Second Command

What is the second command?

לֹֽ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙׀ וְכָל־תְּמוּנָ֡֔ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר֣ בַּשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙׀ מִמַּ֡֔עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר֩ בָּאָ֖֨רֶץ מִתַָּ֑֜חַת וַאֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בַּמַּ֖֣יִם׀ מִתַּ֥֣חַת לָאָֽ֗רֶץ׃

לֹֽא־תִשְׁתַּחְוֶ֥֣ה לָהֶ֖ם֮ וְלֹ֣א תָעָבְדֵ֑ם֒ כִּ֣י אָֽנֹכִ֞י יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ אֵ֣ל קַנָּ֔א פֹּ֠קֵד עֲוֺ֨ן אָבֹ֧ת עַל־בָּנִ֛ים עַל־שִׁלֵּשִׁ֥ים וְעַל־רִבֵּעִ֖ים לְשֹׂנְאָֽ֑י׃

וְעֹ֥֤שֶׂה חֶ֖֙סֶד֙ לַאֲלָפִ֑֔ים לְאֹהֲבַ֖י וּלְשֹׁמְרֵ֥י מִצְוֺתָֽי׃ס

You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

“You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me,

but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

 

Meaning

What are we taught in this command?

That the worship of God is a sacred and holy thing.  Just as the first command taught us who to worship, so this command teaches us how to worship the one, true God.

 

Why do you say that the worship of God is a sacred and holy thing?

Because God is a holy Being; and thus, He forbids certain practices from being used in worship which would compromise His holiness.

 

What does God forbid in this command?

He forbids the making of any kind of visual representation of Himself for use in worship.

 

Why does God forbid this?

The reason is given:  “…for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”

 

What is meant here by “jealous?”

When God is called jealous in the Bible, it must be understood in the context of His relationship with Israel.  God had made a covenant with His people, and He expects their complete and exclusive loyalty just as any person would from their spouse.  In fact, we often find in the Bible that the relationship between God and Israel is described as a marriage.  This is done in an extended way in the first chapters of Hosea’s prophecy (Hosea 2:16), Jeremiah 3, and Ezekiel 16.  Also consider these verses from Isaiah:

For your husband is your Maker, Whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, Who is called the God of all the earth. (Isaiah 54:5)

For as a young man marries a virgin, so your sons will marry you; and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

This means that idolatry is spiritual adultery.  It is parallel to a husband or wife having an affair with a person other than their spouse.  This helps us understand why God’s anger is so vigorously aroused (Ezekiel 5:13) when He sees His people giving their allegiance to other deities. (Ezekiel 16:38)  Consider also the image which Ezekiel sees in the temple courtyard. (Ezekiel 8:3)  Israel had setup this image there, and God is thoroughly enraged with His people for this act of unfaithfulness. (Ezekiel 8:6)  Ultimately, God drives His people off their land and sends them into exile because of His jealousy. (Psalm 79:5)

 

But does not this jealousy speak to the first command, not the second?

Yes, the truth is that sins against the second command inevitably lead to sins against the first.  The sin against the second command is the reducing of God to a picture or some kind of carved image.  The inevitable next step is the worship of this picture and thus full blown idolatry.  Clarke writes (p87):

In like manner Christians began to corrupt themselves first with setting up images in their places of religious worship merely as historical memorials.  Then they imagined peculiar favors annexed to prayers offered to God in the places where such particular images stood.  After this they began to direct Prayers to the saints whom the images represented.  And at last in the most stupid manner to the images themselves.  Towards saints and angels they expressed first a certain honor or reverence, and then they proceeded to idolize them directly as authoritative mediators in conjunction with Christ.  Towards the bread and wine in the sacrament they showed first a certain awful respect as to the memorials of Christ’s death.  Then they proceeded to pay a veneration to them as being the real body and blood of Christ.  After this they presumed to worship them as Christ’s living person and at last absolutely as God Himself.

 

Is there a difference between God’s jealousy and human jealousy?

Yes, there is this difference.  When God is jealous, His anger burns against His unfaithful people, not the person or thing that is His rival.  When humans are jealous, their anger is usually directed against the rival.  See this in Hosea and Ezekiel 16.

 

What is the ground or basis of God’s jealousy?

God’s jealousy is premised on His perfect holiness. (Joshua 24:19; Ezekiel 39:25)  The first command forbids idolatry which is elevating any created thing to the place of God.  Making a carving or picture of God reduces Him to a created thing and thus brings one into conflict with the first command.  True, by doing this, Israel would not be worshiping some other deity in place of the one true God, but they would be worshiping the one, true God in a way that compromises His holiness.  Everywhere Israel looked, they saw the nations of the world reducing their deities to something earthly and manageable.  The Egyptians, where Israel had lived for so many years, had a complex religious system consisting of hundreds of deities.  Paul teaches this in his sermon to the Athenians:

The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’  “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. (Acts 17:24-29)

 

Why does God say that He will punish the later generations for the second commandment sins of their parents?

These words are God’s promise to punish every subsequent generation that continues to hate Him.  See Hengstenberg (p446).

 

Why can’t these words mean that God punishes the children for the sins of their father?

Because the opposite teaching was well known in these times.  Moses gave it out as God’s law:

Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.  You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:16-17)

Consider  as well this instance where the Mosaic law was applied to a given situation by king Amaziah.

But the sons of the slayers (2 Chronicles 24:25) he did not put to death, according to what is written in the book of the Law of Moses, as the LORD commanded, saying, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the sons, nor the sons be put to death for the fathers; but each shall be put to death for his own sin.” (2 Kings 14:6 cf 2 Chronicles 25:4)

We also find Abraham articulating this idea as something assumed to be true:

Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it?  Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike.  Far be it from You!  Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:24-25)

Furthermore, consider the word of God to Ezekiel.  All of Ezekiel 18 is dedicated to the point that the God does not punish someone for the sin which another person committed.

Yet you say, ‘Why should the son not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity?’ When the son has practiced justice and righteousness and has observed all My statutes and done them, he shall surely live.  The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself. (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

 

Application

How do we apply this command to our own lives today?

We understand from this command just how seriously we are to take God’s worship.  It is something that God regards as holy and so should we.

 

How did God regulate the worship of His Old Testament people?

God regulated nearly every detail of their approach to Him.  Israel was not allowed to be creative in their worship but only to follow the directions which God laid out for them.  An example of this is seen in the dreadful story of Nadab and Abihu.

 

What happened to Nadab and Abihu?

These two were the sons of Aaron (Exodus 6:23) and were made priests (Exodus 24:1; 28:1) to assist in the administration of tabernacle worship.  One day, they decided to offer up incense to God; but in doing this, they failed to follow the directions YHWH had given them.  This took place just after God had shown them something of His awesome power. (Leviticus 9:24)

 

Which directions did they disregard?

Consider the following:

  1. They decided to offer incense up to God, but God had not commanded them to do this.  They did it on their own initiative.
  2. It appears that they did not use the utensils which had been sanctified for this purpose. (Leviticus 8:11)  Moses notes that they took their firepans. (Leviticus 10:1)
  3. Moses notes that they used strange or unauthorized fire. (Leviticus 10:1)  The fire was supposed to come from the altar of burnt offering. (Leviticus 16:12)
  4. Finally, did they use the prescribed recipe for the incense? (Exodus 30:9, 34–36)

 

Was not Uzzah struck down by God for similar reasons as Nadab and Abihu?

Yes, Uzzah held out his hand to steady the ark (2 Samuel 6:6) and was immediately struck dead by God (2 Samuel 6:7) for his disobedience. (Numbers 7:9)

 

How does God regulate the worship of His people under the new covenant?

In the New Testament, we do not find detailed lists of directions as we do in the Old.  God accords much more liberty to His people in their worship than was true of His people under the old covenant.  Nevertheless, we are not to conclude from this, that God provides no regulations at all.

 

How does God regulate our worship today?

God expects us to worship Him in such a way as is in keeping with the principles laid out for us throughout the entire Scripture.

 

Where does the Bible teach this?

We see this in the teaching of Jesus who condemned the Pharisees for teaching that their own human traditions were the commandments of God. (Mark 7:13)

 

Sometimes the term “Regulative Principle of Worship” is used.  What does this mean?

This is a term which articulates an idea which comes to us from the Protestant Reformation.  The Reformers rejected the idea that churches should worship God in any way which was not forbidden.  On the contrary, the Reformers insisted that God’s people were to worship Him only in those ways which God had commanded.  Thus the Regulative Principle of Worship affirms that Christians should worship God in those ways which He has commanded.  Some press this principle to far; others dispense with it entirely.

 

Who press this principle too far?

Those who look to the Bible for an exact prescription of what should be done in a worship service. They refuse to do anything in their service for which they cannot find an explicit command or example.

 

Who dispense with this idea entirely?

Those who simply write off certain New Testament practices simply because they are culturally unacceptable in our day. For example, those people who treat Paul’s head-covering command or the command to greet one another with a kiss as if these had nothing whatever to speak to us today.  They pass over such verses as though they were of historical value only.  Roman Catholics also violate the regulative principle of worship by doing things in their worship service which directly contradict the spirit and teachings of the Bible.

 

How should Christians worship then?

A helpful distinction is made between elements and circumstances.  The elements are the bare minimum that must be present our worship such as prayer, preaching, singing, and the sacraments.

 

Why are these things called elements and not circumstances?

Because an element of worship is something which God directly commands us to do.  The circumstances are all the other details which surround our worship such as where, when, who will lead the music and how, who will preach and how, etc.

 

Where does the Bible teach that prayer should be a part of our worship services?

We are taught this by Paul in two passages where Paul is commenting on the public worship services.

  • The first is not a direct command but clearly Paul assumes that both men and women are praying in the services. (1 Corinthians 11:4-5)
  • To Timothy, Paul commands that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone, especially for kings and all those in authority. (1 Timothy 2:1)

 

How do you know that Paul is commanding prayers to be made in the public worship services?  Might he not be referring to the private devotions of Christians?

In his letters to Timothy, Paul is giving instructions as it pertains to the public worship of the church in Ephesus, not private devotions.  Wallace writes:  “Three broad areas of concern must be addressed if the church at Ephesus is to be repaired. First, the conduct of the church needed to be restored (2:1–3:16). This involved two aspects: worship and leadership.”

 

Where does the Bible teach that preaching should be a part of our worship services?

We see this in 2 Timothy 4:2 where Paul gives Timothy the command to “preach the word” as well as the endless examples of the apostles who preached the gospel at every possible opportunity.  Paul talks about preaching at length in 2 Corinthians 2:12 – 6:10.

 

What does Paul say about preaching in 2 Corinthians 2:12-6:10?

First, Paul speaks of preaching as the “fragrance of Christ” which is to the perishing an awful smell of death and doom.  To those who are being saved, however, it is a wonderful fragrance of new life.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.  For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?  For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)

Second, he contrasts the glory of the new covenant with the glory of the old covenant.  The old covenant was glorious, but it pales in comparison to the glory of the new.  Furthermore, one aspect of the old covenant was actually intended by God to bring death and condemnation to Israel. (cf Galatians 3:19)  The new covenant,  however, brings life and justification, and it is this covenant which God called Paul to preach and to proclaim to the ends of the earth.  In this sense, Paul is a slave of the new covenant.

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.  But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?  For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.  For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it.  For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory. (2 Corinthians 3:4-11)

Paul also compares preachers to ambassadors.  From God, they have received a “word of reconciliation” which is the good news of what Christ has done for lost sinners.  Because of Christ’s work of reconciliation on the cross, God’s ambassadors may proclaim and announce to all men that they should lay down their enmity against God and be reconciled to Him.

Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.  Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.  Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:16-21)

The real thrust of these chapters is to show Paul’s great enthusiasm for the good news which he preaches.  The question we have to ask ourselves is whether we have the same enthusiasm for the preaching of the gospel.

 

Where does the Bible teach that the sacraments should be a part of our worship services?

This is taught in the places where the sacraments are instituted.  Jesus commanded us to baptize those who profess faith in His name.

  • Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me. (Luke 22:19)

 

Why did the Reformers insist on the regulative principle of worship as you explained it previously?

The catechism was primarily worded this way since the Roman Catholic churches of the time were introducing strange forms of worship into the services that contradicted biblical principles of worship.

 

Give an example.

The mass was the primary example where the Roman Catholic church taught that Jesus was sacrificed again and again, each time the mass was observed.  Protestants knew this to be directly contrary to the Bible which taught that the sacrifice of Jesus was once for all. (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10; 1 Timothy 2:5)  There were many other such practices of the Roman Catholic church.

 

But do not protestants also use many forms of worship that are not commanded in the Bible?

Indeed they do.  The question isn’t whether all the circumstances of our worship are directly commanded us in the Bible but whether these circumstances, traditions, customs, practices are consistent with the principles of worship given us in the Bible or whether they contradict these principles.

 

Are there some worship practices given us in the New Testament which we no longer practice?

Yes, the holy kiss (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:26; 1 Peter 5:14) and the anointing with oil (James 5:14) are both forms of worship not practiced by most contemporary churches.

 

So how are Christians to determine which forms of worship are consistent with biblical principles of worship and which are not?

First, we have to understand what these principles are and then work to apply them to our own services of worship.

 

Images of God and Jesus

What does the catechism mean by making any representation of God or of the three Persons?

This means making a statue or picture of God the Father, Jesus or the Holy Spirit.

 

Why did God command the Israelites and us not to make pictures of Him?

Because He is a God so transcendent and beyond us that to represent Him in a picture would be to profane Him.  It would reduce God to the level of a created thing.

 

That pictures should not be made of God the Father is clear.  Why can’t pictures be made of Jesus who clearly did have a body?  Or of the Holy Spirit who took on the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus?

Many writers have cautiously allowed pictures of Jesus for the above reason.  Nevertheless, the temptation to venerate in some way the picture or statue of Jesus would be almost inevitable.  As a result, Reformed and Presbyterian churches generally maintain the old protestant practice of having no pictures or representations of any of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

 

The wording of the second command, however, seems to forbid only the making of carved statues.  Are pictures of God permitted?

The Hebrew word here is pesel פֶּסֶל which means a carved statue of some kind.  The words which follow, however, carry the prohibition beyond statues.  “…or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.”  The NET Bible translators write:

The word תְּמוּנָה (témunah) refers to the mental pattern from which the פֶּסֶל (pesel) is constructed; it is a real or imagined resemblance. If this is to stand as a second object to the verb, then the verb itself takes a slightly different nuance here. It would convey “you shall not make an image, neither shall you conceive a form” for worship.

 

What is the Roman Catholic teaching on this?

The Roman Catholic position is given in the Baltimore catechism:

Q1211. Does the first Commandment forbid the making of images?
Answer: The first Commandment does forbid the making of images if they are made to be adored as gods, but it does not forbid the making of them to put us in mind of Jesus Christ, His Blessed Mother, and the saints.

Q1212. How do we show that it is only the worship and not the making of images that is forbidden by the first commandment?
Answer: We show that it is only the worship and not the making of images that is forbidden by the first commandment, (1) Because no one thinks it sinful to carve statues or make photographs or paintings of relatives or friends; (2) because God Himself commanded the making of images for the temple after He had given the first commandment, and God never contradicts Himself.

Q1213. Is it right to show respect to the pictures and images of Christ and His saints?
Answer: It is right to show respect to the pictures and images of Christ and His saints, because they are the representations and memorials of them.

Q1214. Have we in this country any civil custom similar to that of honoring the pictures and images of saints?
Answer: We have, in this country, a civil custom similar to that of honoring pictures and images of saints, for, on Decoration or Memorial Day, patriotic citizens place flowers, flags, or emblems about the statues of our deceased civil heroes, to honor the persons these statues represent; for just as we can dishonor a man by abusing his image, so we can honor him by treating it with respect and reverence.

Q1215. Is it allowed to pray to the crucifix or to the images and relics of the saints?
Answer: It is not allowed to pray to the crucifix or images and relics of the saints, for they have no life, nor power to help us, nor sense to hear us.

Q1216. Why do we pray before the crucifix and the images and relics of the saints?
Answer: We pray before the crucifix and the images and relics of the saints because they enliven our devotion by exciting pious affections and desires, and by reminding us of Christ and of the saints, that we may imitate their virtues.

Roman Catholics carefully distinguish between the worship that is given to God and the honor that is given to created things.  Consider this catechism:

Q. May we also honor the sacred images of Jesus Christ and of the Saints?
A. Yes, because the honor we give the sacred images of Jesus Christ and of the Saints is referred to their very persons.

Q. May the relics of the Saints be honored?
A. Yes, we should honor the relics of the Saints, because their bodies were living members of Jesus Christ and temples of the Holy Ghost, and will rise gloriously to eternal life.

Q. What is the difference between the honor we give to God and the honor we give to the Saints?
A. Between the honor we give to God and the honor we give to the Saints there is this difference, that we adore God because of his infinite excellence, whereas we do not adore the Saints, but honor and venerate them as God’s friends and our intercessors with Him.

    • The honor we give to God is called Latria, that is, the worship of adoration;
    • the honor we give to the Saints is called Dulia, that is, the veneration of the servants of God;
    • while the special honor we give to the Blessed Virgin is called Hyperdulia, that is, a special veneration of the Mother of God.

 

What is the Eastern Orthodox teaching on this command?

Their teaching is not much different than that of the Roman Catholics.  Mogila writes in his catechism (p152):

Q55: What are we to think of the Images which the Church worshippeth and reverenceth?

Answer:  There is a very great Difference between Images and Idols. An Idol is a mere Fiction and Invention of Men, as the Apostle testifieth (1 Cor. 8:4), An Idol is nothing in the World. But an Image is a Representation showing forth a real Thing that is actually being in the World, as the Image of our Savior Christ, of the holy Virgin Mary, and of all other Saints. Besides, the Heathens worshipped their Idols as God, and offered Sacrifices unto them, thinking Gold and Silver to be true Deities, as of old did Nebuchadnezzar. Whereas we, in worshipping and reverencing Images, do not adore the Painting or the Wood, but we respect the Saints who are thereby represented, and worship them with that kind of Worship which is called Dulia, placing them, by the Representation, before our Eyes as if they were in our Sight and we really beheld them; as, for instance, whilst we worship a Crucifix, we thereby set Christ himself before our Mind hanging upon the Cross of our Salvation; and unto him, with religious Gratitude, do we bend our Knee and bow down our Heads. So, in like manner, when we reverence the Image of the Virgin Mary, we ascend in our Minds unto the most holy Mother of God; to her it is that we bow down our Heads, to her we bend our Knees, and it is her that, with the Archangel Gabriel, we proclaim the most blessed of all Men and Women. It is evident, therefore, that the Worship of holy Images, which is received into the orthodox Church, is not contrary to this Commandment, as it is neither the same with that which is given to God, nor is it addressed unto the Work of Art—that is, the Picture—but unto the Persons of those Saints whom the Images represent unto us. Furthermore, as the Cherubim that overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant represented those real Cherubs who serve God and stand before his Face in Heaven, and the Israelites worshipped and reverenced them without breaking this Commandment of God; and, in like manner, as the Jews sinned not, nor broke this Command of the Decalog, but rather honored God with more Glory, when they worshipped the Ark of the Covenant, and received it with Honor and Respect (2 Sam. 6:13); So neither do we transgress this Command of the Decalogue by reverencing holy Images, but rather more highly praise God, who is wonderful in his holy Places (Psalm 68:35). Nevertheless we must take Care that every Image has the Name of the Saint it representeth inscribed on it, that thereby it may the more readily answer the Intention and Design of the Worshipper.

 

What is wrong with this teaching?

The meaning of the second command is further explained in Deuteronomy.

The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it. So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire,  so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.  And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.  But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, from Egypt, to be a people for His own possession, as today.  Now the LORD was angry with me on your account, and swore that I would not cross the Jordan, and that I would not enter the good land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance.  For I will die in this land, I shall not cross the Jordan, but you shall cross and take possession of this good land.  So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you.  For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:14-24)

Here the meaning is clearly that since Israel did not see any form or physical representation of God, they were not allowed to worship Him in any way that involved such a physical representation of God.  Whether this was a two dimensional picture of a three dimensional statue.  This is also how the Jews understood it as we can see from their practice.

 

The latter catechism above referenced God’s command to make cherubim for the temple.  Is this not the making of an image?

It is the making of an image just as the brazen serpent was also an image.  Neither of these, however, were intended to be reverenced in any way or made a part of regular worship.  Summers writes (p268) that the cherubim were not objects of worship but symbols, probably of angelic power.  They were not made to be worshiped or even looked upon as is clear from their being in the Most Holy Place where no one ever saw them except the high-priest and that only once a year.  The same is true of the bronze serpent which was a symbol of God’s punishment on Israel for their sin.  Even this, however, became an idol over time, and finally Hezekiah had to destroy it. (2 Kings 18:4)

 

What else can be said about the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox teaching on this?

Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox theologians often teach that it is not the image that is worshipped but the person represented by the image.  It should be noted that even in the Ancient Near East, this distinction was made.  These people knew that they were not worshipping the image but the deity it represented.  Durham writes on Exodus 20:4:

As Bernhardt (Gott und Bild, 17–68) has shown, such images were used throughout the ANE as a means of suggesting the presence of deity, not as objects of worship: the image “was much more something corporeal that the divine influence (das göttliche Fluidum) possessed” (67).  (Exodus 285)

So even with this distinction, God still condemned the making and using of images.

 

What does the Larger Catechism way with regards to this command?

Q. 108. What are the duties required in the second commandment?

A. The duties required in the second commandment are, the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath instituted in his word; particularly prayer and thanksgiving in the name of Christ; the reading, preaching, and hearing of the word; the administration and receiving of the sacraments; church government and discipline; the ministry and maintenance thereof; religious fasting; swearing by the name of God, and vowing unto him: as also the disapproving, detesting, opposing, all false worship; and, according to each one’s place and calling, removing it, and all monuments of idolatry.

Q. 109. What sins are forbidden in the second commandment?

A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshiping of it, or God in it or by it; the making of any representation of feigned deities, and all worship of them, or service belonging to them; all superstitious devices, corrupting the worship of God, adding to it, or taking from it, whether invented and taken up of ourselves, or received by tradition from others, though under the title of antiquity, custom, devotion, good intent, or any other pretense whatsoever; simony; sacrilege; all neglect, contempt, hindering, and opposing the worship and ordinances which God hath appointed.

Q. 110. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it?

A. The reasons annexed to the second commandment, the more to enforce it, contained in these words, For I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments; are, besides God’s sovereignty over us, and propriety in us, his fervent zeal for his own worship, and his revengeful indignation against all false worship, as being a spiritual whoredom; accounting the breakers of this commandment such as hate him, and threatening to punish them unto divers generations; and esteeming the observers of it such as love him and keep his commandments, and promising mercy to them unto many generations.

 

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