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Sculptor working with laptop in the studio

No Graven Images?

As a college freshman standing in line to be advised as an Art major, I considered the ban on "Graven Images" in the Ten Commandments. I wondered if there was any place for art in a Christian's life. Had those laws passed away? Or was art just a way to grow a carnal Christian? Sure, there is poetry in the Psalms and music, but what about Sculpture, Drama, and Painting? Shouldn't Christians focus on religion and forget about Art?

I was trying to be a good disciple of Christ, reading, attending, and sharing my faith on campus. So at the time, I committed my way unto the Lord, knowing that whatever I did for a living, I should honor God.

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23–24)

But, what about the commandment, Thou shall not make any graven image? I noticed in Art History class that there were no Jewish Sculptors. Did they know something I didn't? Again, I remembered the Commandment:

"You shall not make to you 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..."

Exodus 20:4

Diving deeper into the scriptures, I reviewed the Ten Commandments and found that the tablets were not the only thing God gave Moses on Mount Saini. God actually directed Moses with a "pattern" or design to use artists to make sculptures and embroidered art of flowers, animals, and angels in the Tabernacle. God is quoted as saying that He gave wisdom to the skilled craftsmen and directed Moses to use them. Engravers, jewelers, sculptors, woodcarvers, metal workers, tailors, and embroiders were all to follow the Master Designer's design very closely. (Exodus 25-28) So, the ban was not on making artistic sculptures and 2-D representational art.

What is God Saying?

It was time to look a bit more at the scriptures concerning the ban on graven images. All the passages listing the Commandment ends with the warning not to bow down and worship the idol. That's when it dawned on me. I thought "graven" meant carved, sculpted, painted, drawn. It does not. It means something man-made to WORSHIP. The ban is not on making representations of things in Heaven and Earth, but rather WORSHIPING THEM. Obviously, God had commanded his skilled craftsmen to make realistic and abstract art of things of Earth and Heaven: Cheribim, Pomegranate, Almond Flowers, etc., So He could not have commanded His children to sin. (Exodus 26:1) Therefore, His ban was about bowing down and WORSHIPING them. Looking back at the Commandment in Exodus 20, the rest of the passage reads:

"You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..."

Exodus 20:5

So, if you are one of God's skilled craftsmen, an artist by God's own hand, make things to His glory. Create as your Father has taught you in "wisdom." We have evidence that by God's command, artists make things for His purpose. But never bow down and worship your own creations. Worship our Heavenly Father, the Great Designer.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one sharpens another,"

Proverbs 25:17


2 comments on “No Graven Images?”

    1. An artwork is a communication from a person who has great worth in God's eyes. So I suggest that all works of art should be considered, just as we consider any other communication from a person of worth. Some works don't rate much consideration, or worth to me, but others rate very highly. For example, my children's book illustration from Good Enough are special to me. Those express my belief that trying to be good enough to get to Heaven is not possible, and that belief in Christ is the only way to get there. My value of those paintings is high simply because I hope that some are reached with that extremely high purpose of following the great commission.

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