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About this series
God's Boundaries for Abundant Living
Psychologists tell us that boundaries provide security, protection, and self-esteem. Long before psychology, God provided ten clear boundaries to protect His people from harm and give them the highest values ever recorded on the earth. "God's Boundaries for Abundant Living" gives a fresh look at the Ten Commandments and will help you discover God's boundaries for your highest, best and most abundant living.More from this series
I want to start with a, I’m sure, apocryphal story that has no theological bearing and I’m sure someone made it up but it makes a tremendous point. There’s a little boy who wanted a bike. And he was a ornery, ornery, ornery, almost mean little boy. And he said, “Mom, I want a bike. Mom, I want a bike. Mom, I want a bike.” And he tried and tried and tried. She said, you are a mean, ornery little boy and I’m not going to give you a bike. You need to learn some major lessons in life.
And so, he just kept asking and he wanted a bike. And so, finally, she said, “Well, why don’t you talk to Jesus and maybe Jesus will give you a bike.” And so, he decided he would sit down and have a little talk with Jesus and was not a child that would really, actually go to church much. And he was ornery and mean.
And so, he sat down and he thought he wasn’t good at praying. He would write it out. And so he started his letter: Dear Jesus. I’ve been perfect, will You please give me a bike? He was also a liar so he crumpled that up and threw it away. And then, he wrote another note and he said: Dear Jesus, I’ve really not been perfect but I’ve been very good, would You please give me a bike?
And he crumpled that up, threw it around. Then finally, he said: Dear Jesus. I want to be good but I’m not. And then he kind of tilted his head. Nah, that’s not really true either. He crumpled it up, threw it.
And he remembered a friend and came from a little bit different background. And he went to his friend’s house and he found a statue of Mary. He took the statue of Mary, when they weren’t looking, wrapped her in a towel, put duct tape around the towel, stuck Mary, the towel, and the duct tape under his bed and then wrote the last note: Dear Jesus. If you ever want to see your mother again, You better give me a bike.
Now, somebody made that up but it definitely tells a story. It’s self-indicting because it reflects one of the most common attempts of all people of all time. It’s our desire to get God in small, manageable terms that we can control, to get Him to do for us on our terms what we want done.
And often, the way to do that is with some sort of object that can take God from the invisible, eternal, awesome, all-powerful Creator to a something we can see, control, tame, and manage.
And the second command is going to talk about God’s prohibition. His boundary against that.
You’ll notice by way of review the focus of the first command is the object of our worship. You might just write the word “object” down. It’s about the who. No gods but God. God demands exclusive worship of Yahweh. That’s His point.
The focus of the second command is not the object but the manner or the method of our worship. This is the how. He’s going to say that even if you worship the right God, you can worship the right God in the wrong way.
And I said to bring a pen because we need to do a little Bible study. Have you got it? Pull it out. And we’re going to read the next passage out of Exodus 20. But the structure is very simple.
There are two commands and two reasons. Follow along and if I see your pen, you can underline a couple key words. First, the command. You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on earth beneath or on the water underneath the earth.
Verse 5. You shall not worship them or serve them. Underline, if you will, “shall not make for yourself an idol.” That’s the first command. It says, don’t make any idols, by the way, the word for “idol” here, there’s fourteen different Hebrew words for idol.
This particular word means a statue, a figurine, a wooden, or a molten object. Then, the next word, not only is it an idol, but he expands it to any likeness. Any visual or pictorial representation. He says, don’t make pictures in your worship and try to reduce God down to a snapshot.
And so, the first command is, don’t make an idol, don’t make a likeness of anything that you’ve seen. Now you remember? They’re living in a world where the sun, the moon, the stars, and every animal under the sun has been worshiped.
God says, command number one. Don’t do it. Notice command number two. You shall not worship them or serve them. Not only are you not to make an idol or a likeness but you shall not worship them, literally, the word means to “bow down.” To physically bow down. To worship or serve these idols or likenesses that you could make.
Then notice the two reasons. He says, for I, the Lord, His covenant name, Yahweh, your God, am a jealous God. Underline that, will you? That’s the first reason. I’m a jealous God. Visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children on the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me.
Interesting. All throughout the Old Testament, when God’s people would turn away from Him and worship an idol or worship another God, He would call it spiritual adultery. And He says that when we turn away from the true God or when you develop a pattern where God, out of His zealous, loyal, caring, love.
He says that when we worship an idol we actually are demonstrating that we hate Him. Notice the second reason. But He goes on to say, but showing loving kindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
So, reason number one, He says, don’t make them and don’t serve them, is I’m a jealous God. And reason number two, is because there are some good things that will happen to your children and there’s some bad things that will happen to your children based on whether you bow down and worship idols or not.
Now, at this point in time, we read this out of our 21st century ears and it’s like, I mean, what are we going to do with this one? I mean does anyone really struggle with idol worship? You know, I didn’t read this passage and say, Lord speak to my heart. Where am I struggling with, you know, creating little wooden objects and putting them on the mantle and lighting candles.
But you do understand that all around the world millions and millions and hundreds of millions of people are bowing down to statues. That in, not just jungles, but in whole nations their worship revolves around making statues, and images, and likenesses that they bow down to, and pray to, and touch and kiss, and not just in other world religions. But among Christendom.
And this is being violated every single day and what I want to share with you is why this is so important and what I want to get, by the end of our time, is God’s heart on this. Remember? It’s about boundaries. God is saying this because He has so much better for us.
Now, understanding the second command, as you’ll turn the page. You need a little historical background. This is written to a group of people that have spent the last four hundred years looking at every turn to about fifteen hundred different gods that all had a little statue that represent them.
This is written to a people that are now in the land of the Canaanites, where they had multiple graven images and statues and, I mean, they were vile. I mean, one of the gods of the Baal gods and the Chemosh gods, as they would take their children, and Israel later would participate.
And they would take their newborn children and it was a big statue and they would build a big fire. And to appease the god, they would take their little baby infants and they would throw it up into the fire and they would be consumed alive.
And this would be worship to a false god. God understands the vile, pagan worship and He’s telling them from day one, I will not tolerate any of it. In other words, there’s only ten commands and number one is, have no other gods besides Me.
And number two, I mean this must be pretty high on the priority list. Number two is, don’t make any idols. Don’t make anything that looks like any of the creation or the creatures and don’t bow down to them. And so, out of the context, you need to understand, this is radical. This is like someone saying to you, what I want you to do is, I want you to drive to the store but you can’t drive a car.
In other words, well, wait a minute. The only way you can drive is a car or a truck. No, there’s a whole new different way of transportation. He’s speaking to a group of people that all they have ever known is idol worship of some form and He’s going to spend the next eleven months at the foot of this great mountain, Mount Sinai, and teach them how to now worship in spirit and in truth.
How to worship, not a false god, with images and, which almost always led to gross immorality. But a God who is invisible. A God who is eternal. A God who is holy. A God who is pure. And the second aspect of how to do this is going to be, no idols. No graven images. And don’t bow down to them.
What I want to do is dig in a little bit on this and let’s look at this, what I call, the command restated. And what I mean by that is, I want to do a little analysis.
If I wanted to put verses 4 and the first half of 5 in my own words, the command would be, no man-made idols are to be used as a means of worshiping the living God, Yahweh.
Remember? It’s not about who you worship now, it’s how you worship the true God. The little statues, figurines… Completely, under no circumstances, are to be used.
Now, open your Bible. Let’s see how quick our group is at learning, to Exodus chapter 32.
God has come. Right? We’ve had the thunder, we’ve had the smoke, we’ve had the lightning, we’ve had the rumblings, the people are afraid.
God has spoken the Ten Commandments, now Moses has gone up onto the mountain to receive them in written form and bring them back.
And as we pick up the story, Exodus 32 verse 1. When the people saw that Moses was long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us.”
It’s almost like they were, you know, hard of hearing or had, kind of, spiritual wax in their ears. Wait a second. Less than forty days ago, I mean, God spoke and you were terrified and now you’re coming to Aaron and saying, make gods for us.
As for this fellow Moses, who brought us up from Egypt, we don’t know what happened to him. In times of uncertainty, in times when we want to touch and feel God, in times when we fear the future and we want to take control of our world, the temptation is to build an idol of one kind or another.
And so, we pick up the story. Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons, and your daughters are wearing and bring them to me.”
Maybe he thought, round one, as if it really cost something to make an idol, they’ll back away. Because Aaron knows better. Well, that doesn’t work. So, all the people took off their earrings and they brought them to Aaron. And he took what they handed them and he made them into a idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioned it with a tool, then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Now, is this mind boggling? I mean, up on Mount Sinai, God is in the process of giving the commandments to Moses and these people now have made a molten image, they have called it their god, and they’ve given this image credit for bringing them out of Egypt.
And the historical background here, there was a bull-god in Egypt and it was very potent, it was very powerful and so, Aaron probably, now, notice carefully, they are not worshiping the bull.
Notice what the text says. It says here: Then they said, these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt. When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.” Same word, Yahweh. They’re going to worship Yahweh. They’re going to worship the one true God. But they decided, since they can’t see Him and they don’t know where Moses is, we’re going to use some visual aids or images to help us.
So, the next day, the people rose early and notice, now, they’re going to sacrifice burnt offerings and they presented fellowship offerings. And afterward, they sat down to eat and drink and they got up to indulge in revelry.
It’s a very interesting word. All the worship they’ve known is what they’ve watched happen in Egypt or what they’ve heard about in Canaan.
And what they did, when they couldn’t see, when they couldn’t control, when they couldn’t tame God, they made an image and after they made the image, then they sacrificed animals, they shed blood, they offered it to this thing they could see, and they had this sense of, we’re in control again and then the pagan revelry, that is just one of those words that talk about immorality, because every worship of idols always leads to immorality. Jot down, if you will, 1 Corinthians 10:20. The Apostle Paul, when he talks about idols and things offered to idols, he says, literally, there was real power and there were demonic spirits behind it.
Put in your margin also Ephesians 5:5 and 6. Where he talks about, as us, as we walk in fellowship and truth with Christ, he says, no immoral or greedy or impure person. And then the little phrase, which are idolaters, will inherit the kingdom of God and Christ.
And so, what we see happening here, is people are following base worship and it starts with this molten image and God says, don’t do it. That’s the application for Israel.
I remember about twenty years ago, playing on a basketball team. And we played different Olympic teams all throughout South America. And we were one of those international teams and at half time, we shared Christ.
And, tremendous, that’s how God got my attention in terms of full-time ministry. And we went to La Paz, Bolivia. And there’s a statue in La Paz called the Christ of the Andes. And I don’t know how many, maybe six stories high. I mean, it’s huge.
And I would watch, and of course, it’s up about twelve, fifteen thousand feet and we went to visit. I mean, this is big tourist deal. And I watched the poorest of poor people, some people walk for miles and then the last mile or two, on their hands and their knees, they would go to the Christ of the Andes.
And certain portions of that statue were rubbed completely raw as people crawled and they had blood on their knees and their elbows and they would kiss the statue, believing that in some way, kissing that statue, they made some deep connection with God, and their worship of God was built around that response.
Do you understand why God says, I don’t want this? I don’t want this. No matter how sincere people are and the images of the statues or the pictures He says, I don’t want this. It reduces Me.
I came across something that was almost mind boggling but a little bit more modern. It says: Today, idolatry is alive and well. In fact, Jesus can be yours by calling, gives a toll-free number. Callers can purchase a Jesus doll who bends at the waist and is machine washable. He looks friendly and is nearly two feet tall. He wears a white tunic under a red robe, which sets off a red heart emblazoned on the front of his tunic. His creator sees the doll as a special help to children because it’s hard to hug air. [Speaking of the invisible God.] But it also provides solace to the elderly and the infirm and those under emotional duress. Jesus is only the first in a line of dolls called “first-fruits.” He can be yours for $29.95 and will make a fine companion for the, soon to be introduced, God doll. And you just thought it was some natives down in the heart of the Amazon that were using idols and worshiping idols.
Probably everyone here would say, they can appreciate deeply Handel’s Messiah. Unbelievable piece of music. But what if someone had never ever heard Handel’s Messiah? And what if we took, as talented as these musicians are at this conference, if I would say, you know, these people, you know, who’ve never heard Handel’s Messiah. They have got to at least get a taste of it. And I got them up here behind all those six or seven microphones and then I pull out a very special instrument and I pulled out a little kazoo. Brrrr, brrr, brrrr.
Okay? And then I would give them all a kazoo. And then, there was people who’ve never heard the beauty of Handel’s Messiah, and I would have said, “Okay, ready gang? A one, a two, a one, two, three…” Brrrr, brrrr, brrrr. Brrrr, brrr, brrr, brrr. [Continues to hum Handel’s Messiah]
What would be the problem with that? I don’t know about you? I think I’d rather have them never hear Handel’s Messiah through a kazoo, than hear it that way.
And see, that’s what God is saying. You see, when you try and take something that is majestic, and powerful, and invisible, and you reduce it down to something tangible, seeable, foldable, and controllable, you reduce God for who He is.
And that’s what’s behind the second commandment.
Summary, then. God demands that we worship Him in spirit.