What was the first commandment?
“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 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, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.Exodus 20:4-6
In the beginning (5 mins)
What words or phrases in Verse 4 do you see that we find in Genesis Chapter 1? What can we make of these?
- Image – God made man in his image.
- This refers to our unique gift in relating to God and representing God in this world. No other animal or creature is given the same privilege. It does not mean that God looks like us (or vice-versa).
- It is God who has crafted us and shaped us. The 2nd Commandment implies a reversal of that relationship. We will see this further later in the study.
- Form and make – further imagery from Genesis 1 which describes what God does, not what we do.
- To form God into an image of something that he is the creator of is obscene. He is the creator and sits above all that he has made. To worship God in such ways is to distort our understanding of God and lower him.
The command to Israel (5 mins)
Read the command and break down the sentences. What is the LORD concerned about?
- We are not to portray God in any form that distorts him (we’ve looked at this already in the last section)
- Do not prostrate yourself before a thing. Do not surrender your freedom to an object.
- The Lord your God – there is a relationship being underlined here. He is committed and devoted to Israel.
- A jealous God. There is insult that goes into this command. It is not simply the avoidance of statues but that our relationship with God is kept real and reverent. While ‘jealousy’ is often associated with shallow envy or insecurity, it is also associated with a zeal that the relationship be kept sacred. One commentator (Holbert, John C, 2002) has noted that “zealousy” might be a better word to use here. This picks up the idea of guarding which is what the original text points to. What follows is a description of Yahweh’s loyalty and vengeance that flows from his guarding love for Israel.
- “Punishing” and “love”. Note that God does not repay future generations for individual sins but for hate toward God – those who disdain Him and turn to idolatry in all their forms are turning their back on the God who rescued them. His punishment is deserved and his love is gracious.
See also Verses 22-23
God did not appear to them and speak, he spoke to them from heaven. Their knowledge of God comes from his words, authority and saving works. God is determined for us to know and worship him in truth.
Israel’s history (10 mins)
Lookup these verses and describe how Israel performed under this command.
- Exodus 32:1-8ff
- Isaiah 46
- Compare the works of God toward Israel with the works of Bel and Nebo toward their gods.
- 1 Kings 14:7-11
- The ongoing issue that Yahweh had with Israel in all its history was their compulsion to follow after idols.
The Gospel (10 mins)
What difference has Jesus made to our understanding of this command? Read these references and discuss.
- John 4:21-26 Jesus has come to teach us the truth – God desires true worship that is in Spirit and in truth.
- John 17:1-5 The glory of God is found in Jesus and knowing Him whom God has sent is the definition of eternal life.
- Matthew 4:8-10; Matthew 14:29-33; Matthew 28:8-10 We bow our knee to nobody but Jesus.
Christian Living (15 mins)
We now stand in a position of knowing God in Spirit and in truth. The glory of God is found in nothing and nobody other than the Lord Jesus Christ. All other loves are idolatry. Reflect on the following verses and discuss how we respond to the 2nd commandment.
- Romans 1:20-25 The first sign of sin is that we reject the truth about God in exchange for a lie and give our hearts to other things.
- Acts 17:22-31 On the global stage, God overlooked ignorance about him but now that Jesus has come and publicly raised from the dead, he calls on all people everywhere to repent and turn to Christ.
- Colossians 3:1-5 (also 6-10) In the new relationship with God through Christ, we rid ourselves of all the lies that separate us from God and put to death the misdeeds of the body. NB: Greed equals idolatry. Idolatry manifests from our hearts being offered to things other than God. Recall Jesus’ words in Matthew 6 that we cannot serve both God and money.