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Exodus 20:4  (King James Version)
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Commentaries:
<< Exodus 20:3   Exodus 20:5 >>


Exodus 20:4-6

Some do not perceive the differences between the first and second commandments. However, the first stresses the uniqueness, the matchless distinctiveness of the Creator God. It draws attention to our obligation to the One without whom there would be no life or hope at all. He is also the Source of truth, right values, and standards that will produce right relationships and peaceful prosperity so that life is not merely lived but has the potential to contain great peace, joy, and accomplishment. Thus, the first commandment deals with what we worship.

In contrast, the second commandment covers the way we worship. The Father and Son are unique Individuals who come into our lives from beyond this physical realm. They are absolutely holy, pure, and undefiled, uncreated and eternal. An idol, on the other hand, is someone or something of any other realm that we make and value, giving it devotion that rightfully belongs to the Creator.

John 4:24 instructs us regarding the way God desires that we worship Him: "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth." The second commandment regulates a specific area of idolatry; it deals with God's spirituality. It thus involves our manner of worship in faith, most obviously in that it prohibits the use of physical "helps" or "aids" in worshipping the invisible, spiritual God.

John 1:18 states that no man has seen God at any time. Deuteronomy 4:15-16 provides an Old Testament parallel:

Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female.

Since no one has ever seen God, whatever is made to picture Him would be a work of man's hands and a lie. It is helpful to recall that the Holy of Holies contained no representation of God. The Bible frequently uses the image of an altar to indicate the worship of God, yet, except for the Temple's brazen altar, even they were to be made of simple turf or uncut stones (Exodus 20:22-26). Additionally, the second commandment prohibits the use of anything that represents God or could become an object of veneration. Thus, it prohibits any kind of likeness of Christ such as crucifixes, pictures, and statues.

Numbers 33:52 commands the Israelites, ". . . then you shall drive out all the inhabitants of the land from before you, destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places. . . ." This destruction was not to be wanton, but God intended it to involve only religious, worshipped things. Why?

Any representation of God changes Him into a different god from what He really is. Egypt, from whence Israel came, worshipped oxen, heifers, sheep, goats, lions, dogs, cats, monkeys, ibis, crane, hawks, crocodiles, serpents, frogs, flies, beetles, sun, moon, planets, stars, fire, light, air, and darkness. Very likely, an Egyptian could come up with "good" reasons why he did so. A man wrote in an email that he did not care whether the Bible said not to worship as the pagans do through the use of Christmas and Easter. He was going to do it anyway because it was his way of praising God. He is worshipping a god of his own design.

Idolatry, then, denies the true nature of God, so obedience to this commandment determines the way we worship. It must be in spirit and in harmony with His nature, which the Bible reveals. Knowing God's true nature is important because we become what we worship. Thus, this commandment covers idolatry in a form in which the true God is worshipped through either a false image or a corrupt practice. This false representation perverts His reality. If we idolize, we become the wrong thing.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment



Exodus 20:4-6

The second commandment teaches that He wants no one to be concerned about what He looks like. He has purposefully hidden this knowledge except to tell us that we generally look like Him. However, we do not know specifics. He has done this because physical attributes can be misleading about character. In our relationship with Him, He wants us to emphasize the spiritual—His character, the qualities of His spiritual attributes, and His purpose. The second commandment, then, involves the way we are to worship Him—in spirit and in truth, always aware that man does not live by bread alone.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fifth Commandment



Exodus 20:2-6

God does care how we worship Him; He gives specific commands about how He wants to be glorified according to His standards and not our own. It does matter whether or not we share in the celebration of this world's pagan religious holidays. Though the Bible—the Word of God—makes no direct references to New Year's Eve, Lent, Easter, Halloween, or Christmas, the origins of these pagan holidays are mentioned as being abominations to God.

Martin G. Collins
Pagan Holidays



Exodus 20:4-6

The natural mind cries out for something to "help" it worship God, but nothing in man's limited imagination can measure up. So any time a man devises an image of god other than the true God, a predictable effect will occur. Asaph writes of this effect in Psalm 78:40-41: "How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel." A human mind will limit God. How can anyone rationally think that a creation of man can be any greater than man?

II Timothy 3:1-2, 5 adds a sobering note for those of us living at the end. "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will . . . [have] a form of godliness but [deny] its power. And from such people turn away!" Limiting God creates idolatry because we must turn to another source if we want to be delivered from what is unsettling us. Do we limit God by failing to use His counsel in dating, marriage, child training, healing, or tithing because we fear it will not work or by refusing to humble ourselves to try His way?

The real basis of idolatry, other than ignorance, is that self-willed man refuses to surrender himself to worship God as He commands. Remember, worship is our response to God, and it occurs in many ways every day. For example, to tithe is not only to obey, but also to worship, since it is our response to God's command.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment (1997)



Exodus 20:4-6

God does not condemn every picture or image, but as the command states, "You shall not bow down to them nor serve them." It is the use of art or sculpture in worship that God condemns. Solomon had God's blessing to build a Temple, where he erected golden forms of two cherubim inside the Holy of Holies. On the walls of the sanctuary were carved figures of angels, trees, and flowers, none of which Israel worshipped.

Martin G. Collins
The Second Commandment



Exodus 20:4-6

Many do not perceive the difference between the first and second commandments. The first stresses the uniqueness of the Creator God, who is the Source of truth, right values, and standards that will produce right relationships. It deals with what we worship. An idol is something we make and assign value to here on earth, but God comes into our life from beyond this physical realm.

The second commandment covers a specific area of idolatry, God's spirituality. Jesus says we must worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24). God wants us to worship, be devoted, and respond to what He is and what He is doing, not what we think He looks like. He wants us to emulate His character and the way He lives. The second commandment deals with the way we worship.

The second commandment's most obvious aspect governs the use of physical "helps" or "aids" in worshipping the invisible, spiritual God. It prohibits the use of anything that represents God or could become an object of veneration. It forbids any kind of likeness of Christ such as crucifixes, pictures, and statues.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Second Commandment (1997)



Should a Christian Own Pictures and Statues of Jesus (Exodus 20:4)?

The second commandment prohibits the use of anything that represents God or could easily become an object of worship: "You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth" (Exodus 20:4). Since Jesus Christ is God (Hebrews 1:8), this would directly prohibit any picture or likeness of His person.

In addition, so-called pictures or statues of Christ have no similarity whatever to the way Jesus Christ really looked. Most representations of Jesus depict a man with long hair, soft feminine features, and a sentimental, sanctimonious look in his eyes. This is not the Jesus Christ of the Bible!

For starters, notice that the apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:14: "Does not even nature itself teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a dishonor to him?" First-century society frowned on long hair as shameful. Busts, statues, and other art of that time and region show men with short hair in the Roman style.

The Bible describes Jesus in masculine terms. For instance, as a young man, He was a carpenter—working outdoors and doing rigorous labor (Mark 6:3). In fact, He continued to spend most of His time outdoors even during His ministry. He twice chased moneychangers out of the Temple courts, something no weakling would consider doing (John 2:13-17; Mark 11:15-17). He had the vitality to fast for forty days (Matthew 4:2), as well as to endure two scourgings, along with at least one beating before He was crucified (see Matthew 26:67; 27:26-31; John 19:1). He was not effeminate in any way.

Christ inspired the prophet Isaiah to describe His human appearance in this way: "For He shall grow up before Him [the Father] as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form nor comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him" (Isaiah 53:2). As a human being, Jesus was a normal, healthy young Jew. There was nothing in his physical form that made Him stand out in a crowd.

Therefore, most crucifixes, pictures, and images of Jesus are in total opposition to every description given of Him in the sacred Word of God. They give a false impression of the true Jesus Christ in every respect.

If we think of Jesus' appearance at all, we should think, in general terms at least, of the way He looks today in His glorified state as our Savior, High Priest, and soon-coming King. The apostle John describes His present appearance as he saw Him in a vision in these words: "His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire" (Revelation 1:14). His overall countenance is as the sun shining in its full strength (verse 16). Why dwell on His earthly appearance when He is the Forerunner of what we can become (I John 3:2; see also I Corinthians 15:42-54; Romans 8:18, 30)?

Additional Reading:
The Second Commandment (1997)
The Second Commandment
Four Views of Christ (Part 1)
Image and Likeness of God (Part 1)
Intimacy with Christ (Part 1)
The Second Commandment




Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Exodus 20:4:

Daniel 2:32-35
Amos 4:4-5
Amos :
Amos :

 

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