Idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone other than God. Think about this as we try to understand the enormous significance of God’s decree to Moses from the top of Mount Sinai.
To begin with, we must understand that God created us so that we might worship Him. This commandment is both an encouragement and a warning to us: “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” (Exodus 20:4-5). When we worship, we place our complete confidence and trust in God’s ability to do for us what neither we, nor anyone else, nor anything else, can do for us. This is what God expects and demands of all who believe in His name.
The sweet aroma of worship between God and man was clearly seen in the beginning. The fellowship God had with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden provides a precious picture of God’s intended purpose for those He loves. He wants to have intimacy with us. He wants us to look to Him. He wants us to lean on Him. He wants us to walk with Him. He wants us to be one with Him. He wants us to have peace with Him.
But when Adam and Eve sinned against God, this beautiful and harmonious relationship between the sovereign God and His created person was shattered. Man had not only succumbed to the deceit of Satan, he had transferred his confidence away from God, thus violating God’s supreme demand. It immediately became impossible for sinful man to have any semblance of fellowship with a righteous and holy God. Consequently, man was thrown out. God would not share His holy space with another.
This is why the Lord Jesus Christ came to this Earth to take on Himself the sin of man. By virtue of His death and resurrection, Jesus conquered this rupture in the relationship between God and man. When we confess our sin, repent before God and put our faith and trust in Him, we can, once again, have peace with God.
The Israelites did not get it. After more than 400 years of slavery, God delivered them. He parted the sea and provided every means for them to survive—even in the wilderness. And yet, when their leader went up Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord, they began to worship another god.
Our world is not very different. How blessed we are. Despite so many who have immense needs and who suffer greatly, we are still a blessed people. As a hymn writer has reminded us; “Count your blessings, name them one by one. And it will surprise you what the Lord has done!”
Despite our blessings, we have become an increasingly idolatrous people. God cannot be pleased. We worship so many of our blessings instead of simply thanking God for them and enjoying them. We worship sport, celebrities, clothes, money, church buildings, politics, positions, abilities and capabilities. Idolatry is the worship of anything or anyone other than God.
So, what should we do? This second commandment is no joke. After all, it is here that God invokes our children. Why would the Lord involve our children and grandchildren? Here is what I suggest we do in order to grasp fully God’s intended understanding of this commandment.
Five things will help position us to hear from the Lord. First, pray. Talk to the Lord. Have a conversation with Him. Second, affirm His greatness. God wants us to praise His name. Jesus taught us to do this upfront when He said: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Third, release any and all personal opinions and pet peeves about what you have and what you may think about this subject. Tell the Lord Jesus you are letting go of anything and anyone other than God. Fourth, listen! We are surrounded and constantly accompanied by a cacophony of sound and distraction so that it is increasingly difficult to listen to God. Whatever it is, turn it off. Lay it down. Stop and listen, because the Lord will speak to you from the mountain. Remember, the Ten Commandments are God’s invitation to come up to where He is, rather than to go down to where man is. Finally, determine to obey. Make the decision to submit to all the Lord says, and you will be blessed indeed.
Having positioned ourselves before God, we now can consider the meaning of what it was God was saying about idols and images.
First, God was cementing an absolute truth. He is the only one we can trust in all things. Jesus Christ affirmed this even at the entry point of salvation when He said: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Back in the very beginning, God, who is both the beginning and the end, makes this truth both absolute and irrevocable. He, alone, is worthy of worship because He alone is the only one qualified to “meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).
Second, He was settling an absolute issue. One of the foremost issues in our world today concerns which god is God. “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2) summarily eliminates anything or anyone else—whether in Heaven or on Earth or under the Earth.
Third, God was charting an absolute course. He was showing us the way to forgiveness, reconciliation, peace and eternal life. No other god could offer what only He can offer.
Fourth, He was issuing an absolute warning. Whether we like it or not, God was warning all of us about the generational consequences of worshiping idols. It is very clear in Deuteronomy that “each will die for their own sin” (24:16), but children reared in an idolatrous environment will become infected by that environment. They will become practitioners of that environment. They will become victims of that environment.
Finally, God was giving an absolute invitation. From Genesis to Revelation we hear Him say, “Come to Me! Worship only Me. Trust in Me.”
Here is what I suggest you do. Identify your gods. Pray and ask the Lord to help you. Confess your sin of idolatry to Him. Break the cycle of idolatry in your life. Then, renew your vows before God. Tell Him that He alone is worthy. Make Him the Lord of your life.
Here is the bottom line: When the Lord Jesus Christ is the focus of all praise and worship, everything and everyone else takes their rightful place. ©2013 Don Wilton
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.
Don Wilton is senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg, S.C., and president of “The Encouraging Word” broadcast ministry. He is a frequent speaker at The Cove, where he is scheduled to lead a Seminar this November. For more information about the Seminar, visit TheCove.org or call 1-800-950-2092 or 828-298-2092 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, Monday through Friday.