Approaching the second of the ten commandments we are reminded that God’s worship is done in accordance with the way God has determined and not in the way we desire. It’s not only a commandment against making a statue or a graven image, though it is also that, rather when we consider it in the context of the fist commandment we understand that it is also speaking to the way that we are to properly adore the one true God. As Kevin DeYoung helpfully says in his book The Ten Commandments “If the fist commandment is against worshiping the wrong God, the second commandment is against worshiping God in the wrong way.”
As God is telling us his desires, how he wants to be served and worshipped this curbs our own appetite of innovation. The second commandment has two parts: We are not to make images to represent God in any form; We are not to worship images of any kind. To be clear, God is not against beauty, art, or “freedom of expression”. This is perfectly shown at the well known incident in Exodus 32. In that event, Aaron requested gold from the people and formed a golden calf. Then he spoke to the people and said the calf of gold was the god who led them out of Egypt. They didn’t think they were worshipping another god, they were trying to worship the only God but they did it in a way that was blasphemous and offensive.
It is striking, when reading the second commandment, to consider the blessings and curses attached to it.
I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
In the second commandment we aren’t to understand that a righteous child will suffer because of their sinful father. The judgment of the secondment speaks to habits, patterns, and practices formed by their fathers that are continued in the sons. Those generations continued in their hatred of God. It is the children in the third and fourth generation who continue to hate God as their fathers did.
When we read Ezekiel 18:20 he is writing to correct any misunderstanding.
The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
Ezekiel writes to bring hope. We have hope that if we turn from the wickedness of our sin and turn to God we will not be denied. He will not turn us away because we are stuck in a generational curse. Rather he is always willing to be merciful to those who seek it. DeYoung writes, “The promise of steadfast love is for those who ‘keep my commandments,’ just like the threat of punishment is for ‘those who hate me.’” (44)