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Author:Pastor Keith Davis
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Congregation:Bethel United Reformed Church
 Calgary, Alberta
 www.bethelurc.org
 
Title:Our God is a Jealous God
Text:LD 35 Exodus 20: 4-6; (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 2nd Commandment (No images)
 
Preached:2023-03-19
Added:2023-03-23
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Our God is a Jealous God

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the Bible God reveals Himself to us. On every page, He tell us who He is, what He has done, and how we are to live in relation to Him. And one of the most unexpected and shocking statements that God makes about himself is found in the passage we just read: Exodus 20: 5, where God says: I the Lord your God am a Jealous God. 

 

It's unexpected and shocking because jealously, at least the way we understand that word, the way we jealousy is expressed at a human level, is not a very virtuous or flattering quality. A jealous husband for example, is often an abusive husband. A jealous husband is insecure in his love for his wife. He doesn’t trust her, and as a result he treats her like an object, like a possession.  

 

The great English author and playwright, William Shakespeare incorporated jealousy into many of his plays and tragedies. He penned one of the most famous quotes about jealously in his play Othello: O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.  Jealousy is a vice – is consumes and destroys its host and all those who are its victims.  

 

Quite obviously that is not the kind of jealousy God displays, because God is pure and holy and sinless. While jealously is technically not an attribute of God, it is actually the outworking of God’s holiness. It is an expression of the nature and character of our holy God who loves us dearly, and he wants us to worship him, to know Him only as He is, and only as He has revealed in His Word.   

 

Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy as “God continually seeking to protect his own honor”.  

In his book Knowing God, J. I. Packer devotes an entire chapter to the Jealousy of God (ch. 17) and he cites the numerous references to God’s jealousy in both the Old and New Testament. He reminds us that in the same way that God’s wrath is not a sinful anger but a righteous wrath towards sin, so too, God’s jealousy is a righteous expression. He calls God’s jealousy a praiseworthy zeal on God’s part to preserve something supremely precious.

 

And what is it that God is so jealous about? What is this precious thing that God is trying to preserve?  Essentially, it is the love and worship and devotion of His Bride, His People, His church.    

In his comments on the second commandment, John Calvin says God addresses us in the character of a husband, where God has performed all the offices of a true and faithful husband, and so he requires love and chastity from us; so that we do not prostitute our souls to Satan.

 

To be more specific, the God who loves us, who has redeemed us and bought us to be His very own Bride, He wants us to know Him, to worship Him, to think about Him, to speak to Him, to approach Him, and to perceive of him only in ways that are consistent and faithful to His Word.

 

His Word is to inform and transform our perception of him, not our world. And thus, we are to reject and steer clear of any carnal, worldly views and thoughts and perceptions of God. This is at the heart of the second commandment. God is Jealous for us to Know Him as He Truly is.

1. The Permissible Images of God

2. The Forbidden Images of God

 

1. The Permissible Images of God

In this first point, we are going to see that while we may not create or make any images of God out of anything in earth, sky or sea, God is perfectly free to make any image of himself that he chooses. And, in the Bible God has done just that. God has chosen certain images and object which can convey to us something of his glory, and beauty and majesty and holiness.

 

What do I mean by that? Take us for example, mankind. We human beings have been created in God’s own image. Not in a physical likeness of course – because God is spirit, God does not have a physical body as we do.

 

But man ‘in the image of God’ means that we were created perfectly, in a sinless state. Our whole being was designed to be a reflection of God’s perfect holiness and righteousness and knowledge. While sin has grossly distorted that image, we still believe that a human being is created in the image of God, and for that reason we value human life, we cherish life it as a gift of God.  

 

Another image of God is Jesus Christ, God’s Son. He came to this earth as the exalted One, as the Righteous and holy and Merciful One. He is Son of the Most High God. He came from Father full of grace and truth. Hebrews 1 says that Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful Word.

 

Jesus was the physical manifestation of God, He encapsulated all the attributes of God (his grace, love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, etc.) so much so that Jesus even said “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” To know Jesus, to see Jesus, was to know and see the Father.

 

Besides that, think of the passages in the Old Testament which describe the intricate construction and furnishings of the tabernacle. God is the Supreme Artist, the Divine Interior Designer, who used many different physical, creaturely images to portray, to represent something of His own divine beauty and holiness and majesty.      

 

Take the lid if the ark of the covenant for example. The lid was to consist of two golden cherubim (cherubim were wondrous angelic beings who dwell in God’s presence). These two golden cherubim were to face each other, with wings upraised and faces looking down toward the cover of the ark.

 

Also, images of cherubim were to be embroidered on the ten curtains (which basically formed the walls of the tabernacle). The furniture of the tabernacle, like the lampstand for example, had intricate carvings of almond flowers with buds and blossoms. The priests wore robes with images of pomegranates made of blue, purple, and scarlet yarns hanging from the hems of their garments. They also wore an ephod, a vest of sorts, decorated with precious stones and gems.  

 

Besides that, God also borrows (quite often) from the language and imagery of human life, of creaturely life, to try to convey to us, to speak at a level we can understand, so that we may better ascertain and understand how much he cares for us, and loves us and takes care of us. We call these expressions anthropomorphisms – where God describes himself as having human qualities even human body parts.

 

We already said that God has no human form. He is not a creature. He’s not flesh and blood as we are. Yet in Isaiah 40 we read: He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 49:16 the Lord declares to His people, See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hand.

 

There God is said to have arms and hands. God is also said to have eyes to see such that He sees the wickedness of men and he also watches over us each day so not a hair can fall from our head without his knowledge. God is said to never slumber nor sleep.

 

God is said to have ears to hear the prayers of His people. He has a heart of love and compassion.

Other Biblical images is that of a loving father, a caring shepherd, a spotless lamb, a tireless eagle, even a mother hen who wants to gather her chicks and protect them under her wing.       

 

And the book of Revelation is full of rich imagery and symbolism and much of that is designed to convey to us something of the sheer holiness and incomparable beauty and majesty and radiance of our holy God.

 

In short, from beginning to end the Bible is packed with imagery as it relates to God’s identity and his nature and character. And those images are not designed to become objects of worship themselves – as if we can find God, or draw nearer to God through those object. No.

 

They are given to us in God’s Word so that we might come to know God for who He truly is, and better understand what he has done for us, and be able to better see, understand and comprehend the full extent of his mercy, his love, his compassion for us as the God of our salvation!   

 

2. The Forbidden Images of God

Secondly, we’re going to take a few moments to consider the forbidden images of God in the Bible as well. One of the commentaries I read referred to this sin (of making images of God) as an ancient problem with modern applications. I think that’s quite accurate. We may not have graven images of God in our home, but we do indeed have graven images and gross distortions of God in our hearts and minds. More on that in a few moments.  

 

By calling this an ancient problem the author was referring to the fact that in ancient times, in Israel’s day, every pagan nation had some sort of a graven image of their god. Boys and girls, in our sermon series on Elijah we have talked a lot about Baal and how the worshippers of Baal created an image of this false god. Often it took the form or the image of a cow, of a bull.

 

The worshippers of Baal would bow before this image. While the image itself was made of wood or stone or metal, they believed that their god Baal would come to them through that image, so that the image itself was a gateway to the divine, it was a way of bringing their deity to life, of representing that entity and capturing his essence, or channeling or harnessing his power.

 

We can think of the Egyptians as well -- who served many gods -- Isis, Osiris, Horus, Amun, Ra, Anubis, and countless others. The Egyptians created images of each one of these so-called gods – and often those images were often half man and half animal, representing the various powers they attributed to each deity. Many of those gods are depicted in ancient hieroglyphics on the pyramids.

 

Israel as a nation, grew up in this context. In fact, even Abraham’s father Terah and his family worshipped foreign gods and idols before God called Abraham out of the Ur of the Chaldeans. And then Abraham’s family was brought to Egypt in Jacob’s day and there Israel grew into mighty nation, but they did so living in a land of idolatry. And after they settled in the land of Canaan, Israel was surrounded by other nations who had images of their gods, and it was a constant temptation for Israel to be like the other nations – to want to make an image of God.

 

One of the clearest examples of this kind of image worship is when Aaron fashioned a golden calf for Israel while (ironically) Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the law, the Ten Commandments from God. Exodus 32 records this account. We’re told (in vs. 1) that is was the people who demanded this. When the people saw that Moses was so long and coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, come make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him.

 

And Aaron answered them, “Take off your gold earrings and bring them to me.” And they did. Aaron took that gold, and he melted it in the fire and using a tool, he fashioned that gold into the shape of a calf. Then he said to the people of Israel these words: “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”

 

The next day Aaron built an altar in front of the golden calf and he announced that there would be a special festival to the Lord. And on the next day the people rose early and they sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings they sat down to eat and drink and got up to engage in revelry.

 

The golden calf that Aaron fashioned was designed to be an image of God, a visual representation of the Lord God of Israel. In that way, this was not a first commandment violation where they were inventing another god to worship.

 

Rather, this was a second commandment violation where they crafting an image that was designed to represent God, to worship God, to make God more real and tangible – to satisfy their sinful desire to see God, to have a physical, visible image to assure them of God’s presence.

 

Another well known account of this kind of worldly perversion of God’s image is found in 1 Samuel 4. There we read: And when the people came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the Lord defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the Lord here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies.”

 

So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the Lord of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.    

 

There, the elders used the ark of the covenant as a good luck charm, in a superstitious way, in the same way that the pagan nations used their gods – by carrying their god with them into battle they were thinking that they were bringing God with them. Like genie in a bottle, they sought to unleash the power of god so that God would defeat their enemies. But instead, they lost again in battle and they even lost the ark of the covenant.

 

We can call this an ancient sin with a modern application when we think of the various ways that we imagine God, or that we treat God that make a mockery of him, that are an insult and offense to Him. We make images of God by default – by the way we live, by our own notions and concepts of God.

 

The Dutch pastor Herman Veldkamp says that our imagination is a skillful sculptor. We can make an image of God out of our own self-perception of God, of who we imagine God to be. And when you think about it, the way we live says a lot about our self-perception of God, doesn’t it? We can’t escape our “theology”. We live-out our theology everyday.     

 

Veldkamp gives examples of Christians who make an image of God who is blind – who has no eyes. This is someone (maybe some of us) who engage in our religious rituals and ceremonies on Sunday, but then during the rest of the week we go about our life sinning freely.

 

We, by default, have created an image of God who is blind to our lives of sin. We could even add to that, we’re very much like the Pharisees, who actually making a god out their rituals, where going to the temple was the ultimate expression of godliness, that’s what mattered most – not what was in your heart.  

 

A second example Veldkamp gives is about those who create an image of God who has no ears. This is a Christian who does not pray, or who gets by each day praying a few memorized words before eating his cereal and soup, but there is no intimate communion with God; no pleading with God for daily help, or healing, or wisdom or humility or patience – of for the salvation of souls.

 

Another example is the Christian who makes an image of God who “looks” a lot like us. We are guilty of this when tolerate sin in our lives – especially indwelling sin. We craft and shape and mold God into a being who looks the other way, who has come to accept our sinful tendencies as just being a part of who we are, who knows and accepts the fact that no one is perfect.  

 

 

And that also carries over into way people and churches prefer to worship. We make an image of God when we do not worship Him according to His Word and will; when we fail to come before God with trembling and awe, when we start a worship service and we fail to acknowledge that God Himself is With us, and He is Holy! Holy! Holy! And we are undone because we are unholy; instead, we tend to treat God casually, and we act as if God should just be happy that we showed up – no matter how we dress or look and no matter what style of worship we bring.

 

All these things say something about the way we perceive and imagine God. AW Tozer said: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us…We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.”

 

And when we see how profoundly true that is – it makes it all the more important for us to have the right Biblical imagery of God. Otherwise, we will be subject to the same foolishness that the Psalmist speaks of in Psalm 115 about those who worship idols (Ps. 115:8), “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.”

 

I’m guilty of this. I know at times in my life, I have thought about God and even treated God in ways that were consistent with my own sinful inclinations and distortions of who I thought God was. And now, in my pastoral ministry I recognize that the greatest way I can serve God as His servant, and serve His people is by knowing God and loving God more and more -- for thinking God’s thoughts after Him and coming to love Him and worship Him and mediating on Him as He is revealed in His Word.

 

What Paul writes in Philippians 3 comes to mind: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”

 

Then there’s Paul prayer for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 3:16-19, this is something we can all take to heart: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

 

The point is, we need to know God, worship God, love God, and live our lives before the face of God – in ways that are thoroughly consistent with the Word of God.

 

So, there is no need for us to create some image (even a mental image) of God in an attempt to draw him nearer, or to try to make God more real, or more tangible, or more approachable, or more relevant, or more relatable. The Lord has already drawn near to us in ways that we could never draw near to him.

God has draw near to us through his word such that Romans 10 says the word is near you it is in your mouth and in your heart  -- this is the Word of Faith we are professing: that if you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.

 

God has drawn near to us in the person of His Son – and in the person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ God showed his love, His saving intentions, his covenant faithfulness, His steadfast love and mercy. God showed us that it is not we who draw near to Him, but it is He who has drawn near to us. And it is not we who make God more tangible or relevant or real – rather, this is who God is.

 

And this God comes to us in His Word – which is His gospel -- and in His Son, our Savior, and therein God reveals, He manifests his glory, His freedom, His grace, His majesty, His holiness, and His covenant faithfulness – all with a view toward calling sinners to repent of their sin and to believe in Him; all with a purpose of calling us and gathering us unto himself, so that in the end we may all dwell with God in his house forever and ever – and then we shall see him as he is.

 

We shall look upon God with our own eyes as Job said, and see his face, and see Him as He is -- see him in His glory, with eyes and hearts and minds that are no longer dimmed and veiled by sin.

What a day, what a glorious day that will be! Amen. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Pastor Keith Davis, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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