During my college days, I went to my dorm room one evening to find a group of classmates sitting in a circle on the floor. There was the scent of incense in the air and a miniature Buddha in the center of the circle. “What are you doing?” I said. “We’re seeking help for tomorrow’s exam,” was the response. Even as an unbeliever, I shook my head and left the room. The Second Commandments begins, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5).
The word likeness refers to any art form, shape, representation, or image. The image may be physical or mental. The commandment does not prohibit art. The key is that the image must not be an object of worship, an idol. The idol is an image of stone, wood, or metal, fashioned for the purpose of worship. When the commandment refers to objects or beings “in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth,” the reference is to all of creation. Crafting images of anything in creation for the purpose of worship is forbidden.
An image, therefore, stands in the place of something else. Moloch, the Ammonite god, was visually portrayed with a human torso and the head of a bull. The worship of Moloch included child sacrifice (2 Kings 23:10). This god was worshiped as a divine king.
The only ‘image’ we are permitted to worship is Jesus Christ. “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Words fail us. He is not simply the image of the True God; He is God (John 1:1). “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:3). He is not “the work of men’s hands” (Isaiah 37:19).
God’s purpose is to conform us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:28). The opposite is true of those who reject the Son and serve idols, whether made of wood or stone or fabricated in the mind. “Those who make them will become like them, Everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:8 and 135:18). This is the classic difference between believers and idolaters rooted in the fall and its aftermath.
In our day, there are those who nurture the image of a utopian state. They desire to see men and women worship at the altar of government power. Nebuchadnezzar called men and women to worship a golden image on the pain of death (Daniel 3:6). To worship the image was to bow to Nebuchadnezzar. Dignitaries deify themselves. The golden statue became the image of government power based upon human authority. “Moreover, such authority must always be necessarily coercive…” (T.H.L. Parker, Calvin’s Preaching, 40). Those who worship at the altar of government power become like it. They too cannot tolerate ‘foreign gods.’
But Daniel teaches that the Son of Man (Daniel 7:13) is the Sovereign Lord over men and nations. He delivers Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:27). He subdues King Nebuchadnezzar. His “reason returned” to him (Daniel 4:34). Then Nebuchadnezzar confessed, “His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom” (Daniel 4:3).
Your hope is not in the image of corruptible government power. Your hope is in the image of the “incorruptible God,” Jesus Christ (Romans 1:23). “You shall not make for yourself an idol” (Exodus 20:4).