It is remarkable that the first commandment was necessary. After delivering the children of Israel from Egypt, God still needed to instruct His people not to worship false idols. The second commandment is a natural progression from the first. God disabuses His people of the assumption that it does not matter how we worship, as long as we worship the right God. Redeemed people can still offer unacceptable worship if it is not on God’s terms.
God cannot be controlled. That is what happens with carved images. A symbol makes visible what is invisible and tangible what is intangible. In so doing, the reality behind the symbol is tamed, controlled, and neutered. Why do you think there is so much controversy over the American flag? It is a symbol that points to a reality. How one treats the symbol is a statement of what one thinks about the reality it represents.
The Babylonians had to carry their gods away on wagons to flee Cyrus of Persia. Yet the Lord reminded the house of Israel that He carried them since birth and will continue to carry them and save them (Isa. 46:3–4). This is why God forbids carved images. God carries us and refuses to be put in a position where we try to carry Him.
This second word may seem irrelevant. But we need this commandment today. Many Western contemporary Christians are ancient Hebrew idolaters in disguise. We make symbols for God; then we make gods of our symbols. We profess to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus, and the church. We actually worship the God of our cause, understanding, experience, race, nation, comfort, and success.
There are two primary ways finite man seeks to know the infinite God: by imagination or revelation. Seeking to know God by trying to imagine who He is does not work. The second commandment prohibits any attempts to shape an image of God according to who or what we think God is. Habakkuk asked, “What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols!” (Hab. 2:18). The only way to know God is by revelation. We cannot imagine the nature, character, attributes, purpose, or glory of God. God must reveal Himself to us.
“Christian worship is Christ worship.”
In a general sense, God reveals Himself in the created world. Creation advertises its Creator (Ps. 19:1). Heaven and earth proclaim the reality of God. But creation cannot declare the name of God. To know God personally, we need special revelation. God has personally revealed Himself to us in the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16). We must worship God on the basis of His revelation of Himself to us. God-pleasing worship is Word-driven worship.
When Israel met with God for the first time, they heard a voice but saw no image (Deut. 4:11–12). Moses reminded Israel of this to prepare them for the non-appearance of God. In the days to come, Israel’s worship would not be in video format. There would only be audio. They would have CDs to listen to, not DVDs to watch (Deut. 4:15–18). Worship is not about images to see. It is about words to hear. True worship is Word-based, Word-saturated, and Word-driven. We are to sing the Word, read the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word, and see the Word.
God commands us not to make any carved images in the likeness of anything in heaven, on earth, or in the sea. Those who make images of God mar the image of God. What is the image of God? Genesis 1:26–27 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . ’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
We are the image of God. This does not mean we have physical attributes that represent God: God is spirit (John 4:24). It means that God has given us personhood—mind, will, and emotions. We are free moral agents who can choose between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and error. Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the garden of Eden. All of humanity has fallen into sin as a result of our first parents’ original sin. Mankind was doomed to live in misery, die in sin, and suffer in hell. But God sent Jesus to save us. The Lord Jesus Christ is “the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb. 1:3).
Jesus is God in the flesh. Truly God, truly man. Paul sang, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15). Paul also said, “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Col. 2:9). To worship God is to worship Jesus. Christian worship is Christ worship. The Lord should have supremacy in everything we say and do in worship (Col. 1:18).
On the way home from church, a child told her parents she did not want to go to Sunday school anymore. When asked why, she griped, “Because they never do anything new there. Every week it’s the same thing. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.” May that little child’s complaint be the legitimate critique of our corporate worship services. No one should ever catch us doing something new when they attend our worship services. It should be the same thing every week, every month, every year. Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
by H. B. Charles, Jr.
What does it mean to worship—especially in spirit and truth? Christians hear the word “worship” a lot. From singing hymns and...
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