While in Guam I saw a letter to the editor that challenged a previous letter concerning God’s first commandment in the Decalogue. The author of the letter is Tim Rohr (of Agat, Guam); he argues that the prohibition against a graven image of any kind is not to be taken literally. To do so is to relegate not only all religious icons to the ash heap, but also non-religious statutes and figurines of anything to the same pile.
As a local Catholic apologist he thinks he has scored a point when he says, “But we know not to take it literally because a few chapters later (chapter 25) God commands Moses to make two statues of ‘beaten gold’ (cherubim). A couple books later, (Numbers) God instructs Moses to make a bronze serpent, put in on a pole, and tell the people to ‘look upon it’ and be healed. According to Zerzan’s interpretation, it appears God was the first to break his own First Commandment – twice!” (The Pacific Daily News, 12/28/2011, p. 15; all mistakes in the quotation belong to Tim Rohr)
I respect the effort of the man who has conviction with regard to his belief. Lord knows we need more people to stand up for what they believe.
However, the paragraph above illustrates a lack of biblical knowledge. God’s first command to the Israelites is not to be taken literally, we are told. I wonder if God’s command relative to Sabbath observance was not to be taken literally by the Israelites. Moreover, I wonder if God’s prohibition against adultery was not to be taken literally. The only reason there is opposition to the command’s prohibition is because it opposes a practice by the Catholics on the island of Guam.
Does the fabrication of the Ark of the Covenant show that God is confused in the institution of His command (or commands)? The commandment of God to the Israelites is plain and not easily missed (unless one wants to miss it). There is to be no religious devotion to any relic! One can’t make an image (a religious relic) of God because no one has seen Him; there is no pictorial image of Jesus for one to reproduce into a religious relic; and most certainly there is nothing of a similar sort with regard to Mary. Why, then, the effort to make religious icons for man to bow before? Among the many reasons that might be presented, one of them is surely associated with idolatry. God is spirit and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth.
The Ark of the Covenant was not a religious relic to be worshiped at all; it was placed in a location that represented God’s presence and mercy. In fact, the only one to see the relic was the High Priest and he could only see it at certain God-ordained times. Never was the High Priest to bow before it.
With regard to the account in Numbers 21 if Tim Rohr does not know any more than that which he shared with us, then I suspect his knowledge on other biblical topics will be just as flawed. Does he actually think the bronze serpent of the events in chapter 21 was a religious relic (to any degree)? Even if he does not regard this as a religious relic, the fact that he would include this as a violation of the Lord’s command (if the words of the first commandment are to be taken literally) is just plain ridiculous. It was most certainly not a religious relic, and when it became one it was destroyed (2 Kings 18:4).
In conclusion, we have learned that to promote a practice that has no sanction in Scripture all one needs to do is to take literal word meanings and replace it with figurative meanings. This is done, however, when it serves a useful purpose – like perverting the truth!