No Graven Image
“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, nor any likeness of any thing that is
in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”
By Micah Hess
The second commandment builds upon the principle in the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.” The ban on crafting graven images includes not only the things in the earth, but also extends upward to the heavens, as well as down into the depths of the waters. These commands are absolute. They make it clear that God’s place in our life is to be of the highest honor and respect. None of the good things that are part of His creation — the heavens, the earth, and the sea — were to be worshipped or used to represent Him, nor should any other god be worshipped.
They Saw no Manner of Similitude
In Deuteronomy 4:15 the minds of the Israelites were called back to the day at Horeb when God spoke His commandments and made a covenant with them. Moses reminded the people specifically of what they did not see. God did not take any form or shape. “For ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake unto you.”
If God had wanted the Israelites to associate Him with some part of His creation, He could have easily done so. The fact that God did not manifest Himself as some creature of the field or fowl of the air was a reminder that they must guard against such temptations. This verse not only confirmed that God does not want us to serve or recognize false gods. And, additionally, we are not to use any physical item as a channel through which to worship Him.
Why are Graven Images So Detestable to God?
Humanity has had a propensity for idols. In the ancient Near East, they served as a conduit between the god it represented and the worshipper.
This form of worship has many fatal flaws. First, idols are created by sinful beings and are nothing more than a mirror image of the culture and personality of the one creating it. Thus, it was a better representation of the idol’s maker than the image of something divine. The idol was made in the image of man, imputed with all his flaws and susceptibilities. No amount of skill or planning can avoid this outcome.
Second, the idea that an idol acted as a channel to reach God is simply not true. This is the most obvious reason why Exodus 20:4 warns against such foolishness. Since the fall into sin, man’s approach to God required a cleansing of sin. Although Old Testament animal sacrifices were ceremonial, they highlighted this requirement. With Aaron the high priest acting on behalf of the presenter, the atoning sacrifices were offered to God. Since Aaron was a type of Jesus, and the cleansing sacrifices types of the Ransom and Sin-Offering, the misguided nature of idols becomes apparent. The only true way to approach God is through Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father but through me” (John 14:6). It is crucial then to understand that the only acceptable way to approach God is through the blood and merit of Jesus Christ. Any attempt to reach God through a literal or metaphorical idol is futile and makes a mockery of God’s plan.
In What Sense is God a “Jealous God?”
With the prohibition of serving or worshipping idols, God said, “I the Lord thy God am a Jealous God” (Exodus 20:5). He adds that the iniquity of idolatry would be visited unto the third and fourth generations. However, Exodus 20:6 shows us the other side of the issue. Namely, those who hold close to God and faithfully keep His commandments will receive blessings to the thousandth generation. While God’s judgment against false worship may be severe, it pales in comparison to the mercy and blessings He waits to pour upon those who worship Him. If our worship is done properly, we need only remain humble and obedient to receive them.
If God’s jealousy was similar to human jealousy, we would not expect His blessings to be so abundant compared to His punishments. Man’s jealousy is self-centered and often stems from or leads to anger, bitterness, or even violence. It rarely leads to grace and mercy. The result is tattered or broken relationships.
In 2 Corinthians 11:2, the Apostle Paul writes that he is jealous for the Corinthian brethren with a godly jealousy. But his desire for them was not self-centered. He wanted them to remain committed and true to the faith that he delivered to them. Paul knew there were many cunning sophistries in the world that would try to tempt them away from Jesus and the only avenue to salvation. If they were deceived, they would lose the fullness of joy that is only found in Christ. Godly jealousy is not motivated by self- centeredness, but by love.
When God speaks of Himself as a jealous God, He is not being self-centered or angry to see us happy apart from Him. However, He knows that true happiness and the soul quenching waters of life are not to be found anywhere else. He knows our desires and needs and can satisfy them with His gentle touch and piercing words like nothing else can. No false god or idol has anything to return for our worship.
With such an empty fate awaiting those who spurn His love, how could God not be jealous for our hearts, knowing of the blessed result? His jealousy is motivated out of concern for our eternal spiritual health, well-being, and joy. Happiness is possible only in truth.
A Refraining Command
Trusting in God’s greater wisdom and submitting to His authority, despite the desires of our flesh, is an important step in the life of a Christian. The command we are considering helps us see that while the world may find comfort in worshiping physical objects, whether it is the object itself, or a representation of some abstract idea, a Christian is not to worship God in this way. To create an image of God is to deny His authority.
People seem to find a confidence in touching the things they value. Then it ceases to be abstract and comes alive to one’s senses. Being able to touch it with our hands may even calm the anxieties of our hearts. God in His wisdom sees that if we create an image of Him, that image would eventually become an object of our worship and affection, instead of Him. Such an act would lead us away from Him, rather than leading us to closer fellowship with God.
Worship in “Spirit and Truth?” John 4:23, 24
In Exodus 20:4, God tells us how not to worship Him. Under the Law Covenant there were rules governing personal conduct as well as regulations regarding sacrifices. Both of these guided the Israelites in their worship of God. Thus, when people worshipped, it was in the very specific ways in which they were instructed. Their worship was centered on the tabernacle, or later the temple, considered God’s dwelling places.
The question naturally arises, how should a Christian worship God? In John 4:23, 24, Jesus answers that true worshippers worship “in spirit and in truth.” Jesus made the distinction between the old way of worshipping God in a fixed location, and this new way he was opening. The worship of God would no longer be tied to a specific location.
To worship God in spirit, it is vital that we know Him in spirit. This means immersing ourselves in the scriptures, learning of God through them. Understanding God’s plan of redemption helps us truly know God. He has revealed Himself to us through scripture expounded through the Harvest Message. When the truth takes hold in our hearts, we see that God is not focused on punishment and retribution. Now we see God as the author of man’s salvation, who cares so deeply for His creation that He spared not His own son to save us. His grace and mercy are overwhelming. We are humbled, recognizing our need for a savior.
After receiving the merit of Christ’s righteousness applied to fallen flesh, and the begetting of the holy Spirit, we are ready to worship God in spirit. Now we have a relationship with Him as spiritual sons. Approaching Him with boldness to express our thankfulness, we can linger in His presence and express the adoration that overflows from humble hearts. Our worship must be evident in the way we live out our faith and consecration vows. With the holy Spirit as our guide, we should capture the essence of God and His righteousness in every aspect of our lives. A life of worship reflects the grace and mercy we have received. We stand resolutely for the principles of righteousness and against sin and sinful living. Our spiritual worship requires us to fulfill our consecration commitment to lay our bodies down as living sacrifices, denying the desires of the flesh while following in the footsteps of our captain, Jesus.
“I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1 NASB).