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1 Kings 7:24-30 describes a huge laver in the Temple of Jerusalem, constructed by King Solomon, thus:

Then he made the molten sea; it was round, ten cubits from brim to brim, and five cubits high, and a line of thirty cubits measured its circumference... It stood upon twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; the sea was set upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward... He also made the ten stands of bronze; each stand was four cubits long, four cubits wide, and three cubits high. This was the construction of the stands: they had panels, and the panels were set in the frames and on the panels that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Upon the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work.

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Was this not a violation of the commandment of Deut. 4:16-18 and similar scriptures:

Beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female, the likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air...

See also: Exodus 20:4, Leviticus 26:1, Dt. 27:15

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The temple was full of images of things. Here is a sample:

  • images of cherubim on the ark
  • images of various flowers and blossoms on the ark and altar of incense
  • images of cherubim on the curtains and walls
  • almond blossoms on the lampstand
  • the doors of Solomon's temple had carved images of cherubim, palm trees and and open flowers
  • 12 bulls supported the laver in Solomon's temple
  • bronze pillars had pomegranates around the capitals
  • the 10 moveable stands had images of cherubim, lions and palm trees
  • etc, etc

The creation of images was not the problem. Note the very specific wording of the commandment:

Ex 20:4, 5 - You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath. You shall not bow down to them or worship them ...

Note that disobeying this commandment requires both the following actions:

  1. creating a graven image
  2. bowing down to it as a god

Indeed, the instruction in Deut 4:19 does not even mention making images - just the bowing down to various heavenly bodies. Thus, it was not so much the making of graven images that was a problem, it was the bowing down to them as gods that was the violation of the commandment.

There is another good example of this - Moses created the great serpent on a pole in Num 21:8, 9. This was acceptable. However, it was destroyed when people bowed down to it as a god as recorded in 2 Kings 18:4.

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  • This answer is well done but I do not think it is at all clear that both creating and bowing down to the image are required. Certainly, Jewish tradition forbade the making such images even if Christian tradition did not. Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 15:10
  • @DanFefferman Jewish tradition changed over time, as can be seen by the serpent on a pole. Even after tradition had become stricter, there were still startling exceptions such as the Tyrian shekel used for the Temple tax
    – Henry
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 17:55
  • another explanation is given by those who hold that the Torah was written later that the time that the Temple was established. In this view, the statues and other images of the temple were "grandfathered in" so to speak. In the case of the bronze serpent, that policy failed because that particular image was being worshiped, while the oxen and cherubim etc were not. Commented Jan 13, 2023 at 15:23

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