"You shall not make for yourself a graven 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;  you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,  but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:4-6

Graven images were widely used by Israel’s neighbours to represent the various deities. Te graven images were carved from stone, metal or wood and differed from the molten image. The molten was cast in a mould, whereas the graven image was sculptured. The ban against the making of graven images was a radical break with the accepted norms of Israel’s neighbours.

The image was originally meant to be a representation of the divine which would make memory easier and worship real. But as time went on superstition turned the symbol into the reality and gave it a form of holiness.
The making of graven images in the form of animals, birds and human representation was strictly forbidden to the Hebrews (Exodus 20:4, Deuteronomy 5:8,). The ban on images was aimed against idolatry.

Yahweh is often portrayed as actively involved in the life of Israel. The Old Testament depicts Him as walking with is people, comforting them, coming to their rescue and the like. Why the prohibition against graven images? Why is Yahweh against any representation of himself? He is incomparable; this lies at the heart of the prohibition. There is a vast distinction between the Creator and the creature. Yahweh is transcendent, transcendent does not mean far away; it means Yahweh is totally different.

No image can fully represent Yahweh.  No image can do justice to Yahweh. The Second commandment teaches that there is nothing in the created order that adequately represents God. Yahweh cannot be controlled, he cannot be manipulated. Because no image can fully represent Yahweh it becomes an idol. Why no images? (See Deuteronomy 4:15-20, 4:23).

"Therefore take good heed to yourselves. Since you saw no form on the day that the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female,  the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air,  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.  And beware lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, you be drawn away and worship them and serve them, things which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.

Israel is not to make any image to stand for God but is called to be God’s image in the world (Isaiah 42:1-9, 49:1-6). The commandment places restrictions on Israel’s worship. Yahweh is to be worshipped, but do not set up representations of him. Israel, most likely influenced by her neighbours did not always follow this instruction and this was evident by the making of young bulls for the sanctuaries at Bethel and Dan   (1 Kings 12:26-29).
The embargo on images forced Israel to find ways to make Yahweh’s presence felt in the community. This was done through the temple worship in song, hymn, lament and elaborate rituals. The writers of these hymns and songs were forced to create an atmosphere that would make Yahweh’s presence real, that in other religions would have been created by the presence of images.
This was achieved by Israel’s mode of worship. Isaiah’s description of a worship experience is instructive: In the year that King Uzzi'ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple.  Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.  And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."

The closest thing that comes to a representation of Yahweh is humankind. Humankind is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, because of sin humankind cannot truly represent God. The only representation God accepts is humankind doing his will in the world. How do we represent God in the world? By living spiritual lives and being his agents of reconciliation in the world. We represent God in the world as we express our concern for the environment, the poor, the disadvantaged, orphans and all who need our love. The whole concept of being God’s image in the world finds expression in Jesus’ teaching “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

The only true representation of God is Jesus. John writes: “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say. ‘Show us the Father’ (Jon14:9). St. Paul says of Jesus: “He is the image of the invisible God …. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1: 15-17).

The second commandment is most often violated by what we fail to do than by what we do. The greatest difficulty we experience as humankind is our desire to make God in our own image and not to allow God to make us in his image. We make God in our image to suit our life styles and sanction our actions.

We fail to be God’s disciples charged with the responsibility of being his representation in the world when we live lives contrary to his will. We must not give the glory that is due to the Creator to the creature. This we do when we depart from God’s way and live our own lives. When we worship the creature and not the creator, the end result is pain and disaster (Romans 1:18-32).

The purpose of the commandment is not to tell us how we must represent God, but whom we must worship. We must worship the true and living God who is omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (all-pervading) and omniscient (all-knowing).
What is your image of God?

The statement, “You shall not bow down to them or serve them,’ means to offer religious worship and is only used when worship of foreign gods is forbidden. It reinforces the first commandment; “You shall have no other gods before me.” The second commandment informs us of Yahweh’s jealous nature. The term ‘jealous’ as used in the commandment speaks of God’s exclusive claim on us. He will not tolerate his people worshipping other gods.
Reference to ‘visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation’ means that we will be punished if like our fore fathers we sin against Yahweh. It must not be interpreted to mean that we suffer for our parents sins. “The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16)., Jeremiah 31:29-30).
In those days they shall no longer say: `The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.' But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge” (Jeremiah 31:29-30)

Would it be moral (right) or immoral (wrong) if children were made to suffer for their parents sins?

Do our sins affect our children?

Idolatry occurs when we worship the creature and not the creator. There is always the danger that the image we make to represent God and aid us in our worship can be viewed with superstition, cease to represent God and become the object of worship. Idolatry occurs when means become ends - Aids meant to help us in our worship can become the objects of worship.
Isaiah makes a mockery of persons who make idols (Isaiah 44:14-20).

Church services should be done properly, but when form and getting it right become more important than worship itself, the service becomes an idol, we are engaging in idolatry. It is a danger religious people face. The Mass becomes an idol if it does not affect a change in our spiritual and moral lives – it is not God centred. The church building can become an idol if we are more interested in its beauty and upkeep than with the good of the church. A church’s money becomes an idol when it is accumulated and not used for ministry.

Our gods are those things we believe to be the most important in our lives. We engage in idolatry when we allow our lives to be consumed by materialism at the expense of worship of God. Our homes, cars, money, children, jobs, friends, studies, businesses, spouses, ourselves, do become idols when we give them the first place in our lives. They become idols when we allow them to dictate and control our lives.

When we make things more important than people we are engaging in idolatry. Idolatry is not a thing of the past. It is ever present with us and we must avoid its clutches.

The Psalmist (135)  decries idols;

16 They have mouths, and speak not : eyes have they, but they see not.
17 They have ears, and yet they hear not : neither is there any breath in their mouths.
18 They that make them are like unto them : and so are all they that put their trust in them.
“Idolatry is by no means dead. Idolatry is not the ridiculous mistake of primitive people. Whenever means become ends, and whenever things become more important than people, and whenever anything usurps the place that God should have, idolatry is still there.”  William Barclay.
What are our idols?

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