You Shall Not Make Graven Images
The Second Commandment
You shall not make for yourself any graven images is the second of the 10 Commandments that God gave the Israelites through Moses. The second commandment prohibits the use of images in the act of worshipping God. This prohibition is so strong that even an image of Yahweh is not to be tolerated. The use of images - whether they be figurines, statues, paintings, or any other representations - work against the worshipper's intention to exalt God because they reduce God to something of the world and something created by people. This commandment is not, however, a restriction against all art. This commandment continues to be observed in the Jewish religion.
What is the Scripture reference? Exodus 20:4-6, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or 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. 5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments" (KJV)
What is the relationship focus? People and God (commandments 1-4 emphasis people's relationship with God)
Is the commandment a prohibition? Yes (the commandment is saying what "must not be" done as opposed to what "must be" done)
Though no single biblical passage contains a complete definition of idolatry, the subject is addressed in numerous passages, so that idolatry may be summarized as the worship of idols (or images); the worship of polytheistic gods by use of idols (or images); the worship of created things (trees, rocks, animals, astronomical bodies, or another human being); and the use of idols in the worship of God (YHWH Elohim), the god of Israel.
When the commandment was given, opportunities to participate in the honor or worship of idols abounded, and the religions of Canaanite tribes neighboring the Israelites often centered around a carefully constructed and maintained cult idol. However, according to the Book of Deuteronomy the Israelites were strictly warned to neither adopt nor adapt any of the religious practices of the peoples around them.
Nevertheless, the story of the people of Israel until the Babylonian Captivity includes the violation of this commandment as well as the one before it, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Much of biblical preaching from the time of Moses to the exile is predicated on the either-or choice between exclusive worship of God and idols. The Babylonian exile seems to have been a turning point after which the Jewish people as a whole were strongly monotheistic and willing to fight battles (such as the Maccabean Revolt) and face martyrdom before paying homage to any other god.
According to the psalmist and the prophet Isaiah, those who worship inanimate idols will be like them, that is, unseeing, unfeeling, unable to hear the truth that God would communicate to them. Paul the Apostle identifies the worship of created things (rather than the Creator) as the cause of the disintegration of sexual and social morality in his letter to the Romans.
Though the commandment implies that the worship of God is not compatible with the worship of idols, the status of an individual as an idol worshiper or a God worshiper is not portrayed as predetermined and unchangeable in the Bible. When the covenant is renewed under Joshua, the Israelites are encouraged to throw away their foreign gods and “choose this day whom you will serve.” King Josiah, when he becomes aware of the terms of God's covenant, zealously works to rid his kingdom of idols.
According to the book of Acts, Paul tells the Athenians that though their city is full of idols, the true God is represented by none of them and requires them to turn away from idols. A psalm attributed to David describes the help someone may expect from pure devotion to God:
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