The previous verse says not to make any graven image or likeness of anything (which, my personal hermeneutics considers that to be literally any visual representation, which I know is against rabbinic and Christian teachings, but I'm not trying to start a debate), but I'm more curious about what actions would be considered "bowing and serving", in the modern sense. For instance, if you considered the image on your phone to be a violation of the previous line, would it be possible to "bow to or serve" it in some way, or is it already happening?

Exodus 20:5 KJV

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;

  • Are you suggesting you or anyone you know of might "bow to or serve" any image on your phone, in any way? Aug 27, 2022 at 0:34

4 Answers 4


The Israelites performed the same physical act of worship (obeisance) towards Yahveh and King David, as it is written,

1 Chr. 29:20
20 And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king.
Authorized Version (King James Bible), 1611.

Shall we then say that the Israelites committed idolatry by bowing to and worshipping both Yahveh and King David? The Bible is clear that there was no idolatry committed. But, how can this be if they bowed down to and worshipped David just as they did Yahveh?

Worship is not only a physical act. It is also spiritual and mental. Mentally, one commits idolatry when they have the intent to worship someone other than Yahveh as god. The Israelites never possessed that intent toward King David even though they performed the same physical acts toward both.

The significance of intent or כַּוָּנָה (kavvana) is exemplified in Matt. 5:28 where the man commits adultery who simply looks upon a woman in order to lust after her. He intends to commit adultery and is therefore guilty of adultery. Likewise, the man who intends to commit idolatry (mentally) is guilty of idolatry. The physical act is only an outward demonstration of the inward intent.

If someone bows and makes obeisance (worship) to another person, it is not idolatry unless that person has the intent to worship the other person as god.

  • Is the Hebrew for 'worship' in 1 Chron.29:20, 'shachah', similar to the Greek 'proskun' which can mean respectful bowing down/kissing the hand but fall short of worship when done before a ruler? It can also mean worship of God as in Heb.11:21 when dying Jacob worshipped when not bent down. Did the Israelites bow their heads in respect before the king - the new king Solomon? - and also bow their heads in worship of the Lord, there being a distinction here? Could this make for a good, new question?
    – Anne
    Nov 19, 2022 at 12:40
  • @Anne—Yes, Hebrew ”shachah” and Greek “proskun” are equivalent. Nov 19, 2022 at 19:55
  • This seems consistent with Naaman's request regarding bowing in the "house of Rimmon" (II Ki 5:18-19).
    – dat
    Jul 17, 2023 at 19:13

Exodus 20:5 KJV

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;

The bowing and serving were with respect to God/lordship. The following was how Daniel's friends interpreted this verse, Daniel 3:

14 and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? 15Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego interpreted the verse literally.

If you considered the image on your phone to be a violation of the previous line, would it be possible to "bow to or serve" it in some way, or is it already happening?

If you treat that image as your God and bow down before it and obey it, then yes, you have violated Exodus 20:5.


Tishtachaveh תִשְׁתַּחְוֶ֥֣ה‪‬ "You will Bow" (bending knees) as a forced posture did not immediately make someone an Eved עֶבֶד "Servant" to man-made פְּסָלִים psalim. - Worshipping psalim required lip service to acknowledge the diety was your god, as stated in 1 Kings 19:18 : "And I will leave over in Israel seven thousand, all the knees that did not kneel to the Baal and every mouth that did not kiss him." (וְהִשְׁאַרְתִּ֥י בְיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל שִׁבְעַ֣ת אֲלָפִ֑ים כָּל־הַבִּרְכַּ֗יִם אֲשֶׁ֚ר לֹֽא־כָֽרְעוּ֙ לַבַּ֔עַל וְכָ֨ל־הַפֶּ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־נָשַׁ֖ק לֽוֹ)

  • Exodus 20:5 prohibits kneeling & expressed allegiances to any man-made פֶסֶל Pesel.
  • So if allegiance were given to an artificial intelligence it would be considered idolatry?
    – Ben Pettis
    Oct 23, 2021 at 6:51

What does it mean to bow and serve in Exodus 20:5?

Let's break this down by the two words.

To bow (Strong's H7812)
shachah: to bow down Original Word: שָׁחָה
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: shachah
Phonetic Spelling: (shaw-khaw')
Definition: to bow down

To serve (Strong's H5647)
abad: to work, serve Original Word: עָבַד
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: abad
Phonetic Spelling: (aw-bad')
Definition: to work, serve

This verse is in conjuction with the previous about making an image for worship. Is a picture on your phone a violation of Exodus 20:5? Note what the topic "Idol, Idolatry" in the Insight on the Scriptures mentions:

Not All Images Are Idols. God’s law not to form images (Ex 20:4, 5) did not rule out the making of all representations and statues. This is indicated by Jehovah’s later command to make two golden cherubs on the cover of the Ark and to embroider representations of cherubs on the inner tent covering of ten tent cloths for the tabernacle and the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy. (Ex 25:18; 26:1, 31, 33) Likewise, the interior of Solomon’s temple, the architectural plans for which were given to David by divine inspiration (1Ch 28:11, 12), was beautifully embellished with engraved carvings of cherubs, palm-tree figures, and blossoms. Two cherubs of oil-tree wood overlaid with gold stood in the Most Holy of that temple. (1Ki 6:23, 28, 29) The molten sea rested upon 12 copper bulls, and the sidewalls of the copper carriages for temple use were decorated with figures of lions, bulls, and cherubs. (1Ki 7:25, 28, 29) Twelve lions lined the steps leading up to Solomon’s throne.​—2Ch 9:17-19.

These representations, however, were not idols for worship. Only the officiating priests saw the representations of the tabernacle interior and, later, of the temple interior. No one but the high priest entered the Most Holy, and that only on the Day of Atonement. (Heb 9:7) Thus there was no danger of the Israelites’ being ensnared into idolizing the golden cherubs in the sanctuary. These representations primarily served as a picture of the heavenly cherubs. (Compare Heb 9:23, 24.) That they were not to be venerated is evident from the fact that the angels themselves were not to be worshiped.​—Col 2:18; Re 19:10; 22:8, 9.

Now if an individual was to begin to idolize or worship the image on their phone, then yes, it would be a violation of the commandment at Exodus 20:5

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.