Editor’s Note: Greetings, Blog Readers. Our Monday posts this summer include several questions related to our journey through Jen Wilkin’s book Ten Words to Live By and Exodus 20:1-17. They are meant to compliment the chapter and as points to discuss with friends, not as a replacement for her excellent questions for reflection. Today we’re digging into Exodus 20:4-6 as we consider the undiminished worship of our Creator God.
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And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself a carved 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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. “You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's.”
In this week’s chapter of Ten Words to Live By, Jen Wilkin describes the practice of image management with an illustration about Queen Elizabeth I of England. How do women today try to manage their images?
What fears may lay behind crafting an image for people to see?
The word “see” in that question is key, for we are people focused on external appearances and talents, forgetting the value of the hidden person, while God looks upon the heart.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”I Samuel 16:7
We erect idols and cultural heroes with good looks, good voices, and exciting agendas, forgetting that we are called to undivided devotion to our Creator God, who as spirit with no physical form breathed spiritual life into us. Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.Genesis 2:7
God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.John 4:24
We spend time and money on our outward appearance, forgetting that God sent His Son to earth with neither to be our example.
For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.Isaiah 53:2-3
As our affections incline toward what is seen, our worship of the one true God, the only one we as His image bearers should worship, is diminished. Thus, He warns us in Exodus 20:4-6:
You shall not make for yourself a carved 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. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Moses further warns them at the end of his life (Deuteronomy 4:15-16):
Therefore watch yourselves very carefully. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a carved image for yourselves.
He goes on to remind them that they must not craft or conjure up in their imagination anything in the form of any man, woman, animal, bird, creeping thing, fish, sun, moon, stars to worship. Just days — or may be even hours — after Aaron first heard this commandment, He caved to the pressure of the restless, impatient people and formed a golden calf as a pathetic attempt to replicate God’s image in physical form. He used a popular idol of the day — both of the Egyptians and Cananites, who had deities for everything.
We teeter on the brink of this same sin as we try to craft what we think God looks like, but our imaginations will never fathom God in His completeness and beauty. Everything we craft will be a pathetic representation of our God and thus bring about diminished worship of Him.
What images — physical or imagined — have you erected in your life that tarnish God’s true nature?
God reminds the people of Israel that He is a jealous God. He wants to be properly represented and worshipped as a spirit with no physical form. He created us in His image with a spirit to worship Him and the ability to conform to the image of His Son, whom He sent into this physical world in such a way that He was attractive because of His character, not His physical appearance.
God’s law shows us how to be His image bearers who put on the fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In this, Wilkin writes, “His law becomes increasingly engraved on our hearts. And we become the graven images he created us to be.”
Dear Creator God, You formed the first man out of the dust of the earth and breathed spiritual life into him in a way that set him apart from the rest of Your creation and reflected Your image. Then, You gave him a suitable helper to partner with him in life, and You declared that Your work of creating them was “very good.” Today we declare that You are very good and full of mercy and grace. We are haunted by the serpent’s crafty questions that caused humankind to doubt Your goodness and by the choice of Adam and Eve and ourselves to sin. In Your love, You made a way to reconcile us to Yourself. Thank You for Jesus for giving us an example to follow as we begin to display Your good and perfect image. Guide us as we put on love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Open our eyes to worship not the created things of this world but You alone and to behold the wondrous things out of Your law.
— Prayer taken from Genesis 1-2, Galatians 5:22-23, and Psalm 119:18.