Tag Archive for second commandment

Beyond All Images

from the devotional book, PICTURES OF GOD

Exodus 20:1-6; Deuteronomy 4:15-20

Understanding God’s transcendence sheds light on the second of the Ten Commandments:

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the water under the earth. (Exodus 20:4, NASB)

This strong prohibition not only applies to images of false gods, but to images of the true God as well. Why would God absolutely forbid His people to make any likeness of Him?

  • Because God is transcendent, any image of Him would diminish Him. It would make Him far less and far other than He is, bringing more misunderstanding than understanding. He is Creator, not anything created. Worshiping any image, even an image intended to represent Him, is inherently worshiping a god other than the infinite, unseeable God. Such worship is inevitably idolatrous, regardless of its intent. The entire universe in all its vastness and wonder is only a tiny, partial revelation of all He is.

Death is naked before God…
he suspends the earth over nothing…
The pillars of the heaven quake,
aghast at his rebuke.
By his power he churned up the sea…
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power? (Job 26:6-14, NIV)

  • Any image of God is static, whereas God is a God of action. He reveals Himself through His actions, not through some static image.
  • Once we reduce the infinite, almighty God to anything local and material, our tendency is to try to control and manipulate Him. Think of the way the Ark of the Covenant has been pictured as having magical powers. That is the way any image of God would be used. Almighty God would become a mere tool to be wielded for selfish human ends.

God is great and marvelous beyond our full comprehension. And in Exodus 3:12, God says, “I AM with you”, using the exact word that He uses for His name in 3:14. Transcendent, Almighty God is with us always, in the full force of all He is.

Our understanding of the transcendent God deepens the mystery and wonder of Jesus Christ, a Galilean peasant, Who comes as the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15, NASB) and the exact representation of His nature (Hebrews 1:3, NASB).