Sermon notes in a teaching series on Exodus 20:1-17
Paraphrases of Texts about the Law In Genesis 26:3-5, Yahweh made a promise to Isaac that He would confirm the oath which He swore to Abraham, and He said it was because Abraham listened to His voice and kept His mandate, His commandments, His statutes, and His instructions.
In Deuteronomy 7:9, Yahweh proclaims Himself as the faithful Mighty One who keeps His gracious covenant loyalty for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments. (Notice how love and commandment keeping go together.)
In Joshua 1:7-8, Joshua says that above everything, Yahweh's people are to be strong and courageous to carefully observe the whole instruction that Moses, the servant of Yahweh, commanded. Do not turn from it to the right or the left. This book of the law must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night, so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.
As King David was about to die, he instructed his son Solomon (in 1 Kings 2:1-3): "Be strong and brave, and keep your obligation to Yahweh, to walk in His ways and to keep His statutes, commandments, judgments, and testimonies. This is written in the law of Moses, so that you will have success in everything you do and wherever you turn."
In 2 Kings 18:6 we read that King Hezekiah trusted in Yahweh. He did not turn from following Yahweh, but kept the commandments Yahweh had commanded Moses.
Psalm 111 verse 10 tells us that the fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, and a good understanding have all they who do His commandments.
Proverbs 3:1-4 says you should not forget Yahweh's law, and let your heart keep His commandments. They will bring you many days, a full life, and well-being. You will find favor and high regard in the sight of Yahweh and man.
In Ecclesiastes 12:13, we read: "Listen to the conclusion of the whole matter: fear the Almighty and keep His commandments. This is the whole duty of man."
In Matthew 5:19 Yeshua says: "Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches people to do so, will be called least in the kingdom. But whoever practices and teaches these commandments will be called great in the kingdom."
In Matthew 19:17 we read that someone came up to Yeshua and asked him: Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life? Yeshua responded: If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.
In Luke 1:5-6 we read that Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptizer, were both righteous in Yahweh's sight, living without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of Yahweh.
Yeshua said in John 15:9-10, "If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in His love."
1 John 2:3-4 says that we know that we know Yahweh, by keeping His commandments. If we say we know Him, but don't keep His commandments, we are liars.
1 John 3:24 says that whatever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.
And 1 John 5:3 says: This is the love of Yahweh, that we keep His commandments, and they are not a burden.
Exhortation to Keep the Commandments This is just a short sampling of scriptures that emphasize the keeping of the commandments of Yahweh. We should probably have a little card in our wallet, with all these verses on them, when someone asks us: "Why do you think it's so important that you keep the commandments?"
There is no other way to live. There is no other way to carry on day-to-day life. There is no other way to do business. There is no other way to do anything there is to do. Keeping the commandments of Yahweh is always the right thing to do.
We may come up with all sorts of reasons not to keep the commandments, but they all go back to one reason: man thinks he knows better than Yahweh, and wants to do what he wants to do.
Your flesh; your carnal human nature, doesn't desire to keep the commandments. We all battle with the desires of the flesh. Sometimes the things your spirit man wants to do, you don't do. And sometimes the things your flesh man wants to do, you give in to. It is a constant battle that we have, because we think we know better than Yahweh.
But you are to instead trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.
It is not loving Yahweh to just believe the parts of the Bible that you want to believe. It is not loving Yahweh to pick and choose what you want to obey. It is not loving Yahweh to talk yourself out of keeping commandments, or precepts, or instructions that He has given. That's not loving Yahweh.
If you are a believer, Yahweh has forgiven you of all your sins. He has removed them as far as the East is from the West. He's had compassion upon you as man has compassion upon a little child he loves. He has wiped your slate clean. You are saved by His grace and mercy. You aren't saved because you made the first move. You are saved because of Yahweh, not because of you.
So how do we repay Yahweh? Well, we could never repay Yahweh. We could never earn Yahweh's love. We could never do enough good things to take away the bad things.
But... He has given us a way to show Him that we love Him. He has given us a way to say, "Thank you Yahweh. Thank you for everything You have done for me. Thank you for my life. Thank you for my family. Thank you for my friends." He's given us a way to actively say this to Him, and that way is by keeping His commandments.
You don't show Yahweh you love Him by telling Him, "I love you." That's okay to do, but that doesn't prove you love Yahweh.
You don't show Yahweh you love Him by how loud you sing to Him. You don't show Yahweh you love Him by how many words you use when you pray to Him, or how eloquent you speak. No... none of this proves anything. His love language is keeping His commandments.
When you follow His commandments, summarized in the 10 commandments in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, Yahweh looks down and knows that you love Him. He says, "There is my child. I know she loves me. I know he loves me. I know they appreciate what I have done for them. I know they really mean it."
So many people in the world today will attempt to get you away from the commandments. They will pull on your heart strings in an attempt to say that some things Yahweh commands just don't go along with how we are supposed to love in 2018. They will pull out all kinds of man-made ideas, and false concepts of love.
And even worse, you have professing Christian pastors that downplay the commandments. They say that we don't have to keep the commandments. They call the commandments outdated, or bondage.
In light of all the scriptures I began with today, how could someone state such a thing? How could someone who claims to believe in the Bible think that keeping the commandments of Yahweh is not really necessary?
Like I said, the flesh often overrides the spirit. Sometimes Christian men can get de-railed due to pier-pressure, and cave into the popular ideology that goes along with the ways of the carnal world.
I want you to know today that I believe in keeping the commandments. I believe in teaching the commandments. By Yahweh's grace, I will never teach you to break a commandment that you have the ability to obey.
Now, I am not perfect. I have sinned against Yahweh in ways that I am ashamed of. I battle with my flesh everyday just like everyone else. But a righteous man falls seven times and gets back up. I am not going to give in. I am not going to give up. I am not going to stop running this race. I am not going to roll over and try to fit in with any ideology that teaches keeping the commandments really doesn't matter.
Today's lesson is an encouragement lesson to keep Yahweh's commandments, and it is also an introductory lesson to the next 10 weeks. Beginning next week, I will be teaching 1 lesson on each of the 10 commandments.
The 10 commandments are 10 ways to love. They are 10 ways to live. They are 10 goals to strive for. None of them are outdated. All of them are for us today, and if we are interested in loving Yahweh, we must be interested in knowing, understanding, and obeying the 10 commandments.
I don't want any of my children, or any child in here growing up and deciding to trash the commandments, because they never heard them taught by the pastor of the church. But if I teach the commandments, and you still walk away from them, I have done my part.
I will talk about how we have broken the commandments, and I will talk about how we can keep the commandments. I will teach both law and grace. I will teach both faith and works. I will teach the whole council of Yahweh. I love you all, and I want you all to love Yahweh. I want to love Yahweh. I want to love Yahweh more and more. The way to do that is by studying His commandments, and learning how to keep His commandments.
THE FIRST COMMANDMENT
Read: Exodus 20:1-3; Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Today we begin our study through the 10 commandments, looking at each of them in light of (1) our failure to keep them, and (2) the requirement to live by them.
The 10 commandments are not the only 10 laws in the Bible. If you are reading them as exhaustive details about how to live, you are reading them incorrectly. They are each summaries of broader law or categories of law.
It is similar to how Yeshua spoke of 2 commands (in Matthew 22:34-40). Yeshua wasn't saying Yahweh only gave 2 commandments. He was saying that every commandment can be summed up inside of those 2 (love Yahweh; love your neighbor).
The 10 commandments are more detailed than the 2, yet they are still summaries of the entire law. Each commandment contains within it a wealth of information.
The Command Itself The first commandment, which we read moments ago, is not just the first in order; it is also the first or primary commandment in rank. It encompasses everything in Yahweh's law. Yahweh says, "Do not have other gods besides me," (HCSB) or "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." (KJV)
Some people read the words "before me" here, and conclude that other mighty ones do exist, but none are as high in rank as Yahweh. Others read the words as Yahweh saying "do not have other mighty ones before my face, or in my presence" because other mighty ones do not exist.
I believe that Scripture teaches that Yahweh is the All-mighty, but that there does exist other mighty ones in both the spirit realm and even in the fleshly realm.
This doesn't mean that any of the other mighty ones are equivalent with Yahweh in power, knowledge, and ability... but nonetheless they do exist.
For example: Exodus 15:11 says "Yahweh, who is like you among the gods (elohim)? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, revered with praises, performing wonders?" I don't think the question being asked is: "Yahweh, who is like you among the idols or non-existing deities," but instead, "Who among all the mighty ones of heaven and earth can be compared to Yahweh?" Psalm 86:8 says: "Lord, there is no one like You among the gods," and Psalm 136:2 says that Yahweh is the "God of gods" or Elohim of elohim. He's first place.
There exist other mighty ones in heaven and earth, but none can be compared to Yahweh. None have the authority that Yahweh has. None are able to make laws above or beyond what Yahweh has commanded. All authorities are subservient to Yahweh.
I Am Yahweh Your Elohim This is why you see a theme in the law of Yahweh, whereby laws begin or end with "I am Yahweh your Elohim." You'll find this over 30 times in the Old Testament, when Yahweh is giving authoritative declaration. He is declaring: "Because I am your Mighty One - your unique, sole authority - all other authorities bow to me. No one has the right to over-rule what I have commanded."
This is the first commandment. Yahweh is the Mighty One that stands above all others. He is the Mighty One that is to be first place in our lives, decisions, and in all that we do.
Putting Yahweh First Other authorities may exist in our life. Other mighty ones play a part in how we live. We have governments, parents, bosses, etc. We are called throughout Scripture to submit to authority structures. The key is that we understand that no authority structure would exist, unless Yahweh granted their authority.
A parent has authority over their child, but the parent was given such authority by The Supreme Being, Almighty Yahweh. This means that when the parent (or government, or boss) commands something contrary to what Yahweh has commanded, Yahweh still rules. There is no authority before (in front of) him, or beside (equivalent with) him.
It is alright to be devoted to others. I should be devoted to my wife and my children. I should be devoted to my family and my friends. There are levels of devotion though. For example: I am devoted more to my wife than anyone else in here. She's my best friend. I'm more worried about what she thinks of me, than what anyone else thinks of me. But as much as I love my wife, she cannot take top position in my life. Same goes for her with me. She has to be devoted to Yahweh in a stronger way that she devotes herself to Matthew.
Our Decisions vs. His Word In so many discussions, I've heard people say something like: "Well... I believe this, or that, or such and such. I think this is the way things should go," and they explain what they think is best or right, never looking to what Yahweh has said in His Word.
Anytime you come to a conclusion on what you think to be right or wrong, without looking to what Yahweh has commanded, you are having another mighty one in your life before Yahweh.
We grow up with ways to live and things to believe. We all inherit something from our parents and grandparents. Some of it is good, but none of it is infallible. It always bows to Yahweh's law. What a parent or grandparent says is always secondary to what Yahweh says.
We read some things in the Bible, and we think, "Ok... I can go along with that," but that's the wrong mentality. That's reading the Bible to see what we agree with, and trashing what we don't agree with. Reading Yahweh's law is supposed to transform us. We are to read it, and the many times it goes against what we think or want, we are to humbly submit to what Yahweh says.
Far too often people begin with their conclusion. I'm talking about Christian people; people who profess to believe in Holy Scripture. We decide what we think is best. We decide what we want to believe, because of various reasons: parents, grandparents, denomination, life experience, what makes us feel good, a dream we had etc. Then we go to the Bible to try and find something to back us up. That's beginning with your conclusion. That is the wrong way to read the Bible, and it is a violation of the first commandment.
Obedience means reading the Bible in order to come to a conclusion of what to believe; in order to come to a conclusion of what is right and wrong. You study, not caring what anyone else thinks, over and above Yahweh. It's not that you don't care about people; you do. You just don't care about people as much as you care about what Yahweh.
It is in the times when you are reading and studying Holy Scripture, and you come across something that goes against what an authority structure taught you, or something that isn't popular in main stream culture, or something that is looked down upon by society. You decide that you will submit to Yahweh, in spite of what anyone else may think of you. These are the times when you are loving Yahweh. These are the times when you are saying, "Yahweh, you told me not to have other mighty ones before You, so I'm standing on what You have said."
So you see how this command is the pinnacle and summary of all other commands. This one comes first because it is first. It is a call of ultimate allegiance to Yahweh above anything or anyone else.
The SHEMA I coupled this commandment with Deuteronomy 6:4-9 to begin the sermon, the passage which begins with the Hebrew word SHEMA, translated as "hear" or "listen." The word SHEMA doesn't mean a mere hearing of the ear. Yahweh isn't saying to just listen to Him audibly. He is saying "Listen with the intent to obey." Oftentimes the word SHEMA is translated in your Bible with the English word obey, because that's what it means. Deuteronomy 13:4 says to keep Yahweh's commands and listen (shema) to his voice. Listen intently, so you know how to obey. He that hath ears let him hear (Yeshua said). Not hear physically. Hear spiritually, so you obey.
What are we to obey in the SHEMA? So many people read Deuteronomy 6:4, using it in debates on how many persons God is. I've been guilty of this myself in talking with Trinitarians. "The SHEMA says the Lord is 1, not 3" I've said. But this is not the original meaning of the SHEMA. I don't hold to the Trinitarian idea of Yahweh. I do believe Yahweh is one, single person. But that is not the point of the SHEMA.
Deuteronomy 6:4 is not a theological statement of belief. It is an oath of loyalty. It is a command to Israel to have Yahweh as the supreme Mighty One in their life. Listen Israel. Listen with the intent on obeying this: Yahweh is our Mighty One. Yahweh alone. That's how some Bibles translate it, and I believe that is the better sense of the passage in context. The SHEMA is not declaring monotheism. It is commanding loyalty.
When Moses penned that down, he wasn't debating Trinitarians. Yahweh was giving a command that the Israelites were to have Yahweh as their sole authority. They were to have no other mighty ones before Him. That is the command to us today as well.
How We SHEMA We are to love Yahweh with everything. His law is to be our guide. His law is to be in our heart. His law is to be in our conversation, and even written on the doorpost of our house and upon our gates. Writing His law on your doorpost and gates goes beyond just the writing; it means that Yahweh is the center of your home. He is the Ruler of where you live. What goes on - on your property - is governed by the law of Yahweh. Listen Israel: Yahweh is your Mighty One. Yahweh alone. Serve no other. Pledge your allegiance to no other.
Anytime we say something is a sin that's not condemned in the law, we break the first commandment. Anytime we say something is not a sin, when it is a violation of the law, we break the first commandment. Anytime we read our own bias or personal prejudice into the law we break the first commandment.
We all come to Yahweh with baggage, and we fight hard because we want to keep at least some of that baggage. We fight because we are prideful people that do not want to submit to His authority.
It ruffles our feathers so much when we see something Yahweh teaches that doesn't go along with what we think. We start proof-texting. I've seen it done so much. You scramble to find a way to justify your thoughts. You desperately look for something in the Bible to fit your own thinking. And if that's what you want, that's what you will get. If you want to serve yourself or someone else; if you want to have a mighty one before Yahweh, you will have that mighty one.
Yahweh knows how much effort and study you put in. He sees whether or not you are diligently seeking His will. He knows the intents of your heart. He knows if you are submitting or resisting. He knows when you have an elohim before Him.
I believe we've all broken the first commandment, and since we have... we've broken the most important commandment in the law. All other commands fall under this one, and we are all guilty of disobedience.
The key is that you recognize your sin, ask Yahweh to forgive you for your sin, repent of your sin, place your faith in His Messiah who did not sin, and then ask Yahweh to help you put Him first. When you pray, ask Yahweh to help you read His Word with a willing heart. Ask Him to help you not fight what He has said. Ask Him to help you let go of traditions, ideologies, ways of thinking... that don't align with His instructions.
Yahweh must be number 1 all by Himself. No one else gets that spot. Oh how I've fallen so short. I'm thankful He forgives when we repent. I'm thankful He gave His Son as a substitute sacrifice for my breaking the first commandment. Now... I want to strive to obey Yahweh fully. I don't want to have another mighty one before Him.
THE SECOND COMMANDMENT
Read: Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 4:11-19
We now come to the commandment concerning images and likenesses. In the KJV, the first part of this commandment reads: "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything."
If the only passage dealing with this subject was Exodus 20:4-6, we might come to the conclusion that any images, statues, icons, paintings, drawings, etc. are forbidden. Some people throughout history have come to that conclusion. Others have read the same commandment, and focused on the second part in the commandment where we read: "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them." This view says that it is ok to make an image, so long as we do not bow down to, or serve the image.
Orthodox and Catholic The Orthodox Church, along with the Roman Catholic Church uses images and icons in their worship. They explain their use of images by saying that they are not worshiping the images, just venerating or honoring God or saints through the medium of the image.
An Orthodox believer would say that you might carry with you a picture of your spouse or children in your wallet (or in these days on your phone). If you are away from your family for an amount of time, such an image would mean a lot to you.
I remember watching Hacksaw Ridge, the movie where Desmond Doss (a 7th Day Adventist) joined the military, but kept a picture of his sweetheart with him to look at.
So... you might even kiss such a picture if you're away from someone you love for a long time, but you know that the picture is not the person. You are not idolizing the picture, you are just using it to help you remember someone you love.
Catholics would say the same, and maybe even go a step further. Some Orthodox believers limit their images to 2-dimensional icons; paintings of Christ and saints who have died in the faith. Catholics allow 3-dimensional images or statues. You've probably seen a crucifix before; a cross with a statue of Christ hanging on the cross. A Catholic believer would tell you that the he or she is using such a statue as a medium through which to worship THE Christ. They would say, "I am not worshiping the statue, only venerating or honoring the statue. It reminds me of Christ."
Protestant Reaction In history, some men in the Protestant Reformation re-acted to the Roman Catholic view by removing all images and icons from their churches. One such Protestant, a Puritan in the 1600's by the name of Thomas Watson, said: "The Church of Rome is reproved and condemned, which, from the Beginning of its religion to the End, is wholly idolatrous. Romanists make images of God the Father, painting him in their church windows as an old man; and an image of Christ on the crucifix; and, because it is against the letter of this commandment, they sacrilegiously blot it out of their catechism, and divide the tenth commandment into two."
Thomas Watson got a bit excited when he wrote that, because it's not technically accurate. If you pick up a Catholic Bible you will find the commandment we read at the beginning of this lesson there. They didn't remove it. What they do is number the Ten Commandments differently. They see Exodus 20:3 and Exodus 20:4-6 as all going together for the first commandment, and they explain the part about graven images and likenesses as pertaining to worship, not just the making of the image.
Thomas Watson, among others, re-acted to Rome's theology of images and use of images by removing all images from the church and worship setting. So even today, if you enter into a Protestant Church, you probably wouldn't see any images or icons anywhere. Walking into a Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church, you'd see quite a few.
But should we take a position on this issue by simply re-acting to another's point of view? Sometimes we do that. Sometimes we see how people do things religiously, and we think they are wrong, so we get as far away from their view as possible, and we forget about studying the Bible.
Are Images Forbidden? (Examples) Does Yahweh forbid the making of any image or likeness? Well... this commandment is found in Exodus 20:4-6, and just five chapters later, Yahweh gives another commandment in relation to the building of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 25 Yahweh commands that two cherub of gold be fashioned to go on top of the lid of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant was the holiest tangible object in Israel's faith, and was housed in the holiest place on earth. In it sat a pot of manna, Aaron's rod that budded almonds, and the Ten Commandment stones. On top sat a lid, sometimes called the mercy seat, and on the lid were fashioned two statues - cherubs, or angelic creatures with their wings touching each other.
Then, in Exodus 26 Yahweh commands that the curtains for the Tabernacle have a design of cherubim (plural) worked into them. These are living creatures in the heavens above, and Yahweh is commanding that images of them be made.
We also see later on in the stationary tabernacle, known as the Temple in Jerusalem, that king Solomon had two 15 foot cherubs built out of olive wood, and the temple walls had carvings and engravings on them of cherubs, palm trees, and flower blossoms. You can read about this in 1 Kings 6.
1 Kings 7 mentions a cast metal reservoir that held water used for ceremonial washing. Ornamental gourds encircled the reservoir, and it stood on top of 12 statues of oxen facing outward in a circle. You can also read here about water carts for the Temple. The carts were framed, and on the frames were pictures of lions, oxen, and cherubim.
In 1 Kings 9 Yahweh told Solomon that He consecrated this Temple that Solomon had built, and Yahweh never said one negative word about all the images and likenesses inside the Temple.
Catholic and Orthodox Christians point all of this out when talking to Protestants. They say, "See, it's not the images or likenesses that are forbidden, but the bowing down to them and the worshiping of them."
The Bronze Snake They would also point out Numbers 21. Let's go to Numbers 21 and read verses 4-9.
4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against Elohim and Moses: "Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!" 6 Then Yahweh sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died. 7 The people then came to Moses and said, "We have sinned by speaking against Yahweh and against you. Intercede with Yahweh so that He will take the snakes away from us." And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then Yahweh said to Moses, "Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
Yeshua mentions this account when speaking with Nicodemus. He says (John 3:14-15): "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life." Yeshua is equating himself with that bronze snake. Just like the Israelites were healed of their snake bites by looking on the bronze snake, the Israelites will be granted eternal life by looking upon the Son of Man. (I believe the lifting up here of the Son of Man is speaking of him being lifted up on a pole or cross, just like the bronze snake was mounted on a pole.)
Again, an image was made at the command of Yahweh. This bronze snake was not worshiped here in Numbers 21, but it was looked upon in accordance with the command of Yahweh.
Turn over to 2 Kings 18:1-4 and let me show you something. Let's read:
1 In the third year of Israel's King Hoshea son of Elah, Hezekiah son of Ahaz became king of Judah. 2 He was 25 years old when he became king; he reigned 29 years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Abi daughter of Zechariah. 3 He did what was right in Yahweh's sight just as his ancestor David had done. 4 He removed the high places and shattered the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah [poles]. He broke into pieces the bronze snake that Moses made, for the Israelites burned incense to it up to that time. He called it Nehushtan.
Nehushtan simply means "copper." Hezekiah called it "copper" to remind the Israelites that it was just an object. It had no life in it. The people had taken it too far. They were burning incense to it, which was worshiping the image.
What's the Answer? In studying the Scriptures, it appears that the Catholics and the Orthodox have a pretty good case for what they do. They acknowledge the commandment, but in light of the totality of Scripture, they believe the commandment forbids worshiping the images made, not the making of the images themselves.
Here's what I think they miss. There is no positive example in Scripture of any image being made of Yahweh, and then using that image in the worship of Him. There is also no positive example of the early New Covenant church making images or icons of the Messiah to use in their worship of Yeshua. This is where I think the Catholics and Orthodox go overboard.
It can be argued that an image of Yeshua is permitted, seeing he is a flesh and blood human. I can't argue against that, but (1) we must still guard against how it is used, and (2) how do we know what he looked like?
While some Protestants are too strict to have any images inside of a church setting (which is not Biblical), some Catholics and Orthodox go to the other extreme, and have images of the Almighty and Christ in the church setting, and set a level of affection on such images that I don't believe Yahweh is always comfortable with.
They might always come back with the rebuttal: "We are not worshiping the icon or the statue." But at what point does it become worship and thus sin? At what point does the veneration of images and icons become the worship of the image or icon?
I once had the opportunity go to San Antonio Texas, and visit a Roman Catholic Church built in the 1500's. The architecture was stunning, and there was a giant crucifix at the center of the front wall in the main sanctuary area. A young man knelt on a kneeler gazing at the crucifix with great affection. I wondered how long he would kneel there. It seemed like forever. Was this a mere looking upon the crucifix, as the Israelites looked upon the bronze serpent? Or was this overstepping the bounds of looking at the crucifix?
Remember: in 2 Kings 18 the Israelites were burning incense to the bronze snake. Nothing is said about praying to it, or bowing down to it, yet it was still seen as sin, because they had taken it too far.
When a person can look at a statue of the Virgin Mary and say: "Hail Mary Mother of God, full of grace and truth," is that not crossing the line? When a person can kiss a crucifix in a religious setting, is that not overstepping the bounds of the commandment?
None of the images or icons in the Old Testament were used in the proper worship of Yahweh. The images were there. The cherubim were there. The oxen were there. The bronze snake was there. But the most we can say is that these images were looked at. They were not kissed. No one bowed before the image. They were not held in the hand while an Israelite prayed. They were simply there, and in this list of images, there was never an approved image of Yahweh the Creator.
Can we go above and beyond what Yahweh has commanded and approved of? I don't believe so. While some Protestants may be disallowing less than what Yahweh allowed, we can't go beyond what Yahweh allows. According to Scripture, we would be allowed to have an image or icon here in the church setting, but (1) only to look at for its artistic beauty, (2) to bring to remembrance a great person or occurrence in Scripture, and (3) never of Yahweh.
The moment we begin worshiping Yahweh contrary to how He has prescribed, we open up a box that cannot be shut. This is why you see churches today doing everything under the sun in their worship service. I saw two guys do a rap about the UGA-Alabama SEC championship in front of their church during worship service. Then there was this pastor dude that came down from the balcony on a wire in an attempt to depict Christ coming in the clouds.
What has happened is that people have decided how they are going to worship Yahweh, when Yahweh has already prescribed how worship towards Him should go. We don't get to come up with our own images - our own imaginations - as to how He should be worshiped. We don't get to make a calf and proclaim (Exodus 32), "This is the elohim that brought you out of the land of Egypt!" No. We are to worship Him in the manner He prescribes. The Israelites were not creating another elohim in Exodus 32, they were depicting Yahweh by the calf. In the ancient near east, the bull was a sign of strength and power. They made this image to worship Yahweh through.
If He allows images and likenesses in the Tabernacle, so be it. But that doesn't mean we can make an image or likeness of Him who is the Creator, nor does it mean we can go beyond looking at the images that He allows, else they should be smashed into pieces like Hezekiah did to the bronze snake.
There are lawful things we may do outside of a church context. You wanna' go zip lining? Knock yourself out, but don't zip line into the pulpit to preach. You want to paint a picture, or make a carving, or form a statue. That is fine, but don't make one of Yahweh, and don't bow down or pray to any of the ones you are allowed to make.
It's about what makes Yahweh comfortable. It's not about what you want, it's about what He wants. Yahweh decides how He is to be worshiped, and we should respect His decision. Do what He says. Allow what He allows. Don't go beyond it, and don't condemn someone who stays in the parameters of the law, even if you personally refrain.
Some Protestants I believe are too strict on images and icons. And some Catholics and Orthodox I believe are not strict enough. We should always examine our practices in light of Holy Scripture, least we be involved in adding to or taking away from Yahweh's law. This commandment says that Yahweh is a jealous Mighty One. Let's not provoke our Mighty One to jealousy with an image or likeness.
As the end of the second commandment says: "For I Yahweh your Elohim, am a jealous Elohim, punishing the children for the father's sin to the third and fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing faithful love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commands."