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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, December 30 2021

The second commandment: The true image of God

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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 nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments'' (Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:8-10).

The second commandment: The true image of God
Paganism is very visually oriented. We have to be focused on keeping God’s commandments by not trying to create an image of how He might look.
by Don Hooser

The Second Commandment has a very different meaning to the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). However, there are many who see these two commandments as parts A and B of one commandment.

The difference between the two commandments is as follows: If someone worships anything other than God, including any image (like a statue or painting), that breaks the First Commandment. Worshipping the true God, but physically, visually or mentally portraying Him with images, breaks the Second Commandment. The First Commandment forbids false gods. The Second Commandment forbids false worship.

Most Protestant churches regard Exodus 20:2 as the preamble to the Ten Commandments, whereas Judaism regards it as the First Commandment and Exodus 20:3-6 as the Second Commandment. The Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church follow the teaching of Augustine and combine the first two commandments into one and divide the Tenth Commandment (against coveting) into two commandments. They teach against worshipping images, but by believing that Exodus 20:3-6 is only one commandment—forbidding the worship of idols—they feel justified in using the images and symbols in the worship of the true God. Thus they transgress the Second Commandment.

The Second Commandment is unique because every other religion makes images of their gods. God’s Word tells us how to worship God and forbids worshipping Him with non-biblical practices (Deuteronomy 12:1-4, 28-31). In addition, God demands that we not “add to” or “take away from” His Word (Deuteronomy 4:2;12:32; Revelation 22:18-19). This, however, is not a criticism of art, artists and decorating. God’s temple was decorated with designs of flowers, palms, pomegranates, lions and oxen (1 Kings 7). The artwork and images forbidden by this Commandment are those used to represent or revere God (see Exodus 20:5).

To some, the Second Commandment may seem relatively unimportant, but if you read the entire Commandment it contains the strongest warning of all the Commandments. This shows how deeply God feels about actions falsifying His identity and degrading the glory of our Almighty Creator God. There is one “image of the invisible God” and that is God’s Son (Colossians 1:15; see also 2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 1:3) and significantly God did not allow anyone to record anything about His physical appearance.

What does God mean by “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me” (Exodus 20:5)? It does not mean God punishes children for the sins of the parents, as God’s Word forbids that (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:20). However, sin often results in children and grandchildren suffering, as religious beliefs and practices (both true and false) along with their consequences, are often passed on from generation to generation.

Common “Christian” violations of the Second Commandment include, but are not limited to, using paintings and drawings to represent Jesus Christ or God the Father, the Latin cross and the crucifix, the outline of a fish or dove, any three-part design intended to represent “the Trinity,” relics supposedly related to the life or death of Jesus and halos and other circles and disks used to indicate what is sacred. The Second Commandment is also transgressed when Mary and other dead “saints” are venerated as mediators with God,

When counterfeit Christianity imitates pagan holidays and rituals it reinforces false ideas about God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Bible. The good news is that one day Jesus Christ will return and then “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9) and humanity will no longer be deceived into the false worship of God.

Herod had ruled the province of Judea, which encompassed most of the geographical areas of the former kingdoms of Israel and Judah, for almost 40 years at the time Jesus Christ was born, with secular history and archaeology confirming his reign (Matthew 2:1-3, 7-8).

He was a great builder, initiating construction projects in at least 20 cities or towns in Israel and more than 10 in foreign cities: "Archaeological excavations have uncovered a surprisingly large amount of evidence pertaining to Herod the Great Idumean who, in 41 B.C., was granted provisional rule of Galilee by Mark Antony [the friend of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra´s last lover] .... In 30 B.C. Octavian (Caesar Augustus) affirmed Herod's rule over Judea, Samaria, and Galilee .... Herod remained in power until his death in 4 B.C…." (Archaeology and the New Testament, 1997, p. 91).

But Herod was not just known for his great building, political and military skills, but also for his great cruelty. The Bible records his utter disregard for human life by describing his reaction to the birth of Jesus. When his scheme to identify the newborn Messiah failed (verses 7-8, 12), Herod lashed out with great violence: "Then Herod … sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under [the approximate age of Jesus], according to the time which he had determined from the wise men" (verse 16).

This massacre in Bethlehem was not out of character for Herod, who also had many members of his family put to death: “Herod in his rage over his family rivalries and jealousies put to death the two sons of Mariamne [his wife] (Aristobulus and Alexander), Mariamne herself, and Antipater, another son and once his heir, besides the brother and mother of Mariamne (Aristobulus, Alexandra) and her grandfather John Hyrcanus." (Word Pictures in the New Testament, Bible Explorer Software, 1997).

The New Testament description of Herod the Great is thus confirmed by what historians and archaeologists have found concerning his rulership, building projects, political strength and uncontrollable wrath toward anyone threatening his kingship.

The Census of Caesar Augustus

Luke, a meticulous historian, introduces other famous personages in his account of the birth of Christ. "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city" (Luke 2:1-3).

Ancient papyrus census decrees have been found for the years 20, 34, 48, 62 and 104. These show a wide-ranging census normally took place every 14 years, although local counts were, at times, taken more frequently. A papyrus in the British Museum describes a census similar to Luke's account, taken in 104, in which people were ordered to return to their birthplaces: "Gaius Vibius Mazimus, Prefect of Egypt: Seeing that the time has come for the house to house census, it is necessary to compel all those ... to return to their own homes, that they may both carry out the regular order of the census and may also attend diligently to the cultivation of their allotments" (Frederick G. Kenyon, Greek Papyri in the British Museum, 1907, plate 30).

Joseph's Occupation in Nazareth

Joseph was a skilled craftsman who worked not only with wood, but with stone masonry. The usual term translated as "carpenter" in the Bible (Mark 6:3) is from the Greek term ‘tekton’, which has the broader meaning of 'artisan,' referring to a skilled worker who works on hard material such as wood or stone or even horn or ivory. “In Jesus' day construction workers were not as highly specialized as in today's workforce. For example, the tasks performed by carpenters and masons could easily overlap" (Richard A. Batey, Jesus & the Forgotten City: New Light on Sepphoris and the Urban World of Jesus, p. 76).

Although Nazareth was a small village in Galilee of no more than a few hundred inhabitants, Joseph and Jesus likely found steady work in the city of Sepphoris four miles away, where huge construction projects were transforming the city into a large, regional centre.

Recent archaeological excavations in Sepphoris show it to have been a bustling, prosperous city during the years Jesus grew up in nearby Nazareth. Shirley Jackson Case, professor of New Testament at the University of Chicago, remarks “.... It requires no very daring flight of the imagination to picture the youthful Jesus seeking and finding employment in the neighboring city of Sepphoris. But whether or not he actually labored there, his presence in the city on various occasions can scarcely be doubted..." (Batey, pp. 70-71).

These historical records help us better understand the background of Christ's teachings, which included illustrations drawn not just from farming and animal husbandry, but also construction, rulers and nobility, the theater, government, finance and other aspects of city life.