“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
Okay, lets take a look at commandment 2. God has set the initial foundation with commandment one, “I alone will be your God.” Now he follows it up with, “Don’t make any carved images or likenesses.” What does this mean? Those of you who have had some history with the church will know this has led to some pretty radical interpretations at times. It seems we often focus on the ‘image’ part of this commandment and so there are whole churches without any kind of ‘image’ in their building, some going so far as to not even have a cross on display. I think however the more important part of the command, the essence of it, is to “not make for yourself…” That’s what I intend to explore with commandment two.
So, to get to the understanding of how to apply this commandment to our day we need to again take a look at how and why this command was applied when it was given. Israel is coming out of Egypt, a land with MANY images of a plethora of deities. Egypt also had a highly established religious system and flushed out understanding of their many gods. Much of this system were practices developed to appease the gods for good favor and blessings that life may proceed well. Israel is now being pulled out of this and into a life with the God of Abraham, their forefather.
God, in contrast to the culture of Egypt, has not only said, “you shall only have one god” but is now also saying, “you shall not have an image of me or anything else.” Can you see how this would throw Israel for a loop? This is a huge change! How then are they to relate to this god? How are they to appease him to assure their crops will grow, the rains will come, and the rivers won’t flood? God is having to teach Israel how to relate to him. God is having to change the dynamic of the relationship from, “you must appease me” to, “I am nurturing and raising you.” He is changing it from, “show your loyalty and dedication to me” to “seek to understand and know me and my ways.” It’s a relationship no longer of a god demanding from a people but a god giving to a people. And in this dynamic God has to teach the people of Israel not make things up, either imaginary images of him or ideas, but instead to listen to him.
Let’s try putting it another way, maybe by answering the question, “why not an image?”, “Why give up having images to worship as in Egypt?”
For starters, how could the creator of all things ever be encapsulated or adequately represented by some thing he created? Also, if God is real, living, and active, it stands to reason that he would want to be in a relationship with us, and not have us be in a relationship with some thing or object. Let’s put it this way, what spouse would want their partner more infatuated with their ring than themselves?
But this, not having images, is still not the crux of the command or the big change that God is bring about in Israel. The big change is, “don’t make for yourselves…” images just happens to be the context of their day. So how about the context for our day?
Admittedly in our day we, at least in the western world, we don’t really have carved images of deities we venerate. We do however fall into the same trap of “creating for ourselves” systems, ideas, and practices by which we think we can appease some kind of god or the universe. We create and follow ideas by which we think we can have some measure of control over the outcome of our lives. We think positive, we follow a law of attraction, we conjure up faith to try and alter reality, we align our chi, and we make sure to confess a belief in Jesus to get our ticket into heaven. I’m sure you can come up with many more examples of things we create for ourselves to try and get whatever it is we want.
But God says, do not create for yourself an image of him. God is wanting us to know him as he really is and is willing to teach us and show us who he is. Time and time again there are stories and accounts in the scriptures that are followed with the phrase, “… so that you may know.” And there are abundant passages to the theme of, “my people perish for lack of knowledge.” And there is no lack of encouragement to seek truth, seek understanding, seek knowledge, seek wisdom, and seek God and his kingdom. This is a God who wants to be known and understood, not appeased and placated.
I think the final reason for us not to make images of God for ourselves is because he planned to give us an image, an image that would be true and accurate. A living image since He is a living being. An image that could convey and carry the most important thing He wanted us to know about Him… that he deeply loves and cares for us. This image is his son, Jesus. In Jesus we have the love of God personified. Like a child being a “spitting image” of a parent, we have a son who is an image of The Father.
And so today, perhaps, the second commandment may be better understood as “You shall look to the image of myself that I have given you, and stop making shit up.” 🙂 Sorry, couldn’t resist. Okay, I’ll tame it down a bit… “Seek truth and the real Me, not made-up theories and practices” He wants to be found and He wants you to live in what’s real with you. Why? Because He loves you.