verse VI – the second commandment
In my first treatment on the Ten Commandments, I presented the first commandment according to the Jewish reckoning of the Decalogue: “I am the Lord your God…”
The imagining of this statement as the first commandment rests upon the positive precept to believe in the existence of God – the God who brought the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage – the Lord identifying Himself, not as the principal actor in creation, but rather, the principal actor in redemption.
This act of redemption memorialized in the first commandment requires, as we will discover, a faithful response on the part of Israel. In this article, we will examine the four verses of the second commandment individually.
לֹא-יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים, עַל-פָּנָי
“You have no other gods [powers] against My face.”
This verse can also translated “beside Me” or “to My face” or “before My face,” an important point that does not often receive adequate attention. At first glance, we might only consider the placement, or importation of foreign gods before Him as a violation of this commandment. Yet, upon closer examination we find four important concepts:
- As the Lord will reveal in the fourth commandment – there are no other gods to be set before Him – He created the heavens and the earth – therefore anything else is falsehood.
- He has demonstrated His power over falsehood and idolatry by the destruction of the Egyptian gods during the plagues. Consider the words of John Trimmer regarding the Lord’s transformation of Aaron’s staff, “With the exception of a long, narrow strip of arable land on either side of the River Nile, Egypt consisted of nothing but desert region. In this region, so the Egyptians believed, no gods resided. Only snakes, dangerous snakes. By having Aaron’s rod swallow up the rods of the Egyptian magicians, God demonstrates that he has power where Egypt’s gods do not: over the desert.”
- This commandment guards against the religion of “me.”
- Finally, this command precludes the belief in witchcraft, regional or elemental gods, luck or chance as an operative power in creation.
לֹא-תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל, וְכָל-תְּמוּנָה, אֲשֶׁר בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל, וַאֲשֶׁר בָּאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת–וַאֲשֶׁר בַּמַּיִם, מִתַּחַת לָאָרֶץ.
“You do not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of that which is in the heavens above, or which is in the earth beneath, or which is in the waters under the earth.”
Just a matter of weeks after the revelation of this command, in Exodus 32, we find the molding of the Golden Calf, the very act that these words were to guard against. It is easy for man to look up to the heavens, or down to the earth or even the sea, to discover something greater than himself, and in awe of it, worship it. The prohibition of idolatry directs us to proper worship of the covenant Lord, by causing us to ask why and how.
The expectation of the second commandment is right worship. Anything created, formed and even idealized can become an obstacle to correct worship as we go before the covenant Father. Additionally, it reminds us to keep perspective of vocation as servants of the Most High – whose obedience brings blessing, as we will consider momentarily.
Yet, it also guards against philosophical idolatry. Consider this quote from Sir Francis Bacon, “There are four classes of idols which beset men’s minds. To these for distinction’s sake I have assigned names – calling the first class Idols of the Tribe; the second, Idols of the Cave; the third, Idols of the Market-Place; and the fourth, Idols of the Theatre.”
We can understand these in the following way: 1) Idols of the tribe refers to obsession with nationalism; 2) Idols of the cave refers to obsession with superstition; 3) Idols of the market-place refer to obsession with business; and 4) Idols of the theatre refers to obsession with entertainment. It is common to worship or give undo adoration to one or all of these passions; and do these not get in the way of right worship? As an under-shepherd of the flock I can say unreservedly, yes.
Even though our homes may be free of idols of wood, stone or metal, we may not be free of idolatry. Idolatrous attitudes and fixations can be absent in the living space, while still holding court in the place of our heart and mind. Anything that makes a claim on our primary loyalty to the covenant Lord, has become another god, another powerful influence in our lives.
Therefore, we must resist the temptation to worship self, nation, institutions, or art; even as important to a society as these may be. Man was created to worship and glorify God in the most unique of ways: as His image bearer in creation.
We learn from this that how one worships is as important as whom one worships – we must approach the Living God on His own terms, not ours. Too often personal revelations of Yeshua/Jesus, often a subjective relativistic Jesus, stand opposed to the Yeshua of biblical revelation. In this situation, the who we have created allows for any approach in worship – provided , of course, it is pleasing to the worshipper. Is worship meant to be pleasing to man or to God? Misdirected worship, then, is also a form of idolatry.
Is this really an issue in New Covenant faith? Consider the words of the apostle of grace Paul, “Therefore, my beloved ones, flee from idolatry” (I Cor. 10:14, emphasis added). Or the apostle of love, John, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (I Jn. 5:21). So the jump from Malachi to Matthew did not create a “have it your way,” or “do what is right in your own eyes” faith; nor did it erase man’s inclination to idolatrous attitudes – these ideas are simply not found in either covenantal record.
Cultural or religious pluralism.
In an age of cultural and religious pluralism, the Body of Messiah is being encouraged to be broadly accepting of unbiblical positions and lifestyles, largely due to an unscriptural idealization of love, understanding and compassion. Cultural pluralism, however, is vastly different from religious pluralism. The one new man, as envisioned by Paul, allows for cultural pluralism without bending or submitting to religious pluralism; his speech before the Areopagus in Acts 17 testifies to this.
The pluralistic leaning today has caused “love” to lose its meaning in the messianic, and certainly the un-regenerate, imagination (we will considered definition in a later article); that being said, love without its corollary of correction is meaningless (Prov. 3:12; cf. Heb. 12:6). This corrective aspect of love allows me, as a shepherd, to affirm the dignity of, and love for the human before me, without affirming a specific lifestyle or life choice.
We must keep in mind that Yeshua said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 10:6, emphasis added). These are a very exclusive statements – not inclusive – as we note the use of definite articles before the nouns of way, truth and life. He is the only way to the Father; He is the only truth; and He is the only life. Messiah is either taken at His word, or it is rejected; His word, however, cannot be modified to suit the desires of the audience. As CS Lewis popularized in his famous trilemma argument, Jesus is either liar, lunatic or Lord. To accept Him as Lord eliminates three commonly argued salvific formulations and establish only one correct conclusion:
- Universalism: the argument that all men will be saved.
- Pluralism: the argument that most men will be saved.
- Inclusivism: the argument that most men will be saved through the cross, often termed “wider” or “greater” grace.
- Exclusivism: the biblical argument that many will be saved through the cross of Messiah – alone.
The second commandment with all of its implications is a matter of Lordship.
לֹא-תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם, וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם: כִּי אָנֹכִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ
אֵל קַנָּא–פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹת עַל-בָּנִים עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים, לְשֹׂנְאָי
“You do not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the crookedness of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.”
Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz explains jealousy, “It is, of course, evident that terms like ‘jealousy’ or ‘zeal’ are applied to God in an anthropomorphic sense. It is also evident that this jealousy of God is of the very essence of His holiness.”
In fact, the Lord is so jealous for humanity that He has gave His Word, the Torah, beseeched humanity through the prophets, inspired and warned through the writings, and sent the Word made flesh in the person of Yeshua of Nazareth, the Messiah. That is a jealous love indeed.
Questions regarding the generational clause in the second commandment abound. The Torah is clear about those in right relationship, “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin.” Sin always affects others. However, the Lord will not directly punish the child for the sins of the parents, but the child is certainly affected by them. The word that is overlooked is “of those who hate Me.” The Lord will פֹּקֵד, “visit, account or reckon” the effects of sin down the generations – in other words, He will not hold back the power of sin crouching at the door (Gen. 4:7). Yet, deliverance also stands at the door, waiting to be welcomed (Rev. 3:20) in to break the legal connection and influence of generational curses. Nevertheless, I write this as a shepherd – do not place yourself back under the influence of family or social demons – “come out from among them” (II Cor. 6:17-18).
This clause of the commandment may seem misplaced, yet the sin of idolatry is the result of misplaced devotion to the vanities of the human ego.
Finally, we compare the punishment to the promise of our final verse under consideration.
וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד, לַאֲלָפִים–לְאֹהֲבַי, וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְוֹתָי
“And I will show kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and guard My commands.”
The punishment, or withheld blessing was to the third and fourth generation, while His kindness (mercy) is to the thousandth generation of those who love Him and guard His commands. Rabbi Hertz explains, “Love of God is the essence of Judaism, and from love of God springs obedience to His will.”
Proper worship is a faith-style properly applying love and obedience to the Lord, as it shines out to love of neighbor, stranger and even enemy. In Hebrew, a word that is often rendered worship, עֲבוֹדָה, also means labor or work. Worship is not only lifting up hands in song or praise, but is a life of right relationship with Him, and doing all things to His glory (I Cor. 10:31; cf. Col. 3:23).
Idolatry in all its forms diminishes the dignity of the human being, and ultimately allows for the desecration of the divine image found in humanity. Only the Lord is permitted to image Himself, and He did that in you and in me, and in billions of humans since the dawn of time. Each one of us is made in His image and likeness – and there is, never has been and never will be one exactly like you or me. Humanity have been made in His image and likeness, and as beautiful as creation is, it is not nearly as beautiful as humanity – we will leave the remedy for the mess we are in for another time.
Shalom. Be well.