At Southern Seminary Chapel, Dr. Al Mohler continued in his series on the tenth commandment with a treatment of the second commandment–no idols. His scripture text was Exodus 20:4-6. You can listen to the audio of his message here.
Mohler took the pulpit deep in thought and anticipation. He began with a story describing an experience in which he had to remove an idol from a missions display on Southern’s campus. That idol is gone, but idols are always near to us.
There is a distinction between the first two commands in the ten commandments. The first declares that Israel is to worship God only. The second tells them how to worship Him. We are creatures who can create. So, idolatry is a perpetual problem.
All of us worship. The question is, what will we worship? In the text, the idea of ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ reinforce each other to point out that an idol is an object of worship designed to attract the eyes in order to seduce the soul. The second commandment is a categorical denial of all idol worship because God is a jealous God. The first commandment emphasizes God’s exclusivity, but the second commandment focuses on how that exclusive God is to be worshipped.
What is so dangerous about idols? Our worship reveals our theology. To worship the right God in the wrong way is not honoring to Him. The formula for worship begins with the right God (first commandment) and culminates in right worship (second commandment). Worship is the best indicator of what people believe. There are many reasons why the worship of idols indicates the wrong god:
Finitude. First, idolatry implies finitude. Idols are inherently finite because they are created. But God is infinite. Idols are things that contrast the ‘non-thingness’ of God. The omni’s of God (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, etc.) point to the infinitude of God’s perfection.
Fabrication. Second, idolatry implies fabrication. Idols are a made thing. They are fabricated by a people who love to make things. But God made us; we did not make Him. God made us in His image. We cannot make a god in our image. Idolatry occurs when we make an object and turn it into the subject of our worship. Isaiah 44:9-20 contains some of the best satire in scripture. In this passage, Isaiah reminds us of how delusional the fabrication of idols truly is. The one true God is uncreated.
Control. Third, idolatry implies control. If we make an idol, it is at our disposal. We get to devise the worship because we provide the God. But God will not forfeit His control. He is the uncontrolled who cannot be stayed. A god we can control is no god at all. We are the created, fabricated and controlled; not God. Idolatry is the reversal of true worship. Idols cannot capture the image of God. The only creature that displays His image is man.
Need. Fourth, idolatry implies need. Most idol worship revolves around meeting the needs of an idol. Elijah mocks the needs of gods in 1 Kings 18 when he suggests to the prophets that maybe Ba’al does not here them because he has gone to the bathroom. But God is in need of nothing (Acts 17:24-25). God is not an image formed by the artistic ability of man. So, our worship is not to bring a sacrifice to God as if He needed anything. Instead, it is to be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2). God glorifies Himself not out of need but out of the natural outworking of His glory.
Procreation. Fifth, idolatry implies procreation. Idols often represent sexual perversion. They are worshipped for their procreative gifts. This perversion often manifests itself through sexually immoral worship experiences or through sexually perverse forms of the idol. On the other hand, God does not give birth. He creates. God creates out of nothing instead of procreating. He chose to create rather than to procreate. The procreative danger of idolatry is even found in feminist theology. This was clear recently as the PCUSA encouraged their denomination to adopt new names for the Trinity.
Physicality. Sixth, idolatry implies physicality. Idols have form, but the true God is formless.
Visual. Seventh, idolatry implies the visual. Idols are seen but not heard. God is heard but not seen. Idols appeal to us because we are visual people. God has chosen to reveal through verbal words, not visual images. Therefore, the verbal is superior to the visual. That is why preaching is central to the progress of the gospel. Our culture is driven by the visual and is consequently captivated by all types of idolatry. The problem with the visual occurs when it replaces the verbal–when we see, we no longer here.
There is a warning in Exodus 20:4-6. Idolaters will be judged. God announces His jealousy as a husband zealous for His wife. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel commits spiritual adultery through idolatry. Our theology has consequences. Idolatry, as implied by v. 6, can lead to the transgenerational impact of spiritual death. But there is also a promise in Exodus 20:4-6. God displays His love to those who obey.
What do we do with this passage? We need to recognize that we are natural born idolaters. There are only two loves–love of God and love of self. Every idol comes down to a love of self. We must also be careful that the visual never eclipes the verbal in our worship of God. God did not leave a visual image of Christ for a reason–every visual representation of Him is a lie. Icons are a lie. We are to avoid icons, but we are to have the one true Image as our worship…Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:3, Colossians 1:15). Christ is in the second commandment and fulfills the second commandment as the true Image of God.