By Alistair Begg
No Image Engraved or in Mind
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
If the first commandment—“You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3)—deals with the object of our worship, the second commandment deals with the manner of our worship. What the second commandment tells us is that it is not enough that we worship the correct God; we must also worship Him correctly.
The clear and immediate meaning of the command is that God is to be worshiped without any visual symbols of Him. Why the prohibition? Because God is spirit: infinite and unfathomably great. No physical representation could ever do justice to His glory and grandeur. The problem with statues, shrines, and pictures is not that they don’t look good but that no matter how good they look, they will inevitably blur the truth about God’s nature and character. Such images tend to distract men and women from worshiping the true and living God, instead leading them to worship whatever representation is before them.
Yet the second commandment takes us beyond mere images and idol-making and into our own thought life. Our hands may be innocent of making graven images, but our imaginations seldom are. Any conception of God in our minds and hearts that is not derived from Scripture runs foul of this command.
When God gave instructions for the building of the temple, He ordered that the ark of the covenant, on which His presence would dwell, should reside in the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:34). What was inside the ark? Perhaps most significant is what was not in it: it contained no visible representation of God. Instead, there were the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. It was as if God was saying to His people, as He says to us, Don’t look for Me in shrines, paintings, or statues. I’m not there. Look for Me in My word.
And so we take our cues from God. If we want to worship Him—if we want to meet with Him and know what He is like—we must conform our minds to His word. Our own attempts to conceive of God apart from divine revelation will invariably fail. He has published His truth in His word, and so we are to tether ourselves to what is revealed there.
What’s at stake in this is the integrity not only of our worship but also of our lives—because when people go wrong in their worship, they end up wrong in their living. Anything and anyone that encourages us to worship the correct God incorrectly will prove to be a detriment to our spiritual growth. What a tragedy it would be to embrace an image and miss the person of Christ, to sit at a shrine and miss the Savior, to worship a misconception and fail to know Jesus. Instead, resist the urge to modify God in your mind or conform Him to your own image, and be sure to know Him as He has revealed Himself.