The phrase “graven image” comes from the King James Version and is first  found in Exodus 20:4 in the first of the Ten Commandments. The  Hebrew word translated “graven image” means literally an idol. A graven image is  an image carved out of stone, wood, or metal. It could be a statue of a person  or animal, or a relief carving in a wall or pole. It is differentiated from a  molten image which is melted metal poured into a cast. Abstract Asherah poles,  carved wooden Ba’als covered in gold leaf, and etchings of gods accompanying  Egyptian hieroglyphics are all graven images. The progression of  idolatry in a pagan religion generally starts with the acknowledgement of a  power that controls natural forces. The presence of the force is then thought to  indwell an object, like a stone, or a place, like a mountain. The next step is  altering a naturally-occurring object, like a standing stone, a deliberately  planted tree, or a carved Asherah pole, and asking the force to indwell it. When  the idolatrous culture has had time to contemplate the personality of the god,  they then make corresponding physical images—a statue that looks like a woman or  a relief carving that looks like an animal. Graven images can be either of the  last two steps. The spiritual progression is similar. People start with  wanting something (Ephesians  5:5; Colossians  3:5), often children or prosperity or good crops. They observe the  circumstances (circumstances some acknowledge are God-ordained, and others think  are independent) that lead to these things and begin to ascribe the causal  forces using human characteristics—thus creating gods. Places are set aside to  commune with these false gods. For convenience sake, smaller items, thought to  hold the power or the communication line of the gods, are brought into homes.  Before long, the people are ensnared by the compulsion to give homage to a thing  of their own definition instead of the God of the universe. The second  commandment, recorded in Exodus  20:4-5, reads, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of  what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.  You shall not worship them or serve them…” Likely, this refers back to the first  commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and specifically forbids  the creation of idols. But it is equally dangerous to create an image of God  Himself. God has given us reminders enough of His power and glory (Romans 1:20) without man attempting to use created things  to represent the Creator. Functionally, there is no difference between a  “graven” image (Deuteronomy  4:16) and a “molten” image (Exodus  34:17). Both are man’s attempt to define and confine the power of God who  works over creation. Both are the result of greed and covetousness, along with  the fear that God does not have the worshipers’ best interests at heart. Graven  images, whether an idol, a crystal, or a charm, are attempts to limit the power  of God and reduce it to a small package which we can control. As with any kind  of worship, the object of adoration inevitably controls us.

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