The first commandment emphasized the truth that God is God alone, and that there is no God beside Him.
The second commandment presupposes the principle that God is a Spirit, invisible, and infinitely glorious.
Hence, while the first commandment deals with the question who and what God is, the second rather gives an answer, in negative form, to the question how God is.
The negative or prohibitive form of this commandment is: “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.”
Now, what does one do who presumes to make an image or representation of the invisible, incomprehensible, infinitely glorious God? He looks about himself in the visible universe. From that visible creation that exists in time and space, that, therefore, is strictly finite, limited, he derives his idea. He looks at the heavens above, at sun, moon, and stars; at the things in the earth beneath: man, beast, and creeping things; or at the creatures that are “under the earth,” below the surface of the earth, in the waters: the fish of the sea, and all sorts of sea-monsters. Of them he makes an image, of silver or gold, of wood or stone. And he declares that the image he made is a true representation of God, that God is like unto the image he made.
This was the sin Israel committed at Horeb, a sin which they never overcame, the consequences of which pursued them all through the desert and throughout their whole history, until, finally, they were rejected as a nation, and the kingdom of God was taken away from them. They wanted to see their “gods” that brought them up out of the land of Egypt and that would go before them. For thus they spoke to Aaron: “Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him.” For these visible gods they were willing to offer their gold. For, when Aaron told them to “break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your Sons, and of your daughters, and bring them to me,” they willingly complied with his request. And after they had so done, Aaron “fashioned it with a graving tool, after he had made it a molten calf.” Then the people said: “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt.” This god, which was supposed to be a representation of the living God, they worshipped. For it Aaron made an altar, and pro. claimed: “Tomorrow is a feast unto the Lord.” Unto it they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings and “sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” Such is image worship.
It is the making of a lie about the invisible God, and worshipping that lie. The image worshipper wantonly deprives God of His glory.
For the living God is the Creator, but an image is always the representation of a creature. God is a Spirit and essentially invisible, but an image is always material and visible. God is the eternal One, but an image is the representation of a creature which drags God into the limits of time. God is immense, omnipresent, immanent and transcendent, but the image worshipper deprives God of His greatness. God is infinite in all His glorious virtues, but the image worshipper declares of a dumb image, which has neither knowledge nor understanding, which can neither hear nor speak, that it is a true representation of the God of glory. God is independent and exists of and by Himself: He is Jehovah, the eternal I AM, with whom there is no change or shadow of turning; but the image worshipper represents Him as a changeable creature, dependent on the one that made it, and that can be carried about according to the fancy of him that formed it. Image worship, therefore, is the heinous sin of dragging down the glorious Creator of heaven and earth to the level of the creature, and of depriving the Lord of glory of all His adorable virtues.
Read more: Image Worship