“You shall have no other gods before me. 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. “
(Reference: Exodus 20:3-6 )
One of the many things the historic Anabaptists had against the established state church was the use of symbols, pictures, and idols that were used during worship services and masses. Historic Anabaptists and contemporary Anabaptists/Mennonites have continued to keep anything that seemed like idol worship out of church services and the sanctuary. Historic Anabaptist Balthasar Hubmaier summed out what this position was when he said, “Yesterday it became thoroughly clear from Scripture that there should be no images. I myself would that no image had ever come into Christendom. For the text of Exodus 20:4-6 is bright and clear. It stands firm as a wall. By means of two distinct prohibitions it expressly forbids not only worshiping the images but also making them. . . .”
However, not having icons and religious symbols, statues etc in a Roman Catholic church would be unimaginable. And what may have been the substitution of icons etc in the time of the historic Anabaptists, I think, has been re-visioned as aids and reminders for worship. At least that is a more modern perception. But it was a wide-eyed Mennonite girl who first saw the inside a Roman Catholic church with awe and wonder. I remember walking around being amazed at the shine and color.
It is, however, a worldly wise woman who realizes that it is not just icons, symbols, statues etc in a church that can be worshiped above, and instead, of God. Idols come in many forms – from “heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” I would rather see the icons, symbols, and statues that are used in churches that profess a strong faith in God, than the idols I see in society. Maybe I am more worldly than the historic Anabaptist fore-bearers. Or may I have seen too much worship of things that take us away from God than lead us to God.
In regards to the rest of the passage, one thing the historic Anabaptists and more modern Anabaptists/Mennonites realize it that God does not punish generations of the future. And that God’s “jealousy” is our Lord’s desire for only wanting the best for us, and desiring us not to be lead to things that harm us. God’s love and compassion is for the thousands of generations. Yes, it is best that we keep God’s commandments. But God’s love can clear our eyes, help us see what is true and what is gilded falseness, and can restore us to full relationship. May it be so for you beloved. Selah!