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. A REVELATION OF THE WILL OF GOD.
1. What is forbidden is not the culture of the plastic arts, but their abuse in furnishing symbols for purposes of devotion. Statuary is lawful, and painting is lawful; but sculptor and artist are alike restricted from attempting to represent the Deity; and all men are prohibited from taking such representations as objects of worship.
2. There was a special reason for this prohibition as it affected the Hebrews. They had come away from Egypt — a country where the employment of beasts and images in religious symbolism had descended to the very nadir of human degradation. They were on their way to Canaan, a land given to them because its inhabitants had outraged all forbearance by the filthy and bloody rites of Baal and Astarte. Above all, the chief reason of their own election as the chosen nation was that they might become faithful witnesses of Jehovah.
3. The bearing of this law upon Christian duty is manifest. Material images are forbidden, but mental images may be framed, provided always that they be fashioned out of the Divine manifestations. Every historic act, in which God is seen by the individual or the community, is a revelation of God; and the sum of such revelations gives a mental image of the Divine Being which we can and may adore. Furthermore, the focus of all God's self-revelation is the Lord Jesus Christ.
II. A REVELATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. God is jealous for the truth of His own nature. How could any graven image ever be an accurate or an adequate similitude of the infinite invisible Spirit?
2. God is jealous for the character of His people. By the act of homage men acknowledge themselves inferior to that which they adore; so that every degradation of the Object of worship involves a simultaneous abasement of the worshipper.
3. God is jealous for the influence of His people upon the world. Israel was appointed to be a guardian of truth, an apostle of the one God, a harbour-light for benighted nations upon the sea of time. It was peculiarly wounding to the King of Heaven that they should insult Him by representing Him as a calf of gold, and should degrade themselves by their debasing homage.
III. A REVELATION OF THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD.
1. Hereditary penalties follow the breach of this law of spiritual worship. Sensuous worship leads to sensuous living; and the fruits of sensuous living may linger on in miseries untold which our children shall suffer when we who did the wrong lie forgotten in the grave.
2. On the other hand, hereditary blessings follow the keeping of this law. True spiritual life begets true spiritual life, and hands on a heritage of reward to succeeding generations.
3. And it is the fittest which survives the longest! Evil is for a time; good is for eternity.
(W. J. Woods, B. A.)
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: