Ex 20:4-6, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
Deut 5:8-10, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 9You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
This prohibition is in regard to the making and worshipping of false gods. They were instructed to not make images of other “gods” or worship or serve them, Deut 4:15-20. The word “make” is the verb ASAH, עָשָׂה that means, “to make something out of something.” It is used of God for His creative acts of the earth, sun, moon, plant life, etc. in Genesis as the Creator. Therefore, by way of comparison and contrast, we are not to be creators of other gods.
This commandment also discusses the “mode” rather than the “object” of worship. It has two parts: the precept, vs. 4-5a, and the penalty or blessing, vs. 5b-6.
The emphasis remains upon monotheism as absolutely essential for the salvation of the covenant nation Israel. The Lord clearly spelled out to them that there was to be absolutely no concession to popular sentiment in favor of cultic images of any kind, whether in heaven above or on earth below, or even in chthonic deities residing beneath the earth itself, (for example those described in Greek mythology).
No likeness or representation of these man-invented deities could be tolerated, for this meant betrayal towards their Divine Lord and Redeemer.
There was not to be even an image of God. Why? Because, an image degrades God and damages men. The worship of God was to be spiritual, not material. His uniqueness, Ex 20:3 requires unique devotion.
“Idol” is the Hebrew Noun PESEL פֶּסֶל and is the most general term for the manufactured image, (usually of wood, stone, silver, or gold), of a god used in the OT. Cf. Isa 40:20; 44:15-17; 45:20; Nah 1:14; Hab 2:18-20. This word comes from the verb PASAL meaning, “to hew or to cut,” which was done to create an idol. The Greek equivalent is EIDOLON, εἴδωλον that means, “idol or image.”
This is reemphasized in the second phrase, “or any likeness,” which is WE KOL TEMUNAH, literally “and all likeness,” that carries the negative LO from the beginning of the sentence. So, we have two common words for “idol,” PESEL and TEMUNAH, the use of the two synonyms suggests, “any sort of idol,” is prohibited.
An idol is a substitute for God and therefore not a god, for there is only one true and living God. In the OT, idols were formed by mankind in the image of any object created by God, including a man, woman, animal, bird, fish, the sun, the moon, stars, or anything else peoples’ wicked imaginations could conceive, Lev 26:1; Deut 4:16-19, for they were an abomination to God, Deut 27:15.
Idolatry is an entire elaborate religious system and lifestyle running counter to what God desired and desires true worship to be. The attractions of idolatry were very powerful and tended to draw even the Israelites away from true worship and covenant obedience to YHWH in most generations.
The presence of these idols were indicative of the sin and rebellion of the people, Deut 4:16, 23, 25; 2 Chron 33:7. Interestingly, while God was giving Moses this commandment, the people down below were already breaking it. Psa 106:19-21.
Psa 106:19-21, “They made a calf in Horeb, and worshiped a molten image. 20Thus they exchanged their glory for the image of an ox that eats grass. 21They forgot God their Savior, Who had done great things in Egypt.”
King Manasseh placed an Asherah pole, representative of the Canaanite goddess of love, in the Temple, resulting in Jerusalem’s eventual destruction by the Lord, 2 Kings 21:7.
Even things that represent God and His plan were banned, for example a Micah, (not the prophet of renown), set up detestable idols in a shrine in Dan, apparently in order to represent the presence of God, Judges 17:5. We also see that Hezekiah had to destroy the Bronze Serpent used by Moses in the wilderness because of false worship towards it, 2 Kings 18:4.
2 Kings 18:4, “He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan.”
God calls them dead, deaf, and dumb as they have no life, strength, or power, Jer 10:14; Hab 12:18-20, and they could not save, Isa 45:20.
In vs. 5, we have a figure of speech called hendiadys, when two expressions are used to convey a single idea. The phrase “worship and serve” means, “to offer religious adoration, veneration, and reverence to someone or something.” This is prohibited regarding any other god, and is held only for the One true God of Israel.
“Worship” is the Verb SHACHAH, שָׁחָה in the Causative Reflexive Hithpael, Imperfect that means, “to bow down, to worship, to prostrate.” The Hithpael means the subject is willingly bowing to the ground in worship of a false god and the Imperfect means an incomplete or ongoing action. Cf. Ex 23:24; Deut 4:19; Josh 23:7; 2 Kings 17:35.
Ex 23:24, “You shall not worship their gods, nor serve them, nor do according to their deeds; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their sacred pillars in pieces.”
Deut 4:19, “And beware, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.”
When some prostrates themselves before a god, it represents the powerlessness of the worshiper, who lies prone before the being possessing power and authority over them.
“Serve,” is the other prohibition in this commandment, which is the verb ABAD (avadh), עָבַד that means, “to work, serve, or be a slave to.” It is in the Causative Passive Hophal stem, Imperfect. The Hophal is always translated as a completed action, yet with the imperfect, it is a repetitive action. The causative passive means they are led to worship these false gods due to their apostate mental attitude towards the true God of Israel. So, we could say, “caused to serve or be enslaved to” the false gods “over and over again.” Cf. Deut 12:2, 30; Joshua 24:2, 14.
Deut 12:2, “You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess serve their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree.”
Deut 12:30, “Beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?”
Joshua 24:14, “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.”
Israel was not to serve pagan gods, Deut 7:16; 11:16; 28:14; 29:18; Josh 23:7; 2 Kings 17:35; Jer 25:6, but only the Lord, Ex 4:23; 7:16; 8:1; 10:26, and they were to be judged if they neglected this command, Deut 8:19; 30:17; Josh 23:16; 24:20; 2 Chron 7:19, 22, because He was “a jealous” God, Ex 34:14; Deut 5:9; 6:15; 32:16, 21; Josh 24:19.
Ex 34:14, “For you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”
God is a “jealous God,” not in the sense that He is envious of other gods; for He knows that all other “gods” are figments of the imagination and do not really exist. The word “jealous” expresses His love for His people because He wants the very best for them. Just as parents are jealous over their children, and spouses over their mates, so God is jealous over His beloved ones and will not tolerate competition, Zech 1:14; 8:2. Therefore, He is zealous that devotion be given exclusively to Him. This is not as an envious egotism of any sort, but rather a firm insistence upon exclusive commitment to the Lord Himself. Because of His deep love, the Almighty insists that no other loyalty or attraction to any rival suitor of the believer’s heart ever be tolerated.
Such idolatry also involved serving Baal, Judges 2:11; 3:7; 10:6, 10, serving idols 2 Kings 17:12; 21:21; Ezek 20:39, and serving the Asheri, Deut 7:5; 12:3; 16:21; 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 21:7; 23:4; 2 Chron 15:16.
Baal was the lord of Canaanite religion and seen in the thunderstorms. He was worshiped as the god who provided fertility. His worship was as diverse as the communities in which he was worshiped. Each locality had its own Baal, who was named after the city or place to which he belonged, such as Baal-peor, Num 25:5; Deut 4:3; Psa 106:28; Hosea 9:10, Baal-hermon, Judges 3:3; 1 Chron 5:23, and Baal-gad, Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5. Baal was considered the owner or possessor of the land on which his followers lived.
Baal was both the sun-god and storm-god. He was worshiped as sun-god when the people wished to express thanks and gratitude for light and warmth and fertility. Worship of Baal as storm-god took place to appease the destructive nature of Baal, demonstrated by drought and storms that devastated the vegetation of the worshipers. The efforts to appease Baal whenever adverse conditions prevailed culminated in the sacrifice of human beings, usually the firstborn of the one offering the sacrifice. The victims were burnt alive, a practice in the Old Testament termed “to pass through the fire,” 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel, under the leadership of Ahab of the household of Omri, was led to worship Baal as the state god, 1 Kings 16:31. The prophets Elijah and Elisha delivered the condemnation of God concerning Baal worship and tried to rid the land of the idolatry, 1 Kings 18:17-40; 2 Kings 1:9-16. The worship of Baal infiltrated the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The reform movement of Hezekiah was reversed when Manasseh became king, 2 Kings 21:2-16, as he reinstated Baal worship, along with worship of Assyrian gods and other gods.
The conflict between Baal worship and the worship of the Lord God is described in the Book of Hosea. The judgment of the people of God for their idolatry, and their restoration is given in Hosea 2. The Bible writers affirmed the supremacy of Yahweh and condemned the worship of any other gods beside Yahweh.
Asherim is the plural of the fertility goddess, Asherah, the mother of Baal, whose worship was concentrated in Syria and Canaan. According to ancient mythology, Asherah, the mother goddess, was the wife of El and mother of seventy gods, of whom Baal was the most famous. Asherah was the fertility goddess of the Phoenicians and Canaanites. She was called “Lady Asherah of the Sea.” Her worship included the wooden object that represented her and the Asherim pole. Cf. Deut 7:5; 12:3; 16:21; 1 Kings 15:13; 18:19; 2 Kings 21:7; 23:4; 2 Chron 15:16.
Deut 12:3, “And you shall tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and burn their Asherim with fire, and you shall cut down the engraved images of their gods, and you shall obliterate their name from that place.
The Lord foretold that Israel would turn away from Him to serve pagan gods, Deut 31:20. He warned that pagan wives would entice Israel to serve pagan gods, Deut 7:4, and anyone who enticed an Israelite to commit such sins, Deut 13:6; 17:3, would be put to death, cf. 13:9; 17:5. At the time of the conquest, Israel promised not to serve pagan gods, Josh 24:16, but to serve only the Lord, vs. 18, 21, 24, and they did so throughout the days of Joshua and the elders who outlived him, Josh 24:31; Judges 2:7. However, during the period of the judges, Israel frequently turned away from the Lord to serve pagan gods, Judges 2:11, 13, 19; 3:6f; 10:6, 10, 13; 1 Sam 8:8, which resulted in judgment; but when they repented and returned to serving the Lord, Judges 10:16, He gave them deliverance. As judgment for false god worship, Israel would be exiled and serve pagan gods in a foreign land, Deut 28:36, 64; 29:26; Jer 16:13.
The Lord commanded that Israel’s kings serve only Him; and if they turned away from Him to serve pagan gods, 1 Kings 9:6, He would cut off the nation, vs. 7. Israel did turn away from the Lord to serve pagan gods, Jer 11:10; 13:10; 16:11; 22:9; 35:15, which resulted in their exile and in serving the pagan King Nebuchadnezzar.
As noted above, pagan worship included serving the sun, moon, stars, and the hosts of heaven. Israel was not to serve these, Deut 4:19. Yet, King Manasseh worshiped and served them, 2 Kings 21:3; 2 Chron 33:3, and the people followed his example, Jer 8:2.
This commandment was accompanied by both a warning and a promise of blessing.
Ex 20:5b, is the warning, “For I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”
Notice the last phrase of the warning, “of those who hate Me.” The word “hate” the Hebrew verb SANE, שָׂנֵא that means, “an emotional attitude of one towards someone or something which is abhorred, disdained, or opposed, and with which a person desires to have no relationship or amiable reconciliation.”
In other words, idolatry is a demonstration of one’s hate, abhorrence, disdain, and/or opposition towards the One true God of Israel. It is someone who has no desire to have a relationship with God.
In fact, God hates the abominable acts people perform in idolatry or false pagan worship, which He absolutely prohibits in the worship and service of Him.
Deut 12:31, “You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”
The Law, as given in Lev 18:21; 20:2-5, described child sacrifice as a capital offense and was tantamount to murder.
Lev 18:21, “Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the LORD.
God’s judgment or Divine discipline on the people and nation of Israel for participating in these heinous acts meant that not only would that generation be punished, but subsequent generations as well; “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations.” That means they, their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren could suffer as a result of breaking this commandment.
On the other hand, God promises blessings in Ex 20:6, “But showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” We previously noted this general promise of blessing by God to those who would follow His commandments.
The blessing here is for God to show His, “lovingkindness,” which is the Noun CHESED, חֶסֶד that means, “kindness, mercy, grace, loyalty, faithfulness, goodness, or steadfast love.” In other words, God will uphold His end of the bargain, (Mosaic Covenant), by protecting and providing abundantly for Israel, if Israel upholds her end by keeping the Law.
This is reiterated in Deut 7:9, “Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.”
To love God is to keep His commandments. Obeying His man-dates is the expression of love towards God. For the OT saint, it meant following the Mosaic Law as best they could. For the Church Age, it means obeying the mystery Doctrines for the Church Age with its 300+ mandates.
Remember, keeping His mandates does not provide you with salvation, but salvation is demonstrated through the keeping of His mandates. Cf. Acts 13:39; Rom 3:20-21, 27-28; James 2:18-20.
New Testament Usage:
This commandment is also reiterated in Mat 4:10, by our Lord when tempted by Satan, “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY’.” Cf. Luke 4:8.
He was quoting Deut 6:13; 10:20; 13:4.
Deut 6:13, “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship (ABAD) Him and swear by His name.”
Deut 13:4, “You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve (ABAD) Him, and cling to Him.”
Present-day religious pluralism, “You worship your god and I’ll worship mine, because both are right,” is both unbiblical and illogical. How can there be more than one god? If God is God, He is infinite, eternal, and sovereign, and cannot share the throne with another being who is also infinite, eternal, and sovereign.
Mat 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
1 Cor 10:14, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
Gal 5:20, the prohibitions against, “…idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.”
Col 3:5, “Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.”
Idolatry is the Greek noun EIDOLOLATREIA, εἰδωλολατρεία, used in 1 Cor 10:14; Gal 5:20; Col 3:5; 1 Peter 4:3, that is held to be a Christian formation, as it is not found prior to the Christian period. It is a compound word from EIDOLON, “image,” and LATREIA, “service.” It is linked to monetary greed in Ephesians and Colossians. It is defined as: The worship of idols or false gods, blind admiration of or devotion to something or someone, excessive admiration or love shown for somebody or something, and an active rejection of God by willful participation in sin, including allegiance sworn to sin rather than to God.
In 1 Cor 10:10-22, the idol worship of the pagan nations was not only illogical and unbiblical, but it was intensely immoral, (temple prostitutes and fertility rites), inhuman, (sacrificing children), and demonic.
Paul also notes the powerlessness of idols in 1 Cor 12:2, “You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.”
John warned against worshipping idols, 1 John 5:21; Rev 2:14, 20; 9:20.
1 John 5:21, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
Rev 9:20, “The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.”
Paul was riled up in his soul to witness the truth about God and Christ to the Athenians because of their idol worship, Acts 17:16.
Paul further defines idolatry as false worship related to demonism and a false communion table in 1 Cor 10:21, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” Therefore, idol worship amounts to demon worship.
In Rev 2:14, 20, when the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira were rebuked, it was because their eating of sacrificial meat to idols was done in the worship of those idols. Cf. Num 25:1-5; 31:6. As opposed to the great discussion in both 1 Cor 8 and 10, regarding things sacrificed to idols and the mature believer’s attitude towards them and their fellow man. To the mature believer there are no idols that exist, so it is ok to eat the meat sacrificed to them, as long as that eating does not cause an unbeliever or immature believer to sin by judging your eating. If so, the mature believer is to abstain for the sake of the brother, but not for the sake of the idol.
The idols that entice God’s people today are things like money, recognition, success, material possessions, (cars, houses, boats, collectibles, etc.), sex, knowledge, or even other people.
Therefore, like the people of Israel during the Jewish Dispensation, the Church during the current Age of Grace is to not make, serve, or worship any other gods, in image or fashion. Therefore, this commandment warns us against having the wrong object of worship and against worshiping the wrong way.
Isa 42:8, “I am the Lord: that is my name; and my glory I will not give to another, neither my praise to graven (carved) images.”
Jesus said of the Church Age in, John 4:23-24, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (That is, not in or by an image).