Rule #2: Don’t worship fake gods, they’re fake.

“You shall not make for yourself an image 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, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6).

Rules are given for a reason. We may not always like them but as we saw last week, rules are good. It is no different this week as we look at rule #2.

The rule this week—don’t worship fake gods, they’re fake—just kinda makes sense. We can just see that it makes sense. We may not at first see, however, how common it is for us to disregard this rule. We disregard it all the time. Even though we may not even know it.

This rule comes with caution. If we don’t listen there’s trouble. So, we’ll look at the warning. But, on the positive side, it also comes with a promise of blessing to those who keep it. 

1) The Rule (v. 4)

“You shall not make for yourself an image 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.”

What’s the big deal? I mean, I get not bowing. That seems weird. But why can’t week make stuff?

The Bible does not mean we can’t make things like painting, portraits, or sculptures. We know this because just a little bit later in Exodus God tells His people to make various things (e.g. Ex. 25:18-20, 33-34). The Bible means don’t make things that will lead you or someone else away from worshiping God, and worship Him in the right way, the way He has told us to worship Him.

As John Frame has said, “It is the misuse of an image that God condemns, not its existence or presence.”[1]

God is invisible so we are not to try to make visible by making images of Him (cf. Deut. 4:15-19). God is living (e.g. Deut. 5:26; Josh. 3:10) so we can’t represent Him with something that is not. Unlike idols, for the one true God, “there is no assembly required.”[2]

God is. He is that He is. 

As Acts 17:24-25 says, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Rather, He himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”

It is important that we worship God in the way He has told us to. For one reason, as Albert Mohler has said, “The wrong worship implies the wrong god.”[3] It implies that He is not Lord of the universe. But He is. So, we must worship Him in the right way.

Later on in Exodus, in chapter 32, they made a golden calf and the people said these are your gods who brought you out of Egypt (v. 4-5). The people weren’t worshiping the false god Baal in doing this. It seems they were actually trying to worship the LORD, the one who brought them out of Egypt. But, they weren’t doing it in the right way. So, they may not have been purposely breaking the first commandment, but they were breaking the second, and by breaking the second they were breaking the first.

So, why does God tell us not to bow to or make idols? Because that is what we do. That is what humans have done since the beginning. We turn from the one true God and we make our own way.

We should not do that because the reality is all of these fake gods are just that, they are fake. But verse 5 gives us another reason why we should not make idols.

2) The Reason (v. 5)

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”

Why should we not worship these fake, manmade gods? For or because the LORD, the real God, our God is a jealous God. He cares. He cares deeply about our worship and whether it’s right because He cares about us.

He wants us to truly and deeply know Him, the real Him. And not get caught up in some fake substitute. Fake, false, and phony gods cannot rescue. They can’t know and be known. And they also can’t demand worship, at least, not for very long.

God is jealous because He is good and wants the best for us. He doesn’t want us to get duped into falling for a sham. Just as there are many people that would sell us unauthentic items. There are many so-called gods; there are many so-called ways to worship. We don’t want to get ripped off with mere material items, how much more should we guide against being ripped off by anything, anyone, or any false conception, that would try to replace the one true immaterial God?!

As we consider jealousy, it’s important that we understand that “Godly jealousy is not the insecure, insane, and possessive human jealousy that we often interpret this word to mean. Rather, it is an intensely caring devotion to the object of His love, like a mother’s jealous protection of her children, a father’s jealous guarding of his home.”[4]

If God were not jealous in this way, He would be considered worse than a mother who did not care for her children or for a husband who did not protect and care for his wife. But, God does care. He cares deeply that we worship Him, and Him alone, and that we worship Him in the right way.

If we don’t worship God alone and in the way He has told us to, there is a solemn warning for us.

3) The Warning (v. 5b)

“…punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

So, friends, don’t make and don’t bow to anyone or anything. God has made Himself known. We bow to Him.

We don’t bow or make little fake gods, because God tells us not to. And God is a jealous God.

You might be thinking, this command and this warning does not apply to me. I would never make a little trinket god to bow down to. Perhaps not. But perhaps you do something else.

Sometimes we carve out a version of God, though not with tools of steel, but with our mind and words. We think and talk about God wrongly when we fashion Him in our own image or in the image of anything on earth. God has revealed Himself. We are not free to create Him with metal or mind, with wood or words. God is. And God has revealed Himself through the word and the Word.

When we make false gods and when we bow to false gods, whether material in the great wide world or in the universe of our minds, there are problems and there is punishment. Punishment for us, yes; and even for our children.

This is the cold hard reality. This is a truth I don’t want to champion. But it is good to hear because it is true. It is a splash of water to wake us from our idolatrous stupor.

Our wrong worship matters. It has implications not only for us but even for generations on down the line. Again, this warning is not warm and sweet. It doesn’t taste good. But medicine often does not.

Friends, the reality is, when we make a false god, whatever that false god is, it leads us down a path. It takes us further, deeper, and longer than we wanted to go.[5]

So, it is good for us to ask “who or what are we worshiping: the God of Scripture or the fashionable trends of secular culture?”[6]

Thankfully, God graciously gives a comforting promise as well.

4) The Promise (v. 6)

“But showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

As we consider this promise we must consider two really important images. The first image we have already considered, and that is that we are not to make anything in the image of God. The reality is God has already made something in His own image.

He has made us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). Yet, something tragic happened. We know longer reflect God’s image like we were supposed to. We, in ourselves, don’t keep this command, or any command like we’re supposed to.

God’s image in us has sadly been defaced by sin. Satan’s handiwork and graffiti has marred the beautiful picture that God meant us to be. There is hope, however. There is hope because God’s love goes further and longer than our disobedience deserves. 

The perplexing and amazing thing is, no one can fully obey the LORD’s good commands and yet He still shows love to all those who trust in Jesus. That is why Jesus, the actual image of God (Col. 1:15-16), came. He had to fix what is broken in us.

We are not to make images of God in part because we are to be the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). We are to be more and more like Jesus.

“To look upon Christ [is] to look upon the face of him who could not be seen on Sinai. Jesus did the seemingly impossible. He allowed humans to see the God who cannot be seen. That’s the mystery and majesty of the incarnation. We don’t need pictures. We don’t need statues. We don’t need icons. We have the icon: Christ is the image (eikon) of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).”[7]

Just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, soaked in sin, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 15:49). Jesus is rewriting us. He is covering us in His perfection. He is scrapping away the graffiti and every last trace of Satan’s stain. He is remaking us in His image, the image of the one true God. We, in Jesus, are becoming everything we’re meant to be.

“We are not allowed to make God’s image, but only to be God’s image.”[8] Friends, God has made us in His image (Gen. 1:26-27). That is wild and weighty. We reflect God’s goodness and glory when we live as He’s told us, when we obey His ten good rules, and when we love Him with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves.

We don’t need to make images of what God is like because God has shown us what He is like. When we worship God in the right way, it recreates us in the right image. The image of God. Not the image that Satan would have us further distorted in. Satan is the god of destruction, decay, and unlife (Jn. 10:10). The works he has prepared for us is hate and works of wickedness. He would have us more in more fashioned into animals.

Jesus would have us walk in love and works of righteousness. He would have us be more like God.

God has given us an image of Himself, ourselves (Gen. 1:26-27). As well as the definitive image of Himself, Jesus. Let’s look to Jesus and let’s worship God in the face of Jesus Christ (see 2 Cor. 4:6).

Questions

  • Have you ever tried to do the right thing but did it in the wrong way? What happened?
  • What is the relationship between the first and second commandments? How are they different and how do they inform one another?[9]
  • What does it mean—and not mean—that God is jealous?
  • Even if we don’t make actual images of God with wood, stone, or metal, what are some ways we can make images of God with our minds or words?
  • How can we guard against making images of God?

_____

[1] Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 454.

[2] Mohler, Words from the Fire, 49.

[3] Albert Mohler, Words from the Fire, 48.

[4] Rob Schenck, The Ten Words That Will Change a Nation, 32 as quoted in Ryken, Written In Stone, 74.

[5] David Foster Wallace has said, “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship…” and the thing is “If you worship money and things—if they are where you tap real meaning in life—then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already… The whole trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power—you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart—you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” And so on. He goes on to say, “Look, the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default-settings. They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day… And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default- settings, because the so-called world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. ” – From a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College

[6] Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 423.

[7] Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments, 43.

[8] Ryken, Written In Stone, 83.

[9] Some of the question are adapted from Ryken, Written In Stone, 83.

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About Paul O'Brien

I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 10 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)

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