Friday, February 21, 2020

What constitutes a “graven image?”


Please explain what it means about making graven images like anything in heaven, on earth or under the earth.  Does this mean for bowing down to worship only or does it mean more than that, even if it is a picture?  I am talking to someone who thinks that since YHWH is in heaven that means Him, too.  You cannot make a likeness of Him since He is a Spirit.  Could you help me In this matter?  Thanks!


You are talking about Exodus 20:4 or Deuteronomy 5:8.  The Hebrew word "פסל" [phe'sel] in these verses comes from the root word "פסל" [pa-sal, (spelled the same in Hebrew)], and "pa-sal" is a verb meaning "to carve".  So the word "phe'sel" is a Hebrew idiom for a "carved image".  (Many English translations use the word "graven image" since an antonym of "carve" is to "grave" (as in "dig/cut into" as in the word "engrave".)  A carved image in the Hebrew idiom is closest to an "idol" in English. 

So this commandment is to not make an "idol" of any god.  (The Hebrews had been brought out of Egypt and were headed to lands where there was enormous idol worship, and YHWH was admonishing them NOT to do that, and the people did not even see an image of YHWH on Mt. Sinai. 

Deuteronomy 4:14-19: "14 At that time Adonai ordered me to teach you laws and rulings, so that you would live by them in the land you are entering in order to take possession of it. 15  "Therefore, watch out for yourselves! Since you did not see a shape of any kind on the day Adonai spoke to you in Horev from the fire, 16  do not become corrupt and make yourselves a carved image having the shape of any figure - not a representation of a human being, male or female,

17  or a representation of any animal on earth, or a representation of any bird that flies in the air, 18 or a representation of anything that creeps along on the ground, or a representation of any fish in the water below the shoreline. 19  For the same reason, do not look up at the sky, at the sun, moon, stars and everything in the sky, and be drawn away to worship and serve them; Adonai your God has allotted these to all the peoples under the entire sky." (CJB)

So you have to be careful when you ask: "Does this mean for bowing down to worship only or does it mean more than that, even if it is a picture?" The No. 1 meaning in the Hebrew idiom "carved image" is that it is considered by the person to be "a god". So it's not that it must be "carved", for even a drawing or painting is "graven" for "graven" is an archaic term for an inscription or image on a surface.  So the English "graven image" comes pretty close to the meaning of the Hebrew idiom.  It's any image or shape considered a god, and that includes an image of YHWH!

But, found in scripture, there is a reference to an "idol" that is not a carved/graven image of a god! In 1 Samuel 19:13, we find that when Mihhal, David's wife took an "idol" and put it in David's bed as a dummy: "Mikhal took the household idol, laid it on the bed, put a goat's-hair quilt at its head and covered it with a cloth." 

But the word here is "teraphim" [תרפים], not "phe'sel" and means "healer". Consider Judges 17:5 "This man Mikhah owned a house of God; so he made a ritual vest and household gods [teraphim] and consecrated one of his sons, who became his cohen."  A teraphim seemed to have been a kind of "helper" or household charm for good luck,  or to help summon YHWH, rather than an object of worship. 

So a teraphim is not a false god [carved/graven image], rather it is a "prayer aid". These people had YHWH as their God but no King (Judges 17:6) so they were left on their own to try to worship YHWH as best they could. (Remember, no on in those days could read or had access to a Tanakh.

In fact all of Judges 17-18 is a very interesting read if one pays attention to this odd behavior of these leader-less people, and the difference between the phe'sel and the teraphim.  These people were truly struggling on their own.  There are other references of the use of teraphim, but I think you get the picture.)

Today, we tread on dangerous ground if we have phe'sel or teraphim in our presence. That's why I said you have to be careful thinking that Exodus 20:4 or Deuteronomy 5:8 might mean "bowing down to worship only".  A picture could be either a phe'sel or teraphim, and if it is a phe'sel, it should not be in the house, and if considered a teraphim, why have it? 

We, today can possess, read, and study the direct word of YHWH.  Why would we need or even desire a teraphim, "helper/healer" or prayer aid?  Our "helper/healer" is the Ruach HaChodesh who dwells in us provided we remain holy by our obedience to YHWH's Word. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are moderated.