The Second Commandment: No Idols

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Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: 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.

The Second Commandment is simply summarized as, “No Idols”. Let’s explore what an idol is and why that is a bad thing.

In the commandment, an idol is defined as “any graven image”, or “any likeness of any thing that is in the heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth.”

A literal interpretation of this is, simply, “Don’t copy nature.” I don’t think this is the full intent of the commandment, as we read on.

Concerning these idols, we don’t make them to worship them or to serve them. It certainly sounds odd for someone to worship something someone made with their own hands, or to serve it as a God. No, when we make something, if anything, it should worship and serve us, if it could.

These two parts say simply, “Don’t make copies of nature, and don’t worship them.”

To the people of that time, the gods of nature were found in nature itself. They would make images of animals and then bow themselves down to the image expecting to get granted some divine intervention because they did so. This is obviously absurd, as anyone can see today.

Worse, it starts a vicious cycle. See, the makers of these images are engaged in the industry of making more images rather than doing something to benefit society. And everyone else is consumed with obtaining and serving these images, rather than the noble work of loving each other and themselves. A society which takes this to an extreme will quickly find its resources exhausted with nothing to show for it.

The remaining part of the commandment points out the danger of idol worship. See, if you forget God, he will punish you, for three or four generations. But if you remember Him and keep His commandments, He will bless you.

This hardly sounds any different from what a idol worshiper might tell fellow worshipers. However, it is different in one important way: These are not empty threats and promises!

What happens to the man who devotes his life to serving noble attributes and the divine will of a wise, intelligent, loving, merciful, and just God? Can anything bad come from setting your heart on these noble attributes, and trying with every breath to emulate them to the most perfect extent possible? Of course not. These kind of people quickly find that kindness is rewarded with kindness, truth with truth, mercy with mercy.

In business, it is the person who devotes himself to these pursuits who ultimately finds true success and wealth and happiness. In politics, the honest, hard-working, and loyal politician finds himself re-elected and honored and leading the nation, even though for a time less honest and more mischievous politicians may find success for a season. In society, those who truly love those around them will find that love returned.

I often wonder if God lays down the law by speaking it, or if He is simply describing the way things already are. Perhaps He doesn’t have to lift a finger to punish the disobedient for three or four generations, and neither does He have to lift a finger to reward the obedient. Perhaps obedience is its own reward, and disobedience its own curse, because the natural consequences are simply as He described it.

Today, the practice of idol worship is all but extinct as it was thousands of years ago. However, we still worship idols, although they are of a different form. Do we elevate our possessions above our God? What about our positions in society, or our jobs and education? If there is anything man-made that we put above God, then we are idolaters, and we are in danger of not only suffering the consequences of our disobedience, but seeing three or four generations suffer the same.

Why is it that three or four generations suffer the consequences of one bad apple? It is because our idol worship is not unseen. Our children see it, and follow our example, and their children, and their children’s children, the same. It takes about three or four generations for the full effects of our idol worship to end. Our example to our children is that powerful. Of course, this isn’t limited to idol worship, but every aspect of our lives. In a way, we are living the consequences of the choices our great-grandfathers made.

What good can come from a society who doesn’t elevate the material things above the Ideal! If we truly devote ourselves to Truth, Love, Mercy, and Justice, then how can we let our cars, homes, cash, or stocks take precedence? Of course, the two are not compatible with each other. Either we worship God first, and then have these things as secondary things, or we worship these things first, and leave no room for God at all.

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