Question for the Pastor – The 1st & 2nd commandments are “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” and “Thou shalt not make for yourself an idol.” Aren’t those two commandments the same – not having another god and not making an idol? What is the difference?
This is a thoughtful question. The first commandment (Exodus 20:3) tells us that we are only to worship the Triune God and no other god. This God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – Jehovah the Almighty God. The emphasis here is on the exclusivity of His Sovereignty. He will not share any of His glory with another. We are to hold Him and Him alone up as the source of all hope and help. The first commandment calls us to be loyal to this great One who is before all things and through whom all things exist. He is to garner all of our attention and expressions of praise.
The second commandment (Exodus 20:4) gives us some detail (compared to the first one) about how this great God is or is not to be worshipped. The gist of it is that He will not be duplicated in any form. There will be no substitute for Him in any way. He will only be worshipped according to His own instructions. This is an important thing to remember – we aren’t given images of God to show us what He looks like or how He acts or what he does. What we have been given is His instructions, His descriptions in His revelation of Himself in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. God doesn’t expect us to worship the idea of Himself or an image of Himself – He expects us to worship Himself. This is where faith comes in – faith is the assurance of things hoped for the conviction of things not seen – we aren’t to trust in created images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. We are to worship and serve the Creator who is blessed forever! We are to be assured that He is One who will keep His promises and even though we cannot see Him, we are to live in the conviction that He will do what He says.
In the Bible – God reveals Himself in so many ways that cannot be carved or cast into a material shape – He is merciful, powerful, jealous, almighty, wise, perfect, sovereign, true, beautiful, awful, gentle, generous, holy, ever-present, all-knowing, and on and on and on. If we were to try to create an image that represented Him we would fail and then we would be worshipping something false, something altogether incomplete – God commands us to not even try! In the New Testament – God does it for Himself – He comes and shows us exactly what He looks like – Jesus Christ! Jesus makes God known to the World! Paul says it like this: “He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God…” (Colossians 1:15). He says the same thing in 2 Corinthians 4:4. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus in this way: “He is… the exact imprint of His nature…” (1:3). This is an important thing to remember – God has revealed Himself the way he desires and so we need to trust Him thoroughly! All we have is His Word to go by – therefore we need to know it! We need to devour it! We need to memorize and understand it! We need to live by it and share it!