Why does God forbid the use of images for worship?

Author: BibleAsk Team

Images in worship

The second commandment states, “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” (Exodus 20:4-6).

This commandment condemns the devotion and the worship, that people give to religious images, icons, or statues. The Lord teaches that human ideas of form cannot be applied to Him. Material representations of God can give only an inaccurate and imperfect idea of His magnificence and unlimited character. Thus, it demeans God to represent Himself by any superficial form.

And the excuse that the idols or images themselves are not worshiped does not belittle this prohibition. Idols are merely the creation of human artistry, and therefore inferior to man (Hosea 8:6). Man can only truly worship by directing his thoughts to the Creator.

“God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). As an infinite spirit Being, God is not subject to the same limitations as finite material beings, and consequently is not so much concerned with visible places and forms of worship as He is with the spirit in which men worship Him (verse 22).

God doesn’t approve to share His glory with idols (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11). He doesn’t accept the worship and service of a divided heart (Exodus 34:12–15; Deuteronomy 4:23, 24; 6:14, 15; Joshua 24:15, 19, 20). Jesus Himself said, “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).

The only earthly image that can even remotely resemble God is the human character when it is transformed into the divine likeness as it was originally created (Genesis 1:26,27). Paul wrote, “put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Colossians 3:10).

God’s character can be reproduced in the believers’ lives by beholding Him. “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Thus, their lives become as mirrors, receiving light from God and reflecting it to others.

This commandment does not necessarily forbid the use of sculpture and painting in religion. The artistry and representation employed in the construction of the sanctuary (Exodus 25:17–22), in Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 6:23–26), and in the “brasen serpent” (Numbers 21:8, 9; 2 Kings 18:4) show that the second commandment does not forbid religious illustrative work.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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