You shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither raise you up a standing image…
Knowing, as we do, how widespread was the idolatry of the age and how terribly tempted were the children of Israel to fall under its fascination, we do not wonder either at the repetition or the fullness of this commandment. God made it quite clear to his people, and impressed the truth on their minds with strong emphasis, that they must not permit any visible image to come between themselves and him. He would sanction "no idol, nor graven image, nor pillar, nor figured stone" (marginal reading). Respecting idolatry we may do well to consider -
I. ITS NATURAL HISTORY. Men do not descend at once into the blind and blank idolatry with which we are familiar.
1. The first step downwards is when men take some object or construct some image which shall remind them of Deity, or stand for God, or be a sign and token of his presence, so that when they see that they shall think of him. This was the case with the "golden calf" which Aaron made. The people presented their offerings to it in connection with a "feast to the Lord" (Exodus 32:5). It is too great a mental labour to realize God's presence by pure thought and meditation; men crave a visible object which shall remind them of the Supreme.
2. The next step - deep into the thick darkness - is to identify the Deity with the object which is the chosen sign of his presence; and the constant, inevitable accompaniment of this act is to multiply the number of divinities; for, as the visible images are many, the gods become many also to the popular imagination. However antecedently unlikely it may seem to us that men would commit such great folly as this, universal history compels us to believe that they have done so. Beginning with the demand for "a sign," men have "bowed down unto" and worshipped the image, the pillar, the figured stone.
3. Then follows mental, moral, spiritual degradation. The worshippers of idols have attributed to their gods their own infirmities and sins, and then their worship has reacted on their own character, and they have sunk to the lowest depths of abjectness of mind, vileness of spirit, grossness of life.
II. ITS ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS. We must not identify idolatry with those more shameless forms of it which historians and travelers have made known to us. These are its last and worst developments. But the idolatrous element is found where there is
(1) a false association of God with an object with which he has nothing to do, as (in the case referred to) where the Israelites associated Jehovah in their thoughts with an image with which he had no connection whatever; or
(2) a false trust in an object with which God is more or less connected. That was an idolatrous act on the part of the Israelites when they made sure of victory because the ark of God was in the camp (1 Samuel 4:3-11). God had connected himself with the ark in an especial manner; but the Jews were trusting in it rather than in him, and they leant on a broken reed.
III. ITS APPEAL TO OURSELVES. Our danger is not from the grosser forms of idolatry, nor is it in the former of the two essential elements of it; it is in the latter of these. We are liable to trust idolatrously in that with which God is connected, but which has no virtue at all in itself. We are invited, and sometimes find ourselves tempted:
1. To imagine that a priest can bless us, independently of the truth which he teaches or the spiritual help which he renders us.
2. To suppose that we are nearer to God in sacred places, irrespective of the consideration whether we realize his presence and draw nigh to his Spirit.
3. To seek sanctity, or even salvation, in sacraments apart from the reverent thought and consecrated feeling which they should suggest or excite. This is an idolatrous delusion.
IV. THE PATH OF SAFETY. This is:
1. The avoidance of temptation. We must shun those Churches and services which would seduce us from spiritual purity.
2. The acceptance of the One Divine Mediator we have in Christ our Saviour. There is "one man we can adore without idolatry - the man Christ Jesus."
3. The use of our faculties for the worship of the Invisible. We can worship him who is a Spirit "in spirit and in truth." We can realize the presence of the infinite God; we can love him whom we have not seen (1 Peter 1:8); we can walk the whole path of life conscious of a Divine Companion whose hand we cannot grasp, but who "leads us all our journey through." By a living faith, "our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God.
WEB: "'You shall make for yourselves no idols, neither shall you raise up an engraved image or a pillar, neither shall you place any figured stone in your land, to bow down to it: for I am Yahweh your God.