Knowing God, chapter 4: The only true God

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God  (Exodus 20:4-5)

It is natural to suppose that the second commandment forbids the worship of images of gods other than Yahweh—but that would be a reiteration of the first commandment.  This commandment deals, not with the object of our worship, but the manner of it: statues and pictures of the one we worship aren’t to be used as aids to worship.

God stresses this command (I… am a jealous God). Why?

  1. Images dishonour God for they obscure His glory. What idea of God’s moral character, righteousness, goodness, patience, could one gather from looking at a statue? For example, the crucifix hides Christ’s deity and His victory on the cross. It displays His human weakness, but conceals His divine strength. Packer says:

“And this is why God added to the second commandment a reference to Himself as ‘jealous’ to avenge Himself on those who disobey Him: for God’s ‘jealousy’ in the Bible is His zeal to maintain His own glory which is jeopardised when images are used in worship.”

2. Images mislead men. Their inadequacy conveys false ideas about God. “Again, it is a matter of historical fact that the use of the crucifix as an aid to prayer has encouraged people to equate devotion with brooding over Christ’s bodily sufferings; it has made them morbid about the spiritual value of physical pain…”

* * *

The 2nd commandment not only forbids us from manufacturing physical images of God, but also from dreaming up mental images of Him. By so doing, we’re taking our thoughts of God from a human source rather than from God Himself. It isn’t uncommon to hear something along the lines of ,  “I like to think of God as a Father; I don’t like to think of Him as Judge.” Such statements often serve as the preface to a denial of some truth about God. Thus, the commandment obliges us to take our thoughts of God from His word, and  no other source. Quoting Packer:

“In Deuteronomy 4, Moses himself expounds the prohibition along exactly these lines, opposing the making of images to the heeding of God’s word and commandments as if these two things were completely exclusive of each other. He reminds the people that at Sinai, though they saw tokens of God’s presence, they saw no visible representation of God Himself, but only heard His word, and he exhorts them to continue to live…with God’s own word ringing in their ears to direct them and no supposed image of God before their eyes to distract them.

“The point is clear. God did not show them a visible symbol of Himself, but spoke to them; therefore they are now not to seek visible symbols of God, but simply to obey His word. ”