The Second Commandment – No Idols

This study touches on subjects that have been gone over in detail in previous studies. Before going over this study, please make sure you have a complete understanding of the the study on The First Commandment – No Other gods on My Face.


“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 יְהוָֹה (YHVH) 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.”      Exodus 20:4-6

Many look at the surface of these words, think “No idols,” and stop there. In order to explain my current understanding of this commandment, I want to divide it up and take it in bite-size pieces. The first half of the second commandment tells us:

“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…“

Second commandmentYou shall not make for yourself a carved image. Carved images would include anything carved of wood or stone, ie statues. However, YHVH also includes likenesses in this statement. By saying this, YHVH goes beyond carvings and into the idea of drawings and paintings. He continues narrowing things down in saying that we are not to make carvings or any likenesses of anything that is in heaven above, the earth beneath, and the water under the earth. What would this possibly include? The first things to come to mind are stars, the moon, the sun, planets, animals, plants, people, fish, whales, etc. Now if we just stopped with this part of the statement, we could say that we are not allowed to have any decoration of any kind in our homes, but keep reading…

“…You shall not bow down to them or serve them…”

The carvings and likenesses that we are not to have would be those that we would make for the purpose of bowing to and serving. We are not to join in covenant with another god, or have it’s image ever before us. As with the first commandment, think of this in terms of a marriage vow. When we make a vow to our spouse, we promise to be faithful to that spouse, and that spouse alone. He/she would not want us to be looking for intimate relationships outside of the one we have with him/her. That spouse would not want us to have pictures or reminders of another person with whom we might have an intimate relationship. This is the kind of faithfulness that YHVH wants from us. When we love Him the way He wants to be loved, not only will we take the time to really know who He is, but we will be faithful to Him.

Scripture says that one reason for the downfall of Israel was their disobedience to YHVH. Many read or hear that statement and stop there in their knowledge of what really happened. While it is true that disobedience had a hand in their downfall, there is additional truth that you will find if you continue reading. The disobedience of Israel was a result of the condition of their hearts and the lack of love they had for YHVH. Because of their lack of love, Israel was unfaithful and played the harlot by going after other gods.

She saw that for all the adulteries of that faithless one, Israel, I had sent her away with a decree of divorce. Yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but she too went and played the whore.      Jeremiah 3:8

“But you trusted in your beauty and played the whore because of your renown and lavished your whorings on any passerby; your beauty became his.”      Ezekiel 16:15

Why is this important? YHVH says,

“…for I יְהוָֹה (YHVH) your God am a jealous God…”

In the first commandment, in giving an understanding of who He is, YHVH made sure to remind Israel of what He brought them out of.

“I am יְהוָֹה (YHVH) your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt…”      Ex. 20:2

Remember, Israel spent several hundred years in a nation that had a god for everything in the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters beneath the earth. YHVH took them away from those gods and requires that we do not go back to them. We are to be faithful to Him by making Him our one and only. When we go after other gods, it is the same thing as saying that YHVH is not enough of a God for you – that you need another god to do all the things that YHVH can’t or won’t. Just as a husband would be jealous if his wife did this to him, YHVH is jealous when we treat Him in the same way.

“…for I יְהוָֹה (YHVH) 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…“

I used to look at this section and get hung up on the fact that YHVH would punish the children of those who disobeyed Him, but look at this section closely. He punishes the children of those that hate Him. We’ve already seen two ways that YHVH wants us to show our love to Him – by knowing who He is (in the first commandment), and by being faithful. If this is how we show our love, how would we show hatred? By doing just the opposite. Those who hate YHVH do not take the time to know who He is, and they are not faithful to Him. They look for other gods to either worship along with Him, instead of Him, or to put on His face. Instead of serving YHVH, they serve these other gods.

The progression of the third and fourth generation being punished for the hatred of their fathers is really due to the actions of the children. Consider the responsibility of the father. A father is to teach his children the most important things in life. What is more important than serving YHVH? Most people will live what they have been taught. If they have been taught falsities, they will pass those same teachings to their children. If this goes on for three or four generations, YHVH has kept His promise.

But, if you love YHVH, He will show you steadfast love. What is the difference we are shown between those who love YHVH and those who hate Him? Those who love YHVH keep His commandments.

“…but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Now we need to backtrack just a little bit and go into what it means to serve. Remember, we are not to make anything for the purpose of serving it. We are only to serve YHVH. But what does it mean to serve? In this case, the Hebrew word for serve is ‘abad and simply means to work. What kind of work does YHVH want? He wants us to obey Him. It is true that salvation does not come through works, but works come through our faith or faithfulness to Him. Works come through our love for Him. (For more information on this topic, please see A Pattern of Salvation through Faith) It boils down to this: Those who love YHVH work, ie. obey Him, or keep His commandments. Those who hate Him serve (work for) other gods who do not have the same requirements as YHVH. Remember that YHVH does not want to be worshiped in the same manner as other gods.

…do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the YHVH your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the YHVH hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.      Deuteronomy 12:30-31

YHVH wants to be set apart from all other gods. He wants our relationship with Him to be different from all the others. How do we know how to do that? The answer is in the law. That is the whole reason why He gave us the law. His law gives us a way to serve Him that sets Him apart from other gods, and sets us apart from those who worship those gods. Remember, those who serve other gods hate YHVH. One of those laws that sets Him apart from others is that He does not allow carvings or likenesses of anything that is to be worshiped – including Himself.

“Then YHVH spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. And YHVH commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the YHVH 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, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth. And beware lest you raise your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and bow down to them and serve them, things that the YHVH your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.“      Deuteronomy 4:12-19

Did you know this about our Father? Did you know that one of the ways He wants us to show Him that we love Him is to not only keep sculptures and pictures of other gods out of our house, but to keep sculptures and pictures of Him out of our house? The only way you would know this is to study His law.

Not only are we to work/obey YHVH, we are to keep His commandments. Finally, let’s look at what it means to keep His commandments.

“…but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

hedgeThe Hebrew word for keep is shamar. It means to hedge about, protect, or guard. Why would we need to do this to YHVH’s commandments? The first thing that comes to mind in answering this question is that they might be forgotten. Wow! Look at the world today. How many people know the ten commandments? How many can explain what they mean? How many actually teach that we should be obeying them? How many teach that as long as you love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself you don’t have to worry about the commandments and the law? Many have already begun sliding down the slippery slope of forgetting YHVH’s commandments and replacing them with doctrines made by man.

How do we do our part to keep these commandments from being forgotten? Be sure to practice them, and practice them correctly – without adding to or taking away from them.

“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the YHVH your God that I command you.”      Deuteronomy 4:2

If we do not obey YHVH’s commandments or if we change them, if we teach others that they shouldn’t obey the commandments or teach them a “new” way of doing them, then YHVH’s commandments will be forgotten. The commandments and the law teach us how to love YHVH, and how to love our neighbors. If we ignore these, over time not only will His commandments be forgotten, but we will forget the first and most important commandment. We will forget who YHVH is, and find ourselves worshiping another god.

But if we love Him and show Him that we love Him by keeping His commandments, we will be included in the thousands of those to whom He shows His steadfast love.

“…but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

The Hebrew word for thousands is eleph and can be translated as “family”. Those who love YHVH are His family. He shows steadfast love to His family – even when they mistakes. But it is up to us to also treat Him as family, loving Him and showing Him that we love Him by obeying Him. If we refuse to do this, we are showing Him hatred and refusing to join His family.

Do you think YHVH wants His commandments forgotten? Do you think He has changed in the way He desires to be loved? Do you think He has changed His mind when it comes to the type of people He wants in His family or wants to be in covenant with?

As with the first commandment, I encourage you to look at the foundation of your faith. Who have you been serving?

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