It should be noted that in the Bible idolatry is consistently linked with both sexual immorality and greed. Sexual immorality because idol worship usually involved participating in ritual orgies or fornication with the temple prostitutes. As the saying goes, sex sells, and the demons behind any given idol know this (1 cor. 10:18-22).
There’s something of a progression when one moves from the first commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me”—to the second commandment forbidding the making and worship of idols. It’s a move delineating how the one true God is to be worshipped. And it tells us something about God. Namely, that the Creator God is a spirit, invisible, infinite, and holy. In other words, there’s an unholy absurdity in making a finite representation of an infinite and immense God.
The full commandment, promises and all, reads thus:
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for 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.”
For a fuller exposition of the commandment as a whole you could do no better than reading The Westminster Larger Catechism (questions 107-110), Thomas Watson’s The Ten Commandments, and Wilhelmus à Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, volume 3—in that order. Go. Read. Grow.
It could be argued, as we’re reading the ten commandments from the top down, that there’s a little bit of the second commandment that drips down and finds itself in every other commandment. That is, there’s an idolatry problem usually at the heart of every other sin. To be sure, I’m sympathetic to an earlier article written by another Alliance contributor who makes the point that idolatry as such is its own unique sin; bowing down to carved images is not the same thing as committing adultery. He’s pushing back on what seems to be a modern trend of identifying idolatry as the core issue behind all our sin. I think there’s something to that. And yet, as the puritan Thomas Watson notes, “the Jews have a saying, that in every evil that befalls them, there is an ounce of the golden calf in it.”