The basis of all idolatry is that self-centered, rebellious human beings refuse to surrender themselves to worship the true God as He commands. The people of this world do not understand how to worship God because they lack His Spirit. Without God's help, human nature tries to limit God to the confines of physical objects that he understands. Men fabricate images or representations to aid them in worshiping a god that they themselves have concocted. These images are called idols, icons, symbols or objects of devotion.
The first commandment expresses that it is a sin to place a higher value on anything than what we place on God. Building upon the foundation of the first commandment, the second forbids the use of physical "aids" in worshiping the invisible God. Such aids include statues or paintings of "Jesus" or "Mary," nativity scenes, crucifixes, steeples, stained-glass pictures of God or Christ and many other things. Living in such a "visual" age, we need to be aware of such common idols in the society around us.
1. Does the second commandment condemn art or sculpture? Exodus 20:4-6; I Kings 6:23-29.
Comment: 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 worshiped.
2. Did God want to destroy the Israelites for their idolatry? Exodus 32:2-10. Is it a shameful thing to make and worship an idol? Isaiah 44:9-12.
Comment: The Israelites' lack of faith while Moses was on Mt. Sinai made them feel insecure. Moses was gone less than 40 days when the Israelites fashioned a calf of molded gold to substitute for the invisible Creator God. In their own minds, they had reduced God to something they could control and call upon when convenient. Those who repented were ashamed at what they had done.
3. Can a manmade image truthfully represent the Eternal God? Isaiah 40:12-31. Is making and worshiping an idol foolishness and a lie? Isaiah 44:13-20; Habakkuk 2:18-19.
Comment: For a son of God, worshiping idols is irrational (Acts 17:29); to look to something physical as important or more important than God defies all wisdom. The way the world looks to physical objects is superstition (e.g., good luck charms, religious crosses, shrines).
4. Can we make an idol of another individual or group? I Corinthians 1:10-13; 2:5; 3:3-4, 20-21.
Comment: Dictionaries define an idol as "any object of ardent or excessive devotion or admiration." If we obey the dictates of a person, church or some other group contrary to the direct commands of God, we are guilty of idolatry. The individual or group becomes the idol, replacing God.
5. Does idolatry have an impact on later generations? Deuteronomy 5:9. Does it matter if we associate closely with idolaters? I Corinthians 5:11; II Corinthians 6:14-18; I John 5:21.
Comment: Children learn by example, and if their parents set the example that physical objects have excessive importance, then their children will pass down the same values. When we socialize with idolaters, we share in their ways. If we are not careful, we may also begin to share their idols.
6. Is covetousness idolatry? Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5.
Comment: Covetousness is a strong desire for, and a seeking after, material things that become objects of our worship if we hold them as more important than God. Someone else's house or car can be an idol if we covet them. This attitude is identified with idolatry because it replaces God with self-interest and visible things.
7. Does God want us to worship Him directly—not through an idol? Romans 1:22-23. To what do we sacrifice when we set up an idol? I Corinthians 8:4-5; 10:19-21. Does God want us to worship Him humbly rather than the way the world worships idols? Isaiah 66:1-3; 57:15.
Comment: It is degrading to worship an idol. Conversely, God calls us into His own spiritual presence to worship Him directly. Whenever we stop short of our face-to-face relationship and worship of our Sovereign God by placing a visible entity before Him, we break the second commandment. God looks to those who worship Him in humility and respectful fear and despises those who choose their own ways.
8. Is idolatry a work of the flesh? Galatians 5:19-21. What is the fate of idolaters? I Corinthians 6:9-10; Revelation 21:8; 22:15.
Comment: Every one of these sins has idolatry as its base because it is rebellion against God and is valued as more important than God. Idolaters will not inherit the Kingdom of God and will be cast into the Lake of Fire unless they repent.