The Second Commandment
If the First Commandment establishes God’s right to rule and to be obeyed, the Second opens our ears to hear His word without interference from the idols of the heart. Deut. 5:8-10 says,
8 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. 9 You 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, 10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Verse 8 shows us how to interpret Paul's writing in Phil. 2:10,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth.
The term “under the earth” was a Hebrew idiom meaning the sea. This was also called “the deep,” or “the abyss” (Gen. 8:2; Job 41:31). In other words, Paul spoke of men bowing the knee, even if they had been lost at sea. Moses says not to create an image of God based on any creature in heaven, earth, or in the sea.
Deuteronomy 5:9 tells us that God is “a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” This is repeated in Exodus 20:5, 34:7, and Numbers 14:18. What does it mean to VISIT?
In my book on The Biblical Meaning of Numbers, I noted that the number nine is the number of visitation. I explained this word,
“This is a Hebraism that pictures God as an Investigator 'visiting' a person, city, or nation to expose the hearts, gather evidence, and 'see' firsthand, as it were, the truth of a matter. It is much like a divine court case where the evidence is uncovered and presented to the judge for judgment.”
I then quoted Luke 19:43, 44, where Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, “because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” Jerusalem's time of visitation spanned the one-year ministry John the Baptist and another three years of Jesus' ministry, in which they looked for “fruit” (Luke 3:9; 13:6-9). There are nine gifts and nine fruit of the Spirit. Judah's time of visitation was like a divine investigation to uncover the truth and to see if the nation had brought forth fruit.
The investigation began with John the Baptist, who began to preach at the age of 30 in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1). Tiberius took the throne when his father Augustus died on August 19, 14 A.D. His 15th year extended from August of 28 AD to August of 29, and John's ministry began in the Spring of 29.
A year later, at Passover of 30, John was executed by Herod, and Jesus continued the investigation, searching for fruit for the next three years, as Luke 13:7 tells us, until His crucifixion at Passover of 33 A.D. Hence, this was exactly a four-year investigation, or “visitation.”
Of course, Judah bore no fruit, for it was a barren fig tree with a great hypocritical display of leaves (Matt. 21:19). For this reason, Jesus spoke the divine verdict upon the nation, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.”
Later in the same chapter He spoke a parable in which He allowed the chief priests and elders from the temple to judge themselves. The parable was about the vineyard and its caretakers who refused to render to God the fruits that He required as its Owner. Instead, they beat and stoned the prophets and even killed the Son. Matthew 21:40 and 41 then reads,
40 Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers? 41 They said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.
Judgment came 40 years later, as Jesus prophesied. Even though the time of visitation ended with a verdict rendered against them, God gave them a 40-year grace period in which to repent, on account of Ezekiel’s intercession in Ezekiel 4:6.
The Law of Jealousy
The law of God's jealousy states that He will visit the iniquity of the children to the third and fourth generation of those who HATE Him. Jesus said in John 15:23, “He who hates Me hates My Father also.” Verse 25 quotes Psalm 69:4, saying, “They hated Me without a cause.”
These things are written in the Gospels to show that the law in Deut. 5:9 applied to Judah and Jerusalem, and that the judgment was just when God used the Romans to destroy the city and its temple (Matt. 22:7).
We have another example of how this law was applied in prophetic history. King Joram of Judah was a wicked king who reigned in Jerusalem. He married Athaliah, the daughter of King Ahab and Jezebel of Israel. Jezebel herself was the daughter of Ethbaal, the King-Priest of Tyre, and so Athaliah, the queen of Judah, was also the granddaughter of Ethbaal.
King Joram thus was influenced by his Baal-worshiping wife. The story of Joram is found in 2 Kings 8:17 and 18,
17 He was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem. 18 And he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, just as the house of Ahab had done, for the daughter of Ahab became his wife; and he did evil in the sight of the Lord.
We are then told the reason why God began an official investigation of Judah—that is, a “visitation” was begun that would last to the fourth generation.
19 However, the Lord was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David His servant, since He had promised him to give a lamp to him through his sons always.
God had promised David that he would always have a son to sit on the throne. This promise was unconditional. However, because of the wickedness of these generations in question, God embarked upon a different plan by which He could bring judgment without violating His promise to David.
Apparently, Joram and Athaliah attempted to turn the temple of Solomon into a Baal shrine. We read of this in 2 Chron. 24:7,
7 For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of the Lord for the Baals.
Kings were of Judah; Priests were of Levi. The kings of Judah were forbidden to enter the house of God, except for the Melchizedek priesthood, which was a King-Priest order. David was a Melchizedek priest (Psalm 110:4). For this reason, it was lawful for him to eat from the table of showbread when he and his men were hungry (1 Sam. 21:6).
Apparently, Joram and Athaliah attempted to establish a counterfeit Melchizedek priesthood in Jerusalem, duplicating the pattern of her grandfather, Ethbaal, the King-Priest of Tyre. He and his sons assumed the right to enter the temple, as if they were priests as well as kings. But the Melchizedek Order does not depend upon genealogy, as Hebrews 7:3 tells us. Hence, even direct descendants of David are no more qualified than any other man or woman to be of that Order.
Legitimate King-Priests of the Melchizedek Order qualify only by spiritual descent from Jesus Christ, who is the High Priest of that Order (Heb. 7:26).
Joram and his sons obviously did not qualify as legitimate king-priests of the Melchizedek Order. Yet their attempt to usurp that position in the temple of Jerusalem called for a divine investigation, and ultimately a judgment against them unto the fourth generation, as the law prescribes.
Joram's son, Ahaziah (2 Kings 8:25-26) ruled just one year. When he was killed by Jehu (2 Kings 9:24), his mother decided to usurp the throne for herself, so she killed all of her other sons (2 Kings 11:1). However, Joash (or Jehoash), the youngest, who was yet a toddler, was hidden by the good priests in the temple and thus escaped the massacre.
Athaliah ruled six years and was then overthrown by the priests, who put Joash on the throne at the age of seven. Athaliah was then executed.
Joash, or Jehoash, reigned 40 years (2 Kings 12:1). Though he was a fairly good king, he did not remove the idolatrous altars of Baal that had been set up by his father and mother. When he died, his son Amaziah reigned another 29 years (2 Kings 14:2). Amaziah was the fourth generation from Joram whose actions started the divine “visitation.”
Hence, we find in the genealogy of Matthew that God blotted out Joram's son, grandson, and great-grandson from the genealogy leading to Christ. Matthew 1:8 says, “Joram begat Ozias.” In reality, Joram begat Ahaziah, who begat Jehoash, who began Amaziah, who began Uzziah (or Ozias).
These kings were stricken from the biblical record according to the verdict reached in the divine court after God had visited Judah to the third and fourth generation. It was a divine cleansing. The biblical number for cleansing is 76, as I showed in chapter 8 of my book, Secrets of Time. Hence, the total number of years that these three kings (plus Queen Athaliah) reigned was precisely 76 years.
Ahaziah reigned 1 year.
Athaliah reigned 6 years.
Joash, or Jehoash, reigned 40 years.
Amaziah reigned 29 years.
The total is 76 years.
When God revealed that He will “visit,” or investigate the iniquity of the fathers to the third and fourth generation, we are given specific biblical case histories that show us what this means.
Deuteronomy 5:10 says,
10 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.
Jesus quoted this in John 14:15, saying,
15 If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.
Again, he said in John 14:21,
21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him.
In these verses, Jesus tells us that the commandments are His own. In other words, He is the incarnation of the One who was revealed to Moses as Yahweh. It is also apparent that Jesus used the term “love” in a more limited manner than in John 3:16, “God so loved the world.” The world at large does not love Yahweh-Jesus at this present time, yet God loves the world. But in John 14:21 above, Jesus spoke of a more limited manifestation of love, given to those who keep His commandments.
To this smaller group is given the revelation of Himself and the revelation of the word, the law, the prophets, the psalms, and the gospels. We see this specifically with John himself, who is called in John 21:20, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Such a statement would be meaningless if He loved all men equally—or even all the disciples equally. This indicates that He revealed His heart to John more than to the other disciples. In other words, John understood the mind of Christ more than the others, because Christ revealed His heart to him in a greater way.
Such is the promise, then, of those who “keep His commandments.” Furthermore, keeping His commandments is more than just obeying Him. The Hebrew word shema means both to hear and to obey. Obedience is the result of hearing. Hearing comes first. Hearing is not possible apart from Christ disclosing Himself (that is, His mind and heart). When Christ sees that hearing has produced the fruit of obedience, He reveals His heart.
The Second Commandment forbids the worship of any graven image. It does not, however, forbid the normal use of statues, pictures, or images of natural things. In Numbers 21 God sent fiery serpents to bring judgment upon the people. When they repented, God instructed Moses to construct a graven image of a serpent, put it upon a pole, and display it for the people to look upon and thereby find healing from the effects of their sin. We read in Numbers 21:8 and 9,
8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
This bronze serpent prophesied of Christ, who was to be crucified for the healing of the people from their sin, as we read in John 3:14,
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him might have eternal life.
Christ was pictured as a serpent, not because the serpent was a good thing (as in some cultures), but because He was made to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). In taking upon Himself our sin, He became the “serpent,” as if He were “of the devil,” while at the same time imparting His righteousness to sinners.
The question is why, in view of the Second Commandment, would God tell Moses to construct a graven image of a serpent? Obviously, this bronze serpent did not violate the Commandment. Neither was it a violation to decorate the veil in the Most Holy Place with cherubim (Exodus 26:31)
Even Solomon’s temple was decorated with likenesses of things on earth, for we read in 1 Kings 6:29,
29 Then he carved all the walls of the house round about with carved engravings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, inner and outer sanctuaries.
The pillars, too, were decorated at the top (the capitals) with pomegranate and lily designs (1 Kings 7:18, 19). The molten sea (laver) was set upon twelve oxen statues, three facing in different directions (1 Kings 7:25). There were also lions and cherubim to beautify the laver (1 Kings 7:29).
None of these are condemned in Scripture, even though they were obviously graven images. It is only when those images were turned into objects of worship that the prophets found fault with Israel. Thus, the bronze serpent became an idol and had to be destroyed by King Hezekiah, according to 2 Kings 18:4,
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.
The good thing that had been constructed under Moses thus came to be idolized. We can see from this that God’s purpose in legislating the Second Commandment was not to prohibit artwork, but to prohibit its worship or misuse.
Idols of the Heart
Men have worshiped graven images for thousands of years in violation of the Second Commandment. Such idolatry, however, is not limited to the use of physical objects called idols. In fact, the physical idols are only an outward expression of a deeper problem of heart idolatry.
God revealed this to the prophet Ezekiel one day when some of the elders of Israel came to him to ask for a word from God. God told him in Ezekiel 14:3,
3 Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all?
In other words, the elders of Israel wanted a word from God, but they had already received a word from the idols in their hearts. The question was whether God should bother speaking to them or not, since they had already made up their minds on the issue. If one wants divine revelation from God, one has to inquire with an open mind so that the inquiry is genuine. If a man simply wants God to confirm his own opinion, he will inquire of as many prophets as it takes to receive the answer that he desires.
Should God speak to such people? Yes, God says…
4 … I the Lord will be brought to give him an answer in the matter in view of the multitude of his idols, 5 in order to lay hold of the hearts of Israel who are estranged from Me through all their idols.
In other words, God will give them the answer that they seek in order that they may fall along with their followers.
This is seen clearly again in 1 Kings 22:12, when the king’s prophets prophesied what King Ahab of Israel wanted to hear. Ahab wanted to go to war with Syria, and the prophets all confirmed the desire of Ahab’s heart. But King Jehoshaphat of Judah was uneasy with this, because he did not trust the word of those prophets. So he asked for a word from a prophet that was independent of Ahab, one who was not on the payroll and who therefore did not have Ahab as the idol of his heart.
The prophet Micaiah was thus summoned. He came and gave the same word that the other prophets had given. Jehoshaphat discerned that this was not truly a word from God, so he adjured the prophet to tell him the truth. In biblical law, to adjure meant that a person was under oath to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
17 So he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep which have no shepherd. And the Lord said, ‘These have no master. Let each of them return to his house in peace’.”
So Micaiah said under oath that God wanted them to return home and not to go to war against the king of Syria. But since Micaiah had been adjured, he had to continue the revelation until he had told the whole truth of the matter:
19 And Micaiah said, “Therefore, hear the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting on His throne, and all the host of heaven standing by Him on His right and on His left. 20 And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab to go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said this while another said that. 21 Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 And the Lord said to him, ‘How?’ And he said, ‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ Then He said, ‘You are to entice him and also prevail. Go and do so.’ 23 Now therefore, behold, the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; and the Lord has proclaimed disaster against you.”
So the whole truth of the matter was that King Ahab had inquired of the Lord with an idol in his heart. That is, he demanded that the prophets confirm his own desire. So they did. Even Micaiah joined with them at first, because God does give us the false word we desire, if this is what we really want.
It was only when adjured to speak the truth that Micaiah told them the full truth. Micaiah was put into prison until such time that the kings of Israel and Judah would return victorious in battle. But King Ahab was killed, and the prophet was released.
The Second Commandment, then, is very important to anyone who wishes to inquire of the Lord and receive a word that is true. Anyone can receive a word from God, for we all have the ability to hear God’s still, small voice within our hearts. The real issue is whether we are hearing without idols in our hearts, for if we violate the Second Commandment, we will receive a word from God that reflects that idol, rather than the heart of God.
The problem with an idol is that it is a man-made god. Any word we receive from an idol of the heart is only a man-made revelation that reflects our opinion, understanding, or desire. Any prophet who is in submission to men, perhaps being given a salary by a church, is in particular danger of forming an idol in the heart. The test invariably comes when a prophet receives a word that the pastor or board does not want to hear. The prophet then must decide whether to be true to God or to be true to men. His decision will determine whether he is the Lord’s prophet or a church prophet.
Dealing with heart idolatry is not an easy matter. In fact, it can be the most pressing issue that anyone can face. Overcoming heart idolatry is probably the single factor that determines whether we fulfill our callings effectively or not. Next to recognizing Christ as King, the Second Commandment is perhaps the most important in our spiritual development.
It is not hard to see, then, how the Second Commandment shows all of us how to love God with all our hearts.