The Sixth Commandment, Pt. 1

I’ve been on a bit of a break from these chapter previews.  I ran a series this spring on the Fruit of the Spirit, as well as did some traveling.  So I’ll be returning to the chapter previews, as well as posting other news and thoughts surrounding the Ten Commandments.

The Sixth Commandment simply reads, “You shall not murder.”  The following is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Ten Essential Words.


What does it mean to be made in the image of God?  The creation story stressed some of the sacredness of this honor:

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  (Genesis 1:26-27)

 For starters, being made in the image of God differentiates human beings from the rest of God’s creation.  Plants and animals were pronounced “good” after God created them, but human beings were pronounced “very good” and given charge to manage the rest of creation.  Human beings were the only part of creation that was made in God’s image.

Karnak TempleThere may also be a more tangible aspect to being image-bearers of God.  In all other occurrences of the word image used in the Hebrew Scripture, it was referring to an idol or a statue.  As we have already seen, the Second Commandment explicitly forbids any of these images replacing Yahweh.  This same Hebrew word image would be used to describe the statue of King Nebuchadnezzar, which this king of Babylon himself commissioned and had everyone bow down to in the book of Daniel. “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:1).  The purpose of such an image in ancient times was to make clear to all who laid eyes on it whom this land belonged to and who ruled this kingdom.  In Egypt, Karnak Temple still houses towering statues of Rameses II, among other pharaohs.  Rameses II also constructed an impressive monument at Abu Simbel – the border of Egypt and ancient Nubia – to state in no uncertain terms where Egypt began and Nubia ended.  Likewise, the image of Caesar could be found all throughout the Roman Empire.

So when the Bible says that we are made in the image of God, it is saying quite literally that we are living, breathing, royal statues making clear to all who is king and whose kingdom we belong to.  To be an image-bearer of God carries with it a job description: to announce the reign of God to the world around us.  Now to deface one of these royal statues would be to defy the ruler whose image the statue bore.  No doubt, the defacer would incur a stiff penalty.  So it would be this same level of offense to deface the image of God by taking the life of someone created in God’s image.

The Use and Misuse of Images

The Second Commandment prohibits the use of images to represent God. Have you ever wondered what constitutes a misuse of images today in worship? I address this issue in Ten Essential Words, concluding:

So we are given permission to use images that expand our view of God and draw us closer to God.  But at the same time, we are warned of the dangers of holding any one image so tightly that it limits our view of God and risks replacing God altogether.  That is the very definition of idolatry.

Here is an excellent post on this same issue, from a Catholic perspective. The author similarly concludes:

So, am I saying that images are necessary? No, you can strip away practically everything from candles to the tabernacle (and believe me, somebody out there has already done that) but as long as you have the Gospel (and good liturgy), you are fine. Am I saying you should incorporate images into your private or corporate prayer and worship? No, but if you want to try, go ahead. Am I trying to turn you all into idol-worshippers? Most definitely not. Am I saying that images should never be used because of the potential for falling into error? No. The moral of the story is not no images because they can be abused, it is that we can make idols out of anything, even good things. If images are a scandal to you, then keep far from them. If you venerate images and your weaker brother finds them to be a stumbling-block, then be tender to his conscience.

For the full post, read A Window upon Heaven.