Jani: Hello everyone. Welcome to He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund and Heidi Howerton. We’re grateful that you’ve listened in again today and we are praying that God will use this to restore your soul. We’re in a series on the 10 Commandments about how his law is a love letter to us, how he loves us through his law, and also how we can give his law in meaningful, beautiful, significant ways to the children in our lives. Now today we’re going to talk about this second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” That might seem a little strange to some of you, but I hope you’ll stay tuned in and learn something about present day idolatry. I love this series, Jani.
Heidi: I think about how often in the New Testament Jesus talks about the Lord’s commandments and as I read through the new Testament over the last few months, I saw that come up again and again, the Lord’s commandments. I’m glad that we’re digging a little deeper into this to learn more about what Jesus is talking about.
Jani: Thank you, Heidi. I’m glad it’s encouraging to you. It’s encouraging to me and challenging and hopefully to our listeners as well. Heidi, I think we’ll start today by you reading the first and second commandment from Exodus 20:2-6 because the first two commandments really go together.
Heidi: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a 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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.'”
Jani: Thank you Heidi. As we said, the first and second commandments go together. Let’s let’s think about that for a minute, how they go together. Well, the first commandment tells us whom we should worship. The second commandment tells us how we should worship him. The first commandment tells us that we should have no false gods. The second commandment tells us that we should have no false worship of the true God. Again, the the first commandment tells us that there can be no substitute for God. While the second commandment teaches us that there must be no misrepresentations of the true God. And finally, the first commandment shows us the exclusivity of our relationship with God and the second commandment tells us the magnitude of that relationship. So let’s dig in to this second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” The second commandment is answering this question: If Jesus is my only God, how could I worship him, serve him, represent him according to his word alone? Do you know that how we worship matters to God? Do you understand that there’s an acceptable way to worship God? Heidi, would you read Hebrews 12:28-29?
Heidi: …and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
Jani: Did you hear that, acceptable worship? That must mean there are ways that we worship that can be unacceptable to our God. The second commandment speaks of the only acceptable way to worship the true and living God. Isn’t he kind to communicate what true worship looks like? This is God’s loving law to us. In this commandment, God is defining his love relationship with his children. When you read Heidi, I don’t know if that word “jealous” leaped off the page to you as it as it did to me, “For I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” What does that mean? We often think of jealousy as a negative thing, but God is jealous for my worship because he’s in love with me. He’s jealous in the way a wounded husband or a caring parent is properly jealous. God’s jealousy has to do with his intense, ardent zeal over my response to his love. You see, God’s never indifferent toward his children. What kind of God would he be if he didn’t care about your relationship to him, my relationship to him? His jealousy and his zeal for us is beautiful. Think of the Israelites building their golden calf while Moses delayed on the mountain with God in Exodus 32. It’s kind of the Lord to record that in scripture because it helps expose our own false worship. The Israelites were so fresh from God’s gracious and miraculous provision for them. Now they lived in full view of God’s presence on top of the mountain. Remember, they could see the light up there when Moses was up there, yet they wanted something else, something more, something tangible. You see, they were not outright rejecting the Lord. They just wanted God among them in a particular form, a form of their choosing, and so we know what they did. They built the golden calf. We think, “How could they?” But you know, dear listener, I do the same thing. Heidi does too. We all do. The Bible teaches that my heart is the temple of God. (1 Corinthians 3) He wants to reign there alone, but if Jesus Christ is not the all satisfying treasure of my heart, I’m bringing idols into this temple. You might say “Jani, I don’t think so. I don’t bow down to an idol. I don’t bring an idol into my life.” Well, let’s just think about what an idol is for a minute. An idol is any heart level substitute for God. An idol is not what I believe, but what I value. Heidi, would you read Luke 12:34?
Heidi: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Jani: You see your, your idols are what you value, not necessarily what you would claim to believe. An idol is whatever I use to fill in the blanks in my life where Jesus seems to be inadequate or unfulfilling or dissatisfying. Remember our podcasts on Psalm 62:1, “My soul finds rest in…” the psalmist say’s, “God alone” but oftentimes I have to ask myself, “What is my soul seeking rest in today?” Whatever it is, that’s my idol. If you want to do an idol inventory, dear friend, survey your daydreams and your nightmares. As Priscilla Evans Shriver says, “An idol is what keeps you up at night.” How have you been sleeping lately? Sin is more profound and goes much deeper than just breaking rules. Sin is worshiping something other than the living, true God. Whatever my heart clings to has, in fact, become my God. False worship is my root problem and we become like what we worship. My heart all too easily replaces the living God with plastic, cheap substitutes. Whenever I tell myself that my joy requires something more than Jesus Christ, when I believe that Jesus plus (fill in the blank) will be my happiness and peace.
Heidi: I was so convicted years ago when the saying’s like, “Jesus plus coffee” and “Jesus plus my morning exercise” and “Jesus plus…” whatever were really popular and I had one of those mugs that said, Jesus plus coffee and coffee is a wonderful thing, it’s the Lord’s gift to us, but one day I felt like the Holy spirit was catching my heart and saying, Heidi, you only need Jesus. You don’t need Jesus plus coffee to be happy. You just need Jesus plus nothing. You just need Jesus.
Jani: That’s so good Heidi. That’s exactly what this commandment is telling us. There are a lot of things we worship besides God. An idol is a good thing, like coffee, that we blow up to be our “god-let.” You could make an idol out of your marriage or your career or your children or your ministry or your home or your health, or even a podcast you might be producing. I’ve had to examine my own heart as I prepared for today, Heidi. I’ll just confess, one of my idols is food. Food actually is my drug of choice. I’ll just be honest here. I use food to receive love, like when I cook a nice meal, I like the compliments or I use food to show love. I make sure my pantry is always full when the kids head home for a visit with their little ones. Sometimes I use food to quell anxiety. You should see the chocolates beside my computer when I work on these podcasts, or sometimes I just use food to comfort myself or even to reward myself. Heidi, if I were honest, I’m already thinking about that ice cream cone I might stop for on the way home from recording today. Now we all know and agree that nourishment is a legitimate need and my hunger is a wholesome trigger to meet that need. But when I insist on using food to comfort, to soothe or delight me, when I think about it constantly, when I plan for it to an extreme, when I overspend to satisfy this desire, then food has risen to an ungodly place in my heart. It’s become an idol. My hunger becomes an idol whenever I use it in an improper way to meet a legitimate need. Idolatry is not just a problem of long ago, dear friend, nor is it only a pagan problem. You see, idolatry is a human problem. Idolatry betrays its presence. Whenever I respond to human loss or deprivation or hardship with bitterness and anger and sulking, my response proves that I’ve grounded my happiness in something other than God alone. The second commandment is God’s loving law to us because it exposes our false worship of idols. Now, when God commands us not to make for ourselves a carved image, he’s not just talking about totem poles and Buddhas. God is teaching us something about himself. He’s saying to us, “I am who I am. Let me be all that I am to you.” You see, images try to represent the deity and God is saying, “Let me represent myself.” We must never try to reduce God to human terms. Learn to see God through his eyes. Heidi, will you read from Isaiah chapter 40:18,22&25?
Heidi: To whom then will you like in God, or what likeness compare him with? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him?”
Jani: We live in a day of the visual and we long to make the invisible God somehow visible. Think of all the art depicting God through the centuries. Is this wrong? Well, it can be wrong when we make images of God to help us worship him because that’s not how God has chosen to reveal himself and therefore can only be a God of our own making. God tells us not to look but to listen. He says this, “Therefore, watch yourselves very carefully since you saw no form on the day that Lord spoke to you at Horeb, out of the midst of the fire. Beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves in the form of any figure.” Any image we ever tried to form with our hands or our hearts is inadequate, incomplete, unworthy of him There are dangers inherent in any image we make of God. Let me illustrate it in this way. Suppose, listener, that you and I became friends through written correspondence. Perhaps you told me a lot about yourself, even describing some of your physical features, your brown eyes, your curly hair, the shape of your nose, and then I decided I would have a gift made for you, a portrait painted of you based solely on our correspondence together. Do you think you’d be pleased? Would it ever be possible for me to truly represent your likeness on paper or in any form without seeing you? How then could we ever try to represent God in any image of any kind? Images trivialize him, they confine him and reduce him to something of our own design. What picture could ever contain a likeness of the creator of all things? How can we limit God to a picture? Images debase him and degrade him. They demean him. How could any image reflect God’s incomparable power and majesty and glory and beauty and goodness and radiance? I love it in Exodus 33 when Moses prays and says, “Oh God, show me your glory” and what does God say? “I will make all my goodness pass before you.” That’s amazing. Images depersonalize God. How could an image show God’s intimacy? He’s not tangible to us, but no God is as close as the Lord our God. God can never be localized or contained. As my dear husband Ray says, “God has no edges.” Think of it. God has no edges. I love that. No image could possibly be adequate, complete, or worthy. A picture or image tries to communicate God to the worshiper, but God cannot be relegated to an art form. Think of the vastness of the stars, the brilliance of the sun, the beauty of a rose in bloom. The power of a lightning bolt, the purity of a rainbow. How could we possibly represent God? Job speaks of creation as we know it as “the edges of his way, a faint whisper of God,” that’s in Job 26. So creation is just the edge of God’s ways. He is limitless, infinite immaterial, full of power and majesty, pure and Holy. It will take all of eternity to explore who he is. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that God is spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth. Indeed, Jesus says in John 4 that God is seeking such people to worship him. God is spiritual in nature. He dwells in unapproachable light. Heidi, please read first Timothy 6:16.
Heidi: “…who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen, or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”
Jani: Hmm, Who indeed? Do you ever try to picture God in your mind or heart as you pray or worship? Have you ever said, “Well, I like to think of God as a…” and then just fill in the blank. J.I. Packer writes in his book, Knowing God, “How often do we hear this sort of thing? I’d like to think of God as the great architect or mathematician or artist. I don’t think of God as a judge. I like to think of him simply as a father.” Packer goes on to say, “It needs to be said with the greatest possible emphasis that those who hold themselves free to think of God as they like are breaking the second commandment.” God doesn’t want us to worship a “god-let” of our own making. A man made representation of God allows our imaginations too much freedom and we will end up creating God in our own image. God does, however, reveal himself to us clearly though not exhaustively. Think of it with me. He represents himself as an inextinguishable fire with a voice like thunder, as a cloud of glory, as a rock, fortress ,and shield, as a strong lion, as an Eagle fluttering over its’ young, as a shepherd, gently tending his flock, and that’s to name a few. He has shown us himself in his precious son.Jesus, he tells us in Colossians 1:15, is the “image of the invisible God, the radiance of the glory of God, and the exact imprint of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:3) He is the only image of God in all of time and space, and God intends his image to appear in us. The Fall diminished God’s image and all of Adam’s descendants. But God promises us that we will someday bear the image of his son. Jesus is the first born among many brothers and brothers bear a family resemblance. We are not allowed to make God’s image, but we are to be his image bearers. You see, God does not hate images per se. What he hates is a misrepresentation of his glory.
Heidi: I’m convicted, Jani, even as you share this. I don’t know if you’ve ever struggled with this but sometimes I go into my quiet times or even throughout the day and my mind thinks, do I really have anything new to learn? Will these chapters stir my spirit? As you’re talking, I’m just reminded of how vast God’s character is, how unsearchable. May we always enter our quiet times excited to learn more about him and may I never think, “Lord, I know about you everything there is to know.” I love thinking about how omnipresent and omnipotent God is. It’s helpful for me to be reminded of that.
Jani: Yes. I’ve had to be reminded of that lately too. You know the verse I’m meditating on these days is from Colassians 1:10. Let’s see if I can say it. “…so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work,” now this is the phrase that applies, “…and increasing in the knowledge of God.” We will never fill up on the knowledge of God, we’ll just keep increasing in it, but we’ll never get to the end of knowing more about him.
Heidi: So Lord, forgive us for any times that we ever get bored in our worship of you.
Jani: Yes, please Lord, help us. Let’s look at one more way that God loves us through this commandment. I hope you’re getting the picture that the 10 Commandments really are his loving law to us. He shows us his love by showing us that there are generational consequences to obeying or disobeying this law. While the Bible does teach personal responsibility for each generation, it is also true that you can inherit misery from your father. This command is a warning to keep us from sin because our breaches of God’s law do affect the next generation. Gerald Janzen, in his commentary on Exodus, puts it this way, “Human life is interwoven in a web of interaction and mutual influence for good or for ill. None of us lives solely to ourselves. Our actions impact those nearest and dearest to us.” Think for a minute. Some of you know this personally. Think for a minute of the impact of adultery or abuse or exploitation or drunkenness. Think of the impact of that on the next generation and then also think of the impact of godliness, purity, self control and integrity. This second commandment is the only commandment where punishment is promised to the coming generations if it is disobeyed.
Heidi: It makes me think of that verse in Exodus, Jani that we just read, “…visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me.”
Jani: That’s really a warning, isn’t it? I want to take that seriously. Why is punishment promised to the coming generations if this commandment is disobeyed? Well, I think it’s because how I worship God determines everything about my relationship with him. When I refuse to worship God in his way, when I try to recreate an image or a way that is more palatable to me, God says that I’m hating him. The way I worship God shows whom I love most, God or myself, but in this commandment, I also love how God shows us that his passion to bless is greater than his promise to punish. Exodus 26 says, “…but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation who loves me.” Wow, a thousand? This commandment, the second commandment, is invitation into his covenant love. It indicates the limitless extent of God’s mercy to those who love him. Yo the thousandth generation means to the end of all generations. Dear listener, understand that God’s bias is always toward love. May God restore your soul as you meditate on this second commandment.