What doth the Bible say?
“Image” first mention is the image of God – “our image” (Gen. 1:26)
First mention of “graven” image is Exodus 20:4 “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;” and connected with “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” in v. 3
If the first mention is that man is created in the image of God, it makes sense that there should be NO GRAVEN IMAGE, for none other can compete with God’s own.
“thou shalt not make” – man made
“any likeness of any thing” – anything at all
“that is in heaven above” – stars, sun, moon, birds, bats
“or that is in the earth beneath” – people, animals, trees, mountains, insects, fish, microbes,
Again…”ANY likeness of ANY thing”
“thou shalt not bow down thyself to them” – worship
“nor serve them” – can you serve something completely inanimate? We will discuss later
“for I …am a jealous God” – jealous of the images? No. Jealous of our love and time
The Bible seems to define Graven Images as likenesses of any thing that is created (man made) and worshiped.
Graven images are vital for worship in false religions. These often evolve from naturism (worship of natural forces) -> animism (worship of animals and living things) -> totemism (worship of hierarchy – totem poles are literal graven images) = Paganism.
We see variations of this progression in almost all religions in almost all cultures an almost all times across the world.
Were graven images based on actual beings?
- Genesis 3:5 “be like gods” seems to indicate living beings, unless Adam and Eve made graven images to false gods. Notice the framing of this temptation; Satan did not say “be like God,” he used “gods.” If they were not familiar with the distinction, he would have said “God.”
- Psalm 82 – God “judgeth among the gods . . .Ye are gods and all of you are children of the most High but ye shall die like men. . .” – God judges the gods, gods are children of the most High (perhaps angels?) and shall die like men, which seems to indicate that the gods do not always die like men.
- Psalm 97:7, “Confounded be all they that serve graven images, that boast themselves of idols: worship him, all ye gods.” – infers that “gods” also have the ability to worship.
- Deut. 32:17, “They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.” – gods are connected to devils (which we know exist).
- 1 Cor. 8:5, “For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,)” – why would there be graven images in heaven? The gods are beings – probably of angelic origin.
- There seems to be evidence that gods were actual, living beings – whether devils, angels, powerful kings, or something else. The “graven images” were likely similar to totems – man made depictions of false gods.
- The vast majority of mentions of “gods” throughout the Bible are graven images or idols made from wood, stone, or precious metals, rather than living beings.
- Some of the famous passages: Graven images are connected to pagan gods in Gen. 31 (Laban hunting Jacob and Rachel). In Exodus 12:12, God promises to judge the gods of Egypt through the plagues (and why would he bother judging inanimate statues, rather than the people who worship them). Aaron creates a golden calf in Exodus 32:8. In Acts 17, Paul uses a plaque to the Unknown God.
- Conclusion: SOME graven images were probably of actual gods. MOST were probably just images of men, animals, and nature.
The Lord clearly did not want anything else to compete for our love, time, and attention, whether it be visible, invisible, living, breathing, animate, or inanimate.
What is an image? It is a likeness or a symbol of something. One cannot make an image of nothing from nothing. They must be somewhat tangible – to be seen, smelled, touched, possibly even tasted or heard.
Images have power (because we give it to them) and can “take on a life of its own” once it is created. Have you ever tried to destroy a photo of a loved one who has passed away? It is incredibly difficult, because it almost seems as though destruction of the image is destruction of a person and that they will cease to exist when their image is gone.
I believe that is another reason why God commanded us to never make a graven image – not only are we to not worship other gods, but because the ability to grant life belongs to God alone.
There are countless examples of modern day graven images: statues (many torn down and new ones are awful), trophies (competitive people often have a trophy case or trophy room), mascots (most teams have one), flags (do you have one at your home?), jerseys (wearable and collectible), baseball cards (value extends beyond cost of materials), cemeteries (headstones and mosoleums), memorials (ashes on the mantle), television, photographs (often framed), art (of any medium), guns (for those who worship the 2ND Amendment)/animal trophies (heads on the wall), and money (have you ever looked at the images on your cash?)
We do not often think of religious objects as graven images though: church decorations, statues or paintings of saints, crucifix (sorry, Catholics), cross (sorry, Evangelicals), fish, candles, WWJD bracelets, the papal outfit (staff, mitre), church attire (especially when it creates a hierarchy), Bibles (especially expensive ones used as home décor and never opened).
Religious institutions need some mundane “graven images” to function. The difference between a graven image and a tool is whether it is used in or as worship. The Tabernacle had an altar, candlestick, and other tools that were used IN the worship of God Himself, but the moment in which people might bow down to an altar as a form of worship of an IMAGE it can become a graven image.
We see this in 2 Thess 2:3-4 and Revelation 13:15.
2 Thess says, “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”
Antichrist sits in the temple, and the only seat is the mercy seat on the ark. Antichrist becomes “sacred” in the eyes of his followers, through this incredibly profane act.
Revelation 13:15 says, “And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.”
Profane (mundane) vs. Sacred (religious) objects/places: A tree is profane, but becomes sacred when shaped like a cross. Paper is profane, until the word of God is printed on it. A building is profane until we have a religious service in it.
In our day, we see many “sacred” places and objects become mundane in the eyes of society. There is a lack of respect for churches (both the building itself and companies/sporting events competing for time), Bibles, tracts, rainbows….
Does this apply to images? How about television? Is tv a “graven image’?
- The screen broadcasts “motion pictures” which are “moving images.” The device itself is often featured prominently in the main living space as a display for the family to gather around and pay strict attention to (kind of sounds like a worship service).
- Sacred vs. Profane: Watching a Livestream (sacred) on the same device used to watch depictions of sex, violence, foul language, and other profane images. Is church on tv/phone/tablet a graven image?
- Could this be an issue with The Chosen? It is not Scripture, so is it profane or sacred? The actors are pretending to be Jesus and the disciples on a device that might have been used to watch violent movies or even pornography on.
Let’s face it. The Second Commandment is one that is very often forgotten, because we think of golden calves or statues of Zeus and Ares, but we participate in making or even worshiping “graven images” all the time.
When asked which commandment was greatest, Jesus answered, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40).
“Graven images” falls under that first and great commandment. In order to love the Lord thy God with ALL they heart, and with ALL they should, and with ALL thy mind – we cannot have other gods before the Lord God or make graven images that cause us to worship ANY THING (remember that?) in the sky or on the earth.
If you’d like to read more about this topic, check out my book The Old Gods of the New Age.