Exodus 20:4 MEANING

Exodus 20:4
(4) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.--The two main clauses of the second commandment are to be read together, so as to form one sentence: "Thou shalt not make to thee any graven image, &c., so as to worship it." (See the explanation of Josephus, Ant. Jud., iii. 5, ? 5: '? ???????? ???? ??????? ??????? ?????? ???? ?????????? ??????????.) It was not until the days of Hebrew decline and degeneracy that a narrow literalism pressed the words into an absolute prohibition of the arts of painting and sculpture (Philo, De Oraculis, ? 29). Moses himself sanctioned the cherubic forms above the mercy-seat, the brazen serpent, and the lilies and pomegranates of the golden candlestick. Solomon had lions on the steps of his throne, oxen under his "molten sea," and palm-trees, flowers, and cherubim on the walls of the Temple, "within and without" (1 Kings 6:29). What the second commandment forbade was the worship of God under a material form. It asserted the spirituality of Jehovah. While in the rest of the ancient world there was scarcely a single nation or tribe which did not "make to itself" images of the gods, and regard the images themselves with superstitious veneration, in Judaism alone was this seductive practice disallowed. God would have no likeness made of Him, no representation that might cloud the conception of His entire separation from matter, His purely spiritual essence.

In heaven above . . . in the earth beneath . . . in the water under the earth.--Comp. Genesis 1:1-7. The triple division is regarded as embracing the whole material universe. In the Egyptian idolatry images of all three kinds were included.

Verse 4. As the first commandment asserts the unity of God, and is a protest against polytheism, so the second asserts his spirituality, and is a protest against idolatry and materialism. Verses 4 and 5 are to be taken together, the prohibition being intended, not to forbid the arts of sculpture and painting, or even to condemn the religious use of them, but to disallow the worship of God under material forms. When the later Jews condemned all representations of natural objects (Philo, De Orac. 29; Joseph. Ant. Jud. 8:7, § 5), they not only enslaved themselves to a literalism, which is alien from the spirit of both covenants, but departed from the practice of more primitive times - representations of such objects having had their place both in the tabernacle (Exodus 25:31-34; Exodus 28:33, 34) and in the first temple (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, etc.). Indeed, Moses himself, when he erected the "brazen serpent" (Numbers 21:9) made it clear that representations of natural objects were not disallowed by the law. To moderns in civilized countries it seems almost incredible that there should ever have been anywhere a real worship of images. But acquaintance with ancient history or even with the present condition of man in savage or backward countries, renders it apparent that there is a subtle fascination in such material forms, and that imperfectly developed minds will rest in them not as mere emblems of divinity, but as actually possessed of Divine powers The protest raised by the second commandment is still as necessary as ever, not only in the world, but in the very Christian Church itself, where there exists even at the present day a superstitious regard for images and pictures, which is not only irrational, but which absorbs the religious feelings that should have been directed to higher objects. Any graven image. Perhaps it would be better to translate "any image," for the term used (pesel) is applied, not only to "graven" but also to "molten images" (Isaiah 40:19; Isaiah 44:10; Jeremiah 10:14; etc.), since these last were in almost every instance finished by the graving tool. Or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above - i.e., "any likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air." Compare Deuteronomy 4:17. The water under the earth. See Genesis 1:6, 7. The triple division here and elsewhere made, is intended to embrace the whole material universe. Much of the Egyptian religion consisted in the worship of animals and their images.

20:3-11 The first four of the ten commandments, commonly called the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbour to love. It cannot be expected that he should be true to his brother, who is false to his God. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, JEHOVAH, and him only. The worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes short of perfect love, gratitude, reverence, or worship, breaks this commandment. Whatsoever ye do, do all the glory of God. The second commandment refers to the worship we are to render to the Lord our God. It is forbidden to make any image or picture of the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to worship any creature, image, or picture. But the spiritual import of this command extends much further. All kinds of superstition are here forbidden, and the using of mere human inventions in the worship of God. The third commandment concerns the manner of worship, that it be with all possible reverence and seriousness. All false oaths are forbidden. All light appealing to God, all profane cursing, is a horrid breach of this command. It matters not whether the word of God, or sacred things, all such-like things break this commandment, and there is no profit, honour, or pleasure in them. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. The form of the fourth commandment, Remember, shows that it was not now first given, but was known by the people before. One day in seven is to be kept holy. Six days are allotted to worldly business, but not so as to neglect the service of God, and the care of our souls. On those days we must do all our work, and leave none to be done on the sabbath day. Christ allowed works of necessity, charity, and piety; for the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath, Mr 2:27; but all works of luxury, vanity, or self-indulgence in any form, are forbidden. Trading, paying wages, settling accounts, writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling visits, journeys, or light conversation, are not keeping this day holy to the Lord. Sloth and indolence may be a carnal, but not a holy rest. The sabbath of the Lord should be a day of rest from worldly labour, and a rest in the service of God. The advantages from the due keeping of this holy day, were it only to the health and happiness of mankind, with the time it affords for taking care of the soul, show the excellency of this commandment. The day is blessed; men are blessed by it, and in it. The blessing and direction to keep holy are not limited to the seventh day, but are spoken of the sabbath day.Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image,.... An image of anything graven by art or man's device, cut out of wood of stone, and so anything that was molten, or cast into a mould or form, engraved by men, and this in order to be worshipped; for otherwise images of things might be made for other uses and purposes, as the cherubim over the mercy seat, and the brazen serpent, and images and impressions on coin, which we do not find the Jews themselves scrupled to make use of in Christ's time on that account; though they vehemently opposed the setting up any images of the Caesars or emperors in their temple, because they seemed to be placed there as deities, and had a show of religious worship: however, any image of God was not to be made at all, since no similitude was ever seen of him, or any likeness could be conceived; and it must be a gross piece of ignorance, madness, and impudence, to pretend to make one, and great impiety to make it in order to be the object of religious worship; on which account, not any image or the image of anything whatever was to be made:

or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above; any form, figure, portrait, or picture of anything or creature whatever, whether in the supreme, starry, or airy heaven; as of angels, which some have gone into the worship of; and of the sun, moon, and stars, the host of heaven; and of any of the birds of the air, as the hawk by the Egyptians, and the dove by the Assyrians:

or that is in the earth beneath; as oxen, sheep, goats, cats, dogs, &c. such as were the gods of Egypt:

or that is in the water under the earth: as of fishes, such as were the crocodile of Egypt, the Dagon of the Philistines, and the Derceto of the Syrians: this is the second command, as the Targum of Jonathan expressly calls it; that is, the first part of it, which forbids the making of graven images for worship; the other part follows, which is the worship of them itself: Clemens of Alexandria (d) observes, that Numa, king of the Romans, took this from Moses, and forbid the Romans to make any image of God, like to man or beast.

(d) Stromat. l. 1. p. 304.

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