Exodus 20:4-6

Sermon preached on April 6, 2008 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Many of you met my high school friend, Bill Kelly, when he was here last week. As we were getting caught up on what has happened to us since we last saw each other he told me about how he met his wife Diane. One of the interesting things about it was that as soon as he met Diane he knew that he wanted to marry her. So he asked her out on a date and that very first date he asked her to marry him.

Can you believe that? That's so funny. When Bill was telling us about it Diane immediately piped up and said,

"I said no."

Of course she would say, 'No' on the first date. Most women would like more time that that to find out if the person would make a suitable husband.

But I admire Bill for going after what he wanted. He just didn't do it the right way. I'm surprised that Diane went out with him again. You would think that the shock of having him propose on the first date would make her want to have nothing to do with him. It's only because Diane was so understanding that she allowed Bill to court her properly.

Bill went after the right thing—but he didn't do it the right way. That's what the second commandment is all about. Philip
Ryken writes, (Written in Stone, p. 72)

"The second commandment has to do with worshipping the right God in the right way. We may not worship him in the form of any man-made idol."

Or as Thomas Watson puts it, (The Ten Commandments, p. 59)

"God is to be adored in the heart, not painted to the eye."

God will not just put up with any sort of worship, in the second commandment He demands that we worship Him properly, in a way that is appropriate to His glory. God said, (Exodus 20:4-6)

"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,
punishing the children for the sin of the fathers
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."

The great truth we see here is that

God is not to be worshipped through idols.

John Calvin tells us that this commandment, (Institutes, II:8:17)

"restrains our license from daring to subject God, who is incomprehensible, to our sense perceptions, or to represent him by any form."

Calvin says that in this commandment God, (Institutes, II:8:17),

"declares more openly what sort of God he is, and what kind of worship he should be honored, let we dare attribute anything carnal to him."

One of the reasons we are not to worship God through idols is because

an idol would be inadequate to represent the living God.

God is so great that we fail to honor Him as we should if we attempt to represent Him by anything on earth. God is so great that our attempts to honor Him in that way would fall far short.

This is obvious from what is said about the
Old Testament temple. It basically symbolized two things—one of which was the presence of God with His people. (The other was the gate of God, or the gate to God.) Yet remember how Solomon was puzzled by this? In 1 Kings 8:27, after he had built the temple, Solomon said,

"But will God really dwell on earth?
The heavens,
even the highest heaven,
cannot contain you.
How much less this temple I have built!"

Solomon realized that in the temple, which was built according to God's instructions, there was almost a contradiction, indeed, a great mystery—how could the presence of an infinite God be represented in an earthly temple? There seemed to be an incongruity there.

Now in light of that, consider some of God's attributes and think about how it would be impossible to express or worship them in an idol.

Think of God's power.

God created the universe merely by speaking. God spoke and the universe came into being. The Bible also tells us that moment by moment the universe owes its existence to Him and His mighty power and He upholds all things. (Colossians 1:17, Acts 17:28, Hebrews 1:3) How could anything we make, or indeed, how could anything on earth adequately represent that?

Or think of God's eternity.

God is eternal. He had no beginning and He will have no end. He is self-existent. He alone has life in Himself. Everything else is created. God Himself gives life to all things. What on earth can represent that? Nothing could. If we tried to make something to represent it, we would fail. Whatever it was would misrepresent this attribute of God.

Think of God's holiness.

Louis Berkhof writes, (Systematic Theology, p. 73)

"The Hebrew word for 'to be holy,' quadash, is derived from the root qad, which means to cut or to separate…. From this it appears that it is not correct to think of holiness primarily as a moral or religious quality, as is generally done. Its fundamental idea is that of a position or relationship existing between God and some person or thing.""In its original sense it denotes that He is absolutely distinct from all His creatures, and is exalted above them in infinite majesty. So understood, the holiness of God is one of His transcendental attributes…"

R.C. Sproul writes, (The Holiness of God, p. 55)

"When the Bible calls God holy it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us."

Donald Macleod tells us that the biblical definition of holiness relates to the 'otherness of God'. (Behold Your God, p. 87) Macleod writes,

"He falls outside the range of the familiar, manageable objects."

Louis Berkhof quotes from Otto's study of holiness and says that God's holiness, (Systematic Theology, p.73)

"includes such ideas as, 'absolute unapproachability' and 'absolute overpoweringness' or 'aweful majesty'."

How could anything on earth, or anything we make represent God's holiness? It could not. It would of necessity misrepresent God.

Or think of God being omnipresent, everywhere present.

God is infinite. By that I don't mean just that He is big. He is exalted above all spatial limitations. He created space. How could an image that is in a specific place convey that? It could not. It would of necessity have to misrepresent God.

Such would apply to anything we could make to represent God. It was be absolutely inadequate to represent our great and glorious God. As the apostle Paul said in his speech to the philosophers of Athens in Acts 17:29-30,

"Therefore since we are God's offspring,
we should not think
that the divine being is like
gold or silver or stone—
an image made by man's design and skill.
In the past God overlooked such ignorance,
but now he commands
all people everywhere to repent."

Paul had earlier told them that God created everything and that De gives everyone life and breath and everything else. Philip Ryken says of Paul's speech there, (p. 79-80)

"He was saying that when we use idols we are not worshiping the true God, but we are constructing a false god—a god made in our own image." "This was the problem with idolatry all along: It created a false image of God that was inadequate to his deity and unworthy of his majesty. God is infinite and invisible. His is omnipotent and omnipresent. His is a living spirit. Therefore, to carve him into a piece of good or stone is to deny his attributes, the essential characteristics of his divine being. An idol makes the infinite God finite, the invisible God visible, the omnipotent God impotent, the all-present God local, the living God dead, and the spiritual God material. It short, it makes him the exact opposite of what he actually is."

In his Institutes, John Calvin's heading on this commandment is,

"Spiritual worship of the invisible God."

That's what this command is getting at. God is a spirit and He must be worshiped as such. You'll remember what Jesus said to the Samaritan woman in John 4:23-24. He said,

"a time is coming and has now come
when the true worshipers
will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for they are the kind of worshipers
the Father seeks.
God is spirit,
and his worshipers
must worship in spirit and in truth."

If we make an idol we are not worshiping God is spirit and truth.

The second thing we should see from this commandment is that

we make an idol when we have a distorted conception of God.

In John 4:22-24 Jesus said to the Samaritan woman,

"You Samaritans worship
what you do not know;"

And in Acts 17:24-25 the apostle Paul said to the people of Athens,

"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 hands.
And he is not served by human hands,
as if he needed anything,
because he himself gives all men
life and breath and everything else."

They had false conceptions of God and they needed to repent.

Their mistake is common today. Some
feminists deny the Fatherhood of God. They prefer a god more in the image of a woman. Instead of praying to our Father, they refer to God as 'our Mother'. Their god is not the God of the Bible. It's an idol, a false conception of God.

Others focus on
God's love and they minimize His justice, His holiness and His wrath. Philip Ryken writes, p. 81

"We… make an idol whenever we choose to worship God for some of his attributes, but not others."

Years ago there was a very popular book written by rabbi Harold S. Kushner whose son had a terrible disease. His son died of old age when he was in his early teens. The book was called, "Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" Kushner tried to understands what had happened. He struggled with how this had happened. He thought he was faced with a dilemma—that either God was all powerful, but wasn't entirely good, or God was thoroughly good, but not all powerful. He chose the latter—God was thoroughly good, but there was just some things that God had no control over.

But the god that he put forward was not the God that the Bible presents—who is all powerful and who is thoroughly good.
Psalm 135:6 says,

"The LORD does whatever pleases him,
in the heavens and on the earth,
in the seas and all their depths."

Isaiah 46:10,

"I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say:
'My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.'"

Many of the psalms affirm that God is good. (Psalm 100:5- 'the Lord is good'. He is holy, righteous, does nothing wrong, dwells in light inaccessible. 1 Timothy 6:15f,

"God, the blessed and only Ruler,
the King of kings and Lord of lords,
who alone is immortal
and who lives in unapproachable light,
whom no one has seen or can see.
To him be honor and might forever. Amen."

Kushner's god is an idol. His teaching about God is wrong.

We can go even further.
Calvinists and Arminians have radically different views of God. Arminians believe that God made salvation possible and that it's now up to man. God has done everything He can do, and not the ultimate decision lies with man.

Calvinists have a much different picture of God, that God chose before the foundation of the earth. Is God's power great enough to encompass the free choices that men and women make? Does God work all things after the counsel of His will—or just some things- Eph 1:11? Are men and women dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2) with God making them alive in Christ, or are they merely sick and they can make themselves alive?

What are we to believe about God? What we like? What appeals to us? God is love? What about passages like- our God is a consuming fire? I don't like the doctrine of hell- that God would send people there—yet that's what the Bible teaches. But just because I don't like it—does it mean that I change my conception of God, I refuse to believe what the Bible says, I fashion a god who is not like that—I worship that God—that equals idolatry. In Knowing God,
J. I. Packer wrote, (p. 47)

"It needs to be said with the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment."

If you don't have accurate conception of God, you're committing idolatry.

Philip Ryken also suggests that
we make an idol whenever we try to turn God into something that we can manipulate. He writes, (p. 81)

"This was the whole point of pagan idolatry. The Egyptians did not think that their gods actually lived in their idols, but they did think that idols gave them the kind of spiritual contact that would enable them to control their gods." "God will not be manipulated. When he commands us not to make idols, he is saying that he 'will not be captured, contained, assigned or managed by anyone or anything, for any purpose'. God wants us to trust him and obey him, not use him."

Our God is sovereign. He does whatever He pleases. His will is right and correct. Our attitude should be, (Luke 22:42)

"not my will,
but yours be done."

The third thing we see about this commandment is that

you need to take it very seriously.

God said about idols,

"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 fathers
to the third and fourth generation
of those who hate me,…"

This is one sin that God specially visits to punish greatly. The consequences of breaking this commandment not only affect the person who does it, but his descendants as well.

God is a jealous God and He is careful to maintain His honor in the fact that He is worshiped correctly. Many people think that jealously is unworthy of God. But jealously is sometimes good and right. For example, in the relationship between a husband and wife, if one of them does something inappropriate—like laying in the arms of someone else—it would be right for the husband or wife to be jealous. Not to be jealous would be wrong. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 75)

"What God so jealously protects in the second commandment is the honor of his love. God not only loves us, but he also wants us to love him in return. Among other things, that means worshiping him in a way that is worthy of his honor."

Disobedience to this commandment will affect your descendants. God said that He will punish the children for the sin of the fathers for three or four generations.

How can this be? In
Ezekiel 18:2-4 God said that He does not punish children for their father's sin. We read,

"What do you people mean
by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
'The fathers eat sour grapes,
and the children's teeth are set on edge'?
As surely as I live,
declares the Sovereign LORD,
you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel.
For every living soul belongs to me,
the father as well as the son—
both alike belong to me.
The soul who sins is the one who will die."

John Calvin writes, (Institutes II.8.20)

"The Israelites, troubled long and persistently by many misfortunes, began to make much of the proverb "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" [Ezekiel 18:2]. By this they meant that, even though they were otherwise righteous and did not deserve it, their fathers committed sins for which they had to suffer punishment, more on account of God's implacable wrath than his tempered severity. The prophet announces to them that this is not so; for they are punished for their own offenses. Nor does it accord with God's justice for a righteous son to pay the penalty of a wicked father, and this is not implied in the present threat; for if the visitation now under discussion is consummated when the Lord removes his grace, the light of his truth, and the other aids to salvation, from the family of the wicked — in that the children, blinded and forsaken by him, follow in their parents' footsteps — they bear God's curses for their fathers' evil deeds. But the fact that they are also subjected to temporal miseries, and at last to eternal destruction, is the punishment inflicted by God's righteous judgment, not for another's sins, but for their own wickedness."

God will have mercy on whom He wants to have mercy. He can righteously withdraw His grace from families for the sins of the fathers.

The fourth thing you should see from this commandment is that

rather than making an idol, which is an inadequate representation of God, you are to show others what God is like by the way you live.

John Calvin wrote, (Commentary on Acts 17:29)

"God cannot be represented by a picture or sculpture, since He has intended His likeness to appear in us."

Philip Ryken writes, p. 82,

"We were made to be like God, to reflect his glory. And this is another reason why God tells us not to make images. He already has an image! We are created according to God's image."

Christopher Wright,

"The only legitimate image of God… is the image of God created in his own likeness—the living, thinking, working, speaking, breathing, relating human being (not even a statue will do, but only the human person)."

Ryken, (p. 82)

"We are not allowed to make God's image, but only to be god's image."

When we live according to His Word, according to His law—we show God to others. They respond, if we do it correctly, not by praising us—but as Jesus said in Matthew 5:16,

"let your light shine before men,
that they may see your good deeds
and praise your Father in heaven."

Lastly, if you're not a Christian, what you should see from this is that

you need Jesus.

Philip Ryken writes, (p. 83)

"God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to repair his image in us. Jesus is the true image, 'the image of the invisible God' (Col. 1:15 cf. 2 Corinthians. 4:4), 'the exact imprint of his nature' (Heb. 1:3). This is why Jesus could say that anyone who sees him has seen God (John 14:9). He is the point of contact. In order to come to God in true worship, we don't need to make some kind of idol; all we need to do is come to him through Jesus Christ. And when we come to Christ, then God lives in us by His Holy Spirit. He works in us to repair his image, so that we can live for his glory."

What you need to do is go to Jesus. Only He can help you. Only He can save you. Only He can enable you to worship God the right way.

How you should do this. Consider the promise here. God said,

"for I, the LORD your God,
am a jealous God,
punishing the children for the sin of the fathers
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."

The promise is more powerful than the warning – the blessings last not just three or four generations- but affect thousands. Philip Ryken writes, (p. 77)

"God's threat in the second commandment may seem discouraging to someone who comes from a family that does not honor God, but God's blessing triumphs over God's curse, and God often intervenes in the history of a family to turn their hatred into love and worship."

If you go to Jesus He will accept you. As Jesus said in John 6:37,

"Everyone the Father gives Me
will come to Me,
and the one who comes to Me
I will never cast out. "