First of all let’s see what the second commandment says:
“You shall not make for yourself an idol 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 fathers 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.” (Exodus 20:4-6)
Simplified version of the second commandment
This commandment, together with the others, was given by God to Moses at Mount Sinai. At that time the surrounding nations worshiped many ‘gods’ together with a supreme ‘god’ (represented by idols) who they believed controlled the different aspects of their life. To ensure that they had the favor of these ‘gods’, they believed they had to appease them in various ways. In the second commandment God was telling Moses that He is different from these so-called ‘gods’. Below is a simplified version of a paraphrase of the second commandment given by a Bible scholar:
“Do not think of Me like the rest of the nations think of their supreme god, finite and limited. Do not think of Me in such a way. I am not limited and finite…Nothing can thwart Me in My purpose… Nothing in the visible realm can capture who I am and what I am like. In one sense, every visible thing reflects My nature and wisdom; for all of it is My handiwork. But in another sense, nothing in the visible realm is like Me; nothing can adequately represent who I am. I am too big to be understood in terms of any finite thing in the natural order. Do not, therefore, think of Me as a God who can be represented in terms of one finite image. If you do so, then it will not be Me, Yahweh, you worship; it will be some other god of your own imagination. I am a jealous God. I, Yahweh, the all-powerful, transcendent God, am the One you must worship. You must not worship the shrunken deity of your imagination.”
What it teaches
What the second commandment teaches us, is that we must worship God as He truly is. This is also what Jesus taught: “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24)
God cannot be an idol made by man. He is Spirit. The only way to know the truth of who God is, is for Him to reveal Himself to us. God revealed Himself to the Israelites, among other things, through the 10 commandments. They could tell that God was holy, righteous and good. We have a clearer revelation of God through Jesus, the Holy Spirit and God’s word.
People prefer to worship other ‘gods’
In spite of this clear revelation of God, people prefer to worship ‘gods’ of their own making rather than the True and Living God. These ‘gods’ can be anything from power to pleasure and possessions. Anything that takes the place of God in our lives is an idol. Idol worshipers are self-centered. They seek to gratify themselves and have no thought of God.
Although New Testament believers need not obey the Old Testament commandments literally, this second commandment and all the other commandments of God are still valuable. They keep us connected with God and also keep us out of trouble with ourselves, family, friends, and neighbors. God knows what is best for all of us, and He wants all of us to be at peace with Him and live in peace and harmony with one another.