Ten Words to Live By

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Image. The second word is a warning about making graven images. (idols = graven images). This may be a more serious word than we imagined. We are good at making images. We are a visually-oriented culture. Image is as important as language in our culture.

Image isn’t really wrong though; it’s just really powerful and we don’t often realize that. Images have changed the world for the better. Images taken from real moments have lasted for generations. They remind us of the joy of being human. They confront us with things that must change. They inspire courage and hope. Images are powerful and we must recognize it, for image is an important part of faith when correct. God created us in His image. However, God speaks this second word to live by and warns us not to make images of God or any other kind of god.

Graven Images
Images themselves aren’t wrong – graven images are the problem. We have to pay careful attention here or we will miss God’s point: The second word to live by is not a call to jihad that encourages us to smash up every idol, statue, and religious display. We are not the Taliban. We are not Imperialist missionaries. God isn’t telling us to go out and smash up everyone else’s graven images, rather he is warning us not to make our own. Graven or carved images are crafted deities that we can shape into whatever pleases us. They are made of wood and our own will. They are made of metal and mental assumptions. Whatever medium we use, tangible or intangible, the graven or carved image is a god that we make into our own image.

We may think it ridiculous that someone would make their own God. We might laugh right along with Isaiah (Isa. 44) when he pokes fun of the foolish fellow who cuts down a tree and uses part of the wood to heat his house and roast his meat, but carves a god to worship out of the rest. Yes, that seems silly enough. But often the gods we shape, the gods that we end up making for ourselves, the gods that compete for our loyalty are things that really seem very good ...

Israel didn’t think it was ridiculous to worship the bronze snake that God had given them in the desert. When they were plagued by venomous snakes on their journey through the desert, God had Moses craft a bronze serpent and mount it on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a snake looked at the bronze snake and they were healed (Numbers 21:4-9). That’s a good thing. But it wasn’t such a good thing centuries later when King Hezekiah destroyed it. By that time the people had been burning incense to it and gave it a name – Nehushtan (2 Kings 18). It was a gift from God, but it wasn’t God.

Israel didn’t think it was ridiculous to place their confidence in the Temple of God rather than the God of the Temple. It was truly a holy thing. Solomon himself dedicated it, and yet even as he dedicated this holy place he wondered ...
27 “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built! 28 Nevertheless, listen to my prayer and my plea, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is making to you today. 29 May you watch over this Temple night and day, this place where you have said, ‘My name will be there.’ May you always hear the prayers I make toward this place. 30 May you hear the humble and earnest requests from me and your people Israel when we pray toward this place. Yes, hear us from heaven where you live, and when you hear, forgive.” (1 Kings 8)

The temple was God’s address, but it wasn’t God. And the people seemed to have forgotten that in the days of Jeremiah. They had become confident that God was okay with them as long as the Temple was in Jerusalem. So God had Jeremiah preach a sermon to them saying, Do you think you can rob and murder, have sex with another man’s wife, tell lies nonstop, worship the local gods —and then march into this Temple, set apart for my worship, and say, "We're safe!" thinking that the place itself gives you a license to go on with all this outrageous sacrilege? (Jeremiah 7:8-11)

The good things that bring us closer to God can become the trickiest of idols. It’s very easy to equate these things with God and we can be tempted into thinking that when we manage these things we manage our relationship with God.

The good things that bring us closer to God can become the trickiest of idols. It’s very easy to equate these things with God and we can be tempted into thinking that when we manage these things we manage our relationship with God ...

When we try and stamp our image of God on these very good things, they become graven images.

Notice the subtlety here ... the Bible, the church, the Lord’s Supper, and baptism are all extremely important. They are all very holy. But they are not the Holy One. We are the church – not an institution apart from us – and we encounter the Holy One, the Living God when the images of word, water, bread and wine are living images, not graven images. And when we participate in these living images we share in the life of our Living God and He stamps His image on us.

God spoke the first and second words to live by because he wants us to know who he is and who he isn’t. God made us creatures with bodies and he understands our tendency to want to shape something that we can see, touch, feel and control into a God.
Thanks be to God that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)
The problem with graven images is that we make God look like us. The good news of God became flesh is that God makes us look like Him.
Imago Dei – In our relationship with God, He is the One who will be making images – not us.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 October 2007

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