You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath…
I. THE DIVINE PROHIBITION.
1. Observe precisely what this second commandment forbids.
(1) And, first, negatively: It does not forbid all use of art in worship. For Jehovah Himself commanded Moses to adorn the tabernacle with figures of cherubim, and trees, and flowers, and pomegranates, and bells, and all manner of cunning workmanship. The imaging faculty, or faculty of making images — imagination in the primary sense of the term — is itself a Divine endowment, and must therefore be cultivated.
(2) What, then, does the second commandment forbid? It forbids all idolatrous representations of Deity (see John 4:24). We must worship God according to His nature; His nature is spiritual, and, therefore, we must worship Him spiritually — spirit-wise, not image-wise; for only what is spiritual in us can worship what is spiritual above us.
2. The prohibition, then, of the second commandment is a universal need.
(1) The Jew at the foot of Mount Sinai needed it. He had just emerged from idolatrous Egypt — that Egypt which was wholly given over to image-worship.
(2) Modern Christianity needs it. We need not go to the Roman Catholic Church for examples of image-worship. Behold our own Protestant Ecclesiolatry, or worship of the Church as an institution, bowing down before her ordinances as though they were ends instead of using them as means, worshipping her sacraments and creeds and traditions and ceremonies. Behold our Protestant Bibliolatry, or rabbinic worship of the Bible as a letter and even sacrament, These, and such as these, are, practically speaking, more or less revered as symbols of Deity.
II. THE DIVINE REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION.
1. Jehovah our God is a jealous God.
2. Law of heredity (see Galatians 6:7).
(1) The merciless aspect of heredity. Everybody knows that there are hereditary diseases; for instance, leprosy, scrofula, consumption, insanity, and a nameless disease far more dreadful. And as there are hereditary diseases, so there are hereditary vices; for example, indolence, mendacity, avarice, intemperance, crime. Moral habit is as hereditable as bodily gait. As Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes has somewhere stated: "A man is an omnibus, in which all his ancestors are seated." Yes; the soul, not less than the body, has its physiology. This law it is which accounts for the sad fact of the universal sinfulness. But you interrupt me with an objection. "This law of heredity," you tell me, "tends to quench personal responsibility." Learn, then, I answer, a lesson from the analogy of the human body: although confessedly propagated, it is also confessedly a separate, independent individuality. Again: it is of the utmost importance in this discussion to keep clearly and steadily in mind the distinction between personal guilt and inherited disaster, or, as the philosophers phrase it, unfortunate "environment." But I hear another objection: "This law of heredity," you tell me, "is unjust and cruel; it makes the innocent suffer for the guilty. How, then, will you reconcile the awful working of this law of heredity with the character of a holy and loving God?" Answer: Man is mortal. How, then, shall the continuance of the race on earth be secured? I can conceive of but two ways. First, by the continuous creation of men, or a perpetual repetition of the miracle of Eden, the ceaseless bringing into the world, fresh from the Maker's hand, of a succession of created Adams, or parentless Melchizedeks. But under such a condition of things there would be, in all probability, a repetition of Adam's painful story. Secondly, the continuance of the race on earth can be secured in the way in which the Creator does actually secure it — namely, by the law of propagation. Heredity it is which renders this profound fact — Society — possible. There is such a thing as man-kind, because there is such a thing as men-kinned. It is almost impossible to overestimate the value of consanguinity as a curbing, uplifting, unifying force. Heredity! Why it is my real hope under God for humanity.
(2) Merciful aspect of heredity. This law is a real inspiration for foreign missions. Special pains must be taken to save the heathen children; for converted children are, according to God's own law, the mighty hope of our world's future. Lessons:
1. Heredity the key to social regeneration. Men, not less than animals, can be improved by stirpiculture, or selective breeding.
2. A summons to personal heroism. God judges us, not by our capacities, but by our efforts.
3. Worship the Divine Man Himself. He is the Image of the Invisible God, and we need no other.
(G. D. Boardman.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: