God forbid Israel from making, possessing, or bowing down to idols or other gods.
We previously established that GOD gave Israel the ten basic commandments at Mount Sinai. As Israel was encamped across the Jordan River from Jericho, Moses reiterated the Law GOD had given. Moses began these instructions right where GOD began:
1 Now Moses called all Israel, and said to them, “Hear, O Israel, the ordinances and the judgments I speak in your hearing on this day, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with you in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with your fathers, but with you, all of you alive here today. 4 The Lord spoke to you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 5 I stood between the Lord and you at that time to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. And He said,
6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brings you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 7 There shall be no different gods before My face. 8 You shall not make for yourself an image, neither any likeness of anything in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them, because I am the Lord your God, a jealous God, repaying the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, 10 but showing mercy to thousands who love Me and keep My commandments.Deuteronomy 5:1-10 OSB
For many today, the concept of idols is foreign. That’s a good thing, but it comes at a cost to our understanding. So we have to put forth effort to grasp why idols and idolatry was so compelling and pervasive to humanity during biblical times.
First, the gods people worshiped were not, in most if not all cases, imaginary fictitious beings. They were real heavenly creatures that GOD had created in the beginning.
Second, the idols people fashioned were representations of these beings, not too different than a modern toy figurine, except made out of wood, gold, or silver.
Third, the worship—a word that means “bow down”—of these idols was not because the person believed the carved image itself could do anything, but that the being that the image represented would see and reward the worshiper for their homage.
Fourth, why do we not see idolatry until after the flood? Because it was at the tower of Babel that GOD scattered the descendants of Noah, formed different nations by confusing their language and introducing geographic distance, and placing angels over each nation as heavenly rulers. These angels became the gods of the nations.
Therefore, the purpose behind GOD’s commandments to avoid idols was that GOD wanted to remove hindrances to Israel’s full devotion to Him.