Free Essay on Bible's Prohibition Against Graven Images

Published: 2022-07-01
Free Essay on Bible's Prohibition Against Graven Images
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  God Bible
Pages: 8
Wordcount: 2034 words
17 min read

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. This phrase is a biblical commandment that is as poorly understood as it is famous. Looking at it from an artistic point of view, God has been presented orally, and written forms as in the bible (Elinor, 53). Why therefore is it sinful and prohibited for human beings to present him in images and carvings? His depiction in narratives, parables, and written forms seem right, and if so, there must be a reason behind the prohibition of the images. In Exodus, while God was addressing Moses to go to Egypt and save his children, the Israelites, his voice is heard, and his presence represented by the burning bush, but his face was not seen, and afterwards, god himself warns that he must not be seen "for man may not see Me and live" (Exodus, 33:20). This rules out the other forms of his depiction and narrows down the prohibition to his image. In the Islam religion, this prohibition is not only applicable to God but also extends to great prophets like Mohamed.

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Due to the difference in bible versions, some other translate this commandment as "thou shalt have no other gods but me" from this point of view, the prohibition aims at ensuring there is only one god, known by the hearts and minds of people and not by image (Calum 13). God is believed to be transcendental and immeasurably distant, remote and separate from the human perception. Taking the construal-level theory, pictures or images possess low construal levels as compared to words. The construal levels are the levels of mental representation of an object, a person or an event. Therefore the psychological description of the supreme and transcendental God could not be possibly made meaningful by the use of pictures, making words the best of his portrayal. Words are cognized and represent distal things while pictures are perceived, and they present proximal elements (Elinor et al. 54). For the people that God created to hold the same respect, adoration, and magnification, he has to be the same god then, now and forever, and not as the human beings perceive him to be, and there must exits a distance between men and god, to give space for his acknowledgment as the God above all.

The Tabernacle

The bible commences with the creation of humankind but dwells so much within the tabernacles. In the Garden of Eden, God resided amongst his people and he in fact "walked with" them during the "evening breeze." He was present within the Eden, but one sin come between him and man, the latter was said to have "went out from the presence of the Lord." The tabernacle was the one place that this contact could be restored once again, and from the cosmos world (Eden) that God had created for man, man built up a microcosm God would once again dwell amongst his people (Moore 6). The tabernacle was, therefore, a restoration of the lost comfort of being within God, and a reincarnation of the most glorious and sinless world, so long gone.

The tabernacle gives an account of gods barred arm in divine action. It was an ultimate representation of Christ, whom God would send to dwell amongst his people, and through whom their prayers and petitions would be heard and answered. Through the tabernacle, the restoration of the fellowship between man and God, once broken by sin, was restored, and he was ever present amongst his pay, in the day in the form of a pillar of cloud and in the night as fire (McGee 16). Starting up as an informal structure, before the specifications of the measurement and materials to use, the tabernacle was a tent in which the presence of god was believed to dwell in, and even in the times of Moses, he would enter the tent and be in the company of God.

Nature of God

Familiarity with God within this era is through the testimonies of others about him, but suppose one could get a chance to know him as he sees himself. In Exodus 34:6-8, Moses had the opportunity to ask God, "I pray You, show me Your glory." Getting to know God through his revelation is the closest we get to understand his divinity and glory (Laney 36). The context within this revelation lies on the releasing of the Israelites from captivation, and upon the lengthy encounter between god and Moses up Mount Sinai, the Israelites felt the urge to have a God they could see. And upon their pressure. Aaron yielded in and molded a golden calf for them. The first revelation is in conjunction with the first commandment, and upon its violation, God revealed himself as a jealous God, and vowed to destroy them all, and raise a new nation from Moses' descendants. After an intercession of the people by Moses, the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people" (32:14). This proves his immutability and compassion.

Before Moses could agree to the assignment of delivering the Israelites from captivity, he needed to know who exactly had sent him, and God told him, "I AM WHO I AM." I am to the Hebrew verb translated to 'to be,' therefore, God presented himself as the active life-giving self-existent one (Laney 42). From the forbidding of making graven imaged to represent him, God reveals himself as a spirit with no physical aspects, and because of his spiritual nature, he expressively prohibits his people from forming the physical Gods of their conveniences (Fortner 3). This is because none of those physical representations bear anything of his power and divinity. Having promised Jacob of withholding his descendants forever, God sent Moses to deliver them from captivity after the pharaohs enslaved them once Joseph died. This doesn't present god so much as a merciful God, although it is indisputable that he is, instead, he is a god that keeps his promises to his people.

God's divine presence

The presence of God was so heavy during the deliverance of his children from captivity, and every time he needed to address his people, God would arrest their attention through spectacular occurrences. Moses, through the account of the burning bush, explain his encounter with God via a 'great sight,' that is, 'incinerating bush,' 'and a mysterious phenomenon. Fire, in many instances, reveals destruction as in Sodom and Gomorra or purification. By appearing in the form of a burning bush, God shows his pure and divine nature (Adamo 2). His divinity and holiness is so magnificent that it is presumed to be dangerous, a reason that God orders Moses to "not come close." He is also asked to remove his sandals as he is standing on holy ground. It is the theophanic divine presence of God that makes the land sacred. God also manifested himself through the theophany of thunder and lightning, as in the time of the sermon on Mount Sinai. His presence is so significant that the people fear him, and he offers to talk to Moses on their behalf.

The presence of his divine nature is also felt in his commands to his people with the utmost authority. He orders Moses to go and redeem the Israelites from their misery. He also gives his divine instructions through the Ten Commandments, a statute through which Christians, up to date, utilize in leading acceptable lives. He also gave the specifications for the building of the tabernacle. He is the ultimate lawmaker and lawgiver. Surprisingly, God is also portrayed as a divine warrior, as he tactically fought for his people by imposing the plague on the Egyptians (Rosser 65). When Moses was weak, and the Amalekites were seemingly stronger than the Israelites, God confused their minds and stirred war within his people making them victorious.

The golden calf

Moberly R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1983. Pp. 1-8

Summoned up the Mount Sinai, Moses takes forty days and nights, and the Israelites, feeling abandoned and impatient pressurize Aaron to make a god "who shall go before us, for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him" (Ex32:1). A god they can see, feel and touch. Aaron yields to this pressure and collects the jewelry they took from Egypt and makes them a golden calf, a representation of Yahweh. The betrayal the Israelites committed for replacing god in his most divine nature, with molten gold pushed god away from them. The unthankful nature of humanity is stunning in this instance, as they instantly forget the God who had been with them from Egypt, through the red sea to the desert, and now, within forty days, they are crumbling apart. "They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I enjoined upon them" (32:8). The use of a calf dates back to the Canaanite Gods, Baal, presented as a bull and by imitating this extreme form of worship, God withdrew himself from them (Moberly 2). It was quite clear that the Israelites were not worshipping Baal, as Aaron had announced a feast the next day, but their quest for identity was aligned to the cultures that god resented the most.

Obrien M.A. The dynamics of the golden calf story (Exodus 32-34). Catholic Theological College MCD University of Divinity. 2012. Pp 18-31.

Coming at a time when the Israelites had just had a covenant with God, regarding their relationship and conduct, the molding of a calf to imitate the God, so divine and mighty attracts massive repercussions. The consequences of the worshiping of the calf impact so heavily on the relationship between God and the Israelites and vice versa, between Moses and god and to the more significant part the future of the Israelites with regards to the promises that God had given to their ancestors. It is through the rage that Moses feels after the idolatry that he breaks the stone of tablet and fails to reach canna, the country he was leading his people to. The Lord God had made a promise to Jacob of making Israel, his descendants prosperous and when they were captivated, he had to honor his promise and sent Moses to save them. God fought for them with divine power and delivered them from the Egyptians. He protected them with clouds during the day and fire during the night, provided for the water and manna, and just as they were approaching the Promised Land, they betrayed him. From this time, the Israelites had jeopardized their divine mission as children of God and had compromised the truth with falsehood (O'Brien 19). With human beings tendencies to ruin the relationship so long nurtured, they ruin 450 days of the travels from Egypt with only forty days of Moses' absence from them.

Thomas B. Dozeman. Moses: divine servant and Israelite hero by Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University. Pp 46-59.

Aside from being the appointed leader, Moses in many instances acted as a mediator between God and the Israelites, and an intercessor too. When they needed to cross the red sea, it was up to Moses to make way through, when they didn't have fresh water to drink and food to eat, again it was up to him. And now, they had defied and violated the command they held so dearly even while in Egypt, and made a golden calf to represent God. The wrath of God is upon the Israelites, but Moses employs prudence and justice, to plead and persuade God to spare the Israelites. The magnitude of ignorance of the Israelites towards Moses cultivates discontinuity between the Israelites and God. Moses, a God-fearing servant, judging from his fear when he saw the burning bush, is in constant mediation between God and man. He intervenes when they have insufficient food and water, and when they are deficient in God's glory. A sacrificial lamb was he that through the idolatry of the Israelites he is not able to reach to Canaan.

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