Text — Exodus 19:4, 20:22-26, 34:17, Lev. 26:1-2, Dt. 4:15-24, 11:16-17, 27:15
Subject — Images
Theme — Blessings and cursings associated with Idol worship.
Proposition — The blessings and cursing associated with idol worship should cause us to to eschew all idolatry.
Purpose — Therefore having considered the blessings and cursing associated
By way of Introduction this morning we note that the Law of God for His people is not cordoned off into some private space in our lives or restricted in application to our personal lives. God’s law is totalistic in its application.
That Reformed people have not constrained God’s law to some private personal sphere or limited it in its application to some Church realm has been a conviction that has been around for a very long time in Reformed Church. That God’s law is totalistic in its application is seen by a few quotes,
“It is our duty, as far as lies in our power, immediately to organize human society and all its institutions and organs upon a distinctively Christian basis. Indifference or impartiality here between the law of the kingdom and the law of the world, or of its prince, the devil, is utter treason to the King of Righteousness … The Bible, the great statute-book of the Kingdom, explicitly lays down principles which, when candidly applied, will regulate the action of every human being in all relations. There can be no compromise. The King said, with regard to all descriptions of moral agents in all spheres of activity, “He that is not with me is against me.” If the national life in general is organized upon non-Christian principles, the churches which are embraced within the universal assimilating power of that nation will not long be able to preserve their integrity.”
~ A. A. Hodge
“…And this generall Rule give me leave to assert and commend to your most serious considerations and consciences. That whatsoever Law of God, or Command of His, we find recorded in the Law-booke, in either of the Volumnes of GOD’S Statute, the N.T. or the Old, Remaines obligatory to us, unless we can prove it to be expired, or repealed. So it is with the Statute-Law of this Nation, or any Nation.”
Herbert Palmer – 1601-1647
Sermon before Parliament — August 13, 1644
“But it is questioned whether the law pertains to the kingdom of Christ, which is spiritual and distinct from all earthly dominion; and there are some men, not otherwise ill-disposed, to whom it appears that our condition under the Gospel is different from that of the ancient people under the law; not only because the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but because Christ was unwilling that the beginnings of His kingdom should be aided by the sword. But, when human judges consecrate their work to the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, I deny that on that account its nature is changed. For, although it was Christ’s will that His Gospel should be proclaimed by His disciples in opposition to the power of the whole world, and He exposed them armed with the Word alone like sheep amongst the wolves, He did not impose on Himself an eternal law that He should never bring kings under His subjection, nor tame their violence, nor change them from being cruel persecutors into the patrons and guardians of His Church.”
Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses — p. 77.
I could provide reams and reams more of similar quotes. All I am seeking to establish by such quotes is that Reformed people have for 500 years insisted the God’s law is not restricted to some personal private realm nor has God’s law been seen as less than totalistic (covering every realm of life) for all people.
And the reason I take the time to note this is that there are some pretty heavy Reformed hitters out there who are insisting that God’s law does not apply to the public square but instead the public square must be governed by a Natural law that is not allowed to explicitly reference God’s revealed Law in order to inform how we are governed.
When we come to God’s law we see a parallel in the way God’s works in ordering creation and the way he works in ordering man’s social existence. As God created order in the heavens and the earth w/ Ten words (Gen. 1:3-29) so He creates order in society w/ Ten words.
In the 1st commandment the prohibition is against serving any other God
As he have noted the 2nd commandment is a prohibition on
Making images to represent the true God (32:4)
Making images to represent false gods (any likeness of anything)
The problem with Idols is it allows the Deity to be controlled by those in charge of the Idol
This is to forget it is God who controls us, not we who control God.
1.) image worship is forbidden because it reduces God
a.) reduces God’s incomprehensibility to comprehensibility
b.) reduces God’s majesty and transcendence
c.) reduces God’s nearness & covenantal intimacy.
d.) reduces God’s Sovereignty
All of these put us in control of God
2.) image worship is forbidden because it creates self willed worship
God will not only be worshiped alone but He will be worshiped alone only in and by the way he dictates.
3.) image worship is forbidden because in it we become like what we worship (Ps. 115:4-8)
I.) A Brief Word On God’s Character Seen In The Second Commandment
The Hebrew word qana [a”n’q] and its cognates are the most extensively used words for jealousy in the Old Testament. In Exodus 34:14 we learn that “the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” In Deuteronomy 4:24, God is described as “a consuming fire, a jealous God, ” giving the idea that he will judge because of his jealousy. In Joshua 24:19, Joshua challenges the people to serve the Lord but reminds them that serving God will be difficult because “He is a holy God; he is a jealous God.” In Zechariah 1:14, when the Lord is asked why he allows Jerusalem to be down-trodden by the nations, he replies, “I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion.” In verse 15, he continues to explain that while he intended to punish Israel for her sin, the nations have “added to the calamity.” Because of his jealousy,God will restore Jerusalem to its rightful people and will build his temple there (v. 16).This concept is also brought out in context of the last days in Joel 2:18: “the Lord will be jealous for his land and take pity on his people.” The Hebrew noun is alsoused to describe a man’s jealousy for his wife ( Num 5:14-30 ) and God’s passionate anger against sin ( 1 Kings 14:22 ; Psalm 78:58 ).
God’s jealousy in 20:5 describes His passion for His Holy name. His people were to be known as God’s people so that if they committed idolatry it was God’s name (His character, His renown) that would be besmirched and seen as less glorious than it always remains. Eventually, this idolatry problem finds God removing his shekinah glory from the temple in Ezekiel 8:3. In Ez. 8:3 we have a description of an idol that was set up in the temple mount “that provokes to jealousy.”
God deigns to place His name upon us but in being adorned with His name we are not to provoke Him to jealously by involving ourselves with idolatry.
II.) The Familial Promises Attached To This Prohibition
Sanction and Blessing. To the second commandment are appended a sanction and a blessing.
We find the idea of blessings for obedience in many places in Scripture. Lev. 26:23=24 is one such example
23 “And if by this discipline you are not turned to me but walk contrary to me, 24 then I also will walk contrary to you, and I myself will strike you sevenfold for your sins.
In the Exodus reference we see that if the head of the family turns away from Yahweh to worship images, his entire family will be swallowed up in his self-willed worship. His sin becomes their stumbling. “The third and fourth generation” are mentioned, because sometimes parents lived to see these, and so with their eyes beheld the punishment inflicted upon their posterity for their sins, which must be distressing to them; The idea here is that these warnings might impress their minds and affect them, to think what their sins would bring upon their descendants, who would quickly come after them, and share in the sad effects of their iniquities, and so be a means to deter them from them.
Note how this reinforces Federal Theology.
That this blessing and curse are added to this commandment is significant. Lying and stealing are serious crimes, but turning your back on the Lord to practice self-willed religion is most serious.
This teaches us that true religion is not a matter of voluntary choice which is w/o repercussions. It is required by God, and failure to meet His requirements leads to judgment. To assume that men are free to worship or not worship w/o radical consequences for a family and even a society is to negate the very meaning of Biblical faith. The life of a family and a society is its religion and if that religion be false, then the family and the society is headed for God’s cursings. Obedience is thus not a matter of taste: it is a question of life and death.
If there are cursings that descend upon the family for the head of the family’s sin so there are blessings. All the way to the most extended generation imaginable, God will show his favor to those who are faithful to Him and keep His commands. David’s house continued for generations, even though they were punished for Solomon’s sins (1 Kings 11:34, 38-39).
“Showing Mercy” — This idea of Mercy in this text communicates the idea of God’s loving Kindness and Devotion to His people for the sake of His covenant with them. This idea of God “showing Mercy” is a strong term that communicates God’s unfailing commitment to His people.
Scriptures also describes this covenant faithfulness as “abounding in love,” (34:6) as a “Mercy that endureth forever (Psalm 136), and as so great that it takes back unfaithful Gomer (Hosea 2:19).
What might we say here?
You can love your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren best when you love God, thus leaving Generations yet unseen a Godly legacy.
For those without a Godly heritage in their family we can still take hope because Scripture teaches us that God, being merciful often graciously interrupts this cursing of the generations. These blessings and curses are not rules that God can not interrupt for His own ends. Pious Jehoshaphat had a godless son Jehoram (1 Kings 22:43; 2 Kings 8:16-18). Three godless sons and a godless grandson (2 Kings 22-23) succeeded God-fearing Josiah.
III.) Other Considerations Concerning Idolatry
The Impact of Idolatry On A Culture
In OT Israel the health of the body politic (commonwealth) required the prohibition of Idolatry, because the toleration of Idolatry meant the overthrow of God as God unto His people, which would result in death for the people. (All those who hate me love death).
As such in the OT Idolatry was punishable by Death since it constituted Treason against God.
2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, 3 and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, 4 and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, 5 then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. 7 The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge[a] the evil[b] from your midst.
Now, were we to implement this kind of procedure in our culture people would think it extreme, yet we are not inclined to think it extreme that people are put to death for treason against the State (Julius and Ethel Rosenberg).
But of course we do not visit Idolatry with capital punishment in this country but Calvinists over the Centuries have had other views.
”The third opinion (of Calvinism) is, that the Magistrate may and ought to exercise his coercive power, in suppressing and punishing Heretics and Sectaries, less or more, according as the nature and degree of the error, schism, obstinacy, and danger of seducing others, doth require. This as it was the judgment of the orthodox Ancients, (vide Optati opera, edit, Albaspin. pag. 204, 215.) so it is followed by our soundest Protestant Writers; most largely by Beza against Bellius and Monfortius, in a peculiar Treatise De Hareticis à Magistratu puniendis. And though Gerhard, Brochmand [de magist. polit. cap. 2. quæst. 3. dub 2.] and other Lutheran Writers, make a controversy where they need not, alleging that the Calvinists (so nicknamed) hold as the Papists do, that all Heretics without distinction are to be put to death: The truth is, they themselves say as much as either Calvin or Beza, or any other whom they take for adversaries in this Question, that is, that Heretics are to be punished by mulcts, imprisonments, banishments, and if they be gross idolaters or blasphemers, and seducers of others, then to be put to death. What is it else that Calvin teacheth, when he distinguisheth three kinds of errors: some to be tolerated with a spirit of meekness, and such as ought not to separate betwixt brethren: others not to be tolerated, but to be suppressed with a certain degree of severity: a third sort so abominable and pestiferous, that they are to be cut off by the highest punishments?”
~ George Gillespie
Calvin writes in his defense of the execution of Servetus:
Whoever shall now contend that it is unjust to put heretics and blasphemers to death will knowingly and willingly incur their very guilt. This is not laid down on human authority; it is God who speaks and prescribes a perpetual rule for his Church . It is not in vain that he banishes all those human affectations which soften our hearts; that he commands paternal love and all the benevolent feelings between brothers, relations, and friends to cease; in a word, that be almost deprives men of their nature in order that nothing may hinder their holy zeal. Why is so implacable a severity exacted but that we may know that God is defrauded of his honor, unless the piety that is due to him be preferred to all human duties, and that when his glory is to be asserted, humanity must be almost obliterated from our memories. 
Philip Schaff’s comment is important:
Calvin’s plea for the right and duty of the Christian magistrate to punish heresy by death, stands or falls with his theocratic theory and the binding authority of the Mosaic code. His arguments are chiefly drawn from the Jewish laws against idolatry and blasphemy, and from the examples of the pious kings of Israel. 
Gillespie and Calvin understood that to allow a alien law order, which allows Idolatry and all manner of sin which also is defined as criminality, to thrive in the name of some kind of enlightened pluralism was, in reality, to support the alien gods and the alien law order. To allow a law order to thrive that is alien to God’s law order to is to breathe life into the alien law order and to consign God’s law order to the garbage dump.
So, where Idolatry is allowed to have its way in any culture / social order means the eventual extinction of that culture / social order as people will disregard any social order constraints that get in the way of their self-assertion and desires. Just as Israel apart from the one true God was a nation where “every man did what was right in His own eyes,” so any nation that stands apart from the true God will have a culture where every man does what is right in his own eyes.
The only cure for this is Jesus Christ. Only Christ can provide the atonement necessary for those who have served false gods and desire to return to the only true God and the life that he promises.