Commandment #2: “You shall not make for yourself a carved image.” (Exodus 20:4)
The second commandment shows the natural outgrowth of an individual who has no longer loved “the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Consider the account of the Israelites and their worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:1–14). Moses had left Aaron in charge of the people while he went up to Mount Sinai to receive the law and commandments from God. When he had been up there for some time, the people began to complain to Aaron, urging him to make a god for them to see and worship. So, Aaron took all their gold jewelry and made a golden calf.
How could the Israelites so quickly have forgotten the God who delivered them from Egypt? In reality, there were two phases to their idolatry. The first phase was more subtle and less obvious; the second phase was blatant and radical.
First, their hearts had departed from God.
The root of their idolatry was a previous departure of their hearts from God. Once that had happened, they leaned too much on the person God had chosen as His instrument—Moses. In effect, Moses was their first idol, and the golden calf was their second.
It is easy to make an idol out of a person God has greatly used in our lives, or even out of a spiritual tradition. We want something tangible to turn to. It is, of course, not always easy to worship an invisible God. Yet Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
Second, they rationalized their actions.
Incredibly, after Aaron built the calf, he built an altar in front of it, and told the people, “Tomorrow is a feast day to the LORD” (Exodus 20:5). It is amazing hoe some people can do something the Bible clearly warns us about, and then somehow rationalize their actions to the point that they think it is okay, or even good. The Israelites rationalized their actions by saying that this golden calf was a representation of the LORD.
God does not want us to have any image to assist up in our worship. A person who really knows God, who had experienced the new birth, and is living in fellowship with Him does not need an image or representation to help him pray. If a person needs such a thing, it proves that he has no inner spiritual life.
This is not to say that a picture or painting of Jesus is wrong. (It is most likely inaccurate, but it is not wrong in and of itself.) What is wrong is the belief that you need a picture, sculpture, or something else to help you worship God.
A false concept of God
We cannot create anything that will ever be a true representation of the living God, for it will give us a false concept of what God is really like. If the image is false, the thought of God is false, and that produces a false character.
“They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell. . .Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:5–6, 8).
A man becomes like the thing he worships. If he puts anything in the place of God, he ultimately becomes like it. After all, what is it to be a Christian? It is to become like Christ. For that reason, God does not want us to cling to a false representation of who He is like.