“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.
The second commandment forbids the worship of the true God by images or physical substitutes. In the past, cultures claimed that their images were mere figures or symbols by which the Deity was worshiped, but God has said here not to do that. The attempt to represent the Eternal One by material objects would lower our conception of God. If our mind turned away from the glorious infinite perfection of Jehovah, we would be attracted to the creature rather than to the Creator. And as our conceptions of God are lowered, so would we owed our view of ourselves.
“I the Lord your God am a jealous God.” The close and sacred relation of God to His people is represented by marriage. And God hurts when we leave him for another.
“Laying the sins of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that reject Me.” It is inevitable that children suffer from the consequences of parental actions, but they are not punished for the parents’ guilt, except as they participate in their sins. It is usually the case, however, that children walk in the steps of their parents. Their parents example is contagious. Wrong tendencies, perverted appetites, and debased morals, as well as physical disease and degeneracy, are transmitted as a legacy from one generation to another, to the third and fourth generation. This truth should have a solemn power to restrain people from following a course of sin.
“Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me, and keep My commandments.” In prohibiting the worship of false gods, the second commandment by implication encourages the worship of the true God. And to those who are faithful in His service, mercy is promised, not merely to the third and fourth generation as is the wrath threatened against those who hate Him, but to thousands of generations.