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Worship God Rightly


A Midweek Lesson

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   February 14, 2019

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



The Lord saves His people by His gracious intervention and then shapes His people by His gracious instruction. After the Lord “brought [the Hebrew nation] out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2), He spoke to them ten words of instruction and thereby showed them how to walk with “the LORD [their] God” (Exodus 20:2).  

In the present lesson we now turn to the second commandment, which is closely connected to the first. Both the first and second commandments relate to the foundational theme of worshiping God, of relating to God, of walking with God.

Whereas the first commandment teaches us to worship and serve God and God alone, the second commandment teaches us to worship and serve God aright. Albert Mohler puts it this way: “The first commands us to worship only the one true God, and the second commands us to worship Him as He would be worshiped.”[1] Likewise Kevin DeYoung writes: “If the first commandment is against worshiping the wrong God, the second commandment is against worshiping God in the wrong way.”[2]

So in the first instance, we want to make sure that we are, in fact, worshiping the right God, the true God – that is, the Lord God. The first commandment compels us to worship the Lord God, and no other. The second commandment compels us to worship the Lord properly, rightly, truly – on His terms, not ours; in the way He sets forth, not in ways that we engineer out of our own imagination.

How does the second commandment accomplish this? Let’s turn to it and find out.


The Lord God who has just said “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3) now says:

“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.” (Exodus 20:4-6)


Let’s begin by considering what the second commandment forbids. It forbids the crafting and manufacture of carved (or graven) images or of physical representations of creaturely objects for use as objects of worship. These carved images or physical representations are commonly referred to as idols: idols are, in the most literal sense, man-made physical objects that are supposed to tangibly represent a god or god-like being. The idol in some sense represents that god or god-like being and mediates that god’s presence among us. The second commandment forbids both the making of such idolatrous objects and also forbids worshiping them.

The second commandment has two straightforward implications. First, it is obviously a violation of the second commandment to make and worship idolatrous representations of false gods.[3] To make and worship an idol of a false god is equally a violation of the first and the second commandment: for we would be worship some “other god” and at the same time we would be worshiping an idolatrous representation of that “other god”.

What might be less obvious but is actually more important to understand is that it is also a violation of the second commandment to make and worship idolatrous representations of the Lord. The second commandment means that the Lord God – who is the one, true, and living God – will not be represented in the visible form of a man-made object. Those who attempt to worship the Lord wrongly through the mediation of images and idols will only incur the Lord’s wrath.

Now it is one thing to recognize what the commandment forbids; it is another thing to really understand it. But we must understand it – and there are two other passages that are especially helpful in understanding the wrongheadedness of idols.


Here’s the first big idea when it comes to the problem of idols: idols inevitably misrepresent the greatness of God.

When Paul’s missionary travels took him to the city of Athens, “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” (Acts 17:16)

Just think for a moment about the pathetic stature of a lifeless idol: it is made by men, it is moved about by men, it is cared for by men. In the words of Psalm 115: “They [idols] have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.” (Psalm 115:4-7)

Athens “was full of idols,” and this burdened the heart of the apostle Paul and he felt compelled to confront their idolatry and call them to repent and believe in the true God. With the background of idolatry in mind, listen to what Paul said:

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” (Acts 17:22-25)

Now let me pause right there. God makes, but idols are made. God dwells in the highest heaven, but temples live in man-made temples. God does not need anything and therefore doesn’t need men to serve Him, but idols can’t even get off the ground unless human hands pick them up. God gives to all everything that they have, but idols give nothing to anyone.

Paul continues: 

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.” (Acts 17:26-29)

In verse 29 Paul identifies one of the chief problems of idolatry, namely, that idols misrepresent what God is like. “The God who made the world” and who is “Lord of heaven and earth” and who is sovereign over human history is not like “gold or silver or stone” idols that men make. To borrow from a line of thought from Douglas Wilson, God is who “He reveals Himself” to be, not “as we imagine Him to be.”[4]

Albert Mohler identifies several ways in which idols misrepresent what God is like, including: “idols imply finitude,” “fabrication,” “human control,” “need,” and “physicality.”[5] But the true God is infinite, unmade, sovereign and therefore not subject to our control, self-sufficient and therefore not needy, spiritual and therefore not physical.

We human beings don’t like to be misrepresented, and neither does God. Idols can only succeed at misrepresenting and twisting the truth about God. We who would worship God must worship Him as He actually is, and not through the worthless mediation of idolatrous objects.


The fact that idols inevitably misrepresent and underrepresent the greatness of God is one significant reason why idolatry is forbidden. But this is not the only reason. A second reason why it is forbidden to make idolatrous representations of God is because God’s design for us is that we hear Him, not see Him. As Albert Mohler points out, another way that idols distort our relationship with God is that “idols imply the visual.”[6]

In fact, I am indebted to Albert Mohler for helping me understand that Deuteronomy 4 explains very clearly why idolatry is so contrary to God’s design for our fellowship with Him.[7] It all relates to the fact that in Exodus 20:1-17 God is speaking to the Israelites – and in so doing He intends to engage their ears, not their eyes.

Deuteronomy 4 looks back on this Exodus 20 event and says this:

“Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of words, but saw no form; there was only a voice. And he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and he wrote them on two tablets of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess. 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, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth…. Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make a carved image, the form of anything that the LORD your God has forbidden you. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” (Deuteronomy 4:12-18, 23-24)

Do you see the logic of this instruction? When God revealed Himself to the Israelites at Mount Sinai and “declared… his covenant” to them in intelligible words, He was establishing a pattern for how His people should relate to Him. The logic is clear: “Since you saw no form” – since you saw no physical or visible form of the Lord – therefore don’t introduce visual forms into your walk with God, don’t try to relate to God through the medium of carved images, formed objects, idols, or icons. Instead, what should be front and center in our walk with God? What should be front and center in our worship of God? Answer: God’s Word! “You heard the sound of words,” you heard the covenant “declared to you,” and our job is to remember the covenant that was spoken to us. There are commandments and statutes and rules to be taught, and so they should be taught – in intelligible words!

Kevin DeYoung draws out the implication of the second commandment: “Christian worship is meant to be wordy and not a breathtaking visual display.”[8] Later he says: “God’s way is to build up his people by edifying teaching, not by entertaining theater.”[9]

Human beings are so easily drawn away to that which is visually stimulating, to that which excites the senses, to aesthetics that are pleasing to the eye, to things that they can see and touch and handle. And it is so very easy for these physical forms to become the objects of our rapt attention and devotion and thereby displace God’s Word from its central place in Christian life and worship.[10]


As we walk through the Ten Commandments, I want to continually point out how the You shall not implies a You shall. In other words, what is forbidden is meant to get us thinking about what is required. Regarding the first commandment, “other gods” are forbidden and, at the same time, the Lord God is requiring us to worship Him. “You shall have no other gods before me” means that You shall have the Lord as your God and you shall love Him with your whole heart! Do you understand?

Regarding the second commandment, idols and carved images and physical representations and formed objects of devotion are forbidden. But what is required? What is required is this: that we worship and love the Lord rightly by hearing and obeying His Word. In other words, we want to be the people that are described in Exodus 20:6: “those who love [the LORD] and keep [his] commandments.”

If we push God’s Word aside, if we do not make it our aim to hear and remember His Word, if we are not diligent to walk with God in obedience to His Word, if we do not let God’s Word rule our life and our worship, then we will have proven to be the kind of people who do not love the Lord but who actually “hate [him]” (Exodus 20:5). And if one inspects carefully enough, it will be found out that somewhere along the way we replaced the life-giving Word of God with a lifeless idol.

God is never amused by such idolatry. He is “a jealous God” (Exodus 20:5): He is jealous for His holy name, for His own reputation, and for the loving devotion of His covenant people. A husband’s righteous jealousy is aroused if his wife misrepresents him to others, commits adultery with other lovers, ruins his reputation in the community, and wreaks havoc on their young children. God has infinitely more reason for righteous jealousy when His covenant people turn against Him and play the fool. Be sure of this: He will judge all spiritual adulterers on account of their sin, and every spiritual adulterer paves the way for God’s judgment to land on his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren (Exodus 20:5).

On the other hand, God’s “steadfast love” flows to all faithful worshipers who love Him and endeavor to hear and obey His Word, and every faithful worshiper paves the way for God’s mercy to land on “thousands” of others who would follow in the way of truth (Exodus 20:6).


I must close with one final word, because there is one additional insight that we must take away from Exodus 20:4-6. Perhaps the most significant reason as to why idolatrous representations of God are forbidden is because God knew that one and only one Person in the entire universe is fit to be a faithful representation of God – and God also knew that one day He was going to send His faithful representative into the world.

Colossians 1 tells us that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Likewise Hebrews 1 tells us that Jesus, God’s Son, “is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). Image. Exact imprint. And it shouldn’t be lost on us that this One who images God is called Word: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-2, 14) God’s Son, the Word, the Image, the Exact Imprint, reveals the character and glory of the Father. If you look at an idol, you get a distorted and twisted view of what God is like. But if you look at the Lord Jesus Christ, you get a true view of what God is like: Jesus said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Therefore it is good and right that we bow down and serve the Lord Jesus Christ and walk in loving obedience to His instructions. We do not make idolatrous representations of Jesus; we do not make images of the Image; we do not make imprints of the Imprint.[11] Peter tells us that we don’t see Jesus now at the present time (1 Peter 1:8), and John tells us that one day we will see Him (1 John 3:2). In the meantime, we do what Israel what was called to do: we “pay attention” to the Word (2 Peter 1:19), we “[let] the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16), and we put His words into practice (Matthew 28:18-20)

Furthermore, we remember that it is only through Christ that we can become faithful worshipers in the first place. Every child born into this world is a sinner, and as sinners every one of us has broken the first and second commandments. As sinners we have worshiped “other gods” instead of the true God, and one way or another we have bowed down and served idols. In various ways we have been found visual misrepresentations of spiritual reality compelling, and we have found the faithful words of God boring. Every sinner who remains bound in his or her sin does not love God but essentially hates Him.

How does a false worshiper become a true worshiper? Only through the gospel of Christ. In the gospel we come to understand that the “jealous God” visited Christ on account of our iniquities and crushed His Son in our place. The true Image and Word of God was put to death, so that idolaters who worshiped false images and followed false words could be forgiven and made alive unto fellowship with God. A real conversion happens at the foot of the cross: haters of God become lovers of God who demonstrate their love by keeping His commandments.

The warning and promise of Exodus 20:5-6 remains very true: those who continue in their idolatry will be visited by God’s eternal judgment in due course, whereas those who through faith in Christ now walk on the path of loving obedience will enjoy the steadfast love of the Lord forever.

As faithful worshipers who worship the true God through Jesus Christ, let us be resolved to always worship God rightly by loving Him, hearing His Word, and keeping His commands.



[1] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009: p. 46.

[2] Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Foundational Tools for Our Faith). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 42.

[3] After pointing out that second commandment commands us “not to make images to represent God in any form,” DeYoung helpfully points out the second commandment also commands us “not to worship images of any kind.” See Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Foundational Tools for Our Faith). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 42. I am presenting these two basic points in reverse order.

[4] Douglas Wilson, Mere Fundamentalism: The Apostles' Creed and the Romance of Orthodoxy. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2018: p. 10 (first quote), p. 9 (second quote). Also see J. I. Packer, Keeping the 10 Commandments. Wheaton: Crossway, 2007: p. 53-57. Packer’s whole chapter is devoted to explaining the second commandment in terms of the imagination: “God’s real attack is on mental images, of which metal images are more truly the consequence than the cause.” (p. 54)

[5] R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009: p. 48, 49, 51, 52, 56.

[6] Ibid., p. 56.

[7] Ibid., p. 11-16 (especially p. 14-15).

[8] Kevin DeYoung, The Ten Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them (Foundational Tools for Our Faith). Wheaton: Crossway, 2018: p. 46.

[9] Ibid., p. 49.

[10] See R. Albert Mohler, Jr., Words from the Fire: Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009: p. 56-58. 

[11] It is beyond the scope of this lesson to discuss whether or not it is allowable to utilize pictures of Jesus in storybook Bibles or Christian instructional materials.