Did you ever notice that – the way we’ve always understood it – the second commandment is redundant? The way everyone understands it, commandment #1 says “Don’t worship other gods”. Then commandment #2 says “don’t worship idols OF OTHER GODS”! Now you can’t worship an idol of another god without worshiping the God it represents. And so to own an idol of Bhudda, you break #1 – and so #2 would be moot. So why did God write it? Think about it! you CANNOT worship an idol of Isis – break commandment #2 – without breaking #1 – having another god.
But you see, everyone has misunderstood the second commandment. It never meant to forbid pagan idols at all! So what does it mean?
To understand that, first it must be grasped that every pagan culture dating back as far as history goes used idols to worship their gods. Molech, Shiva, Osiris, the Great Spirit, Bhudda or Zeus – their followers always, and without fail, worshiped them with idols.
Jeremiah 2:27 Saying to a stock, Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face …
But none of these cultures believed that the idol made of stone or wood actually WAS the god himself – that would be stupid. They believed that Zeus lived on Mt. Olympus, but that when you prayed to an image or statue representing Zeus, that Zeus heard you THROUGH the idol!
Thoroughly understand this! Barring perhaps a few backwards tribes, no one has EVER believed a stone was ACTUALLY their God! No one has EVER believed that a carving of Bhudda actually WAS their God! No one has EVER believed that a silver statue of Diana really WAS Diana – without fail they all worshiped those Gods THROUGH the images – the images pleasantly REMINDED them of their God, and so they prayed TO, THROUGH, or WITH the image!
But the true God is different. He left explicit instructions about this. He well knew that Israel had just left Egypt where all these practices were done. He knew that the ONLY way they knew how to worship a god was to use an image. There simply was no other way to pray to your god in any culture – and not be SURE of getting good results!
Deuteronomy 12:30 Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise.
And so when God created the Ten Commandments, He didn’t waste time on redundancies; He said exactly what needed said. He dealt with all statues of Kali, Tammuz and Anubis with the very first commandment when He said “Thou shalt have NO OTHER GODS before me” – so statues of those gods CANNOT be the point of the second commandment! No, God had a very good reason for writing it as He did!
The second commandment was given so that Israel would make no graven images OF THE TRUE GOD! So that they would make no likenesses of anything, bird, beast, fish, male, female… nothing whatever that pictured, in any way, HIM! The second commandment DOES NOT forbid statues of Apollo – the first forbids that! The second commandment forbids statues OF THE TRUE GOD!
Deuteronomy 4:12 And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.
When God appeared on Sinai (called Horeb), Israel DID NOT SEE HIM! God was CAREFUL! He goes on to detail His reasons below:
Verse 15 Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire: Lest ye corrupt yourselves, …
Notice! God was afraid – and justifiably so – that if Israel had seen Him – any portion of Him – they would have CORRUPTED themselves! And how, did God say, would they have corrupted themselves had then seen Him?
Verses 15-18 …Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female, The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air, The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth:
God said they did not see Him because if they had they would have corrupted themselves and made an IMAGE OF HIM! And God didn’t want that! God KNEW that if they saw ANY part of Him, they would make a graven image OF HIM! If He appeared to look like anything – male, female, beast, bird, snake, fish – ANYTHING He had appeared as would have been worshiped by Israel AS AN IDOL – and God didn’t want even an image of HIMSELF to be worshiped! Even a TRUE image of the TRUE God would have CORRUPTED Israel!
Verse 23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.
The second command was NEVER written to forbid statues of ANY pagan God – #1 already forbids that! The second commandment was specifically written to forbid statues, images, icons or symbols of the TRUE God!
But do you know what that means? It means that anyone who owns a crucifix, a picture of Jesus, a cross, a “Last Supper” painting, a “Christian fish” symbol, or any of a hundred other pseudo-religious trinkets is BREAKING the second commandment!
But inevitably, when I confront a cross-bearer or someone who has a sticker of a “Christian” fish on their car, they respond with “Oh yeah??? Well, if you want to read the commandment literally then you’d have to get rid of ALL pictures of EVERYTHING! No passport photos, no pictures of your family, no fake flowers, no landscape pictures on your desktop… and so since OBVIOUSLY God didn’t mean that, CLEARLY it’s not a sin to own a cross!”
But that isn’t what the commandment said. Although there was no non-religious art or photographs 4,000 years ago, God didn’t mean that we couldn’t have passports or fake flowers. What He meant was that we couldn’t have ANY IMAGE, any SYMBOL, that reminded us of HIM.
John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
Anything material, however trivial, used in your worship of God interferes with that command. Watching the movie “the Passion of the Christ” cannot HELP but insert an unbiblical, utterly false picture of Jesus into your mind. And so when you pray to God that image is in your head. You can’t help it. When you form a picture of Jesus in your mind, the downtrodden, weak-kneed, effeminate picture that this world pawns off as Jesus will fill your mind and influence your thoughts. You CANNOT use a symbol of anything between you and God.
This includes EVERYTHING used in a religious sense. A picture of a sunrise isn’t wrong. I’d venture to say it’s even good! But that same picture, with the words “I am the light of the world” superimposed over it, IS a sin! Because it has ceased being a beautiful picture of God’s creation, and become a picture that reminds us specifically of God, equating the sun with God, as every pagan culture throughout time had done!
Deuteronomy 4:19 [you did not see God’s likeness in Mt. Sinai, Moses had said…] … lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.
He didn’t want Israel to look up at the stars and THINK of God – He didn’t want them to think of Him, in ANY WAY, as they thought of physical things. Because if they associated Him with a picture of the sun, it’s only one more step down a slippery slope to Sun worship and they’d be back in Egypt again!
God specifically said that they did NOT see what He looked like, LEST they make a image that looked like Him! And LEST they make something to “remind them” of God, He made sure they saw NOTHING that day!
Exodus 20:23 Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, …
The very first words out of God’s mouth after the Ten Commandments were given was THAT command – DO NOT MAKE ME GODS OF SILVER; make me an altar of DIRT. Why would He say that? Because the ONLY WAY Israel knew how to worship gods was by making them SYMBOLS, STATUES, and ICONS of silver, gold, and so on; it’s what all other gods wanted – but NOT how God wanted them to worship HIM!
Adam Clarke’s Commentary says of this verse “Before it was said, ‘Ye shall have no other gods BEFORE me’, (Exodus 20:3). Here they are commanded, ‘ye shall not make gods of silver or gold WITH me’, as emblems or representatives of God, …
Poole’s Commentary agrees that this verse should read ‘ye shall not make FOR ME gods of silver or gold’, as Poole explains: “either to represent my [God’s] person … or to worship me by [the images], as it is apparent that the Israelites afterwards did intend to worship Jehovah in the golden calf, and therefore Aaron calls the feast of the calf a feast to Jehovah (Exodus 32:5)…”
Even the famous golden calf incident was not intended to worship heathen gods! It was, according to Aaron as spoken to the Israelites, “a feast unto the Lord” – it was intended to represent the TRUE God who had brought them out of Egypt! But God didn’t WANT a statue of Him made; not ANY idol of gold, nor a silver cross, nor a wooden statue! God did NOT want to be worshiped like all other gods are worshiped, through icons! So He said NOT to worship him like the heathen do!
Acts 17:29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
You cannot look at an image of Jesus – an image that is certainly nothing at all like what Jesus looked like – and NOT think that God is “like that gold, silver, or stone” which has been graven by “art and man’s device”. You cannot think of a cross, and not associate the Godhead with that thoroughly pagan symbol.
You may think you know that the idol is “nothing” – but if it’s nothing, why do you have it? If you have it to “remind you” of God, then I refer you to the second commandment; If you truly worship God in “spirit and in truth”, you don’t need – nor should you want – any graven image. Nor any likeness of male or female, bird or beast or… well, you know.