No idols - Exodus 31:18-35

This is a family service talk by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 1st February 2009.

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Me:     O Hello Daisy.  How did the Chinese New Year go at school then?

Daisy:    How do you know about that?

Me: Because you told me last month!

Daisy:  Oh yes, silly me.    


Me:    So, what did you get up to on Monday then?


Daisy:    Well we had great fun.  In Art, we made Chinese lanterns, drew pictures of Oxes and made a paper dragon – but I didn’t like the dragon bit.

Me:     Why’s that – you weren’t asked to worship the dragon as if it were God were you?

Daisy:    Oh no, the teacher didn’t mention God all day.  No, I didn’t like the dragon thing, because we were split into teams and each team had to make a section which we then stuck together at the end?

Me:  Sounds good to me.   

Daisy:    Yeah, but I wanted to work on the head section and my team just got a boring middle bit.   

Me:    Well we can’t all be at the top can we?

Daisy:  That’s what my teacher said!

Me:    So  - anything else Chinese?

Daisy:    Well in History, we started a new project on ancient civilisations, starting with China of course and their Great Wall. 

Me:  Sounds great.   

Daisy:     And at dinner time, they had Chinese food on offer. 

Me:     So did you like it then?

Daisy:   Well I loved my sausage and mash if that’s what you mean.

Me:    You didn’t even try any Chinese food?

Daisy:    Must be joking.  Looked disgusting!

Me:  Yeees.  Well I’m glad you weren’t asked to worship a false god dressed up as a Dragon. 

Daisy:    Yeah, because that’s what you were telling us about last time wasn’t it? 

Me:    That’s right.  We started looking at the 10 Commandments.  Can you remember what the first one was?

Daisy:    Yep, yep yep.  It was:   “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Me:    Well done Daisy.  But what does that mean?  That’s the really important thing.  It’s great to learn the commandments, as I hope we’re all going to do this year, but what does not having any other Gods mean?

Daisy:      There’s only one true God.   

Me:   That's right.  The God of the Bible.  The One God in three persons:  F, S & HS.

Daisy:    And so we mustn’t worship any other gods or anything else as if it were a god.

Me:    Like dragons, Oxes trees or anything else in nature.   

Daisy:    Because God made everything in the first place. 

Me:     We need to remember the difference between God the Creator and everything else in His creation. 

Daisy:    Yeah I remember that bit.  So worshipping god in the trees like my gymnastics teacher is out. 

Me:    But enjoying nature and the rest of God’s creation is fine, so long as we don’t worship creation.  We only worship God the Creator. 

Daisy:   Yep yep, I’ve got all that.  There’s only one God; the God of the Bible: but somehow he exists in three persons:  father, son and Holy Spirit. 

Me:     Really well done Daisy.  But can you remember what all that meant in practice? If we’re not to have any other gods, then what does that mean about how important God is?

Daisy:    He’s really important? 

Me:    Well yes – but have a look at last month’s banner on the [front of the puppet theatre/  on the screen]   [NB  God first]

Daisy:      Oh yes, I remember.  We must put God first.

Me:   In everything.   

Daisy:   And so God must be the most important thing in our lives.  Even more important than my new Wii!

Me:    And even more important than the people you love the most, like mum and dad!

Daisy:   [looking a bit dejected]  Yes I remember now.   

Me:    And that’s hard isn’t it. 

Daisy:    It is, which is why we need help.  

Me:   And so today we’re going to carry on getting some of that help as we continue looking at the 10 Commandments.

Daisy:      Commandment number 2;  No idols.   [Commandment No 2 on screen]

Me:  That’s right Daisy.  And it’s [on p?  of the service sheets/  here on the screen].  So let’s all sat it together:  “Commandment Number 2:  No idols”.   
You shall not make for yourself an idol nor shall you bow down and worship an idol;  and that what this month’s banner is all about [on the front of the puppet theatre/ coming up on the screen].  A man bowing down ‘2’ idols.  Get it:  commandment No 2:  don’t bow down ‘2’ idols.   

Daisy:   Yessssss!    So what’s the difference then?

Me:    What between God and idols?

Daisy:   No, between Commandments 1 and 2.  Aren’t they the same?    What’s the difference between not worshipping any other Gods and not worshipping an idol.    Isn’t an idol simply something else in God’s creation that someone pretends is a god?


Me:   Well yes, it can be that.    In all kinds of religions all over the world, people draw pictures or make models of something they call god and then they bow down and worship what they’ve made with they own hands. 

Daisy:    What like Hindus worship cows because they think they’re sacred.

Me:     That’s right.  How did you know that?

Daisy:    Saw it on the news.

Me:  Oh right. 

Daisy:  So what’s the difference then.  We mustn’t worship any other god, including silly models of cows that can’t hear or answer our prayers. 

Me:    Quite.  But as you say, that’s all part of Commandment Number 1:  don’t worship any other gods, and don’t make up other false gods;  don’t draw pictures of them or make models of them. 

Daisy:  Because there’s only 1 true God.

Me:  Exactly.  But the main point of Commandment No 2 is slightly different.  Commandment No 1 was all about not worshipping other gods.  And Commandment No 2 is all about how to worship the One True God in the right way.  And Commandment No 2 tells us that to worship God properly, you mustn’t try to picture him in any way;  no drawings, no paintings no sculptures. 

Daisy:  But I like Art, it’s one of my favourite subjects.  Dad says next time we go to London he’s going to take me to the National Gallery.  So what’s wrong with pictures and images?

Me:  [holding up picture of Daisy]  Well who’s this?

Daisy:    Me of course. 

Me:  [talking to the picture]     Oh hello Daisy, so which bit of the Chinese art class did you enjoy the most?   [pause]  Come on, I know you didn’t like the dragoon making, so what was best:   the lantern making or drawing the oxes?    [pause -  real Daisy looks around confused/ scratching her head etc]  Oh Daisy, it’s not like you to be speechless.    Anyway, can you just give us a twirl, I just want to see the way you’ve done your bunches at the back. 

Daisy:  What are you talking about?

Me:  I’m talking to Daisy about the Chinese New Year and her hair.

Daisy:  It’s just a picture;  how can a picture answer you back?

Me:  But you said it was you. 

Daisy:  I meant it was a picture of me.  It’s not me;  just a picture of me;  it can’t talk.  So of course it can’t turn round and show you the back of its head.    If you want to look at my bunches, then you’ll have to ask me [turns head]  here you are. 

Me:   And that’s exactly the point Daisy.  That’s why God doesn’t want us to make picture, or images or sculptures of Him;  not because He’s got a downer on photography or Art.  But because you can’t have a relationship with a picture. 

Daisy:  of course not;  pictures can’t talk back. 

Me:  as we’ve seen.    But there’s another reason:  in any one picture, you never get the full picture so to speak.

Daisy:  What like you couldn’t see the back of my head in that picture of me.

Me:  Exactly.  And if that’s the case with pictures of people, then how much more is that the case with God. 

Daisy:  What do you mean?

Me:  Well what’s God like?  What do you know about God from the Bible?

Daisy:   God is love. 

Me:  That’s a good start.  What else?

Daisy:    He’s holy, just, fair and righteous. 

Me:  Excellent.   [Pause]   And

Daisy:    He’s always existed.

Me:  That’s right:  God’s eternal and so he never changes. 

Daisy:  And He’s a spirit isn’t he? 

Me:  Right again, which means that he’s everywhere all at once. 

Daisy:    Right!   And because he’s a spirit who’s everywhere all at once and has a loving relationship with tonnes of people all at the same time, he knows everything doesn’t he. 

Me:  this is amazing Daisy;  you’re right.  The Psalms remind us that God knows every detail of our lives;  every thought we’ve ever had,  and not just ours, but the thoughts of every person who’s ever lived on the planet.  Jesus himself said that God even knows the numbers of hairs on each of our heads.  So yes, he knows everything.    

Daisy:  Amazing! 

Me:    It is.  God’s bigger than the entire universe, because He made it all in the first place.  He’s everywhere all at once;  he knows everything;  he’s all powerful and can do anything he pleases and yet he’s perfectly holy and righteous.  And on top of all that, God’s an invisible spirit;  as Jesus put it in John’s Gospel:  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. 

Daisy:   So does that mean God doesn’t have a body like us. 

Me:    Right again.  So you’re into Art then, Daisy, how would you draw God?  

Daisy:  [long pause]   How can you draw a Spirit?

Me:  Exactly.

Daisy:  [pause]  and how can you draw infinity – someone bigger than the whole universe?

Me:  And that’s the point Daisy.   That’s why God says No Idols.  Because any picture or image or sculpture of God is bound to be bad;  a misrepresentation of God;  because no one picture, or image or sculpture can fully represent our amazing and infinite God.   

Daisy:   [not fully convinced]  I see. 

Me:     But actually it’s worse.    Because we can’t see the invisible and infinite God, if we make an image of Him, we’ll be tempted to worship the image rather than the reality?

Daisy:  Why’s that?

Me:  It’s human nature.  Because we can’t see God, if we’ve got an image of what we think He’s God, we’ll be drawn to worship the image because we can see it;  it’s easier to worship an false image of God that we can see with our eyes, than worship the one True God, who we can’t see with eyes.  And to see how this works out, let’s have our second reading. 

2nd Reading:  Exodus 31:18- 32:10  & 32:30-35

Talk Part 2

Me:   Before Moses had gone, the Lord has spoken the 10 commandments in a loud voice from the top of Mt Sinai.  And commandment Number 2 was:  no Idols:  don’t make for yourself an image of God and don’t bow down and worship what your hands have made.  They all heard the commandments.  And then Moses when back up Mt Sinai to receive the rest of the Law.  He’s had only been gone 40 days and nights.  And so 6 weeks after they’d been given the 10 commandments, what did they do?

Daisy:    The made an Idol. 

Me:  That’s right.  They made a golden calf out of their earrings.  And they worshipped it, pretending that it was the God who’d bought them out of Egypt.  Out of the land of slavery, as the Lord Himself had put it at the beginning of the 10 Commandments.      And if you’ve still got your Bibles open at that reading, look at v5, where Aaron says:  “tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord’.  And so the next day, they got up and had a big church service: a big church service based around the golden calf;  based around the idol they’d made with their own hands. 

Daisy:    An idol God said they shouldn’t have made. 

Me:    That’s right.  So what do you think the One true God thought of their church service?

Daisy:  Well they were breaking the second commandment, just after he’d given it to them, so I suppose he wasn’t very happy.

Me:    Absolutely.  In v9 of chapter 32 God said this to Moses;  "I have seen these people," … "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.”

Daisy:   Which is sort of what God said when he was giving Commandment No 2 wasn’t it?

Me:  Right again.   Let’s turn back to Ex 20 and read v4 again:

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.”

Still Me:  As we’ve seen, any image of God distorts the One true God, because no picture of God can ever do Him justice.  But it’s worse.  If we break the second Commandment and try to make an image of God, then we’re not just worshipping God in the wrong way;  no, we end up worshipping the wrong god altogether.  If you break the second commandment, you’ve also broken the first.   Just like the Israelites with the Golden Calf, if you pretend to worship God using an idol, then you end up worshipping a made-up god; a false god, the wrong god. 

Daisy:   But nobody worships golden calves today do they?

Me:  Well earlier, you mentioned that Hindus think cows are sacred;  so sometimes they do. 

Daisy:   Yeah, but nobody in church would do that, would they?

Me:    OK what’s this:   [hold up God picture one] 

Daisy:   A picture of a weird looking man??

Me:  Well actually it’s a 15C picture of God Almighty:  Or at least that what its creator Jan van Eyck called it anyway.  [pause]  Or what about this one?

Daisy:  Looks a bit like Dumbledore out of Harry Potter! 

Me:    Nop; it’s a bit older than that.  Not as old as the One true God, but it’s another 15C picture, this time called:  ‘God the Father’. 

Daisy:  Nooo!

Me:    Yes.  And you can find pictures of God like this in churches all over the world. 

And it's wrong.  It’s idolatry.  So let’s get rid of idolatry.  [rip up pictures]

Daisy:  But what about Jesus.

Me:   Well who is J?

Daisy:   The Christ.

Me:  Yes that’s right.  He was the Messiah or the Christ the promised King in David’s line.  SO he was fully man.  But what else.  Who else was J?

Daisy:  God.  He was God with us;  Immanuel and all that as we learnt at Christmas.

Me:  Excellent.  Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  God with a human face so to speak.


Daisy:    So what about pictures of Jesus.  If Jesus was fully God and God says no to idols, no images of God, then does that mean pictures of Jesus are out as well?

Me:  Well that’s good logic isn’t it.  If God says no images of God, then it does raise big questions about pictures of J? 

Daisy:  And what about little models of Jesus on the cross you see in some churches.

Me:    Yep I know what you mean;  they’re called crucifixes and that’s a very good example of why the commandments forbid all images of God.  Because what might start out as an innocent piece of art ends up being an object of worship.  People bowing down not to the real Jesus, but to a model of Jesus on the cross at the front of church or wherever. 

Daisy:   What you mean some people bow down to one of those crucifix things in a church service?

Me:   They do. 

Daisy:      So what about the pictures of Jesus in my Junior Bible and that Children’s Bible you were talking about last month. 

Me;  Well that’s a very good question.     Jesus wasn’t just fully man as we’ve seen, but He was also fully God.   And so if we’d lived at the time, then we could’ve seen Jesus in the flesh.  And we could have bowed down and worshiped him, like some people did at the time.  But, as we’ve also seen when we looked at your picture, any image of someone isn’t the real thing.  A picture can never fully recapture everything you need to know about someone.  And on top of that, God has warned us that when we make picture of God, we tend to end up worshipping our images instead of the real thing. 

Daisy:  I don’t worship pictures of Jesus.

Me:  Well I’m glad to hear it.  But when you pray to God, who do you usually pray to?

Daisy:    God. 

Me:  No I mean do you usually pray to God the Father, or to Jesus or to the HS?

Daisy;   UmmmmJesus.

Me:  And why’s that?

Daisy:  [mini pause then slowly]  Because I can picture Jesus in my mind when my eyes are shut, but I can’t picture the Father. 

Me:  And when you picture Jesus, what does he look like?

Daisy:  [slowly] Well he’s got long brown hair and a beard, a white tunic thing and sandals.

Me;  And where did you get that image from?

Daisy:    [mini pause] Not sure;  various books of Bible stories I suppose.   

Me:  And that’s the point.  It’s not wrong to pray to Jesus, because he’s fully God.  But Jesus himself tells us that that when we pray, we should normally pray to our Father in Heaven.  We’ve been given very clear instructions on how to worship God properly.  And the problem with our images, with our picture of God, picture of Jesus even, is that they tend to corrupt our worship;  they tend to take our worship away from the One true God to the worship of our man-made images and pictures.    And that’s why God says:  no idols; no images of God;  don’t make them and don’t bow down to them in worship.  Because you’ll end up worshipping a false God and breaking the first commandment as well. 

Daisy:  really.

Me:   Really.  And when God's people break his clear commands, like the Israelites did when they made the golden calf, God get angry;  very angry in fact.   Listen again to what he said about the Israelites in Ex chapter 32:  I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them.”

Daisy:  Well I need to think and pray about all this, because I like my pictures.

Me:    Well I think we all need to think about how we’re living and worshipping and how that matches up to the 10 Commandments.  And that’s what this series is all about.  Living for the King,  And making sure our lives are in line with the King’s commands.  And the first 2 commands have been:

Daisy:  No other Gods. 

Me:  and no idols;  no images of God.  And that’s what our next song is all about.  God rules OK;  no other Gods, no way.  And while we’re singing, we’ll take up our financial offerings as a response to all that the Lord's done for us in Jesus.

  [Daisy exit during song]

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