Live by the Spirit: The Second Commandment
Scripture Reading: Exodus 32:1-16
Teaching Lesson: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 96, 97, 98
In the story of the “Golden Calf” from Exodus 32 we see a dramatic depiction of the Second Commandment in which God says, “You shall not make for yourself an idol …” It is a tragic story from the life of God’s people, when they were in the wilderness, as they slipped into “idolatry”. This is tragic because they have been rescued from their slavery in Egypt and have been brought to Mount Sinai where they now enter into a “covenant relationship” with the Lord. This will be their freedom (Idolatry leads back into slavery!) The Lord is the God who sees and hears and acts on behalf of his people. God will be their Savior and they will be his special people. This relationship between God and his people is rooted in love and grace. The Law which follows (and we now study in our teaching lessons) is laid upon a foundation of grace.
What is the First Commandment and how did we see it depicted by Elijah on Mount Carmel?
The first command tells us who is God and the second command tells us how to worship God. What does it mean that we come to God on God’s terms and not our own?
Do you think the Second Commandment is an easy one to keep?
The Second Commandment tells us not to make or worship idols. This is called “Idolatry”. An older and more literal translation of the second commandment is stated in this way, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image …” A “graven image” is different from an “idol” as we might understand it. An idol could take the place of God and the object itself would be worshipped as holy, but this is not the case with graven images. A graven image is something that is cut or carved out. In the Bible times when an engraved image was set up as an object of worship, the people did not see it as a picture or look-alike of the actual god. They saw the graven image as a means to worship God. This is what is happening in our reading from Exodus 32.
Who is Aaron and why do the people ask him to make a “god” for them?
What does he use to make the “god” and in what shape does he make it?
What does Psalm 115:2-8 say about idols?
The reason the people want Aaron to make a “god” for them is because they don’t know what happened to Moses. He’s been up on the mountain for a very long time. There’s a leadership vacuum among the people and without good leadership, they begin to slip. Not only that, they refer to Moses as the one who “brought them out of Egypt”. This statement is stunningly false! God made it very clear in his introduction to the Law that he is the One who “brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Lack of leadership and a lack of understanding of God’s Word leads to apostacy (abandoning what we once knew to be true). A Church community without biblical knowledge and good leadership will not remain faithful.
The Israelites break faith with the Lord. Aaron demands their offerings and he creates the “Beast” – the image of the Golden Calf by which the people were inspired to believe they could worship the Lord and enter his presence. In Exodus 32 the people are not abandoning the Lord completely. In verse 5 it says that when Aaron saw the people were pleased with his creation he announces, “Tomorrow will be a festival to the LORD.” The party which then follows is a revelry aimed at worshipping the Lord on the people’s terms and not God’s terms. The Golden Calf is an attempt to reduce God and manipulate God to the people’s will. A God who can be confined to an idol or graven image is a God who can be controlled and bent to our will.
Why can God not be depicted by something within the Creation?
On what basis do we come to God in worship?
How does Moses, in the Spirit of Christ, intercede for the Israelites?
Graven images are evil because they are a manipulative form of worship not grounded in any prior invitation rooted in grace. Our Lord is the God who brought us out of our enslavement to sin and into the freedom of New Life in a New Creation. It’s all grace.
The Sovereign Lord is the God who sees and hears and acts on our behalf. This means we belong to and worship the Living and Active God who is still revealed in a living and active Word. He is not a God who will be confined by anything in Creation because God is the Creator of all. This Lord has revealed himself fully in the person and work of his Son, Jesus Christ.
As followers of Jesus Crist we have been given his Holy Spirit. To “live by the Spirit” is to be in step with the Spirit and have the vision of God’s unfolding Kingdom, his New Creation always before us.