Make No Graven Image

You shall not make for yourself a carved image.… you shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (vv. 4, 5).

- Exodus 20:4–6

The essence of the second commandment is that the worship of God must be spiritual so that it will correspond with His nature. God is spiritual and invisible; nothing, therefore, in the earth or in the heavens above corresponds with His nature. Nothing can adequately or comprehensively represent Him. Consequently, we are not to make any image of Him, whether we intend to worship it or not, for, as Calvin so aptly puts it, “As soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship.” We should, therefore, take these two aspects of the second commandment together, not in the sense that we are free to make any graven image as long as we don’t worship it, but that we are not to make any graven image at all because as soon as we do, we are transferring to an image what should be reserved for God only: our adoration and worship. God is insulted not only when we worship an image, but when we represent Him by any outward form, for He is spirit.

Now it is certainly true that God revealed Himself in physical manifestations to the prophets and others in Old Testament times. But this fact does not give us license to break the second commandment and fashion an image of God according to our own imaginations. God choosing to manifest Himself in a physical form is far different from a human being choosing to fashion an image of the invisible God. We are not God, and He has not given us the authorization to make such representations.

All rites that do not correspond with the spiritual worship of God are here forbidden. Like a jealous husband, God will allow no rival to Himself. He will not allow us to set our love upon another. And this is exactly what is involved here: our love. We show our love for God when we obey His commands: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” But those who do not keep His law hate Him, and they (and their posterity) will suffer the consequences of such sin.

It is easier than one might think to break this command. Whenever we imagine God in any way contrary to what He has revealed Himself to be, we are making an idol. Our thoughts and our actions, therefore, must be bound by the Word of God. We must worship Him in spirit and in truth, for only then do we show our love.

Coram Deo

Consider how you have broken this command. How do you fashion images of God? Have you constructed any belief system about God that is contrary to the truth as He has revealed it in His word? Have you tried to make a physical image of God through an artistic medium? Consider this in light of the passages below.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 19:4; 26:1
Deuteronomy 4:15–19
Habakkuk 2:18–20
John 4:24

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343