18 January 2011

A Survey of the Old Testament Law------ "You shall not make any graven image"

Before we get to this commandment, I want to talk a little bit more about the 1st Commandment. God and God alone is worthy of our worship because God and God alone is God. We saw that He created all things through His mighty hand and through His Word—that Word (big-‘W’) that took on the form of human flesh and walked the earth and whom we know as the Lord Jesus Christ. It that idea that must be made clearest when one preaches or teaches. Even this pitiful little blog has, as its purpose, to make known the truth of God and salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. One way to determine if a preacher or teacher is faithful to his calling, that,
“When we have gone from them, there must be no beauty in us that makes them long for us, the only remembrance must be, ‘That man was true to God’”
(Oswald Chambers, If Thou Wilt Be Perfect, p.31).
That is, when we listen to someone teaching or preaching, they have done their job if, instead of saying “Oh, what a wonderfully talented and gifted man he is”, the people walk out afterwards with all their thoughts being what they just learned about God and God’s glory. That is the truest mark of a teacher of God. I found a little pamphlet called “The Godhood of God,” by A.W. Pink. Mr. Pink was a very dedicated teacher and preacher of the Bible, and when you get done reading anything he wrote, you will have a better sense of who God is, and the last thought you will have will be about God and God’s glory. Well, listen to what he says in the section entitled ‘The Absolute Godhood of God is Seen in Creation’—
“With whom took He counsel in creation? Whom did He consult when He determined the various and manifold arrangements, adjustments, adaptations, relationships, equipments of His myriad creatures? Did He not do everything after the counsel of His own will? Did He not decide that birds should fly in the air, beasts roam the earth, and fishes live in the sea?...Did He not determine to create the exalted seraphim to stand before His throne throughout endless ages, and also to make another creature which dies the same hour it is born? Was He not undisputed Sovereign in all His creative acts?...Why should God take counsel? Could man add to His knowledge, or correct His errors?...God never consulted man about a single member of His body, or about its size, color, or capacity; instead, ‘God set the members everyone of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him’ (1 Corinthians 12:18).”
Amen! In fact, the only duty God gave to Adam was to name the creatures. But He did not ask Adam’s advice concerning how big the earth should be or how many stars there should be or how long a day would last. God said, “This is how it’s gonna be.” PERIOD. He didn’t ask our advice about these things. He did it—and that was that. And that is the God we worship. One whose knowledge and wisdom and power are infinite—but even more than that, the beauty of His Holiness is perfect.

To say that God is “holy” is to say that He is completely separate from His creation—and that there is nothing to compare Him to. Some people try to say that “God is like…” or “The love of God is like…” or anything about God “is like…” There is nothing that is like anything about God. His love is not like anything we could imagine. His power is not like anything we could imagine. His wisdom, His justice—nothing about God is like anything we could imagine. No one is holy like God is holy.

In the gospels, Jesus commands us, saying, “The first of all the commandments is: 'Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31). Notice something. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. The love we have for our neighbor should be equal to—in fact, greater than—the love we have for ourselves. But, when Christ talks about the love we are to have for God, what does He compare that love to? Nothing! He does not say “You shall love the LORD your God as you love…” anything else! Because the love we are to have for God should be infinitely greater than the love we have for anything. We should even count the love we have for our family as being worthy of throwing in the dumpster compared to the love we have for God. John 12:25“He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” The apostle John tells us, in 1st John 2:15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. We are to value and cherish God more than even our own life. But we don’t always do that. It’s easy to make other things our ‘god’. We put other things ahead of God, and we would rather serve those things that to serve Almighty YHVH. And that is actually a subject we will discuss more next week, in part 2 of our look at the 2nd Commandment.

That said, let’s move on to that 2nd Commandment. We are in Exodus 20, and let’s go ahead and read Exodus 20:4-6“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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 nor 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 fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” The command here is quite simple—do not use statues of anything in worshipping God. The people had just come out of Egypt, where they saw all kinds of statues and pillars that had been built to honor their various little-‘g’ gods. And they very well may have in fact been forced into carving and erecting these things. So God obviously does not want the people making statues to worship pagan gods. But God is also prohibiting them from using statues—period. Not just to set them up as idols in the worship of false gods, but God was also telling them to not use statues to worship Him either. We see a couple passages that offer proof of this.

The first is in Exodus 32. Setting the stage. God is still speaking His Law to Charlton Heston, and before He can even finish giving it Edward G. Robinson has already convinced the people that God has forsaken them. They say, “God has forgotten us, Moses is dead for all we know. Let’s make our own god!” Exodus 32:1-6Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, the people gathered together to Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make us gods that shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” And Aaron said to them, “Break off the golden earrings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people broke off the golden earrings which were in their ears, and brought them to Aaron. And he received the gold from their hand, and he fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molded calf. Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the LORD.” Then they rose early on the next day, offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.

Their thought was, “Yeah, we know that YHVH brought us out of bondage—but that was then, this is now. And we’re all about the here and now.” Aren't we all? God does something wonderful and miraculous for us, and what do we find ourselves saying not too long after? “What has He done for me lately?” Not only that, we are a visual people. We need results we can see. We don’t want to have to simply believe something is so—or is going to be so. “Show me! Prove it!” And that’s what the people do here. Now, they weren’t forming a statue and making a new god—they were building this thing, and saying “This is YHVH! This is the god that brought us out of Egypt!” And God sends Charlton Heston down the mountain to put a stop to it. We’re gonna talk about this incident some more when we get to this particular passage. But we can already see that God is forbidding us from making any kind of carved image and saying “This is God!” For one thing, it reverses the order God wants. Man was created in the image of God—but we create a god in the image of man. Whenever we reduce God down to a statue or trinket, we are fashioning an imperfect image of the perfect God from imperfect materials. And we are fashioning a visible image of the invisible God.

Another reason I believe God gave this prohibition is because He wanted the people to be ready for when he would send His image to walk the earth. Which He did about 2000 years ago. Colossians 1:15—[Christ] is the image of the invisible God. Hebrews 1:1-3God…has in these last days spoken to us by His Son…being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. 2nd Corinthians 4:3-4But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing…who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. If I am making some little statue and saying “This is what God looks like” then I am denying Christ because the Bible says that the only thing that “looks like” God is Jesus Christ. But, until God sent His Son, He would not appear to the people in any form, except He would cover Himself in clouds and thick darkness. Which is exactly what Moses tells the people in Deuteronomy 4:11-18“You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the very heart of the heavens: darkness, cloud and thick gloom. Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form—only a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it. So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the sky, the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water below the earth.” He’s saying, “You saw no form when YHVH spoke to you from the cloud that rested on Mt. Sinai—neither shall you carve anything and say, ‘This is what God looks like.’” Because, as we talked about at the outset, God is not like anything we could imagine—so how could we ever build anything that even allows us to come close to saying “This is what God looks like” since God does not look like anything we could ever imagine.

Think about it like this—suppose someone told you that they were going to make a statue of you, and that it was going to look just like you and they were going to bring it here next week and give it to you. Being humans, we wouldn’t have a problem with it. We’d be thinking that it was going to be some carving made out of wood or stone or whatever. But then they bring it in next week, and what you see is this big, honking lump of half-eaten chicken bones and chewed-up gum and bailing wire and lemon peels and mud. It’s a big ugly disgusting mess. And they look at you and say, “It looks just like you!” We would be appalled! That’s what God says we are doing when we try to make a ‘graven image’ and say “This is God.” Only with Him, it’s on an infinite scale.

Because as much as we would be disgusted with that clump of chicken bones and lemon peels, God is infinitely disgusted with anything we might make and say “This looks like God.” No matter how beautiful it may be in our eyes, and no matter how sincere we may be—there is nothing we could ever make that we could point to and say “This looks like God.” In fact, we have a perfect example of this thought in Judges 17:3Now there was a man from the mountains of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. And he said to his mother, “The eleven hundred shekels of silver that were taken from you, and on which you put a curse, even saying it in my ears—here is the silver with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my son!” So when he had returned the eleven hundred shekels of silver to his mother, his mother said, “I had wholly dedicated the silver from my hand to the LORD for my son, to make a carved image and a molded image; now therefore, I will return it to you”…In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Momma was gonna have the silversmith make a molten or graven image of YHVH in the name of her son. She did, and that son served that image. Now, he was serving the image—but was he serving God? No! He was serving this abomination that he called YHVH. Much like anybody does when they set up statues and say “We are worshipping God by giving reverence to this statue!”

John Calvin once said,
“Moses…had no other object than to rescue God’s glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it. And assuredly it is a most gross indecency to make God like a [block of wood] or a stone. Some [explain the commandment as meaning], ‘Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, which thou mayest adore;’ as if it were allowable to make a visible image of God, provided it be not adored…as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship.”
(John Calvin, Commentaries, Commentary on Deuteronomy 5:9)
He goes on to say, in that same section,
“They have always alleged the same [excuse] which now-a-days is [present] in the mouths of the Papists, viz., that not the image itself was actually worshipped, but that which it represented…they will immediately reply, that they offer to God that honor which they pay to pictures and statues. But this frivolous excuse comes to nothing; because to erect the idol before which they prostrate themselves, is really to deny the true God.” (ibid.)
Now, let’s say someone were to walk into your garden-variety Roman Catholic church. Not that I'm recommending it! But, suppose we do, what do you suppose we will see when we walk in? Statues. Statues of Christ; statues of…somebody else. Who might that someone else be? Mary! Gotta have our statues of Mary! Hmmm…now, the way your average Roman Catholic will try to get away with this is by saying (A) The 2nd Commandment is only a prohibition against making idols to false gods (we’ve seen already this is not true) and they will say (B) Oh, we don’t worship the statues, we use them in our worship (we’ve seen from Judges this is not true either). But when you ask them, why the Pope bows down to statues of Mary—when the Commandment says “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above [that would be Christ], or that is in the earth beneath [That’s Mary]…you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” they will come back with “Oh, the Pope does not bow down to statues of Mary”—well, below are pictures of John Paul II and Benedict XVI bowing to statues of Mary. We’ll stop right there, and pick up next week talking about God being a jealous God.

Jesus Christ is Lord.

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