Let’s Make a Deal
Dr. Jim Denison
Remember the old game show, Let’s Make a Deal? The winner was defined by who made the most money and the best deals. And at the end the winner had to select Door Number 1, Door Number 2, or Door Number 3 for his prize. It might be something spectacular, or it might be a donkey.
Today we come to God’s Second Commandment. We’ll learn what God said to them, and what he says to us. And we’ll make a deal—hopefully, the right one for our souls.
Idols they chose
“Worship” is putting something or someone first in your life. The verb “worship” can take any noun as its object. We can worship something made of wood, stone, flesh, paper, or spirit.
If that which is first in our lives is anything or anyone but the Lord God, by definition it is an idol. What does God say about this?
You shall not
“You” is plural, applying to every one of them and every one of us. “Shall not” is a command. If you and I find that we have an idol in our lives this morning, we must get rid of it, right now.
Make for yourself
Here’s a basic principle for life: if you can make it, don’t worship it. If you can buy it, or sell it, or destroy it, don’t worship it.
I would rephrase this for our culture as well: “You shall not make of yourself” an idol. Anything we make for ourselves or of ourselves must not have first place in our lives, or it becomes an idol.
An idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.
The ancient Canaanites made their idols of wood, sometimes of stone, often covered with some kind of precious metal. They made them in all sorts of forms, which is why the Second Commandment prohibits forms from the sky, the earth, or the seas—thus, everything.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.
This was a huge problem in the ancient world. The Egyptians worshiped idols, as did the Canaanites and the Jews’ own forefathers. The ancient Greeks, the most brilliant civilization of all time, also worshiped gods such as Athena and Zeus—so many, in fact, that Paul commented on the number of idols he found in Athens (Acts 17:22-23).
Idolatry was such a problem, there are fourteen different synonyms and words for “idol” in the Old Testament, and the Hebrew Scriptures say more about this commandment than any of the other nine.
Why was idolatry so common? Every human being is created with a need to worship God. As St. Augustine said, we all have a “God-shaped emptiness” inside us, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.
But it’s hard to worship something you cannot see. So the ancients would make physical images for spiritual gods, seeking to portray divine characteristics such as power, fertility, or glory. But in time the means became the ends, and they began worshiping the idols themselves.
This God cannot allow, for he is a “jealous” God. The word is better translated “zealous,” and points to God’s desire for an exclusive relationship with us. Just as no husband who truly loves his wife could endure to share her with another man, so God will not share us with another god.
The term also shows that God truly cares for us, for we cannot be “jealous” or “zealous” about someone unless they matter to us.
Is this law or grace?
God says that he “punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” This is simply a Hebrew idiom, not a mathematical statement. The Bible teaches repeatedly that we must pay for our own sins, not those of others (Deuteronomy 24:16; Jeremiah 31:29,30; Ezekiel 18:1-4).
God is saying that our present-day idolatry has consequences for those who come after us, for they will likely follow in our footsteps. If I worship money, my children probably will, too. If I love Jesus, my family probably will as well.
This is why God says that he “shows love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” “Love” is the Hebrew word hesed, like agape love in the Greek—unconditional, unbreakable.
God is not saying that we earn his love when we worship him alone. He is saying that we put ourselves in position to receive this love by his grace. Then we respond by keeping his commandments. Jesus said, “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10); his disciple John said, “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (1 John 2:3).
Idols we choose
Let’s sum up:
To “worship” is to put something or someone first in our lives. We all have an innate need to worship something or someone. The oldest art in the world is of figures used in worship. Bob Dylan’s old song is right: “You gotta serve somebody.”
But we don’t like worshiping what we cannot see. So we make physical images for a spiritual God, and wind up worshiping them. And whenever we worship anything or anyone that is not God, this by definition is idolatry.
Now, how is this relevant for us? Return to Let’s Make a Deal for a moment.
Religion is popular. We’ll call it “Door Number One.”
The Hindus have idolatrous images of their thousands of gods. The Buddhists venerate their images of the Buddha. The Hare Krishnas have their idols as well.
Do Baptists have idols? We do whenever we make the means of our faith into the ends of our faith. I have known churches which refused to sing, except from the hymnal; Christians who so venerated the church’s buildings that they refused to change them; people who so treasured their traditions and customs that they would not consider other ways to reach people. I know a church in Atlanta, for instance, whose pastor died twenty years ago, but he’s still their pastor, and nothing has changed. The average age of their membership is now 80.