The Second Command is not to make a graven image — an idol. Here is the text from Exodus 20:4-6:
4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
We are reading Patrick Miller’s new book, The Ten Commandments: Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church.
A major interpretive method for reading the Second Command is to read it with Deuteronomy 4′s sermon, which he calls a Mosaic sermon on the Second Command.
What’s obvious there is that Israel was not to make an image because when God spoke — when Israel encountered God in person — they only got a Voice and no physical “form.” Human-made forms of God are wrong because God is formless.
This Command protects the First Command.
God’s “Word” immanence and God’s formless transcendence are breached when one makes an image of God. To make an image of God is to domesticate God, to tame the fire.
Most importantly, God is the one who determines how God is to be known. How is God known?Through the Word, and through the creation of humans as Eikons.
God is the one who decides how to make God known; humans don’t create gods; God chooses how to make God known.
And part of this Second Command is the endless prophetic critique of false gods and idols, seen brilliantly in Isaiah 40. Isa 45:7 is pertinent too: “They lift it [the idol] to their shoulders, they carry it, they set it in its place, and it stands there; it cannot move from its place.” Or from Jeremiah 10:5: “they are like scarecrows in a cucumber field.”
An element of the Second Command is the ground: God is jealous. This refers both to God’s zeal for his people and God’s reactive jealousy for sole affection from his loved one.