Average reading time is about 4 and a half minutes
After the first commandment designates the true God, the second teaches us how He is to be worshiped. This commandment specifically forbids the veneration of objects representing God. “You shall not bow down to them nor serve them” (Exodus 20:5). It is the especially the worship of these images that constitutes sin.
This text does not forbid religious illustration, photography, or the fine arts. God Himself instructed carved angels to be made in the most holy place (Exodus 25:18), embroidered angels in the tabernacle hangings (1 Kings 6:29), and a cast bronze oxen in the courtyard (1 Kings 7:25). The temple was beautifully decorated, yet never was there a command to bow down and worship the building or its articles in the place of God.
The Lord once instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8, 9). He wanted to teach His people to look to Him for help. There was nothing wrong with it as an illustration that pointed people to have faith in God’s healing power. Yet the same bronze serpent was ordered destroyed when it became an object of worship and veneration. “He [King Hezekiah] … broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses made; for until those days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and called it Nehushtan” (2 Kings 18:4).
So, along with the Canaanite gods, the good king actually destroyed something that originally served a good purpose but had turned into an object of false worship. It’s kind of like Jesus’ statement about cutting off your right hand if it offends you. An image or piece of religious artwork is not sinful in and of itself, but when it becomes an object of supreme adoration in the place of God.
KEY BIBLE TEXTS
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