This post concerns tonight’s Nightline show about the Ten Commandments. The second commandment concerns idol-making and idol-worshiping, and there are some things said here that are often enough missed.
20:4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. 20:5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, 20:6 and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
God is “jealous” for his love and that is why idol-making is wrong. A little lesson: “I’m sooo jealous” is a commonplace expression today, but it’s an erroneous one most of the time. Most of the time it means “I’m so envious.” We envy what others have; we are jealous of what we have. God is not envious of us and what we are doing. God’s honor is wounded, his glory is clouded, and his love is broken when any of us decides to focus our love and our worship and our allegiance to anyone but God. God is Jealous for his love and for his glory and for his honor.
That the point of idol-making has to do with God’s Jealous love complements what Jesus said: the laws are about either loving God or loving others. The 2d Commandment is about loving God and we don’t love God if our loyalty is split.
Yet another idea: I have long suspected that we are not to make images because God has himself made the image, and we are the image. Humans have been placed here by God as the apex of creation and God reserves the right to keep humans central in his creation plan. (By the way, this does not encourage arrogance and hybris, but is a development of our wonderful placement by God in his world. We usurp the role of God and we deny our responsibility when we make idols and worship them.)
Now a big point: anything that we do or make or construct or achieve, and then admire to the point of worship is an idol. The issue here is making something and then worshiping what we make with our own hands; what we make does not get us beyond the created world. God alone is worthy of worship, so only God can be worshiped. It is too simple to equate idols with things that gobble up our time and our attention. This commandment drives the point deeper: it is about making images and then worshiping what we make that forms the core of this commandment.
There’s a powerfully deconstructing point here: to make something and then to worship what we ourselves make is a rude form of self-worship. It is to set ourselves up as gods.
Perhaps the best example I’ve seen of violating the Second Commandment is Michael Jordan’s thorough self-exaltation in his Hall of Fame speech.
God reveals himself through the Voice and through the Deed, but not through a physical image — so any image distorts Who God is or pretends to know what God is like. God is too vast, too big, too mysterious for the image to capture what God is really like.
Written into the fabric of the 2d commandment is that there is but one God, something observant Jews have always reminded themselves of daily (Deut 6:4-5). To worship something other than that One God is to play pretend; it is to pretend there is more than one God. But there isn’t. (It may well be that images of Yahweh are being prohibited.)