Images of Jealousy?
(2 Kings 23:24) Moreover the workers with familiar spirits, and the wizards, and the images, and the idols, and all the abominations that were spied in the land of Judah and in Jerusalem, did Josiah put away, that he might perform the words of the law which were written in the book that Hilkiah the priest found in the house of the LORD. Our text today details some of the godly reforms that King Josiah instituted in Judah to “...perform the words of the law...” Clearly what he did was in accord with Scripture. Of interest here (for the purposes of today's meditation) is we see that images and idols are listed separately, implying that something may not be an idol yet be still condemned as an image (an artificial imitation or representation of the external form of any object, esp. of a person...). Recently I was asked whether it was appropriate for believers to be fashioning figurines of angels or keeping such in prominent display as adjuncts of one's faith. The fact that God never tells N.T. believers to make images of angels is a worthwhile consideration. If such were required, it would have been stated in Scripture. If such were somehow beneficial, it would have likewise been stated or implied but that is not the case. If such were wise, there would likely be nothing stated or implied in the Bible which would discourage the practice----but more on this momentarily. The proscription against images in EXO 20:4-6; DEU 5:8-10, etc. is patently forbidding making images of the Godhead, and it was for that reason that God made sure that they saw “...no manner of similitude...” (DEU 4:15) of Himself when He descended upon Horeb. Inasmuch as angels are heavenly creatures, and EXO 20:4 does say to make no image or likeness of “...any thing that is in heaven above...”, why not play it safe and not presume to make images of angels? Granted, the phrase, “...in heaven above...” in context may simply be referring to the sky as opposed to “...the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth...”, and so be a forbidding of making images of God out of any visible creature and end up changing “...the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (ROM 1:23). But there are other considerations. Cherubim are a special class of angels, the incredible fiery “living creatures” that Ezekiel saw under the God of Israel (EZE 1:4-25 c/w EZE 10:1-22) whose description is markedly different from the images that are commonly seen, for example, in Roman Catholic depictions. God actually told Moses to make images of cherubim for the ark of the covenant (EXO 25:18-20). That God authorized these images is one thing; that doing so is a license for us to make images of angels is another. God also told Moses to make the ointment of the apothecary (EXO 30:22-25) but if anybody tried to do likewise for common usage, they were to be cut off (EXO 30:33). As for the cherubim on the ark, once they were fashioned, nobody except the priesthood saw them: the ark was secluded in the Holy of Holies and only moved under cover when the tabernacle of witness was to relocate (HEB 9:3-7; NUM 4:5). God shielded those images from the eyes of the people. Angels are by nature fiery spirits which are invisible to unaided human sight (NUM 22:31; 2KI 6:17; PSA 68:17; HEB 1:7; EZE 1:13-14). It is only at such times that God directed them to manifest themselves to men that they appeared materially (and they only appeared as men, not babies or women). One special case is Lucifer/Satan, the once anointed cherub who appeared as a serpent (GEN 3:1). The question comes up here: how does one know for a fact what an angel looks like so as to make an image of one? Their invisible, fiery spirit nature defies tangible depiction and the occasional materializing of an angel was for the necessity of the moment to the human(s) to whom one appeared. And where is the record that actually describes exactly what a materialized angel looked like? The point here is the concern that making an image of an angel is a matter of pure speculation and imagination, but the gospel which God gave for man's benefit contrarily emphasizes what we KNOW (JOH 3:11) and casts down man's imagination (2CO 10:5). The issue of speculating brings up another point: when Paul warned about being duped into the sin of worshipping angels, he described promoters of such nonsense as “...intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (COL 2:18). Godly angels know that they are not to be worshipped (REV 22:8-9) but fallen angels clamor for it (e.g. Satan) and would be only too happy to manipulate man's speculations to facilitate it. Another consideration is the fact that false worship is connected to angels: Paul tells us that pagan worship is the worship of devils (1CO 10:20) and the indications are that those devils are the fallen angels of REV 12:9. How does one know that the image of an angel he fashions or keeps might not be an image of a hellish angel? One could make such a figurine look ever so beautiful but it should be remembered that Lucifer was noted for his beauty (EZE 28:17). Religious images (icons) carry with them real dangers. The one time when God told Moses to make an image for people to look upon (the brazen serpent, NUM 21:8-9) became an occasion for idolatry and so had to be destroyed (2KI 18:4). A tangible image may not initially be deemed an object of veneration but that is what they tend to become. Interestingly, the same Hebrew word which in NUM 21:8 is translated “fiery serpent” is elsewhere translated as “seraphims” (the high order of angels that Isaiah saw above the throne of God, ISA 6:1-6). Later we see where God took issue with an “image of jealousy” at the “gate of the altar” (EZE 8:5-6)---perhaps a warning of what He thinks about images between the worshipper and Himself, between the believer and Christ Who is our altar (HEB 13:10-12). Do we “...provoke the Lord to jealousy...” (1CO 10:22) with religious images? A fair question. And where does one draw the line on making images unto God? The Philistines made for Him images of their hemorrhoids (1SAM 6:4), a misery, I suppose, with which the little angel figurine on the top a Christmas tree could identify. For my relationship to God, there is only one image that God has given which interests me: Jesus Christ, Who is “...the express image of his person...” (HEB 1:3). And that “image” is represented to believers, not with descriptions of his physique, but with declarations of His works so that by faith in the written word, our joy is complete: “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1PE 1:8). The closest thing we have to a material object between us and our God is a Bible. What we need are not tangible, speculative images of things unseen---what we need (and have) is the gospel which tells us about things unseen, and faith which is “...the evidence of things not seen” (HEB 11:1).