SEPARATING FACTS FROM SENTIMENTS: A BIBLICAL STANCE ON IMAGES
STEP ONE: EXODUS 20: 2-5
I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of Egypt….Your shall have no other gods to rival me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven above or earth below or the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I, Yahweh your God, am a Jealous God.
ANALYSIS OF STEP ONE
A. I am your God, you should have no none to rival me. To explain this further, He talked about carved images to be taken as gods to rival to him. Mark that God was specific here about His glory being given to another god; that makes a jealous God.
B. At this point one can clearly know that the angle here was on rejection of God and on setting up a rival.
STEP TWO: THE LAW BROKEN EXODUS 32: 1 (LOOK AT THE CONTEXT)
They gathered and said to Aaron, get to work, make us a god to go at our head; for that of Moses… we do not know what has become of Him…
ANALYSIS OF STEP TWO
A. The intention here is very clear; they needed a replacement of Yahweh
B. The role of this god was, to go before them in their journey
STEP THREE: GOD’S REPLY: EXODUS 32: 7
Go down…. they have quickly left the way which I ordered them to follow. They have cast for themselves a metal calf worshipped it and offered sacrifice to it, shouting, Israel here is your God who brought you out of Egypt.
ANALYSIS OF STEP THREE
A.God’s anger was that, they have worshipped the metal calf, which was meant as his replacement and offered it sacrifice. In the Hebrew background, worship and sacrifice are two sides of the same coin, check your Bible in the Old Testament.
B. Listen to what God said, while recounting the words of the Israelites, ‘they said Israel here is your God’, and by so doing they shifted the emphasis from Yahweh to the metal calf, and the jealous God couldn’t endure it.
STEP FOUR: EXODUS 25: 1ff: MOTIVE DEFINES AN ACT (THE WHOLE CHAPTER)
ANALYSIS OF STEP FOUR
A. Vs 10-11, God said to Moses, ‘ you must make me an ark, you will over lay it, inside out, with pure gold and make moulding all around it’. God even made this instruction for things to be moulded as a representative of His presence. From this it is obvious that God is not against moulding done in His honour, else He would not have given this instruction.
B. Vs 18-20, You will model two great winged creatures of beaten gold, at the two ends. Here one even sees the moulding of two heavenly creatures, cherub and seraph.
C. It would surprise you to know that all these came after the commandments were given in chapter 20, and being all knowing, God cannot contradict Himself. But when people choose to interpret a scriptural text out of context, they turn it into a pretext
BRINGING THE ABOVE THREE PASSAGES TOGETHER: A CONTEXTUALIZATION
STEP FIVE: BETWEEN EXODUS 20 AND 32
In 20, I am your God who brought you out of Egypt, you shall have no other gods. In 32, make us a god…we do not know what has become of that of Moses.
From this, the intention was well stated and the guilt was well perceived; ‘let it be on our head’. It was an act to replace God, by finding another to which they transferred the glory.
B. In 20, you shall not bow down or worship them. In 32, early next morning they sacrificed burnt offerings and brought communion sacrifices.
From this again, one sees a clear violation of the commandment in intention and action, and there was no doubt that it will culminate to a grieve consequence.
STEP SIX: BETWEEN EXODUS 20 AND 25
A. In 20, you shall not have other gods besides me, you shall not make for yourself a carved image. In 25, you must make me an ark of acacia wood.
From the above, the ark was indeed a carving out of wood but God ordered it as a must-do. It is obvious from the intention that it was not to take the place of God but was to carry the presence of God.
B. In 20, you shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven…. In 25: 18-20, you shall model two great winged creatures of beaten gold.
From the above we realize that two images were moulded and inserted in the Ark, but yet it was not a violation of the commandment in 20. God remains all-knowing, the intention was very clear, they were not meant to serve as gods but as components to signify God’s presence.
STEP SEVEN: USING NUMBERS 21 TO MAKE IT CLEARER
And God said; make a fiery serpent and raise it on a standard, any one who is bitten and looks at it will survive. And Moses moulded a serpent out of bronze….
ANALYSIS OF STEP SEVEN
Was this idolatry? No.
Did God forget the commandment of Exodus 20? No, for He is all knowing
Was it the snake that healed them? No it was God that did.
Was God incapable of a direct healing? No but God has always made use of medium to reach out to His people.
All these clearly show that it was not the issue of moulding but the rationale and intention behind the moulding. Don’t forget that it was still snake in Genesis that led Adam and Eve astray.
STEP EIGHT: EXODUS 35, GOD IMBUED PEOPLE WITH THE GIFT TO MOULD
Yahweh here singled out Bazel son of Uri and later Oholiab son of Ahisamach, and filled them with the spirit of God and wisdom and knowledge and skill in every kind of craft: in designing and carrying out work in gold, silver and bronze…. These were the people responsible for the construction of the ark and the altar of incense in Exodus 37and also the altar of burnt offerings in Exodus 38.
STEP NINE: 1SAMUEL 5:2: THE DIFFERENCE WAS CLEAR
In this passage was the encounter between the Ark of the covenant and Dagon. One could possibly say two carved images, but it was not so. The Ark was the representation of Yahweh but Dagon was the god of the people of Ashdod. They have no equal value or relevance, this was evidently shown in Dagon bowing everyday to serve the Almighty represented in the Ark.
STEP TEN: IMAGES IN THE TEMPLE AND THE CHURCH
FURNISHINGS OF THE TEMPLE
The inner court of the priests contained the altar of burnt-offering (2 Chr. 15:8), the brazen sea (4:2-5, 10), and ten lavers (1 Kings 7:38, 39). From 2 Kings 16:14 it is learned that a brazen altar stood before the Temple; 2 Chr. 4:1 gives its dimensions as 20 cubits square and 10 cubits high.
The brazen sea, 5 cubits wide and 10 deep, rested on the backs of twelve oxen (1 Kings 7:23-26). The Book of Kings gives its capacity as “two thousand baths”; the Chronicler inflates this to three thousand (2 Chr. 4:5-6) and states that its purpose was to afford opportunity for the ablutions of the priests.
The lavers, each of which held “forty baths” (1 Kings 7:38), rested on portable holders made of bronze, provided with wheels, and ornamented with figures of lions, cherubim, and palm-trees. These vessels especially excited the admiration of the Jews. The author of the books of the Kings describes their minute details with great interest (1 Kings 7:27-37).
According to 1 Kings 7:48 there stood before the Holy of Holies a golden altar of incense and a table for showbread. This table was of gold, as were also the five candlesticks on each side of it. The implements for the care of the candles – tongs, basins, snuffers, and fire-pans – were of gold; and so were the hinges of the doors.
THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
If from the scriptures it is clear that carvings are not synonymous with idolatry, I still wonder where all these series of accusations against the Catholic Church are coming from. With reference to images in the Church, they are all representation of whose images they bear. Are they being worshipped as God? No, they only evoke sense of devotion and presence. In the Catholic Church, we worship God Almighty who in His Son Jesus Christ Has wrought our salvation on the cross. We honour Mother Mary not because she was a virtuous woman but because she is the Mother of Jesus who is God; who paid the price of our sins. Of her Jesus was pleased to dwell, God the Father chose her to bring forth the saviour, and of her the over shadowing of the Holy Spirit was practically seen. To her the angel testified; you are full of grace of God, and of all women, you are the most blessed.
THE ROLE OF INTENTION
Jeremiah 17: 10, I Yahweh, search the heart, test the motives, to give each person what his actions deserves. In Genesis 4:6, Yahweh asked Cain; why are you angry and down cast? If what you are doing is right, surely you ought to hold your head high. But if not , sin is crouching at the door, hungry to get you. This was even before he murdered Abel. God knows the intention of every Christian act, stop taking the place of God and stop acting like you are God (that is the worst form of idolatry). Even Himself had given instructions for erection of images in his honour. Today people often take the place of God; they decide those to go to heaven and those that will not (either those wearing earrings or not, trouser or not, weavon or not). My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts says the Lord (Isaiah 55: 8-9).
THE FACT AND IMPORTANCE OF CONSECRATION
If you think every image is an idol because it was carved or moulded, then here is my question: what is the difference between your place of worship and a club house? Since both are erected buildings, does it mean that they posses the same value and significance? Of course NO. The club house is for events of its kind, but a place of worship has been consecrated to the honour of God and so it is expected to be a place of encounter with God. Why do you refer to a person as a ‘man of God’, when you are also a man with the same biological endowments, and you may even be more physically endowed than him? It is because he has been set apart to the service of God. The same goes for images; for those that have been consecrated to the honour of God, they belong to God.
NEW TESTAMENT FINDINGS: CONCLUSION
In Matthew 5:38-42, one sees series of the Old Testament Laws Jesus appropriated in the spirit of love. In Matthew 19:8, he reminded them that it was not so from the beginning, as regards the injunction on divorce from Moses. However, he didn’t speak or condemn images in temple, where according to Luke 19:47, he taught everyday. He only drove out those who turned the temple into a market place (an exercise he will still do today, because it seem to be the order of the day), and a war arena where people are taught how to criticise other Christian folks, as if Christ is divided.
In fact, the last time I checked John 3: 14, I read where Jesus made a positive reference to Numbers 21:8, making it personal to himself; as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert so must the son of man be lifted up…. Figuratively it points to His death on the cross but by implication, it clarifies the rationale behind the Holy Cross being hung in the Catholic Church, Schools, offices and Homes.
NB: CRITISMS YESTERDAY THAT ARE COMMON PRACTICES TODAY
Previously, I hear people ask why we wear chaplet and medals on our necks, and before I could know it, I saw a huge number wearing medals with the images of their pastors in them; and I said Woow. Next I saw those who asked why we wear scapulars and medals, wearing apron and others having the stickers of their pastors in their cars and homes for protection; I said God is good. I do hear people say; why are they confessing to a priest? I can’t do that! A priest who acts on behalf of God, according to Hebrews 5:1; every high priest is taken from among human beings and is appointed to act on their behalf in relationships with God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. And who has the authority of the apostles given in John 20:22; receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven…. Regrettably today people go for consultations and tell their pastors what they did in the past, that is weighing down their spiritual, physical or financial growth. What a contradiction! What you don’t know of, is older than you, so ask your elders and they will they you.
When you salute the hoisted flag of any nation, you salute not the sewn pieces of cloth, but the nation. On the other hand when you publicly burn the flag of any nation, it is tantamount to treason; and we know how treasonable offences are treated. Images, signs and symbols have no meaning in themselves, they point to bigger realities whose image they bear. Let he that has ear, listen; for a word is enough for the wise.
CICERO CHIMEZIE: firstname.lastname@example.org