Sunday, October 21, 2012

The 2nd Commandment



“Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above, or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You must not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the fathers’ sin, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands.” 

 --Exodus 20:4-6

 When we literally translate verse 4 in Hebrew, we are instruction is broken down like this; “Don’t ever make, fashion, or *accomplish* an idol for yourself.” The act of “accomplishing” an idol was my first flag of warning when I read the literal translation. Making and fashioning takes time and deliberate effort, but accomplishing a thing can be done by accident, regardless of intention. I can mean to do something else entirely. I can have a benign purpose and accomplish an idol. As we will see how deadly to us idols are before the LORD, it behooves us, therefore, to understand all which defines a graven image.

Graven Image: a carved or molten shape, crafted by the minds and the hearts of men, meant to represent an object of unquestioning love, admiration, respect and devotion.

 When the people of Israel were transferred from Pharaoh’s ownership to God, the culture and society of Egypt, and all the surrounding nations which traded with them, would have made this commandment as one fully understood to mean the carvings, statues, and sculptures of the Egyptian and Canaanite gods, and all of the rites and practices woven into the worship of them. This was where I had always left this commandment before I began to study it. I had passing knowledge of the gods of Egypt from some of my gaming activities as a young man. Don’t carve any of them and don’t worship them seemed pretty straight forward.

 However, the term “graven image” is also synonymous with other terms, which when brought to bear with the consequences suffered for idolatry, are far more alarming to anyone living in today’s society.


  • Symbol: A sign or representation of something meaningful.
  • Icon: A recognizable image of either something, or someone, famous.
  • Hero: A person admired for an outstanding quality or achievement.
  • Obsession: A persistent fixation or uncontrolled pre-occupation.
  • Pinup: a sexually attractive or seductive person.
  • Star: A famous popular performer.
  • Ideal: A “perfect” example crafted from the mind.
  • Favorite: A person most liked over all others.

In this period of time, creeping up on November 2012, there are a couple of men vying to lead the country. One of them is clearly an idol, a symbol, a hero, an ideal, a clear favorite to people who love, admire, respect, and are even devoted to him unquestioningly. To speak of him in any way that is not glowing praise to him or of his achievements is to be labeled a host of derogatory terms and be cast out. The same is true of the man, the challenger, only favored by a different demographic with a different set of ideals, championing a different set of obsessions. The challenger already imagines himself a god, and is already therefore guilty of the worst brand of self-idolatry there is. To imagine equality with God was the sin of the accuser Satan, yet he believes he will be god of his own planet someday.

 What all of the listed terms have in common are the fact of their realm of influence; the minds and hearts and wills of men and women, the very realms which the LORD our God has commanded that we are to give entirely to HIM. Letting any single one of those often innocent seeming things receive any portion of what is due to Him, invites His response to idolatry. In Exodus 32, continuing into 33, we see the people of Israel losing their minds no less than we do, and suffering a series of consequences; some immediate, some drawn out over time, all a direct result of giving worship to a created thing instead of the Creator.

 It behooves us to break this down and comprehend the only opinion about any of these terms that matters; the opinion of the LORD our God, identify where we are accomplishing or have accomplished idols within our lives, and repent of them, asking God for mercy and grace to forgive us, and receive our full, faithful devotion to Him.

Exodus 32

 1 When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a goda Or us gods who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!”


…as though the time that Moses spent with God was his to spend it however he chose, as though he did not come and go at the requirement of God. This false  presumption spoke to what they believed of themselves and their time. These people, like most of us, did not know their place.

2 Then Aaron replied to them, “Take off the gold ringsc Ex 35:22; Jdg 8:24-27 that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters and bring them to me.
3 So all the people took off the gold rings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron.
4 He took the gold from their hands, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it into an image of a calf. Then they said, Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; then he made an announcement: “There will be a festival 2Kg 10:20 to the Lord tomorrow.”

6 Early the next morning they arose, offered burnt offerings, and presented fellowship offerings. The people sat down to eat and drink, then got up to play.g Nm 25:2; 1Co 10:7
7 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go down at once! For your people you brought up from the land of Egypt have acted corruptly.h Gn 6:11-12; Dt 9:12

8 They have quickly turned from the way I commanded them; they have made for themselves an image of a calf. They have bowed down to it, sacrificed to it, and said, Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’”
9 The Lord also said to Moses: “I have seen this people, and they are indeed a stiff-necked Ac 7:51 people.
10 Now leave Me alone, so that My anger can burn against them and I can destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

This is how God responds when His creation worships anything other than Himself; He treats the condition the way you and I would treat a predatory insect in our homes. He destroys idolaters in violent anger. “Now leave Me alone,” He said to Moses, “so that My anger can burn against them and I can destroy them.” We need to pay attention to this, because the LORD our God is not like men that He changes His point of view about something over time. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

11 But Moses interceded with the Lord his God: “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘He brought them out with an evil intent to kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from Your great anger and relent concerning this disaster planned for Your people.m Nm 14:13-16; Dt 9:18,26-29
13 Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel—You swore to them by Your very selfn Gn 22:16-18; Heb 6:13 and declared, ‘I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and will give your offspring all this land that I have promised, and they will inherit it forever.’”o Gn 12:7; 13:15; 15:7,18; 26:4; 35:11-12
14 So the Lord relentedp 2Sa 24:16; Ps 106:45 concerning the disaster He said He would bring on His people.

Moses pleaded with the LORD, and the word in Hebrew which we translate in verse 14 as “relented” is in fact “nacham”, which is to repent, to be sorry, or to regret. Those are responses of the heart, from Moses’ pleading, though the LORD was clearly angry enough to erase these people and *still* fulfill the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It would just all be through Moses, just as Adam’s descendants continued through Noah.

15 Then Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides—inscribed front and back.
16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved on the tablets.q Ex 31:18; Dt 9:15
17 When Joshua heard the sound of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a sound of war in the camp.”

18 But Moses replied:

It’s not the sound of a victory cry and not the sound of a cry of defeat; I hear the sound of singing!
19 As he approached the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses became enraged and threw the tablets out of his hands, smashing them at the base of the mountain.
20 Then he took the calf they had made, burned it up, and ground it to powder. He scattered the powder over the surface of the water and forced the Israelites to drink the water.
21 Then Moses asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you that you have led them into such a grave sin?”

22 “Don’t be enraged, my lord,” Aaron replied. “You yourself know that the people are intent on evil.r Gn 20:9; 26:10; Ex 14:11; Dt 9:16-17,21

23 They said to me, ‘Make us a gods Or us gods who will go before us because this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt—we don’t know what has happened to him!’
24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off,’ and they gave it to me. When I threw it into the fire, out came this calf!”
25 Moses saw that the people were out of control, for Aaron had let them get out of control, resulting in weakness before their enemies.

The first thing that grabbed me here was Aaron’s outright lie to Moses. “It just came out like this all by itself!!!” I started thinking that Aaron remembered that his brother once got mad enough to beat an Egyptian to death, but that is conjecture. All we are clearly told is that Moses asked him to account for himself, and Aaron’s response was not the truth.

 …which tells me that idolatry when exposed makes a person do anything except own up to it. Anything at all; even a bold-faced lie to your brother.

 Have mercy upon us, LORD.

In verse 25, the word translated as “out of control” is the Hebrew word “para”, which means, among other things, “to let go, or let loose”, and “uncovered, naked, or made bare”. So while it is not explicit whether the people of Israel were actually naked in their worship of their little calf-god, which would not have been unheard of by them, having been exposed to false gods of Egypt and other cultures that used fertility rites and nakedness, or whether they had simply cut loose and lost control of themselves in some other way, we *do* know that they were making so much noise in their revelry that the surrounding nations took notice of what they were doing.

This is really, REALLY bad, because God’s response to this, and the reasons for His response, run directly parallel to the reason why David’s firstborn son was stricken and killed by God many years later; the enemies of God looked upon those who were the LORD’s people, bearing His Name, and through their shameful behavior blasphemed God before their enemies. He forgave David of his sin, but because he had caused the enemies of God to blaspheme His Name… the child born to them would die.

 When we forget our place as creations belonging to God, and think we are truly free to represent *ourselves* in the world instead of God, who bought and paid for us through the very Blood of His Son, we invite God’s wrath and judgment upon ourselves and upon our children.

26 And Moses stood at the camp’s entrance and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites gathered around him.
27 He told them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says, ‘Every man fasten his sword to his side; go back and forth through the camp from entrance to entrance, and each of you kill his brother, his friend, and his neighbor.’”u Nm 25:5; Dt 33:9
28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and about 3,000 men fell dead that day among the people.
29 Afterward Moses said, “Today you have been dedicated to the Lord, since each man went against his son and his brother. Therefore you have brought a blessing on yourselves today.”

 So the Levites declare themselves as “for the LORD” and responded when Moses called. Moses then gives the order to kill those who were not for the LORD, and they did so in a way that did not spare anyone, regardless of how personal or close a relationship those Levites had to the ones they put to the sword. It should be noted here that even after 3,000 of the rebels were killed, not all of the people who were guilty of rebellion were killed that day. Some kept living for a little while longer.

30 The following day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a grave sin. Now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I will be able to atone for your sin.”x 1Sa 12:20; 2Sa 16:12
31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Oh, these people have committed a grave sin; they have made a god of gold for themselves.y Ex 20:23; Dt 9:18

32 Now if You would only forgive their sin. But if not, please erase me from the book You have written.”
33 The Lord replied to Moses: “I will erase whoever has sinned against Me from My book.a Dt 29:20; Ps 9:5

34 Now go, lead the people to the place I told you about; see, My angel will go before you. But on the day I settle accounts, I will hold them accountable for their sin.”b Dt 32:35; Rm 2:5-6
35 And the Lord inflicted a plague on the people for what they did with the calf Aaron had made.

 I have brought before the Fellowship on an earlier occasion that sin bears consequences, even when forgiven. Those consequences can come immediately, or in stages and different levels of severity, and as Cyril pointed out last week, people always receive the opportunity to repent. It is interesting that while Moses openly acknowledged before God that the sin the people had committed was very great, he also asked the LORD to count himself among them; that if He was going to wipe them out, to include him among the names the LORD would wipe from His Book. The LORD’s response to Moses made it clear that the prerogative was HIS, as to wh owould be in His Book and who would not.

Chapter 33 details a deeply significant consequence to this idolatry which terrified me when I applied it to my life today.

1 The Lord spoke to Moses: “Go, leave here, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your offspring.a Gn 12:7; Ex 32:7
2 I will send an angel ahead of you and will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites,b Sam, LXX add Girgashites Hivites, and Jebusites.c Ex 32:34; Jos 24:11
3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you because you are a stiff-necked people; otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.”d Ex 3:8; 32:9; Nm 16:21,45
4 When the people heard this bad news, they mourned and didn’t put on their jewelry.

By their act of idolatry, and the subsequent shame they brought upon themselves and upon the LORD by extension, the LORD would no longer dwell among them as He had from the start of their journey from Egypt. This is an awful, awful consequence. God tells Israel that they will cause Him to kill them because of their rebellion against Him, and therefore they can no longer have His presence among them.

We need to consider this fact very carefully should we ever for an instant presume that His Holy Spirit will dwell within us while we simultaneously act in rebellion against Him. He would not do it for His olive tree, but he’ll do it for the wild branches grafted in?


I must not fool myself, ever, with so deadly an imagining, and neither should any of the rest of us.


5 For the Lord said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites: You are a stiff-necked people. If I went with you for a single moment, I would destroy you. Now take off your jewelry, and I will decide what to do with you.”
6 So the Israelites remained stripped of their jewelry from Mount Horeb onward.
7 Now Moses took a tent and set it up outside the camp, far away from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. Anyone who wanted to consult the Lord would go to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp.f Ex 29:42-43; Dt 4:29

8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would stand up, each one at the door of his tent, and they would watch Moses until he entered the tent.
9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance to the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.g Ex 13:21; 31:18; Ps 99:7
10 As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent.
11 The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.Dt 34:10
12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, You have told me, ‘Lead this people up,’ but You have not let me know whom You will send with me. You said, ‘I know you by name,i Ex 32:34; Jn 10:14-15; 2Tm 2:19 and you have also found favor in My sight.’
13 Now if I have indeed found favor in Your sight, please teach me Your ways,j Ps 25:4; 86:11; 119:33 and I will know You and find favor in Your sight. Now consider that this nation is Your people.”k Ex 34:9; Dt 9:26,29
14 Then He replied, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”l Jos 21:44; 22:4; Isa 63:9

15 “If Your presence does not go,” Moses responded to Him, “don’t make us go up from here.

16 How will it be known that I and Your people have found favor in Your sight unless You go with us? I and Your people will be distinguished by this from all the other people on the face of the earth.”m Ex 34:10; Nm 14:14
17 The Lord answered Moses, “I will do this very thing you have asked, for you have found favor in My sight, and I know you by name.”

God was not going to be with the people any longer. He was sending Moses to lead His people into the land He had promised their fathers, but they were going to be forced to make the journey without God. Then Moses does three things, and the LORD relents.


  1. Moses acknowledged that the LORD knew him.
  2. Moses asked God to teach him His ways so that Moses might know God.
  3. Moses showed his love for God by asking Him not to send them to even the Promised Land without Him. “If Your presence does not go, don’t make us go up from here.”

 That is the devotion which pleases God. It is what He wants from each of us; to seek to know Him, to love Him, to want always to be with Him and be nowhere without Him—relationship and intimacy. What families share. What this Fellowship shares, because God brought us together and purposed us for it.

 Idolatry brings in our lives the catastrophe of separation from God, which is death, as God is the source and Creator of all life. We are not to generate an ideal in our minds, a perfect picture of who we want God to be. It is God who forms His people, not the other way around. We must know our place.

 Israel’s problem was our problem; that they did not understand their place, or that of Moses, as a people not free, but in bondage; once to Pharaoh, now to the Most High God.

 A person who believes they are “free” thinks time belongs to them to be used as they see fit, and does not acknowledge that everything, including time and every breath we take in and out of our lungs, is entirely God’s to use as He sees fit, for His own Name’s sake alone. A person who believes they are “free” presumes that everything is about *their* pleasure and *their* fulfillment or purpose, when in truth it is all for God’s pleasure and fulfillment of His purpose alone.

 To follow Him, to be called by His Name, is to not be called by our own name. It is to be marked with his seal, as belonging to Him, as His property. The apostles understood this, even those who were sons of Mary and Joseph and grew up as Jesus’ brothers, knew and identified themselves as such.

The Book of Jude begins, “Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ and a brother of James…”

The Book of James begins, “James, a slave of God and the Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Book of 2 Peter begins, “Simon Peter, a slave and an apostle of Jesus Christ…”

The Book of Romans begins, “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called an apostle and singled out for God’s good news—“

 How is it that these men, the majority of whom knew Jesus, witnessed His miracles and learned at His feet, knew their proper place, and we do not? Who precisely do we think *we* are? How dare we presume to highlight ourselves with favorable, preening, self-inflating monikers like “blessed and highly favored”, when the very disciples and apostles of Jesus called themselves His “doulos”, a Greek word which means, despite all translations to the contrary, one word and one word only, slave? Does a slave crow about how highly blessed and favored he is, shining the light of that fact upon himself rather than solely upon the One who made him so? Does a slave in any way turn her nose up at someone who does not show any of the fruit which one chosen of God shows, as though there were any fundamental difference between her and the object of her derision outside of the merciful grace of God?

 I put forth that we do not know our place, even we, the called, the elect, the predestined, the blessed and highly favored. We do not acknowledge the LORD our God as He commanded us to, with *all* our heart, mind, soul and strength. I know I do not. I reserve some, a measure I deem necessary, for myself…

  • because I just want…
  • because I deserve…
  • because I should have… time to myself…
  • because I want folks to leave me alone and stop bothering me until *I* decide…
  • because I reserve the right to use *my* time the way *I* want, and people and their unreasonable demands of me get on my nerves…

Wicked, lazy slave.

 That is the only title which I have earned from God for idolizing myself. Not doing what the LORD has specifically commanded me to do, but sucking my teeth over the responsibility of it all; the bother of being a responsible husband and father at all times, of loving my wife as completely and sacrificially as the Master loves His bride, of raising my children to love and obey the LORD our God with an unyielding, consistent example. I instead get irritated and make excuses for what I have already decided in my heart that I am not going to do…. While acting as though I won’t be thrown into the outer darkness, or be brought before Him and killed right in front of Him, for such wretched disobedience.

 n this I am guilty, and must cry out for mercy and beg to have such self-idolatry stripped from me, even if I must be gutted and filleted open like a fish to achieve it.

 Whatever it takes, LORD, so be it. Only please make me into something that You will not cast away from Your presence, but allow to live with You forever and ever. You alone are worthy of all honor and glory, majesty and dominion, now and forever more, LORD God.



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