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. (Exod 20:4-6; Deut 5:8-10)
By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Did you ever wait until the second time your mother called (as if her intent were unclear) before responding? Why? Repetition implies emphasis. In Hebrew poetry we see a special kind of repetition where the first and second sentences say the same thing just in different words. A good example of a Hebrew doublet is found in Psalm 115, where we read:
“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.” (Ps 115:3-5)
The comparison is between God, who is alive (lives in heaven; does what he pleases), and idols, which are not alive (made of metal by humans; have silent mouths and useless eyes).
The problem of idol worship runs deep in the human psyche. An idol is anything that we treat as more important than God. And we have many such things—family members, friends, work, school, political leaders, pop stars, sports heroes, philosophies, bank accounts, insurance policies, health plans—the list is endless.
Louie Giglio (2003, 113), a Christian musician, says that if you want a list of the idols in your life, ask where you spend your money, your time, your energy, and your loyalty. Check out your priorities and you will find the idols that threaten your faith, your mental health, and, perhaps, your life.
The second commandment is not about God’s vanity. When we put our faith in idols, we set ourselves up for a hard fall. All idols eventually break and, when they do, we break with them. The outcome of our brokenness often results in depression, addiction, or suicide; collectively, it results in oppression, injustice, and war.
The obsession in our society with work and “having it all”, for example, leads us to abuse our own health and to undervalue anyone who does not work. Instead of valuing time with our family, we refuse to use our vacation leave and we return to work even before we have to. Instead of relaxing or exercising when we are off from work, we bring work home and make poor food choices. Instead of seeing our young people and senior citizens as created in the image of God, we see them as “dependents” who do not work. It is not surprising, therefore, that they develop self-image problems and depression, or worse.
Substitutes for the living God’s role in our life are cheap imitations.
Giglio, Louie. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.