Problem: God tells us how to make graven images
Verses: Exodus 20:4, Exodus 25:18; Status: Minor

At one point, God warns the Israelites against making "graven images". This is Exodus 20:4:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (ESV)

On the other hand, when God is telling them how to construct the Ark of the Covenant, he specifies the following decorations, at Exodus 25:18:

And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. (ESV)

There's certainly a tension between these verses. These golden cherubim are definitely a likeness of something that is in heaven above. However, it's worth noting that, in the earlier verse, God prohibits making a graven image for yourself. One might say that the golden cherubim were made for God, and that this is the important distinction.

Furthermore, Exodus 20:5 explains that the reason why graven images are forbidden is that worship of such idols is offensive to God. Thus, the creation of such a thing might be acceptable if it was not for worship.

Updated: Summer 2008

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