Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Keeping the Second Commandment

In a previous post, we discussed the implications of the first commandment, and what it really means and how we can keep it. I’d like to continue that discussion with a brief comment or two on keeping the second commandment. What is the second commandment? Well, paraphrasing, in Exodus 20 it says that Israel was not to make any graven images, of anything in heaven or earth. Why? Is it because statues are inherently evil? No, not quite. A good number of translations translate the prohibition against idols. I think that captures the spirit of the commandment, but it doesn’t explain why it makes that interpretive decision.

I think there are two primary reasons for making this commandment, and when we see them, we will see how we can apply the commandment and keep it in our everyday lives in our contemporary context. The first reason is that cultures around them in the ANE were often consumed by idol worship; it permeated their very way of life. God is invisible, and whatever deities were postulated by these ANE cultures needed representation that could be seen and touched (if not actually heard). The carved idols out of wood and stone fit the bill perfectly. However, these idols were not the true God; they were false gods. So why is it that they could not carve an image of Yahweh, the true God? Because if they were to worship it, they would be worshipping a representation, and not the real thing.

The second reason stems from this: there is a legitimate representation of God. There is an exact representation of his being, and there is an image of the invisible God. His name is Jesus Christ. If the Old Testament involved the shadows or beginnings of revelation that culminated in the fulfilling of the Law in Jesus Christ, then it only makes sense for the OT believers to need to “leave room” for the tangible representation of God on the Earth, the man Christ Jesus, who is the Second Person of the Trinity. In short, we are not to have carved representations of God because there is a representation of God, Jesus Christ, and he is to be worshipped.

Thus, we can see the correlating positive command of the second commandment: we are to worship God in Christ Jesus, and accept Jesus as sent from the Father, doing the works of God as very God and very man, relying on the Holy Spirit in his incarnation, and always doing the will of the Father, perfectly fulfilling the Law and atoning for sin in our place. Keeping the second commandment needed to be framed, initially, as avoiding the constructing of idols. But just as a more mature person has more and more positive, as opposed to negative, instruction in his life, so too the people of God received more and more positive revelation; we know more on this side of the cross than we would have if we lived earlier than it. We must honor Jesus Christ, and remember that in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form.


  1. This is a helpful post. Often times, people think that the first commandment and the second are saying pretty much the same thing. But they are actually two different, albeit related, prohibitions. And again, a job well done making clear the positive aspect of the commandment, being ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

    1. Hey Matt, I totally agree! I guess that's why we have differences in the numbering of commandments between Catholics and Protestants. :)


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