The Ten Commandments: Two – No graven images.



They say that image is everything (I’ve done what no writer should do and started this post with a cliche..), and I think ‘they’ are probably right to a large extent. We are made to be sensory beings, and what we know and understand of the world around us is processed at some level through our senses. Even us coming to mistrust our senses probably involves some use of them and  I think some of our senses are valued more than others. If you asked most people what sense they’d prefer to lose first, it would probably be smell. It’s great to be able to sniff out the first moments of your Mum’s cooking, or the waft of that cologne on the person you’re crushing on, or fresh paint (is that just me?).  But losing your sense of smell is probably better than being deaf and definitely, in mt opinion, better than being blind.

“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:Though shall not bow down thyself to them or serve them” Exodus 20:4

There is conversation that is ongoing in the Bible about the power of images. About the power of absorbing our world through our eves. There are a multitude of stories about eyes getting people into trouble. David, Samson, Eve, Potiphar’s wife, Lot’s wife – they all had problems because of what they saw. Arguably, the problem wasn’t with the actual act of seeing itself. In fact, often, when the Bible uses the word ‘see’, it is not always talking about our physical vision, but the general idea of perception. We are told that we can ‘see’ the unseen things through the seen things. We are told that some people’s hearts are blinded so that they cannot ‘see’. There are warnings that by ‘beholding’ we become changed, but that we can behold God – clearly not referring to the simple physical act.

It’s interesting to me that the first and second commandments are two separate things. They seem to link well, in fact, one might say that if the first commandment is clear , then why is there a need for the second one? We’ve already been told not to have any other gods, so it seems almost redundant to then make another commandment specifying not to make any graven images and worship them. That’s already been implied implicitly in the first commandment.

But perhaps God is trying to make a separate point about the power of our senses in bringing us to a place of worship. Perhaps breaking the second commandment is what enables us to break the first. Perhaps God is trying to teach us about the power of things on this earth to distract us from worship. This commandment makes a clear distinction between the Creator and the created. The Israelites would have been familiar with the many gods of the nations around them, Often these gods controlled, or actually were, a distinct part of nature that was worshipped, such as the water, trees, sky, various animals. God is stating in the second commandment clearly, that the power in the things we see is only so much as has been given by the Creator.

Our graven images today may be different, but nonetheless they are still our own creations, things that we have fashioned with our own hands. Our images are the ones we might see on billboards or in magazines. The likeness of fashion, the latest celebrity fad, the incessant need for the next, the latest, the newest things corporations and advertisers decided to push at us. We bow down to our capitalist, materialistic image. We bow down to images that tell us that outward appearance is of paramount importance. Our bowing down is our time and our money. We bow down to images that place image itself  as the centre point of existence. The phrase ‘bowing down’ suggests submission. We can submit to images, we can submit to the standard to beauty we are taught by the media, we can submit to the standard of living of the world we gaze at. I would argue in fact, that looking and submission are linked – if we look enough without questioning the images that are created around us, we will submit, and then serve them and allow them to rule over us. They rule over us by occupying a level of importance in our life that they shouldn’t. We allow the images we see around us to dictate how we behave, how we spend our money, who we love, HOW we love.

I don’t think our submission is as concious as bowing down to an image. It’s simply absorbing the status quo without questioning it’s validity. It’s subscribing to a worldview that actually distracts and subverts the purpose of the first commandment. 

That worldview is simply investing more in stuff than in HIM. And that stuff isn’t necessarily the physical objects on our globe, it’s just anything outside of the spiritual world that commands your attentions and affections and  submission and vision more than the God of the universe. The Israelites did that on a corporate level, we do it on a corporate and individual level.

Paul tells us in Romans “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey” (Romans 6:16)

I’m trying hard to not allow the images I see around me enslave me. I don’t want to be conformed to what I see, but to be transformed by looking at the image of the invisible God.

Peace guys x



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