“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—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…” Exodus 20:4
From time to time I like to draw pictures. The most difficult subjects to draw are portraits of people. The reason for this is that I’m not just trying to make a realistic drawing of a person. I trying to make a drawing that looks like particular person and that means that even some very small details need to be just right.
But here’s the thing. Even if I do a great job on the drawing and everyone agrees that it looks like the person I was attempting to draw the drawing still doesn’t fully capture who the person really is. A picture may be worth a thousand words but a person requires many millions of words to adequately communicate.
When God was giving the Ten Commandments the second commandment tells us to not make and worship images. This commandment isn’t an expansion on the first commandment which tells us we aren’t to have any other gods before God. That first commandment completely covers any mode of worship of a false god.
In the second commandment God’s intention was to prevent the making and worshiping of images, or representations, of himself. If there’s no way for an image to fully capture any living creature how could one ever capture the wonder, glory, love, justice, righteousness, and mercy of God.
The only thing that could happen to our conception of God were we to make an image of him is that it would become limited by the inferiority of the image and fixed because the image never changes. Far better for no image to ever be made. That way each time we come to God in worship we come with all that we know about him and we’re ready to add to that knowledge everyday.
Worshiping images also makes it easier to transfer our worship from God to a false deity that looks similar to the image that we’ve made of him. That’s what happened to Israel. At the base of mount Sinai they worshiped a golden calf and hundreds of years later they repeated this sin; both times saying that this was the God that had delivered them from the Egyptians. This act of disobedience made it much easier for them to transition to worship the Canaanite god Baal which was often portrayed as a bull.
God wants nothing to threaten our relationship with him or to diminish or limit our understanding of him. He’s more amazing and wonderful than we could ever imagine and he wants us to know him as fully as we can.