Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Exodus 20:3-6 No Idols

"You shall not make for yourself an idol
in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath
or in the waters below.

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 fathers
to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
but showing love to a thousand generations
of those who love me and keep my commandments."

Exodus 20:3-6 (NIV)

In the previous post, I began to touch on some of the matters which are involved in this second commandment, namely, the making of statues or idols to pray to and how this is forbidden.  Since the first commandment forbade the worship of any other 'god', it logically follows that to pray to or worship anyone [or any thing] else is forbidden.

Following from that, it would seem obvious that we are not to construct statues or idols of anything [or any person] to pray to, for this would be violating both commandments.

In that former post, we also dealt with the fact that we should not pray to 'saints' or other 'holy persons', for that would indicate that we thought that they were omnipresent [present everywhere at once] and omnipotent [all-powerful], which are attributes which only God possesses.  Since these 'saints' or 'holy persons' are not able to be everywhere at once to hear prayers, and since they do not possess all power in order to be able to answer our requests, then why not pray directly to God Himself?

In addition, I wrote of how none of these saints or holy persons could function as an intermediary or 'go-between' in the relationship between God and man, for the Scripture expressly says that there is only one such Mediator:
"For there is one God
and one mediator between God and men,
the man Christ Jesus,
who gave himself as a ransom for all men..."

I Timothy 2:5-6 (NIV)

Even though a person may have intended to be humble by going through some other mediator, God says that it is not possible.  If we know that God allows only Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and man, yet continue to attempt to use some other mediator, it is not being humble; it is being disobedient [which, rather ironically, would be evidence of pride, not humility.]

This must be a rather difficult teaching for those who have been brought up praying to saints or to ancestors for help.  It would require a whole new mindset.  However, this teaching does clearly acknowledge God's rightful place as the only One who can save or help us.  Anything less would be a descent into idolatry. 

I wanted to mention two other aspects of this passage which may seem puzzling.  In Exodus 20:5-6, God refers to Himself as "...a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments."  It makes God sound like He is a jealous, 'smiting' type of God, which seems at odds with the idea of a loving God.  However, we need to keep several things in mind.  God and Israel had a covenant agreement, and, like the agreements between earthly kings and their subjects, Israel was expected to be totally loyal.  Such covenants could be compared to a marriage, where exclusivity and love are expected.  Like a husband or wife, God expected love and allegiance from His people.  Anything threatening that relationship provoked His righteous jealousy.  [Some Bible passages where the word 'jealous' is used could be translated 'zealous'; the same Hebrew word is used for both meanings.  You need to understand the context in order to know which meaning is intended.]  I think that part of our difficulty with this verse is that we always picture jealousy in a negative and selfish sense.

Secondly, although the same verses seem to indicate that God held grudges against the third and fourth generation descendants of those who 'hate' Him, this is not so.  Households could consist of three or four generations, and these family members would be affected by the head of the household's blatant disregard for his covenant obligations toward God.  While 'love' was a familiar covenant term for faithful allegiance, 'hate' was its opposite, a blatant rebellion against the LORD.  For example, in Numbers chapter 16, Korah, Dathan and Abiram (as well as 250 followers) rebel against Moses and show contempt for the LORD by rejecting His rules regarding offerings -- and they and their households are swallowed up by the earth.  Also, in Joshua chapter 7, when Achan stole some items which had been dedicated to the LORD, both he and his household were stoned and then destroyed by fire.  Sin is extremely destructive, and often has tragic results.  For example, a drunk driver might kill or injure other passengers or pedestrians.

On the other hand, it is amazing that those who do love the LORD and follow His ways can affect their families in a positive way. The LORD is described as "...showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6)  Although each individual must choose to obey or disobey the LORD, think of the various blessings which come upon the descendants of a godly person.  Of course even believers sin, but think of the blessing of being brought up in a household which uses the Scriptures as a foundation for daily living and tries, even imperfectly, to live as God commands.  Think of the compounding effect, in a relational sense, of those families who can put the other person's interests before their own, who shun gossip and outbursts of rage, who govern financial matters according to God's principles, and generally give evidence of the fruit of the Spirit [love,joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control] in countless areas of life.  That is a treasure far beyond any earthly legacy.

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