“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4).
What is an Idol?
The Second Command explicitly prohibits the creation of an object of worship (idol, graven image) that resembles “what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth” (Ex 20:4). Implied in this command is the prohibition of every kind of idolatry, in any and every form. We must only worship the Lord because He is the only God. This command makes it clear that anything (or anyone) you worship, other than the Lord, is idolatry and a grave sin. Tim Keller, in his book Counterfeit Gods, wrote, “A counterfeit god is anything that is so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” Counterfeit gods are idols. Sadly, Israel did not always adhere to this commandment. Some common idols were Ashtoreth and Baal (Judges 2:13). Some Israelites would set up an altar to Baal (Judges 6:28) and an Asherah pole (Deut 16:21).
Why is God Jealous?
The Second Commandment explicitly forbids us to worship anyone or anything other than the Lord because “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” (Ex 20:5). In Exodus 34:14, the Lord said, “for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Oprah Winfrey, in her 20s, heard a sermon about God being a jealous God and she said, “God is jealous? God is jealous of me? Something about that didn’t feel right in my spirit.” Brad Pitt grew up in a Christian household but turned away from God, saying: “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge Me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.” Is God a jealous egomaniac who will only dispense eternal happiness if you tell Him He is best? Is God jealous of you like an overprotective, egotistical spouse?
We need to understand that God is our Creator and Owner and is therefore worthy of all praise, glory, and honor. He is jealous for what rightly belongs to Him. He will not tolerate someone or something robbing Him of His due. Like a husband who refuses to share his wife (or vice versa) with another, so too, God refuses to share His children with idols. The Lord will never share affection and loyalty. Also, God is not jealous of us, but jealous for us. We are the Lord’s treasured possession (1 Peter 2:9) and He jealously and zealously guards and protects us. Edmond Hiebert mentions this in his commentary on James 4:5, “The Holy Spirit, imparted to us by God at conversion, yearns enviously for our total loyalty and devotion to Him.”
What are the Effects of Idolatry?
Jesus knows we have an innate attraction to things. One result of the rebellion of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3) is our temptation to “exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve something created instead of the Creator” (Rom 1:25).. Jesus knows that our possessions can quickly possess our affections and lead us to despise Him. Therefore, He said: “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Whatever captures your heart and affection is your treasure. Jesus also said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:24).
The Lord takes idolatry very seriously because it robs Him of the glory He is due. He also takes it seriously because of the devastating effects and corruptive influence it has on us and on successive generations. The Bible says “the soul who sins shall die” (Ex 18:4) and “everyone will die for his own iniquity” (Jer 31:30) but it is also true that the Lord will punish the children for the sins of their fathers. This is because the children will carry on the idolatrous practices inherited from their fathers and the wickedness will be pervasive for many generations. Pagan lands given to idolatry have generations of judgment.
What Do We Do with Idols?
What do we do when confronted with idolatry? I am afraid we do not have to go very far to search for idolators because they are here among us. We have men and women whose god is money, possessions, amusement, and comfort. Charles Spurgeon told his hearers back in 1863, “How many young men breathe only for pleasure! How many young women exist only for amusement and vanity. I fear that some among you make your belly your god, and bow down to your own personal charms or comforts. Talk of idolaters! They are here today!” Maybe you do not have an idol (statue of a bird, snake, lion, etc.) in your house that you worship. That is good, but is there something in your life that, should you lose it, your life would hardly feel worth living? How do you know if an idol has taken over your life? Would you sin to get it or sin to keep it? Does it have a considerable influence on your mood?
How do we root out idols so that we may have wholehearted devotion to Jesus Christ and not grieve the Spirit of God? In Isaiah 44:17, the Lord mocked the futility of idols by describing a man who “falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.” The Lord goes on to say, “Remember these things…I have formed you…you will not be forgotten…I have wiped out your transgressions…Return to Me, for I have redeemed you” (Is 44:21-22). First, “Flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). If we discover an idol in our heart, we flee from it. We abandon it. We forsake it. We acknowledge our error to God. We repent of our sin against God. We turn from our wicked way. Second, “Guard yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). It was Benjamin Franklin who coined the famous phrase, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The reason we are lured by idols is because we are not captivated by Christ. We must believe that Jesus Christ is better than an idol. Your idol cannot save you or deliver you. Turn to Jesus and be born again.