A reader is troubled by the multitude of statues, images etc surrounding us, even in our homes, and wonders what is legitimate.

In 2 Kings 23:11–14 King Josiah rightly destroyed all the heathen idols: “He tore down the statues of horses and chariots” (Living Bible) … “He brake in pieces the images …”

Exodus 20:4 tells us: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath …”

Our reader wonders whether statues of sportsmen and the like, china models of people and animals, even toys etc which we might have in our homes, might properly fall under this prohibition.

Answer

We might first observe that it is a good thing to be concerned lest we breach the divine command, to be cognizant of the holiness of our God and be fearful of doing anything which might offend our heavenly Father. In our modern, ‘anything goes’ world, such an attitude is rare, and it is easy to be influenced by the culture in which we are immersed and find ourselves gradually accepting things which would have left an earlier generation appalled.

The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry” (1Cor 10:14). And he declared to the Galatians that among the “works of the flesh” was “idolatry”, noting that “they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal 5:19–21). So we do well to seek to keep well away from any object, practice or thinking which might fall under that heading of ‘idolatry.’

The broad answer to the issues raised is found in the context quoted by our reader. The second of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:4 does prohibit the making by the covenant people of “any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth”. As with so many matters in Scripture, it is the intent in the heart of the people that is being targeted by this prohibition. The very next verse makes this plain: “Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (v5). Therefore it is not so much simply making an image of an animal, for example, which is the problem; it is that the maker is deliberately crafting it so that it might become an object of worship: an idol.

We need not then be concerned if we have a toy kitten for our children, or a collection of Lladró figurines, perhaps, in our homes if these are not objects of worship. It is what is in our hearts that God is concerned with always; “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1Sam 16:7). Since “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9), our own heart, the arena of the inner man, where intent and thought are developed is where our battle against sin must be fought and (through Christ who strengthens us) won. Paul has taught us that “covetousness … is idolatry” (Col 3:5). Covetousness will generally become visible in its outworkings, but its beginnings lie deep, hidden in the heart.

If those beautiful, not to say, expensive, figurines, nicely displayed in an equally beautiful cabinet in our home are an expression of covetousness and of pride, we have become an idolater. If our car is not a convenient, reliable mode of transport for our family, but is rather our declaration to the world of social status, that we have “made it” financially, that we have savoured in prospect, coveted in our heart, and finally bought, lovingly tended, and proudly display – then we have become an idolater, scarcely different from those of Moses or Josiah’s day, whom we disdainfully dismiss for their folly in worshipping something they made themselves.

So we can keep our paintings, our china figures or our children’s toys with a clear conscience. But let us hear and mark well our Lord’s words: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth (and we might add, his deeds) speaketh” (Luke 6:45). “Let a man examine himself” (I Cor 11:28).