THE SECOND COMMANDMENT – You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or the waters below the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them. For I The Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children, upon the third and upon the fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. Deuteronomy 5:4 (Tanakh, JPS Translation)
This is one of the commandments I think I have never quite understood, except in terms of not worshiping graven images and imputing to them godlike powers. It is God alone we are to worship.
My Muslim friends, for the most part, allow no life-like representations of any kind for fear of offending Allah. Many years ago my husband bought a lovely silk prayer rug in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul that has a floral “feel” to it and a few things that resemble lamps, but nothing that could be considered much more than intricate designs. I know that some Muslims do not allow photos to be taken or displayed and the only “art” is primarily of wonderful geodesic designs.
As parents at Ronald McDonald House we frequently put picture puzzles together and some of the Arab residents were horrified that we did so. Sometimes dealing with life threatening experiences makes a simple activity such as putting a puzzle together a way to take a deep breath, step back and calm your soul. We could sometimes even laugh together. A twelve year old sibling of one Arab patient would often watch us at the puzzle table and we could feel how what we were doing excited him, but we didn’t dare invite him to join us. Then one day the boy’s father came and asked if his son could join us. Of course he could, and I tell you this kid could be a champion competition puzzler. He was so fast and accurate it was astounding. He must have figured out how to work a puzzle by watching us. His father was so proud of him, but I’ve wondered if the boy or his father dared to let him continue puzzling at home.
I do not know how artists who wished to paint or sculpt felt about this particular commandment. I do believe that the first part of the commandment really did have to do with worship of idols and still left room for art. It’s the second part that intrigues me. Does God really visit the guilt of the parents on the heads of the children for many generations? Or is this His way of warning the people of what actually happens if they are unrighteous and fail at rearing their children the way that will teach them truth and keep them free?
This appears to be one of those “I tell you of consequences and what happens when you fail in your duty.” God tells us how things really are and then we are the ones who make them come to pass.
There are so many idols to bind us and stop our growth as people. Whenever we turn to the idols of fame and money, to the arm of flesh, we lose our freedom to make wise choices.