Anyway, although I got through the teaching on the commandment itself, there were a couple of things I didn’t have time to elaborate on, so I am going to do that in this post. Here is the passage in Exodus 20:4-6
You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God, responding to the transgression of fathers by dealing with children to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, and showing covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
The commandment is pretty straightforward – don’t downsize God by trying to represent him by making something that could never represent him. That draws our focus away from him and kicks him out of his rightful place at the center of our lives.
His reason is because he’s “a jealous God”. In our small group this afternoon, we discussed that God couldn’t be jealous if our worship didn’t belong to him in the first place. He could be envious of our devotion to someone or something else. But jealousy means that we are giving away something that is rightfully his – our worship.
With this in mind, God makes two statements about how he deals with his people. (Listen to the first message in this series to understand why these apply only to those people who already have a relationship with God.)
First, for “those who reject me,” God promised that he would deal “with [their] children to the third and fourth generations”. Now some take this to mean that God places generational curses on families from which they cannot be freed.
I take issue with that because God clearly spells out in Deuteronomy 24:16 and Ezekiel 18:19-24 that each person is responsible for his own sins. This principle is carried throughout the New Testament, as well, in passages like Romans 14:12 and 2 Corinthians 5:10.
Here he is referring specifically to those who “reject” (some translations say “hate”) him. This is an intentional defiant attitude against God and his love and law by an individual person. What happens in a family when the parents reject God? The children suffer. They are not taught and do not experience God’s law or his love. What happens when the children grow up and do the same in their families?
Do you see how the effects of sin and rebellion can be passed down from one generation to the next? Not because God has cursed the family, but because the family has turned away from God, and God has to “deal with” those succeeding generations of rebels. Sin’s consequences always affect more than just the sinner.
Secondly, for “those who love me and keep my commandments,” God promised “covenant faithfulness to a thousand generations.”
Again, this doesn’t mean that as long as I do what’s right, my descendants can do anything they want, and God has to accept it. We are each still responsible to God for our own lives.
However, just like a person’s sin can affect a family for several generations, and person’s faithfulness to God can affect a family for generations. And according to this passage and others (Jeremiah 32:29, for example), the effects of our faithfulness to God reaches down through time far beyond the effects of our sin!
To those who love and obey God, he has promised his unending faithfulness. Consider: if a generation is 25 years on average (from the time a person is born until his or her first child), “a thousand generations” is 25,000 years! In human time, that’s pretty much forever! God promised faithfulness that humanity will never see end.
We don’t ever have to worry about God upholding his end of the bargain. When we faithfully keep him at the center of our lives, we can be sure that he will be faithful to guide us, protect us, provide for us, and so much more.