By Benedict Hodubar
Another impressive sanctified image that is apt to our discussion here is the specification of the second temple of Jerusalem as was shown to prophet Ezekiel. The outward specification treaded awfully on mystifying symbols. “And it was made with cherub and palm trees, so that a palm tree was between a cherub and a cherub, and every cherub had two faces; so that the face of a man was towards the palm tree on one side and a face of a young lion towards the palm tree on the other side.
It was made through all the roundabout. From the ground to above the door were cherub and palm tree made, and on the wall of the temple.” (Ezekiel 41:18- 20). The first temple built by King Solomon himself had exactly the same images covering the walls of the temple. (1 kings 6: 23 – 29).
The temple of Jerusalem therefore bore images so much that even the walls are covered with images that are not idols, within were countless number of images that cannot be idols since God cannot accept idols in His temple. In other words, there are more holy images in the ancient temple than we can see in the Catholic Church of our day. Why then are Catholics tagged idol worshippers because of the presence of the holy images.
There are two types of ephods in the Old Testament. One is the ephod worn by the priests and another one is a sanctified image common among the ancient Israelites. When Saul sent his soldiers to go and arrest David in his house, Michal, his wife who also was King Saul’s daughter used the ephod to keep them off. She “took the ephod and laid it on the bed, and put a pillow of goats’ hair for his head, and covered it with a cloth”.
(1Sam. 19: 13) There are two interesting information here. One is that the said ephod had the shape of a human being; another is that it is found in the houses of lovers of Yahweh and, as we shall discover later, in the temple, therefore not an idol.
When Saul learnt that David and his men went to the temple, he rushed there with the intention of arresting him there. Unfortunately, David had left before he got there. In anger, Saul killed the chief priest, Ahimelech and all the priests of the temple and their families numbering more than eighty. But the son of Ahimelech, Abiather, escaped to the city of Keilah where David lodged with his men.
There Saul sorts him to kill him. David wanted to know his fate; “And David said to Abiather the priest, bring here the ephod. Then said David, O! Lord God of Israel, your servant certainly heard that Saul seeks to come to Keila to destroy the city for my sake. Will the men of Keila deliver me up into his hand? Will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O! Lord God of Israel, I beseech you, tell your servant. And the Lord said, he will come down, then David said, will the men of Keila hand me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said, they will deliver you up.”
At Ziklag also, David and his men left for a campaign and left their wives and children in their camp. When they came back, the camp had been burnt down and their families taken away. Once more, David invited Abeather for the ephod. “And David inquired of the Lord saying; shall I pursue after this troop? Shall I overtake them? And He answered; pursue, overtake and recover all”. (1 Sam. 30: 7- 8)
Obviously David was not consulting an idol because the prototype of the ephod was not a deity but the Spirit of the Most High.
Describing the furnishing of the inner sanctuary of the temple, the holy of holies, the Scripture says, “And the inner sanctuary, he made two cherub of Olive wood, each ten cubits high (one cubit is about 45cm), and five cubits was the one wing of the cherub, and five cubits was the wing of the other cherub, from the tip of the one wing unto the tip of the other wings were ten cubits ….
The height of one cherub was ten cubits and so was it of the other cherub, so that the wing of the other … and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubim, so that the wing of the one touched the one wall and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall and their wings touched one another at the middle of the house. And he over laid the cherubim with gold. And he carved all the walls of the house, roundabout with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees.” (1 Kings 6: 23- 29; see also Ezekiel 41:18- 20).
The walls of the new temple as shown to prophet Ezekiel were of the same design. Were these images within and outside the old and new temples idols? If Catholics are branded idolaters for the few holy images of the saints in the church, what tag then shall these ancient Israelites receive; for if any of the Catholic Churches is to be so filled with so much mystifying images, perhaps the criticism may had taken another dimension.
So far, we may have been fully convinced by now that not all images are idols otherwise, our pictures and other images we keep in our houses would be idols as well. If God had meant all images idols as we wrongly interpret the first commandment, it all means that all religious movies, videos, photographs, paintings and other similar devices that help us today in our daily evangelicals would be idols.
All our crusade posters bear images; sometimes they carry our pastors’ pictures or white doves, crosses, and the like. Yet we do not see them as the images condemned in the first commandment, only the holy images in the Catholic Churches are.
“You shall not make unto yourself any graven image….” The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “ The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, “the honour rendered to an image passes to its prototype” and “whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it. The honour paid to a sacred image is a “respectful veneration” not the adoration due to God alone”. (CCC2132)
In addition, CCC2114 says,” …an idolater is someone who “transfers his indestructible notion of God to anything other than God”. Therefore, a cult image of an idol is a material object representing a deity to which religious devotion is directed.
- A) Every image has a prototype from where the original copy is taken.
- B) Without the prototype, an image is worthless.
- C) Every image shares in the respect rendered to its prototype;
If we may take just but a snap shot of a young girl given two pictures; one of the pictures was of a young man who disappointed her in marriage and the other picture belongs to another young man who had just finished her marriage requirements and is planning to take her with him to the United States where he is presently.
The treatment given to these pictures are surely not the same; the picture of the young man who jilted her certainly finds its way to the dustbin, while the other one enjoys the warmth of her bosom.
Obviously, the treatment rendered to the papers bearing the pictures of these young men had no hand in the relationship between them and the girt, yet they received the treatment that should go for the prototype. Consequently, when the Catholics kneel down before a statue, they are not praying to the consecrated materials with which the image was made, even when they share in the respect given to the prototype of these images, they are praying to the prototype of such holy images instead.
What then does the first commandment mean; “… You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make unto yourself ANY GRAVEN IMAGE (of these gods), or any likeness of anything in heaven above or that is in the earth beneath….” Perhaps the words in the bracket solve our problem.
Benedict Ilodubar, a teaching minister (CCRN) AT St John’s Parish, writes from Umuokpu, Anambra State (08035019059)
NB: The next article should ex-ray the views of the New Testament, the Apostolic era and the early centuries of Christianity on the issue of idols and idolatry.