Exodus 20:4-6 “Thou shat not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 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; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.“
God’s second great commandment flows seamlessly from the first. After God tells us to have “no other gods before Him” he tells us not to make “any graven image” or bow down and worship that image. While the first commandment is mental, raising ourselves up to the level of God to make decisions of right and wrong, the second commandment is physical. We will not with our own physical hands build our own god’s out of stone or any physical substance.
What is a “graven image”? It is any image carved of wood or stone for the purpose of worshipping it. The graven image becomes a false image (replacement) for the true God. We do NOT bow down and worship these images in any way or we sin against God. God is a “jealous” God (Deut. 4:24; 32:16). We are only to worship Him! For those who do worship false god’s the punishment for that family will go to the third and fourth generation (Note: Historically, families lived together as clans, often to the fourth generation). For those who love God or repent of worshiping false gods, God will show mercy to those who “Keep my commandments”.
Deut. 4:1-31 shows us a wonderful example of this second commandment. God starts the chapter by telling us to live by His commandments, statutes and judgements. He tells us how He destroyed all the men who followed Baalpeor (a false god made of stone). He teaches us his statutes and judgments and tells us to keep them. Starting in verse 16 he says, “Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image…” He continues on in verse 23 saying not to forget His covenant (The Ten Commandments were the covenant of God (Ex. 34:28)) or… Verses 24-31 He says, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over to Jordan to possess it.” Through verse 31 God continues to describe what will happen to those who worship gods made from wood or stone. As in Ex. 20:6 God promises mercy and life to those who repent, do not worship false gods and keep His Ten Commandments.
We see a tremendous example of the consequences of worshiping false gods made of stone or wood in Gen 31. Jacob secretly flees from Laban with his wives and family to go back to Isaac his father. Laban pursues Jacob to retrieve his daughters and his goods. In fact, this was NOT the case. Laban pursued for a very specific reason, to retrieve his own personal graven image gods (Gen. 31:30). In this one chapter, we see many of the Ten Commandments broken: Rachel was a thief and a liar. Laban worshiped false gods and was willing to kill for them. Respect and honor was not given to Laban the father. Rachel coveted her father’s false gods. Laban was willing to destroy Jacob and steal away all of Jacob’s belongings to retrieve his idols. Worshiping graven images, making our own rules of right and wrong leads to the breaking of the Ten Commandments. Worshiping graven images is a sin (I John 3:4) and is punishable by death.
We see that God is very serious about us not worshiping false gods. We are only to worship God Almighty otherwise He will destroy us and wipe us from the face of the earth. He is a “Jealous” God. He is jealous that we only worship Him! Graven images are not gods, they are false gods created to keep us from worshiping the true God of the universe. God demands our exclusive devotion and He will tolerate no other gods.