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Let us begin our study on the second commandment by turning to Exodus 20:4-6.
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven 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: thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, or serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments."
The second commandment forbids the worship of God through material objects or images. Many claim that they are not worshiping the object, rather they are worshiping God who is represented by the object. But even so, God forbids it.
By bowing down to images, statues, and relics, we lower our conception of God. When we represent God with an object, the mind fails to grasp the magnificent of God. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and ever-present. He is absolute love, mercy, and justice. How could we ever come up with an object or image to rightly represent Him?
"I the Lord thy God am a jealous God." God likens our close relationship with Him as a marriage. As such, He is jealous for us or over us. He wants what is best for us. He knows that idol worship will destroy us spiritually, so He tells not to set up these false idols, statues, and relics.
"Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me" Children generally follow in the footsteps of their parents. They are not punished for their parent's sins, but only as they participate in them. By inheritance children take on many of our tendencies to sin. By the home environment they may even be encouraged to do wrong. This fearful truth should challenge us to make better decisions in life that we do not lead our children astray.
"Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments." The second commandment begins with the prohibition to worship false gods. But here it encourages us to worship the true God by obeying Him. For true worship is founded in our willingness to be made willing to keep His perfect will for our life.
In the first commandment we learn there is only one true God and that we are to worship Him alone. The second commandment teaches us how to worship the only true God, and how not to worship Him. The first forbids false gods; the second forbids false forms of worship.
Paul teaches us that spiritual things are spiritually discerned, saying, "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Corinthians 2:12-14.
Jesus told the Samaritan woman, "The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." John 4:24.
True worship is more than some religious ceremony. As true worshippers of God we must look beyond the physical, and with the eye of faith see "Him who is invisible." Hebrews 11:27.
All graven images represent those who have died, whether they be heroes, ancestors, or saints. Since the dead are unconscious and "know not anything" and have nothing whatever to do with "anything that is done under the sun" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 6), and the pretended spirits of the dead are really the spirits of devils, or evil angels, impersonating the dead for the purpose to deceive, the worship of idols constitutes demon worship.
Moses told the Israelites that they "shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring." Leviticus 17:7.
"They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoke they Him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they know not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not. Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee." Deuteronomy 32:16-18.
We are told that the children of Israel "served their idols: which were a snare unto them" and "they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils" when they "sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan." Psalms 106:36-38. In verse 28 we are told that the Israelites "joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead." The apostle Paul declared that the pagan Gentiles "sacrifice to devils, and not to God." 1 Corinthians 10:20.
This would explain why idol worship is such an abomination to God. Of course, the foundation of this demon worship is the belief in the immortality of the soul. Satan's first lie in Eden is almost universally believed, and forms the basis of demon worship.
It seems instinctive for the carnal mind to worship the creature above the Creator. Man wants to worship that which he can see. They fail to understand that "the things which are seen are temporal: but the things which are not seen are eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18. Faith is said to be "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1.
God says that He is "a jealous God." There is a godly jealousy and a carnal jealousy. Envy and selfishness characterize a carnal jealousy. But love is the foundation of a godly jealousy. God so much wants us to become holy and receive eternal life that He is jealous for us. He desires to protect us from all that would mar our characters. Therefore His relationship with us is depicted as a marriage.
The law of heredity is a real law. We inherit many traits from our parents. We are also shaped by our environment. The parents' ideas of religion are often carried on by their children.
The children will not be punished for their parents' sins, but only as they participate in them. See Ezekiel 18:20; Jeremiah 31:30; 2 Chronicles 25:4.
While disobedience descends to the third and fourth generation, the blessed results of obedience reach to the thousandth generation. This is one way of saying that obedience has eternal consequences for good. See Deuteronomy 7:9.
"The third and fourth generation" indicates a limit to God's wrath, but "a thousand generations" shows that God's love and mercy are unlimited. God's righteousness is an everlasting righteousness.
God's promise for right doing should motivate parents to do what is right in their own lives. It should motivate us to train our children in the ways of the Lord. Wickedness is temporary. It will meet its day in court. It will come to an end. But righteousness is forever.
Idolatry is serving and worshiping "the creature more than the Creator." Romans 1:25. "Creature" could include anything that is made. Whatever and whoever we love and serve "more than" the Creator is an idol.
Ritualistic Religious Services: People can worship their worship style. This can happen in both traditional and contemporary services.
Our Opinions: Millions idolize their opinions. Paul declared that idolaters "became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools." Romans 1:21, 22.
Self-worship: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, . . . lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away." 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
Self-love leads to self-worship. The first and most selfish being in the universe is Satan. See Isaiah 14:12-15. Therefore in worshiping self we are actually worshiping Satan.
The Worship of Others: There are many idols in our world, whereby people worship sports celebrities, movie stars, and even their children. Jesus said, "He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." Matthew 10:37. Anyone that we put above God is an idol.
Worshipers of Pleasure: Character building activities are appropriate. But we live in an entertainment world, where pleasure has become the object in life and is therefore an idol. Paul describes the "foolish" who are "serving divers lusts and pleasures" instead of God. Titus 3:3. In the parable of the sower, the "pleasures of this life" are said to be "the thorns" that "choke the Word" so that it "becometh unfruitful" and can "therefore bring no fruit to perfection." See Matthew 13.
Appetite: Paul wrote, "Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things." Philippians 3:18, 19. Many live to eat instead of eat to live, and there is a difference.
The idolatry of appetite can be broadly understood as encompassing all uncontrolled passions of sinful flesh. Licentiousness is one of the prevailing sins of these last days. Addiction to nicotine and alcohol are idols as well.
Fashion: James wrote, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." James 4:4. Any form of worldliness is therefore idolatry, which would include worldly fashion. All exhibitions of pride in clothing to draw attention to ourselves constitutes idolatry. As Paul wrote, "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with braided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works." 1 Timothy 2:8, 9. See also 1 Peter 3:3-5.
The Worship of Money: Jesus said, "No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Matthew 6:24.
Not money, but the love of money "is the root of all evil." The love of money becomes idolatry. Paul declares that a "covetous man" is an "idolater." Ephesians 5:5. He declares that "covetousness" is "idolatry" in Colossians 3:5.
The Worship of Jesus: Jesus is Emmanuel, "God with us." Matthew 1:23. He is "the image of the invisible God." Colossians 1:15. He is the "express image" of His Father. Hebrews 1:3. As Jesus said, ". . . he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father." John 14:9.
True worship is to know the invisible Father through His Son Jesus Christ. And as we behold Jesus we are recreated in the image of God. As Paul wrote, "We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2 Corinthians 3:18. We are predestined "to be conformed to the image of His Son." Romans 8:29.
True worship has to do with being changed. The worship of the true God will make us more like Him in thoughts and feelings. The worship of idols will make us less like God.
In the end, there will be a worldwide religious crisis. The world will unite to worship the first beast of Revelation chapter thirteen. They take upon themselves the characteristics of the beast, and hence, their "names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." Revelation 13:8.
On the other hand, those who "worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters" will receive eternal life. Revelation 14:7. These end time saints are also described as those who "keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus." Revelation 14:12. It does matter who you worship. It does matter who has your highest thoughts. It will make an eternal difference.
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