This week I came across a story about a 24-year-old man named Dave Davila from East Moline, Illinois who took a job 150 miles away in Chicago. It was a great job—but it forced him to leave his close-knit family—mom, dad, siblings, etc. And he did indeed have a close-knit family. In fact, his mom missed him so much that she took a digital photo of Dave and had it blown up to his actual height and mounted on heavy cardboard. It shows Dave, standing casually, hands in his pockets, a blue-button-down shirt hanging untucked over his khaki shorts. His dad built a wooden stand so he could be propped up—and “Flat Dave” was born!
At first Flat Dave just stood quietly by at family gatherings like this. But then his family began to take him with them all over town. Since his creation on June 2nd, Flat Dave joined real Dave’s mom at the dentist’s office, attended a motorcycle show, and lounged for hours at a relative’s graduation party. Newspaper articles about Flat Dave began to appear all over the country. There was even talk of him appearing in his home town’s 4th of July parade. Flat Dave became a celebrity. In fact, as his fame spread, complete strangers dropped by the Davila home unannounced to pose with Flat Dave for a picture. His brother even said, “I think Flat Dave is actually better looking.” Sometimes things get somewhat awkward for the real Dave who they now call “Thick Dave.” He says “I’m in Chicago talking to my mom on the phone and she says, ‘Hold on, I’ve got to load you into the van.’ That kind of thing is a little weird for me.”
I share this because Dave’s reaction to his cardboard image gives us a little taste of how God feels when we replace Him with something or someone else. And, as our Creator, God knows of our tendency to do this sort of thing. He knows it’s easy for us to substitute Him with images or idols of various kinds, hence His second foundational command. Take your Bibles and turn to Exodus 20 and let’s read it together. It’s in verses 4-6. Like last week, let’s read it aloud. God says:
4 – You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
5 – You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me,
6 – but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
If you’re our guest, you should know that last week we began a series of sermons called “Foundations for a Strong Family” — a study of the Ten Commandments. I chose these seventeen verses of chapter 20 because these commands provide the foundation we need to build a life—or a family—the foundation we need to grow and experience the abundant life God promises. We’re learning some sign-language to help us remember each of these commands. Who remembers last week’s sign? RIGHT! One pointer finger—pointed Heavenward to remind us that there is only ONE GOD and we worship Him and Him alone. To review—in our study of the first command we learned that God doesn’t want to be the chief thing; He wants to be everything. It’s not that we need to make Him prominent in our lives; He demands to be preeminent. God is to rule ALL of our lives. There can be no competition for our allegiance in any area. Nothing can be tolerated that takes us away from bowing before Him—which leads us to God’s second foundational command. The symbol for this one requires the use of both hands. Hold up the pointer finger in both hands but have the one on your left bow before the other. This reminds us that God forbids us to bow down or worship anything or anyone other than Him. There are to be no substitutes for God in our life—no “flat Daves.”
Now—as you probably noticed, the second commandment sounds a lot like the first. In fact, they lock together kind of like matching pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Commandment number one tells us WHO God is. God says, “I am the Lord your God, Who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” And then commandment number two tells us HOW we are to worship Him. The second law insists that the object of our worship must never be something of our own construction or something that is under our control. We must never make these things or people—or whatever—the focus of our worship. Only God is to have that place in our lives. We only bow to Him.
Now—just to be clear—this doesn’t mean religious ART is inappropriate. Exodus 31:4-5 tells us that when it was time to build the tabernacle, the Spirit of God inspired certain Israelites to: “Make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in the carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.” So, there’s nothing wrong with religious art. And SYMBOLS aren’t wrong either, per se. I mean, the art in the tabernacle was all symbolic. We also have the cross as a symbol of our Christian faith. Plus, Jesus gave us a very powerful symbol in the ordinance of communion. So symbols aren’t necessarily bad. The problem is when we begin to worship the art or the symbol instead of God Himself.
Now—we’ll talk more about worship when we deal with the fourth commandment—but at this point I do want to remind you that in order to understand this second commandment we must realize that worship is not limited to what we do in this room on Sundays. No—for the growing Christian worship is a lifestyle. It involves the way we live every aspect of our lives. Genuine “worship” is when every moment of every day clearly reflects our relationship with God. Remember the words of Paul in Romans 12:1-2, “I urge you brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies—-as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of WORSHIP.”
Another thing we should understand as we study this 2nd commandment is that the impulse to worship is universal. Anywhere you go on this planet—among any people group—you will find people engaged in worship of some kind. This is a God-given inclination. There is a God-consciousness in the heart of every human being. But—when people take this natural inclination to worship and instead of directing it in its proper direction—toward God—when they worship other things—bow down to other things—this is idolatry.
In Romans 1:23 & 25 Paul describes this sin when he writes, “They have changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and four-footed beasts, and creeping things who exchanged [or SUBSTITUTED] the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator.”
As you know, the people of Israel continually displayed this tendency in Old Testament times. You don’t even have to leave the book of Exodus before these people—newly freed from Egyptian bondage by the God Who loves them—have made a golden calf and begun to substitute it—worship it as their god. In fact at the very moment that Moses was on the mountain with God receiving His ten(der) laws, these people were making this idol and Exodus 32:4 records Aaron pointing to this gold bovine and crying, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”
And then—all through the history of the children of Israel you will find that they continued to have a problem keeping this very Commandment. Following the idolatrous practices of neighboring nations, King Jeroboam set up golden calves in Dan and also in Beersheba.
Even the brazen serpent that God provided in the wilderness to deliver the people from snake bites was later made into a graven object of worship by the Israelites. I could cite lots of examples but the sad fact is that only when the people of Israel were carried into captivity were they finally cured of this problem of idolatry.
But the Jews weren’t the only ones with this tendency. You may remember that the book of Acts records that Paul was bewildered by the “many gods” that filled the city of Athens. His account tells us there must have been an idol of some kind on every block—they were as regular as fire hydrants. And of course—idolatry continues in our world even to this day.
A few years ago I read a story about a certain tribe that lives in the Bismarck Mountains of central Papua New Guinea and I learned that these people like BIG EARS—a lot. As a matter of fact, this tribe worshiped former President Lyndon Johnson because he had big ears. According to Dr. Ulrich Ritterfeldt of the University of Utrecht in Holland, the people of this tribe had this famous photo of President Johnson pulling on the big ears of his beagles. They hung this photo in a cave and flowers were offered to it. You know, looking at my own ears, tells me I could do pretty well in the Bismarck Mountains of Central Papua New Guinea!
Now—we in the United States hear stories like this and we think that, since idolatry is all about worshiping weird things — like big ears and golden cows—and since we don’t do that kind of silly stuff here—well we feel that this law is no longer relevant to us—that obeying this commandment is a snap. We can move on to number 3.But the reality is that idolatry in our culture is very widespread. It’s just more subtle.For example: in our culture we worship the gods of materialism, sexual indulgence, and personal power—and their messages don’t just line the streets as they did in Athens in Paul’s day.No—here they fill the very airwaves! The images and their deceptive offers go across the nation by satellite, cable, Internet, and slick four-color printing.I mean, in our country we are surrounded by more false images than ever before in the history of mankind.They leer at us from billboards and magazine covers. They call to us in powerful visual impressions on television and pop-up ads on our notebooks and smart phones.And, as every good advertising or network executive knows, the objective of these ads is to “capture” as many people as possible.These guys want their ads to capture our attention—our interest—our money—our time—our commitment.Of course, there is nothing wrong with money or a new car or wanting to wear attractive clothes or wanting to succeed in business.It’s just that these things and a hundred others can become idols to us as they begin to control our thoughts and desires.
Another “American idol” these days are celebrities. There is a real sense in which we worship them, looking to them for guidance in life on everything from health to sexuality and politics.
But you know, I think the most-worshiped false god in our society is SELF. We make books on the subject of selfishness bestsellers by purchasing them by the millions. We make every effort to “look out for number one.” Let’s face it–ours is an age of gross SELFishness. This is the “ME” era. I agree with Dr. Laura Schlessinger who writes, “One could read the Second Commandment as follows: ‘Do not make your SELF an idol.” And our society does exactly that. We idolize our individual FEELINGS—basing major decisions on how we FEEL rather than on what God says. We worship happiness and self-esteem at all costs. We care more about personal rights than God-given responsibilities. We worship how we look which is why we will spend $335 for a pair of “True Religion Jeans” showing the true object of our “religion!” We especially bow down to our careers. In fact it is often not until the first heart attack that men realize that they work to live not live to work. Well, whenever any of these things or people—when anything other than God—becomes the absolute focus of our attentions and activities—that is idolatry. Nothing in our lives—especially not SELF—should make God take a back seat.
Now before we go any further—think about it—why would God give us this law? Why would idolatry be such a big deal to Him?
And the Bible shows that it IS a big deal to God. Did you know more than 50 of the laws in the first five books of the Bible are directed against idolatry? Did you know that in all Judaism it is one of only four sins to which the death penalty is attached? Why? Why did God think this law was necessary?
Well—I think one reason He did was because, as I said, God knew how easy it would be for us to slip into idolatrous acts—as history shows we have done.
And here’s why. God is unseen—a spirit and a power invisible to the eyes of men. It is very hard for simple people like you and I to remember and to think about and to worship an UNSEEN God. We prefer to have something we can see, and touch—something we can relate to.
It’s like the story of a man named Jack who was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the canyon fell straight down for more than a thousand feet. He couldn’t hang on to the branch forever and there was no way for him to climb up the steep wall of the cliff. So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear him and lower a rope or something, “Help! Help! Is there anyone up there? Help!” He yelled for hours but no one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice. “Jack, Jack, can you hear me?” “Yes, yes! I can hear you! I’m down here!” “I can see you Jack. Are you alright?” “Yes, but—who are you and where are you?”
“I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.” “THE Lord? You mean, GOD?” “That’s Me.” “God please help me. I promise if You will get me down from here I will stop sinning. I’ll be a really good person. I’ll serve you for the rest of my life.” “Easy on the promises Jack. Just let Me get you down from there and then we can talk. Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.” “I’ll do anything Lord. Just tell me what to do.” “Okay. Let go of the branch.” “What?” “I said, let go of the branch. Just trust Me. Let go.”There was a long silence. Finally Jack yelled, “Is anyone ELSE up there?!” Like Jack, when the rubber meets the road in life, we want a god we can reach out and touch. That’s why we have this tendency to worship things we can see and feel.God of course knows that we are like this. He knew that this would be a very real temptation for us so He gave us this second foundational law.Like His other laws God gave us this one to PROTECT us and disobeying this particular law can indeed cause us great harm in many ways.
(1) First of all it steals our FREEDOM.
You see, when we put anyone or anything other than God in charge of our lives we become slaves to that thing or person. Now—I want to share a truth here that may be hard for you to believe. Are you ready to hear it? You and I will be slaves to something or someone in this life. It is unavoidable. You see, were created to be controlled. We were made to be mastered. The only freedom we really have is to choose what or who controls us.
By the way, have you ever noticed how much freedom is lost in the name of freedom? Someone says, “I am free to take a drink. I can drink as much alcohol as I want.” But then many times the drink takes the person. Others say, “I’m free to do drugs.” but soon the drugs DO them. Think how many celebrities have lost their lives as of late because of drug addiction. We become slaves to work or idleness, love or lust, ambition or whatever “magnificent” obsession claims us. You see, a “god” is basically something you surrender your life to. Freedom comes from choosing the best master and we are designed to function best—free-est—with God at the controls of our lives. As Acts 17:28 says, “in Him we live and move and have our being.” The air we breathe and the beat of our hearts are in His all-powerful hands. He is God—the ONE TRUE GOD! Resist that and we destroy ourselves. Accept it and we find freedom. Just as a truck is free to roll far and long if it stays on the highway—just as a train is free and powerful unless it jumps the tracks, so are we free to enjoy God’s gift of abundant life so long as we stay under the rule of God. That’s the way we are made. He must be number one. When He is not—when we substitute Him for false gods, we lose our freedom.
And the fact is, like all dictators, idols promise everything and give nothing in return. They take and never give back because they are not real—powerless. Psalm 135 says that idols, “have feet” —but they can’t come to you when you need aid. “They have hands” but they can’t lift a finger to help you when you are struggling. “They have eyes” but they can’t see your heart or what is going on in your life. “They have ears” but they can’t hear you cry out when you are lonely or frightened or in despair. Jeremiah 10:3-5 puts it this way: “The idol is there, incapable of movement, fixed to the one place as fast as a scarecrow in a cucumber field.” All idols—not just the man-made variety—all idols are false fronts like you see on movie sets. They look good on the outside but there is nothing behind them to back up their promises of freedom and joy. As the woman at the well discovered, you can drink all you want at the wells of the world but still be thirsty. The only way to satisfy our thirst for freedom is to be in relationship with the one TRUE GOD.
(2) A second damage idolatry causes is seen in the way it HURTS our children and their children and even their children.
Remember the words of the text? God says, “I the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me,” Now—to be clear—God is not saying that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be punished for our idolatry. In Ezekiel 18:20 it says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son” So in this text—God is not saying He will punish our children for our sin. No—He’s WARNING us that the way we worship has an impact on our offspring. They are affected by our decisions. This is because children are little sponges. They soak up whatever they are around—and they are around their parents most. So, moms and dads, if we live indifferently to the things of the Lord—if we continually give in to every suggestion of the flesh—if we have a love affair with materialism and acquiring things at any cost—if we chase after empty, hollow images for the rest of our lives, then our children and their children will see this—and they will pattern their own decision after these examples that we set.
Basically God is reminding us that our children will copy our sins. They will follow our example when it comes to the things we worship. And Scripture provides a vivid example of this truth. In 2nd Chronicles 26:16 we read the account of King Uzziah, a godly king up until the latter part of his life when he disobeyed God and side-stepped the temple priests to burn incense in worship. He made the mistake of thinking that every man can worship God according to the dictates of his own heart—when in actuality we only truly worship when we worship according to the dictates of God’s Word! Because of this transgression he was stricken with leprosy. Then in chapter 27 we read of his son, Joham, who began to reign when he was 25 and refused to enter the temple. His dad had trouble with the church so he did too. In chapter 28 we read of Ahaz, Uzziah’s grandson who began his reign when he was 20. Ahaz not only stayed away from the temple, he closed its doors and began to worship false gods. He even had his own children sacrificed to these empty images.
The father started worshiping God in the wrong way. His son quit going to the temple all together and his grandson worshiped the devil himself. So, you see our attitudes toward God affect and influence our children’s attitudes toward God. The first church my dad pastored when he graduated from seminary was a very unhappy church. I remember him telling me about it. He said that it was very hard to get those people to do anything because they were always fighting among themselves. I guess winning arguments was an idol to those people. That was fifty years ago. And that kind of infighting continued long after my dad left. It continued until all the members of that church and their children and grandchildren either died out or moved away. The church has only now began to experience some peace and make some progress. I’m saying we need to heed this law because idolatry can have that widespread of an effect! It can cause damage for generations.
With that in mind, think with me for a moment. What do our children see you devote your time and devotion and money to? What idols are there in YOUR life? You can be sure your children notice—and copy your example. Scary isn’t it!?
(3) A third way breaking this law hurts us is that we BECOME LIKE the false gods that we serve.
Listen again to the words of Psalm 135, “The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. THOSE WHO MAKE THEM WILL BE LIKE THEM.” Jeremiah 2:5 says, “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”
Listen! We become just like any false image we pursue in life.
- If we worship self, we become selfish.
- If we idolize wealth, then like Scrooge we tend to value it above anything else—even our loved ones.
- If we bow down at the altar of physical beauty, we become shallow people. Our own beauty as individuals becomes only skin deep.
I can’t help but think of that young girl who idolizes Barbie—the doll—such that she has had numerous plastic surgeries. Now, as you can see, she looks just like Barbie—which is weird—and sad. Her example is a vivid reminder of the fact that we become like that which we worship.
And the sad thing is God wants us to become like Him—not the false, empty images we pursue. In Romans 8 verse 29 Paul says that God’s desire is that all His followers be “conformed to the likeness or IMAGE of His Son.” In 1st John 3:2 it proclaims the hope that when Jesus returns “we shall be LIKE Him.” So, as Ron Mehl writes, “Why in the world should I waste my time chasing shadows, substitutes, desert mirages, and house-of-mirrors reflections? Why should I serve other lords who aren’t lords at all, care nothing for me and never will?”
Indeed why???? Why place something other than God at the center of our lives when doing so hurts us in so many ways?
- Idolatry promises us everything and gives us nothing. It steels our freedom.
- It hurts our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.
- It changes us so that we become like those empty things we worship.
Substituting God for anything else is such a wasteful thing to do. No wonder God has lovingly given us this TENDER commandment! But you know the most amazing thing about this law is that not only does disobeying it hurt us. There is a sense in which it hurts God Himself!
(4) For when we worship other Gods it makes Him feel the pain of JEALOUSY.
Remember verse 5? Referring to idols, God said, “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Think about it, how would your wife feel if she were to see a picture of another attractive woman alongside her picture on your i-phone?Would she say, “This is interesting but my husband has a right to his privacy.” or would she yank it from its holder and hold it up to your face and say, “WHO IS THIS?!!!!”And how do you think she would feel if she learned that this other woman and you had an ongoing relationship—that you turned to other woman when you needed support, affection, and encouragement? Would that bother your wife?Would it? If this happened, would she continue to believe you when you whispered in her ear that you loved her with ALL your heart? I don’t think so! Of course she would be hurt—because she expects your exclusive devotion. And she has a right to do so.Well, as I said last week, God feels the same way. When He sees us giving other people or other things—or even ourselves—devotion that He deserves, He is jealous.In this commandment God is saying, “I am the only God there is. I am YOUR God; you belong to Me. I am jealous of that relationship.” And, the fact that God feels this way shows how precious our relationship is to Him. God is jealous for you because He loves you.Yet He has given you a free will and will allow you to chase empty idols and false images for the rest of your life if you so desire. He will let you have your own way.But you’ll have to walk right by His open arms to do it.
(5) You know, another reason God commands us not to make any graven IMAGES because He has already revealed Himself in an IMAGE.
Colossians 1:15 says that the Lord Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” Hebrews 1:3 says that He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the EXACT representation of His being….”
Two first-grade buddies were playing when one said to the other, “I had a good time in Vacation Bible School this morning. Why don’t you go with me tomorrow.” His friend responded by asking, “What’s Vacation Bible School? The little boy replied, “We have it at church. We play games, sing, and learn about Jesus Christ.” His friend asked, “Who is Jesus Christ?” And then, in wisdom surely born of the spirit of God the six year old answered, “Jesus Christ is the best picture of God that has ever been took.” Wise kid! God has revealed Himself clearly in His Son. We need look no further. This morning let us evaluate our own lives. Are we idolatrous in any way? Are there other “snapshots” in our lives next to the “picture” of God? Is there anything in our lives that would steal us away from a whole-hearted walk with Christ? If, after your introspection you find something, I urge you to commit today to cast it away. This morning commit to make God the only “god” you serve. Remember, Jesus is Lord of all or He is not Lord at all. And speaking of images—we are to be remade in His. Is that happening in your life? We close with a time to allow you to publicly commit to God’s Lordship. Perhaps God is leading you to put Him first in your life by following His leading move your letter and join this church and work with us side by side in ministering to this community. Maybe you need to publicly re-dedicate your life to His Lordship. Or maybe you are hear and are not a Christian and this morning you feel God leading you to repent of your sin and give your life to Him. Whatever decision you have to make public, we invite you to do so as we stand and sing.