1 And God spake all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 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: 5 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; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
12 Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
13 Thou shalt not kill.
14 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
15 Thou shalt not steal.
16 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
I. IDOLATRY IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
Before we can dig into the second commandment, we need to understand a little about idolatry in the ancient world.
Simply put, idolatry, or the worship of gods, was the ancient man’s way of making sense of and trying to control his world.
Particularly important was agricultural issues—why did it rain? How can we make it rain? A bad year was not simply a year to collect on insurance or maybe file bankruptcy—a bad year could mean death.
An image of a god was taken to be a communication conduit to the god that it represented. These gods could act on behalf of man, but they needed to be fed by the means of sacrifices.
These sacrifices “bought” the god’s service (quite different from Biblical sacrifices covering sin). As long as you made your sacrifices, your gods would work on your behalf, and you could live your life anyway you pleased (again, different from the true God, who is concerned about how you live your life and wants your obedience).
There were specialist gods for every facet of life—gods of rain and sun and fertility were very common because of the great dependence ancient man had on crops and animals.
Temple prostitution was common because it was believed that a sexual act with a prostitute in the temple would cause a reciprocal reaction between two gods—say Baal (a male god) and Asherah (a female, mother goddess)—thus causing things to be born on earth.
This was the world that God called the Israelites out of to be a different people who worshipped one God. But it was difficult for the Israelites to break off from worshipping other gods, in part because, as one scholar explains…
Ancient people also believed in three categories of gods, all of which any individual was likely to differentiate by his or her own beliefs and worship: the personal god, the family god, and the national god.
For most Israelites at most times, and for all other people who knew anything about Israel’s God, Yahweh [Jehovah] was merely a national god.
Ancient Israelites might have, say, Dagon (Judg 16:23; 1 Sam 5; 1 Chr 10:10) as their personal god and perhaps Baal (e.g., Judg 2:13; 6:25, 28, 30–32; 1 Kgs 16:31–32) as their family god, but they would always have Yahweh as his national God.
No Israelite, no matter how totally immersed in idolatry, would ever answer no to the question, “Do you believe in Yahweh?” (Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, The New American Commentary, [Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006], 2:452)
Doesn’t that sound familiar to what many “cultural Christians” do today? They will gladly say that Jesus is their God, even while in their lives they follow the gods of money, personal success, fame, or whatever.
The fact that the Israelites were so immersed in a culture of other gods, and worshipping images of those gods, necessitated that God be very clear about what they could and could not worship.
Would the mighty Jehovah mind if I had a small wooden idol to help me with my crops? It wouldn’t hurt anything, honest! Continue reading