“You shall not make for yourselves an image in the form of anything in heaven above or earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations for those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:4-6, NIV).
These verses are the 2nd Commandment of the Ten Commandments. Although I’ve read and repeated the 2nd Commandment many times, I’ve never paid much attention to the second part of the commandment, which explains the consequences of obeying or not obeying the commandment.
But, God uses the pronouncement of a curse and blessing in the 2nd Commandment to make a striking contrast between the everlasting effects of His boundless love for those who worship and obey Him with the exigency of punishment for idolators.
“Their land has also been filled with idols; they worship the work of their hands, that which their fingers have made… The proud look of man will be abased and the loftiness of man will be humbled, and the Lord alone will be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:8,11, NASB).
We tend to think that idolatry is an Old Testament phenomenon. Long ago, unenlightened people made little figurines from wood or stone or they built altars in the woods or on mountaintops. To us, that’s idolatry.
We think we’re more sophisticated today, so idolatry isn’t a big problem like it was in the Old Testament. But, it’s not that idolatry isn’t as prevalent today as in the Old Testament. It’s just that our idolatry manifests itself differently. It’s more subtle…and deceptive!
“Then God gave the people all these instructions: I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. You must not have any other god but me.” (Exodus 20:1-3, NLT).
This verse is the preamble and the first of the Ten Commandments in Exodus Chapter 20. The Ten Commandments are sort of an executive summary of the expanded terms of God’s covenant with the Israelites in Chapters 21-23.
The terms of the covenant specified the behavior the Israelites were expected to demonstrate if they were to be in a covenant relationship with God Almighty. The first four commandments (vs. 2-11) described what our behavior should be in relation to God while the remaining six commandments (vs. 12-17) described what our behavior should be in relation to other human beings.
“If you are really serious about wanting to return to the Lord, get rid of your foreign gods and your images of Ashtoreth. Determine to obey only the Lord; then he will rescue you from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:3, NLT).
Samuel had gathered all of Israel together to repent of their idolatry and rededicate themselves to God.
While Israel was assembled, the Philistines attacked them. Samuel prayed and God helped the Israelites defeat the Philistines because they had repented and rededicated themselves to serving and obeying God. Consequently, the Philistines didn’t attack Israel again until after Saul became king.
“They traded their glorious God for a statue of a grass-eating bull. They forgot God, their savior, who had done such great things in Egypt” (Psalm 106:20-21, NLT).
This Psalm recounts the sin and rebellion of Israel during the exodus from Egypt.
The Israelites committed a major act of idolatry while Moses was on the mountain receiving God’s law for His chosen people.
What happened to the Israelites in Egypt can happen to Christians today. It’s just that we describe it using different terminology rather than the term “idolatry.”