Summary: God only allows 2 images of Himself...
“Law & Order: SPU – Image Makers”
The late Art Linkletter once saw a small boy drawing a picture. He inquired, “What are you drawing? The boy replied, “A picture of God.” Art told the young boy that no one knows what God looks like, to which the boy responded, “They will when I get through.” Just what does God look like? What is your image of God? How do you picture Him? How does God want to be known? How does He want people to see Him? How does God want us to ‘spin Him?’ The second commandment leads us to focus on God’s image.
Let’s look first at the ROLE OF IMAGE. It almost goes without saying that, especially in our culture, IMAGE IS IMPORTANT. Politicians, athletes, Hollywood stars - many of them hire image makers and spin professionals. Why? To be sure they have a good, acceptable public image. And while we may not hire people to help us, most of us need to admit that we are concerned about our image, about how others see us and think of us.
It is no different with God. GOD, TOO, IS CONCERNED WITH HIS IMAGE, with how others perceive Him. So He lays down the law and stipulates that no images of Him are to be worshipped. We need to understand that this was not a ban on all images. God knew that, as humans, people need help in imaging or seeing the unseen. So when God gave instructions for the setting up the tabernacle and for building the temple He carefully laid out some elaborate images the Israelites were to use. These were to be symbols, or aids, that would point beyond themselves to the reality of some particular aspect or characteristic of God. But they were not God and therefore were not to be worshipped; people were not to bow down to them or put the image itself on a par with God.
Consider just one incident in the life of Israel. In Numbers 21:6-9 we read “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.” God gave them a symbol, an image, to focus their attention upon Him. But years later God ordered them to destroy the bronze serpent because the people had begun to worship it rather than God Himself. The image no longer represented God – it became a god and thus a rival to the one true God.
I wear a cross much of the time. It reminds me of who and whose I am, that I belong to the risen, victorious Jesus Christ. That is not a problem – unless I begin to worship the cross itself. If I should forget to put it on one morning, and later that day panic because I do not have it on, it’s become an idol – a serpent gone bad. That’s what God speaks against in this commandment.
In fact, God says HE IS JEALOUS FOR HIS IMAGE – He will not let anyone or anything spoil His image. God loves us so much that He does not want any false image to turn us away from His love. How do you suppose Barb would feel if, in my wallet, I carried a picture of some other woman? Slighted. Angry. Jealous. Why? Because that picture does not point to her – in fact, it would point me and others away from her. That picture is not her image nor would it remind me of her. It would diminish my love for her and her love for me. She has a right to be jealous for her image.
Then, too, God understands that how one generation portrays His image radically impacts future generations: “I am…a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation…” Those who worship false images of God, who misrepresent God, bring judgment upon themselves and their households (keep in mind that Israelites households usually covered three to four generations). Entire generations are led astray. Is it any wonder God is jealous for His image? A false mental image of God is as bad as a false metal image.