[Exo 20:4-5 NIV] 4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,
It stunned me to realize this passage wasnt about paganism! I had always thought of it in terms of bowing down to another god. But in reality, I believe YHVH is talking about worshiping YHVH using objects. Objects might be sneakier than it sounds. In modern, western society and culture, we dont have objects as a common experience, we have concepts. I think they might be interchangeable in this case, because I think the underlying principle is Yahweh has never showed us Yahweh’s form or appearance.
We may have heard the voice coming from the mountain top, but we didnt see our God
[Deu 4:12 NIV] 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice.
and just a bit further
[Deu 4:12, 15-16 NIV] 12 Then the LORD spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only a voice. … 15 You saw no form of any kind the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, 16 so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman,
YHVH wanrs us, commands us actually, not to worship YHVH with any created image. Not to ascribe anything to YHVH, because YHVH is not anything we have ever seen. And the moment we try to create a form in order to express characteristics (strength, wisdom, kindness etc…) we will inadvertently make that characteristic the object of worship. Aaron made the image of a calf to worship YHVH. He wasnt encouraging worship of another god in his mind. The calf was representative of the ox I believe. Egypt worshiped the ox because of its strength. Even the word “god” comes for the word for “luck or fortune”. Even the term itself is awful. We worship a “god” because we seek good fortune.
[Exo 32:3-5 NIV] 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.”
So if we try hard to define and express and form something that is really just a characteristic, even if we somehow got it accurate enough to even be true, we are at serious risk. We can focus on the characteristic, and fall into idolatry all the while we think we are talking about YHVH! We can easily believe we are promoting real worship and intimacy and connection. But YHVH says it is forbidden to do this.
We o it with the Torah. We do it with being a “real man” or a “Godly woman”. We do it with anything. In my life I have to constantly turn away from this. I take a concept, and turn it into an idealized image. Then I use the image to conceptualize YHVH. It seems right, feels right, and honestly it might even have a element of truth! YHVH is MIGHTY! Yahweh is KIND! But YHWH is not a list of attributes. YHWH is, by nature, these things. They are good and righteous and true when we experience them because they are like YAH. To the extent they are consitent and have integrity with the God of the Universe, they are real and true.
But they are not God. And the danger is as we get more and more focused on an attribute, we not only lose the bigger picture, but we begin to become a “specialist” at that attribute. And we can begin to worship God in that attribute, and we begint he process of idolatry all over again.
God warns us over and ove and over again about idolatry. Even the more sophisticated among us realize idolatry is the worship of something other than God. But what if idolatry is worshiping God from our own conceptual framework? Using something we understand and know and fashion ourselves, just with our mind instead of our hands? The Torah doesnt tend to separate all these things as much as we do.
In fact, that desire to reduce, and separate and isolate parts of ourselves might just be the underlying cause and catalyst for idolatry….