The Second Commandment
James J. Barker

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,
or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, ..." - Exodus 20:4-5

Text: EXODUS 20:1-26



1.    Last week I started a series on the Ten Commandments and we looked at the first commandment (Ex. 20:3).

2.    This morning, we will look at the second commandment, which is similar to it.  However, you will notice that the first commandment is sustained neither by a penalty nor a promise.  But the second commandment is invested with a special solemnity:

(1) First, there is the threat that those who are guilty of disobeying the second commandment will provoke God’s anger and bring down His chastisements upon themselves and upon their children all the way down to the third and fourth generation (Ex. 20:4, 5).

(2) Secondly, God declares that His mercy will be shown unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments (Ex. 20:6).

3.    Let me make some other contrasts:

·        The first commandment points out the true object of worship; the second commandment tells us the right way to worship.  In other words, the first commandment tells us whom we must worship, while the second tells us how we must worship Him.

·        The teaching of the first commandment is that there is only one true God and we must put no other gods before Him.  The teaching of the second is that God is a Spirit, and therefore He must be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

·        The first commandment condemns the worship of false gods; the second commandment condemns the false worship of the true God.
For example, millions of people claim to be Christian and technically they are not disobeying the first commandment. They do not worship Buddha or Allah, etc. but sincerely believe that Jesus Christ is God; they believe in the Trinity, etc. But they pray to religious statues, which is a clear violation of the second commandment.

·        I mentioned last week how the RCC has omitted the second commandment.

·        Finally, please note the prominence God places on the second commandment.  The first commandment is composed of eight words; the second commandment consists of 91 words. 






1.    Man’s worship of God is not correct until he has the right concept of God.  Remember when our Lord spoke to the woman at the well He said, “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

2.    We do not have the time to get into a serious exposition of that passage, but my point is this: Jesus told her that the proper approach to God is spiritual, not physical.  We do not need pictures or statues or idols or icons to assist us in our worship of God. These idols do not bring us closer to God (just the opposite).

3.    The nature of God is spiritual, not material – therefore no material representative can be used to help us in our worship.  Any idolatrous representation of God proves that the idolater neither knows nor understands God.

4.    This is the main difference between a Baptist church and a Roman Catholic church.  We detest idols and want nothing to do with them.  On the other hand, a typical RC church (especially in a country where the majority of people is RC) is loaded with idols and the people are encouraged to bow down to them and pray to them, light candles and incense before them, worship them, and so on.

5.    In St. Peter’s Basilica, St. Peter’s toe has literally been worn off by the millions of people who have knelt down to kiss it.  

6.    Why do we detest idolatry?  First of all, we take the second commandment literally.  Second of all, Bible-believing Christians have always realized that images, idols, and pictures tend to distort and obscure our vision of the true God.

7.    There are literally hundreds of Scriptures which condemn idolatry (cf. Lev. 26:1; Deut. 27:15; Ps. 115:1-8; Acts 15:20; I John 5:21).  But in direct opposition to the Word of God, the Council of Trent decreed: “The images of Christ and the Virgin Mother of God, and of the other saints, are to be had and to be kept, especially in Churches, and due honor and veneration are to be given them.”

8.     To cover up this crime, the RCC omits the second commandment from the Ten Commandments!  But the average RC has no idea that their church has done this.  That is because Rome has split the tenth commandment in two. 

9.    So in the RC catechism and other religious books, the second commandment is really the third, the third is the fourth, and so on.  Then when they get to the tenth commandment, their catechism says, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”  It should really say, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…” – but that is their ninth commandment!  They get away with this mischief because most Roman Catholics never bother to read the Bible.

10. The term “graven image” (Ex. 20:4) means anything carved, fashioned or formed and refers specifically to idols.  The _expression “any likeness of any thing” (20:4) would include images, icons, or pictures that are used as objects of worship.

11. Some Roman Catholics and other idol-worshippers defend their practice by saying, “But don’t you carry a photograph of your wife in your wallet?”  This is not the same thing.  That is why God says, “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them” (20:5).

12. People have an innate desire for something tangible, something that they can see and touch and smell.  That is why they love their statues and their candles and their incense and their rituals, etc.  Many lost souls take refuge in these false forms of worship.  It eases their conscience by making them feel religious.

13. The second commandment was given to restrain this worldly desire and tendency.

14. No man or woman, boy or girl, who is truly saved, needs a statue to help him pray.  Idolatry is degrading.  D.L. Moody said: “A picture or image of God must degrade our conception of Him…It brings Him down to our level.  It has given rise to the horrible idols of India and China, because they fashion these images according to their own notions…A man must be greater than anything he is able to make or manufacture.  What folly then to think of worshipping such things!” 

15. A preacher had a good point when he said none of us likes to have in circulation poor pictures of ourselves.  We prefer to give to our friends and relatives good likenesses.  Similarly, God does not like a poor or a false replica of Himself, and all images and idols are poor likenesses of God.



1.    We have spent a considerable length of time looking at the proper conception of God, now let us look a bit more closely at the commandment itself.

2.    After the basic command to abstain from graven images is given, God makes a pronouncement that contains three reasons why He must not be worshipped by means of statues or icons or any worldly representations.

(1) The jealousy of God (20:5).  Jealousy is the anger and pain of injured and insulted love. God is jealous for His people and God is jealous of His people.  Therefore, God deeply resents spiritual adultery.

(2) The judgment of God (20:5).  You will note that the jealousy of God is followed by the judgment of God.  All sin brings the “visitation” of God in judgment.  But there is something so horribly wicked about idolatry that even succeeding generations suffer the consequences.  Idolaters are not only destroying themselves but they are also harming their children – all the way down to “the third and fourth generation” (20:5).  The probability is that their idea of worship will be transmitted to their children, and they will pass it down to their children, and so on.  Those of us who have been saved out of an Irish Catholic background have seen this very vividly.

(3) Idolatry is really the hatred of God (20:5b).  There are parents who never spank their children.  When someone advises them that they should, they say: “On, no.  I love them too much to spank them!”  This sounds nice but what does God say? “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes” (Pro. 13:24).  It is the same way with idolaters.  They claim to love God but God says they really hate Him.  Jesus said that those who truly love Him will keep His commandments (John 14:15, 21).



1.    Thank God, the second commandment does not end at verse 5.  Exodus 20:6 says, “And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

2.    Let me ask you an important question: Do you love God?  Are you keeping His commandments?

3.    A man cannot love God until he gets saved.  And a man cannot attempt to obey God’s commandments until he has the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  That is why our Lord told Nicodemus, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7).

4.    God has promised to show mercy to those who love Him.  Beloved, the mercies of God have their full _expression in the Lord Jesus Christ.  To know the fulness of God’s mercy is to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.

5.    The Bible says, God “delighteth in mercy” (Micah 7:18, 19).  Has He pardoned your iniquity?  Have you asked Him to wash your sins away and save you?



1.     You may recall that as Moses was descending Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments in his hands, the Israelites were down below dancing before the golden calf (Exodus 34:19).

2.     This brought judgment and Exodus 34:28 tells us that “about three thousand men” died.

3.     Idolatry has always been a problem and will continue to be a problem until the Lord returns (Rev. 9:20, 21).

4.     Notice idolatry is mentioned before murder, sorcery, fornication and stealing.

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