true worshipers. Christ said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him” (John 4:23). Christ clearly states that there are true worshipers. Logic tells us then that there are also false worshipers. True worshipers worship God in spirit and in truth. This means that only truly converted people can actually worship God properly. They must have God’s Spirit actively functioning in them (Rom. 8:9). They do not need aids to worship God. So it is the spirit and truth of this law that we must seek out, understand and do!
Christ continued, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (v. 24). As soon as anyone sets up any symbol of God, he or she denies the very being of the true God. Our God embodies all knowledge, all wisdom, all power and all love. He is unlimited. When we set up a mental or physical image of God, we limit God in our thoughts and worship. God commands that we not limit Him!
God had promised Israel incredible wealth and power. To obtain the blessings, they were required to obey God’s Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. The great Creator revealed Himself to His people. They saw no image, but they did hear His voice. Moses reminded Israel of this fact. He said, “And the Lord spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice” (Deut. 4:12).
God continually warned ancient Israel about idolatry. Never were they permitted to set up an image of God. “Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 26:1). Here, God expressly forbade His people to make any kind of idol or image “to bow down unto it.” God wants to be worshiped directly.
Mr. Armstrong explained, “Notice carefully that two of the Ten Commandments are mentioned for emphasis. These were the main test commandments! They were the test of obedience, and of faith in and loyalty to God” (The United States and Britain in Prophecy, p. 110). The Second and Fourth Commandments are special test commands. The Fourth Commandment deals with the keeping of God’s seventh-day Sabbath (to be covered in detail in a future article). The keeping of the Second Commandment tests our obedience, faith and loyalty on how God desires to be worshiped.
Are we passing the test? It is time we examine ourselves deeply.
The true people of God are required to obey God’s voice. Are we obedient to God’s voice? God has a voice today. It comes through the Key of David television broadcast and through the pages of this magazine. Do we hear God’s voice? He is broadcasting and publishing a warning message before it becomes too late to heed it. Passing the test of the Second Commandment will bring untold blessings. Disobedience will bring intense suffering.
Anyone who needs a picture or statue to worship God simply does not know the true God.
Recognize that God is a Father. God is building a family through mankind (Eph. 3:14-15). Jesus Christ came to Earth to declare the Father to us (John 1:18). God should be as real to us as our own Father. We should be in contact with God as a loving son or daughter would be in contact with a devoted father. Jesus Christ loved His Father and was always in communication with Him through prayer. We must develop that same kind of contact with God.
God desires to give us every good gift (James 1:17). This means God wants to give us the things that are good for our spiritual growth. But we must seek Him fervently and in the proper way (Matt. 7:7-11). God promises to reward us for our diligence when we come to have faith and trust in His great office, power and authority (Heb. 11:6).
Moses, a man extremely close to God, told Israel, “And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, To keep the commandments of the Lord, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?” (Deut. 10:12-13). What God truly requires of us is very simple to understand. However, the sad history of mankind shows that few have truly surrendered themselves to obey God. Yes, there is a process for salvation (Acts 2:38). Yet very few have actually taken the first step. Very few have actually continually walked with God. Very few have allowed God to rule their thoughts, words and actions. We must learn to surrender our whole life to God. Our Father is a living and active God. He desires us to love Him as much as He loves us. That is true worship.
If God seems unreal to us, there is something seriously wrong with our religion. Using aids for worship will never bring us closer to God. In actual fact, these aids will drive us far from God. Such a practice shows a lack of real spiritual worship and is rank paganism!
Pictures of Christ
Let’s not misunderstand. God is not against art and sculpture. God’s temple was full of beautiful, dazzling art. God simply states we’re not to represent Him or a created thing (man, woman, sun, moon, planet, plant or animal) “to bow down unto it.” It is the use of art as an aid or form of worship that is condemned.
Millions of professing Christians make use of pictures that supposedly represent Jesus Christ in their worship. Many place such pictures in their homes and businesses. Some even put such pictures on their car bumpers. Recently, some church congregations purchased all the seats in certain movie theaters—giving tickets free—to promote Hollywood’s most recent depiction of Jesus, represented by Jim Caviezel. What does the Bible say about all this?
The Second Commandment prohibits the use of anything that represents God or could become an object of worship. Jesus Christ is God (Heb. 1:8). Any picture, likeness or statue of His person is strictly prohibited. The truth is, it is impossible to accurately represent Christ (see sidebar).
Some may claim that they do not worship such objects. However, all pictures and images set up a false concept of Christ in our minds, which also causes us to break this commandment. Remember: False pictures and false concepts separate the worshiper from Christ.
Idolatrous Pagan Celebrations
The ancient Israelites were commanded not to worship God in the manner of the pagan peoples around them. The Second Commandment condemns following all such customs.
Moses instructed the people, “[I]nquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it” (Deut. 12:30-32). Moses showed the people that God forbids adapting pagan practices to worship the true God. God has a system of worship. Only that system should be followed—as God directs.
Modern Christianity has adopted into its worship system the very customs the Bible condemns. Any good encyclopedia will validate the fact that our most celebrated holidays stem from pre-Christian paganism. We must take heed to Jesus Christ’s own words: “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men …” (Mark 7:7-8). Worshiping Christ with pagan customs and festivals is a direct violation of the Second Commandment. There is no knowledge of God and His plans for man in these festivals. All such worship is vain, useless and must be avoided.
All of God’s festivals, on the other hand, are a yearly reminder of His plan of salvation. Keeping God’s festivals increases a person’s spiritual knowledge. When God’s festivals are kept properly, life takes on deep meaning. For a thorough study of this subject, please write for a free copy of Mr. Armstrong’s booklet Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which?
Warning and Mercy
It is a courageous step to walk away from pagan traditions. We often fail to do so because of our family and our associates. Even one’s family, church or associates could become a form of idolatry if we do not obey God. We must learn to fear God more than looking different or weird to people in this world. We must not conform to this world (Rom. 12:2). If we work hard at fitting in with the world, we are destined to also suffer with it.
Notice, God says, “[F]or I the Lord thy 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” (Exod. 20:5-6). God is rightfully jealous over His people. For our own good, He forbids us to get into false worship. Why? It does incredible harm and damage.
If we stubbornly continue in idolatrous worship, God warns that He will visit our iniquity upon our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Study the book of Judges. It was one of the darkest times in ancient Israel’s history. This book, more than any other in the Bible, proves that there are repetitive cycles in history. It is part of the Bible known as the former prophets. So it is not just a book of history—it contains prophecy for today!
Judges shows what happened to the children of those who worshiped idols. Study chapter 2—it is a summary of the entire book. The Prophet Samuel wrote, “And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim: And they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the Lord to anger. And they forsook the Lord, and served Baal and Ashtaroth [root for the word Easter]” (Jud. 2:11-13). These verses refer specifically to the Second Commandment.
What did God do to the people as a result of their sin? Samuel continued, “And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for evil, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed” (vv. 14-15). God’s just punishment for idolatry often lasted decades.
This means then that the children suffered famine, pestilence, oppression, slaughter and captivity.
Some scholars want to say Judges is myth. Let’s not be fooled by wrong reasoning. Judges is a true history for all those of faith. It is a book that proves God doesn’t play games with His people. The worst thing we could do to our children is teach them idolatrous customs. It is a horrible thing to give our children a false concept of Almighty God. We need to seriously ponder this warning. The time period of the Judges is about to be repeated.
This commandment also reveals that God is merciful to all who repent of idolatry. God will show mercy to the generations that “love me, and keep my commandments.” When we repent of our law-breaking and turn back to God, our children are promised mercy and blessings. Judges also shows that when the people repented, God repeatedly reversed the deplorable conditions in Israel (v. 16). God doesn’t continue His punishment forever. God punishes only to help us make the changes that we need to make.
It is time for us to wake up and forsake our idolatrous ways. Let’s study into this Second Commandment. What an incredible blessing it is to know that God desires us to worship Him directly. All men ultimately can come to know the great God of this limitless universe as their personal Father. God has predestined that all men can, in time, choose to daily walk and talk with the very living God.