Images of Angels and the second commandment

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Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Does the second commandment forbid making images of angels?

"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" (Exodus 20:4)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
That's not the end of it. The purpose of the prohibition (no bowing & serving) cannot be separated from the bare injunction.

Here's the whole thing diagrammed:

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image
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;​
Thou shalt not (repeated)
[in order to] bow down to them [graven images] nor serve them [graven images]...​

The Lord commanded various "representations" at least of things in heaven (cherubim) and things in earth (pomegranates), there in the Tabernacle or Temple.
 

earl40

Puritan Board Professor
It is not forbidden to make images of angels or any thing here on earth. Though it is forbidden to make these images to represent the image of God. Of course we all wonder what an angel looks like and I think we would all tremble if we ever came in contact with one. :)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Some additional thoughts:

It's also worthy of note that the word for "graven image" in Ex.20:4 is one that is consistently used for a particular kind of carving: an idol (see Lev.26:1 for multiple terms for idols). The word for "image," used in passages like Gen.1:26 is different.

And the word for "likeness" in Gen.1:26 is not the word used in Ex.20:4. There are some positive uses of the Ex.20:4 term, e.g. Num.12:8, "With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold...."

The carving/cutting of wood and stone is another term, Ex.31:5; this passage describes the holy skill of Bezaleel, and his divine appointment to the work (cf.v10 w/ 28:33). Similar skill was recognized of Solomon's half-breed mastercraftsman, Hiram (sometimes Huram), 2Ki.7:13,31. Note that in v36 the following figures were carved (or graved, yet another word): "cherubim, lions, and palm trees, according to the space of each, with wreaths all around." N.B. 6:34. These persons and their skill appear to predate their calling; thus there is the presumption of a legitimate calling to this kind of work even beside their holy commission.

It isn't simply for us to note that there were a handful of "authorized" images, but still a general prohibition against every other possibility. No, but to keep in view that the essence of the Second Commandment is that the true God (exclusively acknowledged and designated in the First Commandment) is not to be worshiped otherwise than in the prescribed manner. The First Commandment effectively dispenses with the false worship of all other gods along with them, without redundantly forbidding their idols as well.

1Ki.10:19-20 describe carved lions decorating Solomon's throne. This is one of the few times artwork or decoration not found in the worship-precincts is described in the Bible. While I would not be surprised if naysayers set down Solomon's display among his sins, there's nothing in the text that gives the reader pause. This portion of 1Ki contains the climax of the description of the glories of Solomon, and a negative impression is not called for.

1Sam.19:13 describes a "statue" of some kind (using a word typical of "household gods," the kind small enough to hide in a saddle, Gen.31:34). It is frankly unbelievable that a religiously observant David would have tolerated even small idols in his house, let alone a bust or life-sized idol--something that might have fooled a hasty inspector. So once again, this seems more like decoration and art.

It's true that legalistic superstition and fear may have led later generations to eschew all depicted forms, "just to be on the safe-side." But that sort of hedging the law only has the "appearance of wisdom" (Col.2:23).
 
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