Today we are going to look at the World of the Text of the Second Commandment as found in Exodus 20: 4-6:
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
There is a LOT to unpack in this commandment but is often summarized as no idols! You shall not make any idols. But there is so much going on in these few verses. Let’s look deeper.
First, we see a prohibition, the people are to keep from having physical idols. This may sound like a very minor deal to us, I mean who worships idols (we’ll talk more about that in our lives next week, the answer may surprise you!) but in their day, idols were a very common thing. For many people, they were could almost be understood like a family good luck charm or something like that. All of their neighbors would have had family idols or community idols. The fact that the people of God would not have what have been radically different. The people were strictly bare from this.
But they are not just bared from physical idols but from a mental attachment as well, that is what the concept of “likeness” implies. It isn’t that the people to keep from having physical idols to worship, but they are to stay away from the mental association.
Why were idols such a big deal? Well, first, as we’ve already established, God desires our primary loyalty. But here’s the thing with idols. The primary idols the people would confront in Cannan would be the Ba’als the pagan gods of fertility and the harvest. The people would be tempted to worship these idols, not because the people really believed that they were God, but they would worship them just to “be safe.” They wanted a backup plan. Idolatry was about the fact that the people didn’t truly trust God. But as we see, God desires our only loyalty. Idolatry is about the fact that the people didn’t fully trust God.
We are told that the people are not to bow down and worship these idols. This is a direct condemnation of how idols were worshiped, in this God is denigrating pagan worship. One of the interesting things about archeology in the Holy Land is that you can actually trace the timeline of Israel entering into the Promised Land through Exodus based on the fact that when they would conquer a Canaanite town, the people would destroy the idols and would actually vandalize pagan worship sites. We can see that the historical footprint of when the people would come through. This shows the seriousness of this commandment.
We see that God is a jealous God but the word “jealous’ could just as easily be translated “zeal.” God has a zeal for his people, this implies His great love for His people, but also an element of protection. One of the reasons that God is condemning of idolatry is because He knows that in the end, it will destroy us. He jealous for, or to put it another way, He is protective of us.
Let’s talk finally about how God deals with future generations based off our actions. The word punishes here could actually be translated “deals with.” God will deal with the generations to come after us if we practice idolatry. Does this mean that our sins will be visited upon our children? Well, in scripture we see that each will be judged based off their own sin. But what happens is this, when the parent sins, the child sees it. And so very often the children will follow the footsteps of the parents. So God will deal with the sins of parents and children, because while the guilt of the parents may not be passed to the child, the actions may be. And if the actions are, that child will be judged for that. Sin often has a generation element to it in that way.
We see thought, that God remembers the faithful, remembers the covenant. Think about how many descendants of David did not “do right” but God remembered that covenant that He made with David. We see His faithfulness extend for many generations. I think the best quote I read about this is that this statement shows that God’s mercy far exceeds his wrath.
Next week we’ll start off by looking at what the Second Commandment can mean to our lives today.
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