Word Study: Graven Image פצל



“Exodus 20:4: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image in the likeness that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the sea.”

Matthew 22:20-21: “And He said unto them, whose is this image and superscription? They say unto Him, Caesars. The saith he unto them “Render unto Caesars the things which are Caesars and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Until I started to study the Jewish Talmud, I never really understood this passage in Matthew 22:20: 21. The Pharisees and Herodians really thought they had Jesus trapped when they asked Him about paying taxes. If He said “yes” the Jewish leaders would take a hard line with him for supporting a pagan government and probably bring Him before the Sanhedrin as a law breaker. Paying tax to a foreign government was consider paying a tithe to the government forbidden not by Mosaic law but by the Traditions of the Fathers which later became the Talmud, which was not considered to be inspired, but authoritative and to violate the teachings of the Tradition of the Fathers was a chargeable offense to be heard before the religious court or Sanhedrin. If Jesus said “no” and agreed with the teachings of the Tradition of the Fathers the Roman government would arrest him for treason.

What baffled me is how did Jesus response of : “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar and to God that which is God” really embarrass the Pharisees and Herodians. I mean he basically said that it was ok to pay the taxes ie., just pay with Roman money and not the coins issued by the temple.

I heard preachers and teachers say that Jesus’s response was clever but they never explained why it was clever, at least to me it didn’t seem clever, he just as well have said: “Pay the taxes.” It sounded to me like His enemies had Him right where they wanted Him.

Note in verse 18, Jesus calls them hypocrites. Why were they hypocrites? I read something very interesting in Jewish literature about the second commandment. “Thou shalt not make…” The word make in Hebrew is ashah which is followed by the word leka which means to you. Ashah leka has the idea of taking something unto yourself. You are not to take for yourselves any graven images. This word for graven image is pesel which means to carve out and fashion something that is seen. This carving or engraving may be done with wood or metal. We are not to take upon ourselves anything that is fashioned to take on the representation or the mun which is a likeness or physical manifestation of anything in the heavens above or the earth below or in the sea.

So here is what I found interesting. The Jews recognized that a metal coin had an image engraved upon it. If that image was in the likeness of someone who was considered a god, then to possess or even carry such a coin was in violation of the second commandment.

So when Jesus asked the Pharisee to produce a coin he pulls out a coin with Caesar’s image or likeness on it. Numismatists have such first century coins, I have such a coin. It is called the Tribute coin. It bears the picture or image of Caesar Augustus Tiberius and the inscription “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, Son of the Divine Augustus.” To the Jew this was blasphemous as it claimed that Caesar Augustus Tiberius was a god. Thus, to carry this coin with them was in violation of the second of the ten commandments. Jesus used their own Oral Tradition, their own spin on the Torah to corner them. The poor slob who shared his coin sort of forgot in his enthusiasm that he was admitting to idolatry by possession such a coin. In fact the teaching was that to carry such a coin meant he worshipped that god. In other words by possessing that coin he was declaring that he worshipped a Roman god which was Roman money.

The poor guy got stuck with egg on his face as Jesus busted him. But at the same time Jesus put that commandment into it’s proper perspective. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar is not reference to paying taxes with Roman currency, it was speaking of worship. This Pharisee had Roman coins because he was dealing in business deals with the Romans. That was ok, but Jesus knew his heart and what was not ok is that in his heart his god was money. He broke the second commandment to make drachma, his god was money not Jehovah.

So Jesus basically said: “You accuse me of breaking Oral law, the Tradition of the Fathers when you are breaking the second commandment by possessing such a coin.” I call that really clever.

But, let’s switch subjects. Note the second commandment says we are not worship any “…god that is in heaven above or in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the sea.”

I was listening to an interview on You Tube and it interviewed a guy, a Christian, who said he made a startling revelation. There is this Hollow Earth theory, totally debunked by scientist but people believe it. Admiral Byrd apparently discovered the entrance into the Hollow Earth in 1938 on a trip to Antarctica and the government has hushed this up for all these years. Apparently Admiral Byrd met the inhabitants of the inner earth who were highly advanced. You can imagine the fun some prophecy student could have with that. Take all the references to things beneath the earth and sea in the Bible and apply the Hollow Earth theory and you have the makings of a great speaking platform and the books that follow.

My only point is this. This guy used Exodus 20:4 as a proof text of the existence of a world beneath ours in the Hollow Earth where the Anti-Christ will come from, possibly a clone of Hitler. You know he shot himself in the head, died but rose again through cloning. Anyways you can see how someone can really carry this out to a real prophetic extremes. He pointed to Exodus 20:4 and said: “See there, no everyone sees this but the Bible says in the earth beneath.” He then quoted many other English translations including the KJV which used those very words in the earth beneath and then concluded that the Bible says in not on and beneath not the earth below, it could only refer to a world beneath ours, a Hollow Earth.”

I was waiting for him to say: “In the Hebrew” but he didn’t. He could not. When I taught Hebrew in the very first class I would talk about how words like below and beneath are the same words and only the context will tell you which English word to use. By the third class my students learn prepositions and that the Beth is the preposition on or in. Only the context will tell you which to use. You remember George Carlin’s old joke, “The flight attendant told me to get on the plane. Hey I am not getting on the plane, I am getting in the plane.” There are many Modern translations that say “On the earth below” rather than “In the earth beneath.”

This is why I encourage the study of the original languages. More and more we are confronted with people coming up with every wild theory. Not only can science debunk these theories but if you have even the knowledge of a third week Hebrew student you will know that this guy’s proof text can easily be debunked. Sometimes those little nuances such as in or on can create a whole new world, at least in your imagination..