The second of the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20, gives timeless principles concerning God’s attitude about worship. Christians, who are “delivered from the law” (Romans 7:6-7), learn principles from the Ten Commandments that allow them to live under the better covenant of Christianity (Hebrews 8:6-7)
The commandment reads: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing 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, nor 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” (Exodus 20:4-6). Israel had to understand clearly that God would not tolerate idolatry.
Idolatry, the worship of a creature, or inanimate object, seems inherently absurd to the modern mind. While modern man might not carve a statue, and then bow before it as ancient man did, he still has his idols, the false gods he worships. The problem of the idolater is not so much the idol as it is the spiritual blindness of the idolater. To place anything above God, whether it be possessions, family, occupation, or leisure activity, is to become an idolater. It has been well observed that sometimes the modern churchgoer may have his true god parked outside the place of worship.
The command forbids making graven images to represent God to a worshipper. No image can ever “capture” God. As Paul told the Athenians, who worshipped so many gods, including an “unknown god,” “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:29-30). God’s Word must always govern worship to Him, because man has always had a tendency to worship the thing rather than the One Whom it represents. Despite God’s care of Israel, they easily slipped back into an idolatrous way of thinking. On one occasion they took the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines, as a sort of “good luck charm,” and wound up losing the ark, as well as the battle (1 Samuel 4). They also began to worship the bronze serpent Moses raised as a symbol of salvation (Numbers 21:4-9), so that King Hezekiah had to destroy it with the other marks of idolatry (2 Kings 18:4).
The commandment gives a lengthy “enforcement statement,” which stresses that God will not share His people with any other god, but will bless all those who do His will. As Jesus met with the woman at the well, who wanted to sidestep the discussion of her checkered past, He reminded her, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus warned that worship is vain when men worship God “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men” (Matthew 15:8-9). Blessings for future generations depend on proper worship today!