The Ten Commandments — #2

TenCommandmentsA StubbornThings Symposium   7/31/15
Introduction  •  We’re almost there, folks, to number one. It’s been a long ride. The essays for #10 (where we started, in reverse order) were published back in June of 2014. We’ve been at this for more than a year now. I’m rather pleased that this hasn’t petered out. A few people have come and gone but the core group is still at it.

But then the whole point of the Ten Commandments is their timelessness. In this age where word meanings change for political reasons, it’s probably difficult for many to wrap their head around the idea of moral absolutes. “Oh, moral absolutes are for those Neanderthal Christians. It’s just a form of bigotry. It’s non-inclusive and intolerant.”

My words seem absurd as I type them but I know this is precisely how millions of people now think. Is there even room in Christianity for moral absolutes given how things are going? Sometimes I wonder.

But I don’t wonder that we need moral absolutes, their application — softened by wisdom and experience and avoiding the sin of fundamentalism — is desperately needed in a world where unborn babies are killed (bad enough) and then their body parts are sold for profit (extra monstrous). Remember this next time some libtard lectures you on being on “the wrong side of history.” Unlike infanticide, the Ten Commandments have stood the test of time.

Flexible ethics mean anything is permitted as long as it has the thin gloss of pop culture approval. Well, we here at StubbornThings are at least anything but popular (although some of the articles are getting thousands of hits). Telling people “thou shalt not” is not a popular thing to do. You’re supposed to get with it, be loosey goosey in all things. Be open, man. Be inclusive, tolerant, multicultural, and sophisticated. And under such delusions and conceits, mankind has often committed horrible acts as fads and political fashions run through a culture like a fever, setting it on fire.

We need an anchor. We need those words chiseled into stone lest malleable human ethics be rototilled into the dark soil of selfish rationalizations. We need guidance. This is, after all, what those Commandments are about. They’re not there to take our fun away but to enhance our lives. Every road needs lines painted on the margins to keep the car moving forward safely, happily, and productively. So do we.

The Editor

Number 2: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.”



You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or the waters below the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. Deuteronomy 5:7-10. (TANAKH JPS Translation)

The First and Second Commandments are closely related, in that God wants His people to have no gods “Before me,” which has two meanings: One means to place God first, before anything, which is covered by the First Commandment, but the word also means we are not to place anything false “before Him,” meaning in His presence, having to do with the Second Commandment. He does not want false gods or idols made by man in His sight, nor in yours. You are not to bow down to them because you are bowing before lies when you do.

This is one of the commandments I think I never quite understood, except in terms of not worshiping graven images and imputing to them godlike powers. It is God alone we are to worship. But I now believe that worshipping of idols is very much part and parcel of not just turning from God, but also a testament to the evil such turning presages. The ancient Peshitta text says that the word abomination means idol worship.

In Deuteronomy Moses constantly warned his people, Israel, what turning to idol worship would do to them. Graven images are the work of man’s own hands and hence can have no power but that which man himself gives them. Turning to idols and away from God always leads to:

*Worship of the earth and nature, something ancient Israel did. You can see the causes of extreme environmentalists today. Some are ready to maim and kill in pursuit of their goals because their ends become more important than the welfare of their fellow beings.

*Licentiousness. The “groves” referred to in the Old Testament were not places to have picnics. They were where so-called “fertility” rites took place, usually as part of earth worship.

*Sacrifice of children. What was biblically called “passing them through the fire,” which meant burning them alive to satisfy the gods of Baal or Moloch. This is the crime God hates most. And today so many innocents are aborted and murdered for political, and now we know, monetary gain. Loss of the Godly view of human life always leads to a lesser view of man, especially of helpless children.

*Persecution of the righteous by theft, false witness and murder to bring unrighteousness about. Stealing of property left whole families homeless and impoverished in ancient Israel. Again, just look about us today. The IRS is a good example of unleashed destruction and power over innocent people.

*Loss of freedom in the desire for a king to rule over the people, and the raising of taxes to support a monarchy. Read the history of the Kings and it makes one wonder why anyone would want to be a king, except for the power involved.

*Killing of God’s holy prophets. Jesus accused the Jews of his day of being guilty of killing the prophets and they hated him for speaking truth. Do countries persecute and kill “prophets” today? Look at Russia where Putin is killing those who speak against his evil. Many of them utter truth and pay the price. Do we in our land treat truth tellers any better?

These are the things Moses warned the people about repeatedly if they turned away from the true and living God and became ensnared in idol worship.

The second part of this commandment intrigues me. Does God really visit the guilt of the parents on the heads of the children for many generations? Or is this His way of warning the people of what happens if they are unrighteous and fail at rearing their children the way that will teach them truth and keep them free?

This appears to be one of those “I tell you of consequences and what happens when you fail in your duty.” God tells us how things really are and then we are the ones who make them come to pass. God also says that if the child turns from his wicked father’s ways, then the child will stand holy before Him.

Francis Bacon said that, “We are slaves to the idols of our minds.” Who or what are our “mind” idols today? There are so many idols to bind and enslave us. Whenever we turn to the idols of fame, power and money, to the arm of flesh, we lose the freedom our Creator has given us.

THE FIRST IDOLATRY IS TO WORSHIP YOURSELF, to become your own graven image.

— Anniel is a frequent contributor to StubbornThings and suggested this symposium.



“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. 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, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

Graven Images

This commandment can be divided into three segments. The first deals with the creator/creature distinction. God is reminding them that He created everything and they are just the creatures and anything they make into an idol is just taken from something He created and is no more important that they themselves are. He’s telling them not to forget who He is.

He is also warning them about getting involved in demonism, which always accompanies idol worship – but that’s another discussion.

The second section deals with the punishment.  Whereas the 5th Commandment promises rewards if it is followed, this is the only commandment with a clear statement of punishment, and serious, multigenerational punishment –Why?

I think it has to do with beginnings. Let me explain:

We whiz around in this 21st century world rather impressed with all we know and with how superior we are to those “dead white guys” of the past. Our attitude is understandable since one of our most basic assumptions, one we are not even consciously aware of, is the idea that we are evolving slowly into something much better, much smarter, much more morally accurate than our pitiful ancestors. We invent space aliens to explain the wonderment of the pyramids. We discount the accomplishments of the past – Noah could never have built a boat big enough to hold all the species on the earth, so the Flood story can’t be true. We sneer at Beethoven and swoon over Kanye West.

One of the most notable of our worldview mistakes is in the area of religion (I use this word advisedly –). History or philosophy professors will, referring perhaps to the works of Sir John Lubbock, and wearing the threadbare coat of Darwinian doctrine, expound on the development of religion. This train of thought assumes that religion is a human construct, one we took millennia to develop and refine. You’ll note that by doing so they slip under the table their sureness that no actual God exists.

They also fly in the face of actual research. They claim a slow progression from atheism to fetishism to totemism to – I could go on and on, but it doesn’t matter because there is too much evidence to the contrary. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has been known since the beginning of time. Some examples:

In Madagascar, for instance, the current religion is an idolatrous one, one we would normally associate with ancient and primitive religious practices, yet buried in the most ancient of Malagasy folklore are sayings like this, “–” The willfulness of man can be borne by the Creator; for God alone bears rule.” Or “Better be guilty with men than guilty before God,” or my favorite,  “Do not consider the secret valley, for God is overhead.” Where do these ideas come from?  Were the natives once believers in God Almighty and fell away, devolved into their current pagan religion?

We find the same sort of thing in the wild tribes of Borneo, and in the ancient poetry of the Hindus. In the Bhagavet Geeta we find the deity saying to the hero, “I am the Creator of all things, and all things proceed from me. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all things; I am time; I am all-grasping death; and I am renovation. “ The hero replies, “Reverence, reverence be unto Thee a thousand times repeated. Again and again reverence. 0 thou who art all in all! Infinite in Thy power and glory! Thou art the Father of all things animate and inanimate. There is none like unto Thee. “ That sounds much like the God I know.

The Hindu Rig Veda gives this account of creation:

“In the beginning there was neither naught nor aught,

Then there was neither atmosphere nor sky above, There was neither death nor immortality, There was neither day nor night, nor light, nor darkness, Only the Existent One breathed calmly self-contained.  Naught else but He was there, naught else above, beyond.

Then first came darkness hid in darkness, gloom in gloom;

Next all was water, chaos indiscrete,

In which ONE lay void, shrouded in nothingness.”

This same Veda contains this passage, “Him let us praise, the golden child that was In the beginning, who was born the Lord, Who made the earth and formed the sky.” This sounds so much like the opening of John’s Gospel. But the Hindus devolved into a culture filled with hundreds of idols – turtles, cattle, rats.

Plutarch tells us that the people of Thebes refused to pay the tax imposed for the keeping of the temples because they worshipped the “unmade and eternal deity.” Hmm..

All over the world we find traces of a belief, a knowledge of the Judeo-Christian God. In Chinese calligraphy, in Native American tribal beliefs, in South American Indian tribes.

So, back to the 2nd Commandment: what if this were not a warning against making a lateral move to a competing and apparently equal religion, nor a command not to return to more primitive religious modes? What if the no-graven-image rule was to hold us to reality? What if this was saying, “Don’t you dare pretend that I am not what I am.”

Or, even more to the point, what if God was warning the Israelites not to get caught up in the trappings of religion, to stick with the relationship they had with Him? Religion is a suspect term because both Judaism and Christianity have succumbed to the lure of ritual and relics, of legalism and pomp. But that wasn’t what sustained Abraham on his long trek from Ur, or on Mount Moriah getting ready to sacrifice his son. It wasn’t what empowered Jesus as he stumbled up the road to Golgotha. No swinging incense, no gold goblets, no heavily embroidered priest propelled Him forward. Yet the barnacles of religion have so encrusted Christianity as to make it as unrecognizable as was the Judaism of Christ’s day.

I think God was warning the Jews against religion. He was saying do not walk away from Me and your relationship with Me and substitute petty little clay figures, gross rituals, and elaborate edifices. Do this on pain of national death. Do this and saddle your children’s children’s children with your guilt, which would be an automatic outcome, not a divine unfairness. Children raised without a relationship with God suffer. That God would cut that off after the 4th generation is a mercy.

The third section deals with rewards – what happens if they maintain that relationship? He will “show love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Weigh those two –four generations of punishment vs. a thousand generations of blessing. My goodness, then why oh why do we walk away from Him, over and over and over?

God’s warning to Israel is obviously still in effect for all of us. Our children are suffering from our separation from God, from the Creator of all things, from our most important relationship. And yet the reward of a thousand generations of loveliness and prosperity is available for the asking, for the keeping of the commandments. It takes my breath away.

— Deana Chadwell blogs at

See Also:
The Tenth Commandment Symposium
The Ninth Commandment Symposium
The Eighth Commandment Symposium
The Seventh Commandment Symposium
The Sixth Commandment Symposium
The Fifth Commandment Symposium
The Fourth Commandment Symposium
The Third Commandment Symposium

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23 Responses to The Ten Commandments — #2

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In Madagascar, for instance, the current religion is an idolatrous one, one we would normally associate with ancient and primitive religious practices, yet buried in the most ancient of Malagasy folklore are sayings like this, “–” The willfulness of man can be borne by the Creator; for God alone bears rule.” Or “Better be guilty with men than guilty before God,” or my favorite,  “Do not consider the secret valley, for God is overhead.” Where do these ideas come from?  Were the natives once believers in God Almighty and fell away, devolved into their current pagan religion?

    That’s most interesting, Deana. And if I do say so myself, your essay may have been the best one yet in the entire series. I know this isn’t a competition. But just sayin’.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Graven images are the work of man’s own hands and hence can have no power but that which man himself gives them.

    That’s a terrific point, Annie. I think you quite succinctly got to one very important aspect of #2.

  3. Timothy Lane says:

    The Second Commandment is very problematic for many of us today. Though the purpose of the ban on graven images is to prevent their worship, the fact remains that in banning the making of any likeness of anything in the heavens or on (or within, I suspect) Earth, is effectively a ban on representational art of all animals and perhaps even plants (including humans, of course). This is what led to the literal iconoclasm (breaking of icons) that periodically broke out in the Byzantine Empire (they tended to take their theology seriously).

    A good example of the modern idolatry (which I believe I’ve mentioned here before) comes in H. Beam Piper’s superb Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen). Asked about the gods of his own time, Calvin Morrison aka Lord Kalvan describes the various gods such as status, concluding with “Atom Bomb the great destroyer”. He also notes that none of them were good gods, so he worshipped none of them.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Is a wooden carving of Baby Jesus in a crib a graven image? Is Jesus on the cross an idol? Is religious art — even the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel — a forbidden image? Is the worship of bones and relics of the saints a violation of the second commandment?

      I can’t speak for God, but I would suppose the difference is whether or not such things are a veneration of God rather than a substitute. And, yes, I think some of these things can act as substitutes.

      But it’s hard to imagine that the point was for mankind not to be involved in the arts. I just assume the context of “any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath” is in regards to using these things to “bow down” to. I could be wrong. He’s a jealous God. Maybe he indeed does disapprove of Michelangelo.

      • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

        Representative art is just a celebration of creation, and is mainly not used in a venerative fashion. As is not uncommon, reading God’s commands in an overly literal way is not constructive and may lead to unsupported conclusions. I enjoy wildlife and nature photography, and print and share images, but don’t think I’m risking a lightning bolt in so doing. Michelangelo was a tool of God, as we all are. He was just an exceptional one.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    So what is our golden calf today?, What is it that we have an image of, that we think will fulfil our needs?  Money, sex, food, football teams, tech, booze, drugs, houses, cars, boats, friends, work, material stuff, spouse, kids, and even religion can become another god. 

    Pat, I consider you my friend. But good gracious golly, you missed a big one there. It’s blown my confidence in you a bit. What acts as a golden calf today, making an idol of our very selves? (Wait for it.)

    Tattoos! 😀 That second commandment should be amended as such:

    …or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth, or on your butt cheek, thigh, or bicep. 

    But seriously. I like what you wrote. Well said.

    • Pst4usa says:

      Thanks Brad, and you are right, I did miss that one as well as a lot more, One I thought of later was close to your addition, “Fame”I is a really big one I left off, just thought the list could go on and on, so I just stopped. I have not made it through all of these yet, but so far they are great.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I missed it too, Pat. I still don’t understand how I could write an essay on idols and not miss the obvious example of tattoos. Oh well!

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    FYI, John Kirke’s essay has just been added on page 2.

  6. Wow. What an interesting and varied collection of essays! I learned the connection between the demonic idolatry of Egypt and this commandment (i.e. “word” as Jerry pointed out). I’m glad Jerry also pointed out the correct understand of divine “jealousy.” After all if God is really all there is, and if He loves his own truth then it’s completely right and proper that He should not tolerate affection for and worship of anything else. I loved John’s discussion of the Isaiah passage – apt indeed. Brad, I loved this line, “An idol is the fast-food of religion.” Amen. KFZ – your closing line is wonderful. Annie – your list of idolatrous activities is priceless, and Pat – I’m always intrigued by the connections you find between the parallel commandments. So true.

    Thanks all for your wisdom.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Isn’t it amazing that there are these relatively concise Ten Commandments that we’ve been able to elaborate on to the extent that we could fill a volume? As with any top ten list, the best is usually saved for last, and so it is in this case. And I suggest we don’t put quite an interval between the second and first. And now that I take a look at #1 (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”), it seems that #2 is an elaboration of #1 anyway, so that’s all the more reason, I guess.

      I really didn’t know how this would go (and I consider that it has gone very well so far). Thought is not dead, at least not yet. Wisdom still exists. The application of reason is not quite a lost art. “Nicey-nice, I’m-okay-you’re-0kay, non-judgmental” pseudo-Christianity still has some apostates. One wonders what a list of a modern “social justice” Ten Commandments would look like. Maybe something like this.

      1) Thou shalt not exclude other gods because they are all true to the various cultures.

      2) Thou shalt bow down to big screen TVs, mega-sound systems, and anything else we can spice up church with to make sure we don’t commit the greatest modern sin of all: boring you

      3) Anyone who says Obama’s middle name has taken his name in vain.

      4) Thou shalt not extend Black Friday past 10:00 pm on Thanksgiving night.

      5) Honor your single-mother. Fathers, of course, are expendable.

      6) Thou shalt not kill cute little fluffy lions. But go ahead and kill unborn children…you can even sell their body parts.

      7) “I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky.” “It’s not ‘rape rape.'” “Oral sex is not really sex.”

      8) Eat the rich.

      9) Thou shalt treat the law as John Roberts has done.

      10) “Social Justice” means never having to admit you’re coveting.

      This would be funny it it were not so true.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Yes, #2 is an extension of #1, so much so that the Catholics combine them into a single commandment (and divide #10 into a pair of them, one dealing with not coveting “your neighbor’s wife”, the other dealing with everything else).

        I worked up a Ten Commandments list for Obama that I think may be around here somewhere. (It’s on my regular computer, but that’s off right now and I don’t fell like turning it on just to copy it, which is a difficult task anyway.) In this case it treated Obama as God (with Rahm Emanuel as Moses). As I recall, it included “You shall bear false witness against your conservative neighbor” as #9. Both #8 and #10 were based on different codes for dealing with the poor and the rich.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I’ve always wondered about that “nor coveting thy neighbor’s manservant.” For pulling weeds, you suppose?

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Well, these days I can certainly think of a reason for coveting your neighbor’s manservant (even more than his maidservant, at least in San Francisco).

  7. Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

    Not being too serious, but is the iPhone and it’s brothers a powerful false god?

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Tom, I still have no idea why so many are obsessed with texting bland nothings to each other. The best I’ve been able to determine is that each incoming message is treated like “I exist! Woo hoo! Someone out there notices me!”

      Given the typically head-bowed, prayer-like position that is typical when using these devices, I would say that they could be interpreted as a false god.

      • Amen to that. I had to chide my granddaughter a few years ago — we were in New York, the greatest city to have ever existed, and mostly her head was buried in her phone, so busy texting her friends about her trip that she was missing it.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Lucky Lewis and Clark never had those thing or we would have never found our way to the Oregon Territory.

          • Tom Riehl Tom Riehl says:

            The image of small screen devotees missing life while trying witlessly to describe it reminds me of the STNG episode where the entire crew, almost, is captivated by an optical device capable of stimulating their brain’s pleasure center. Sorry to get geekish. Oregon is beautiful in spite of our socialist overlords.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Of course, there’s a matter of when one appreciates the sights (and sites). When we were in Greece (1961-4) I mostly didn’t fully appreciate what we were seeing (and the same for our 3 days in Rome before arriving). Now I can think of all that we saw that I didn’t care about (and often don’t remember), and wish it had been otherwise since I doubt I’ll ever get a chance to see those sights again.

          But, hey, I do recall our visit to Patmos.

      • Pst4usa says:

        That is part of the tech, I was referring to Brad. In my incomplete list.

  8. Pst4usa says:

    Thank you for the kind words Deanna. I just finished reading all of the contributions, they were, as usual, fantastic and quite varied. I also see a small problem coming, I, as Richard pointed out, will have a different take in regards to what the 1st commandment is. I am the lord your God that brought you out of Egypt… This will be my first commandment discussion, so I may have a different take then the rest.

    Thank you all for this chance to be a part of this discussion. In this venue, I feel like the Rudy character from the movie of the same name; he just does not have the size, ability or talent to be there, but somehow they put up with him to the end.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’ll send out a notice in a couple weeks for this Pat. Unless y’all want to start on it sooner. Your wish is my…err…commandment.

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