II – Thou shalt not make any graven image.
There was a statistic that I read not long ago that 83% of Christians worldwide live above the poverty level of their particular country. I believe there is a reason for that. It also said that 70% of Hindu’s live below the poverty level. I also think there is a reason for that…and it has to do with the first two commandments.
This second commandment really can be divided into three parts;
1. You shall not make any idol in the form of anything.
2. You shall not “bow down” or worship anything but God.
3. A warning or reward.
Let’s start with this; “How do you picture God?”
We can know God’s qualities or character traits from scripture and from Jesus and his life and ministry… But, can we really picture God?) When asking this question before, I received answers like; “God is a big man, very tall, with white hair and beard, dressed in a long, flowing, white robe, sort of a Santa Clause in white!”
I would suggest that getting a handle on these first two commands will greatly enhance our ability to obey the other commands as well. I want you to repeat this after me, “My obedience to God is determined by my image of God.” (Go ahead, repeat that.) Here’s what I want you to do this morning. I want you to allow the Holy Spirit to challenge your view of God. I want you to ask yourself, “Is the God that I worship the God that is presented in the Bible, or have I reshaped God to be a god of my own making?”
No image or picture in our minds could ever accurately represent the totality and majesty of a God who holds the entire universe in His hands. Imagine trying to capture the totality of all of who God is by using wood, metal and stone – things that He has created – and then trying to confine Him to an image of something that is a part of this universe. To confine eternity to time and space. Imagine trying to put God in a box. That is the essence of the 2nd Commandment.
At first examination, it might look like this would be the easiest of the 10 to keep. I mean, after all, this isn’t India, or the jungles of Africa or South America. We don’t have little carved images of stone and wood in our homes that we bow down to every night. We can handle this one. It’s not too difficult to grasp. It’s in the other ones that we need lots of help – the ones that talk about not lying, and not committing adultery, and not wanting what my neighbor has. Those are the hard ones. Those are the ones that I need help with. This one I can handle.
Well, it must not be as easy as all that because the first commandment that the Israelites broke was not those ones that I just listed. It was this one! Before Moses ever came down from the mountain with the stone tablets, the Israelites had already made themselves an idol. If it wasn’t so easy a command for them to keep, could it be that we are weak in this area too?
Let’s look at Isaiah 40:11and on;
11Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
12Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord,
or instruct the Lord as his counselor?
14 Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?
15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.
18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
to set up an idol that will not topple.
21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.
25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength
not one of them is missing.
27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.”
I just wanted to give you a little better picture of God.
If you wanted to make an image of God, physical or mental, what image could you come up with that would do justice to God’s majesty, glory and holiness? What would be an accurate representation of God? In Exodus 20 vs. 4, even as He gives the commands, God lists 3 different possibilities where persons might find an image for God in the physical world; a. the heavens above, b. the world around us, and c. the waters below us. Let’s examine these…The Water? It would be hard to fashion an image from the water. The Heavenlies? The same thing. There’s only one other realm of possibility in the physical world – things that dwell on the land – namely plants and animals. Plants won’t work because they, like the universe, have no intelligence. That just leaves the animal kingdom – the animals and us. That’s the route that the Israelites chose to go when they constructed their idol. What do we choose? I think we, more often than not, choose to make God in our image.
Do you remember why you come to church? Why you give in the offering? Or why you study the Bible? Is it because you really desire to know God and believe God and worship God, or is it some other reason?
Sometimes, when we think of idolatry, we think of a remote tribe of heathens dancing around a campfire in front of a giant stone statue or something. Or we think of eastern religions paying homage to fat sculptures of Buddha, or Hindu people lighting candles around shrines of goddesses with lots of arms and swords. Or maybe we even think of those people who come from all over the country to lie down on the rocks up at Sedona Arizona in hopes of being rejuvenated by the “vortex” of some force or god in nature.
My guess is that you probably feel like I do: You shake your head at that stuff in disbelief. Why would anyone bow down to a piece of rock, or light a candle to a statue, or make a pledge to a painting, or say a prayer to a medallion around their neck? The way I figure it, if a human being can create it, then it certainly didn’t create human beings, and it makes no sense to worship it!
We have become so used to substitutes in our lives. If I want to cut out sugar, I can always have Nutrasweet, or saccharin, or Splenda. If I want to save a little money at the drugstore, I can get generics to fill my prescription. My wife might enjoy wearing a strand of real pearls, but most people will never know the difference if she wears a quality imitation. Substitutes are really no big deal. But when it comes to God, they are a huge deal. Why settle for the imitation when you can have the real thing — especially when we know that the imitation is powerless and even harmful?
If I stand in front of a bright light, I cast a shadow on the wall. In many ways, that shadow looks like me. It’s the same shape, it follows my movements, you might even recognize my profile. But it’s not me. It’s not real. It’s just a shadow. And when we settle for “God as we understand him” instead of “God as he really is,” we’ve made an idol out of his shadow. There’s enough resemblance that we feel comfortable and secure, but there’s no power. And who really wants a powerless God? Let me say it one more time; “My obedience to God is determined by my image of God.” And, my faith in God is also determined the same way!