Posted by Gary on April 10, 2007
Often in debate concerning the use of imagery for either private devotion or in public worship some will insist that such imagery is allowable because it was included in the Old Testament tabernacle. In particular, they will point out the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant or they might also mention the pomegranates or almond blossoms that made up the architecture of the tabernacle. One thing always seems to be missing from the reference to these items and that is the fact that God gave a pattern for these items, a design, they did not come from the imagination of men. Please note the number of times Scripture refers to this fact:
Exodus 25:8-9 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.
Exodus 25:31-40 “Then you shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand and its base and its shaft are to be made of hammered work; its cups, its bulbs and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. “Six branches shall go out from its sides; three branches of the lampstand from its one side and three branches of the lampstand from its other side. “Three cups shall be shaped like almond blossoms in the one branch, a bulb and a flower, and three cups shaped like almond blossoms in the other branch, a bulb and a flower– so for six branches going out from the lampstand; and in the lampstand four cups shaped like almond blossoms, its bulbs and its flowers. “A bulb shall be under the first pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the second pair of branches coming out of it, and a bulb under the third pair of branches coming out of it, for the six branches coming out of the lampstand. “Their bulbs and their branches shall be of one piece with it; all of it shall be one piece of hammered work of pure gold. “Then you shall make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it. “Its snuffers and their trays shall be of pure gold. “It shall be made from a talent of pure gold, with all these utensils. “See that you make them after the pattern for them, which was shown to you on the mountain.”
Numbers 8:4 “Now this was the workmanship of the lampstand, hammered work of gold; from its base to its flowers it was hammered work; according to the pattern which the LORD had showed Moses, so he made the lampstand.”
Acts 7:44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen.”
Hebrews 8:4-5 “Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, “SEE,” He says, “THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN.”
1 Chronicles 28:10-19 “Consider now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary; be courageous and act.” Then David gave to his son Solomon the plan of the porch of the temple, its buildings, its storehouses, its upper rooms, its inner rooms and the room for the mercy seat; and the plan of all that he had in mind, for the courts of the house of the LORD, and for all the surrounding rooms, for the storehouses of the house of God and for the storehouses of the dedicated things; also for the divisions of the priests and the Levites and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD and for all the utensils of service in the house of the LORD; for the golden utensils, the weight of gold for all utensils for every kind of service; for the silver utensils, the weight of silver for all utensils for every kind of service; and the weight of gold for the golden lampstands and their golden lamps, with the weight of each lampstand and its lamps; and the weight of silver for the silver lampstands, with the weight of each lampstand and its lamps according to the use of each lampstand; and the gold by weight for the tables of showbread, for each table; and silver for the silver tables; and the forks, the basins, and the pitchers of pure gold; and for the golden bowls with the weight for each bowl; and for the silver bowls with the weight for each bowl; and for the altar of incense refined gold by weight; and gold for the model of the chariot, even the cherubim that spread out their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the LORD. “All this,” said David, “the LORD made me understand in writing by His hand upon me, all the details of this pattern.”
Did God make imagery a part of His house and worship? Yes. Did He allow man to create that imagery from his own mind? No. Here we are at the heart of the idolatry so often committed through imagery, man making God or the things of God from the understanding (or desire) of his own heart and mind. We see this no more clearly than in images of Jesus. We do not know what Jesus looked like and the little indication we are given by Scripture does not justify the often strikingly handsome Jesus of our imagery:
Isaiah 53:2 “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
According to image advocates it doesn’t matter how Jesus looks when we portray Him, the important thing is that Jesus was a man and that makes it alright to portray Him through imagery. Would it matter if I painted a picture of Joe Lafferty from Deer Isle, Maine but said it was Jesus? Wouldn’t we logically argue, “That’s not Jesus, that’s Joe Lafferty”? But see, the accuracy of the portrayal doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter if the portrayal is truthful, what is important is that we want a portrayal, an image, our faith needs it and therefore it is justified. (Let us not forget our images of angels either).
I am struck when I read the verses listed above, what was included in the Old Testament house of God was given through the express and specific plans of God, they were not to be strayed from, these items of imagery were not left to sinful man’s heart and mind. Note especially the different items referenced in the 1 Chronicles passage, amazing detail all from God, not man.
I must confess the commandment concerning imagery is one that I am only in the initial stages of understanding. I believe the command means much more for us than we might think. Much more than people who love their own way want to acknowledge. It will take great grace for God to rescue us from our idolatrous ways, but He can.
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