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The Second Commandment

HomeChristianity and the BibleThe Second Commandment

In response to a picture of Jesus I once posted, a GodWords reader says:

Brother, you said to contact you if we had any concerns. I really don’t like the image at all based on the Second Commandment. I think the heart of the image is right, but I think it is important we worship God as He has told us to.

I appreciate his concern, and I appreciate hearing from him. When we look at the second commandment, here’s what we find…

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6 and Deuteronomy 5:8-10)

The Hebrew here is ASAH PECEL. It means an idol, or an image.

Do not make any idols. (Exodus 34:17)

The Hebrew here is ASAH MACCEKAH ELOHIYM. It means a pouring, libation, molten metal, cast image, drink offering.

This command is repeated or referred to in Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 4:16 & 4:23, Deuteronomy 27:15, Judges 17:3-4 & 18:14 & 18:17-18 & 18:30-31, 2 Kings 21:7, 2 Chronicles 33:7, Psalm 97:7, Isaiah 40:19-20 & 42:17 & 44:9-10 & 44:15-17 & 45:20 & 48:5, Jeremiah 10:14 & 51:17, Nahum 1:14, and Habakkuk 2:18.

In every case – without exception – the context indicates that the graven (molten) image is worshipped instead of God. The second commandment is not a prohibition against images or art, as some have suggested. It’s a prohibition of creating anything for the purpose of idol worship. Now, I certainly didn’t include that picture so that people could worship it. On the contrary: I put it in there so people would join me in worshipping the one true God.

In case anyone still wonders about this, read the command carefully: it says ANY likeness of ANYTHING in Heaven above or in the earth beneath. If God intended for the command to be carried out literally, that is to say “don’t make any images of anything”, then He would not have had the Israelites create a temple:

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. (Hebrews 9:22-24)

If God didn’t want anything copied, He wouldn’t have instructed them to make copies of things in Heaven. Instead, we can see – from the context of all of Scripture – that the second commandment prohibits idol worship…not the making of images, but of images to replace God as the only one worthy of worship.

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