Bible Question:

What is an idol? What is a graven image?

Bible Answer:

What is an idol? What is a graven image? The Hebrew word for idol is pesel. This word is defined as an icon that was fashioned or created to represent a god and is used for the purpose of worship. In Exodus 20:4, God warned us to not create any idols or graven images in the second commandment of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17). Why are we warned to avoid idols or graven images? The answer is that they are not gods. They are the creation of man’s hands and are empowered by demons (1 Corinthians 10:20). What follows are verses from the Bible about idols or graven images. Discover what is an idol according to the Bible.

What Is An Idol?

Idols Are Made By Human Hands

God teaches us in the Bible that idols or graven images are made by men and women. Isaiah 44:12-17 is a descriptive passage describing an idol or a graven image.

The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.” Isaiah 44:12-17 (NASB)

An idol or graven image is made and then the maker bows down to it and worships the lifeless thing. Isaiah 2:8 summarizes an idol as a thing made by the hands and the fingers of men.

Their land has also been filled with idols;
They worship the work of their hands,
That which their fingers have made. Isaiah 2:8 (NASB)

The creation of a graven image or idol is very foolish. Psalm 115:4-8 reminds us that graven images or idols cannot speak, see, hear, smell or feel. They have no life and those who worship them will become like them. Jeremiah 10:8, 14 declares that the man or woman who owns an idol or worships an idol is stupid and foolish.

In Psalm 96:4-6 God declares that all the idols or graven images at not gods. There is only one true God. Once again we need to remember that idols are empowered by demons (1 Corinthians 10:20).

For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Psalm 96:4-6 (NASB)

Sadly, the Israelites would worship an idol, which was not a god at all, sacrifice their children to graven images, force their children to walk through fire, and indulge in sexual orgies since they believed these things pleased their idols, what they believed to be gods.

Idols Are Anything That Replaces God

At this point many readers will say that they do not make idols nor do they worship idols or graven images. But Colossians 3:5-7 warns us that anything that replaces God is an idol.

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. Colossians 3:5-7 (NASB)

We should notice that the first item listed as idolatry is immorality or porneia. Porneia includes a very wide range of sexual sins. It is important to note that in the Old Testament the term high places referred to places where people worshipped idols and usually engaged in sexual activity with temple prostitutes or in some religions with the other worshipers. Impurity refers to excessive indulgence such as gluttony and sexual preoccupation. Passion refers to the emotions of sexual passion or lustful sexual passions Romans 1:26; 1 Thessalonians 4:5). Pornography and other sexual indulgence would be included. Evil desire has a broad meaning of all kinds of evil, including any sexual sins not covered by the preceding words. Greed is the sin of desiring what God has not given us. Greed is not being satisfied with God’s provisions.

Pornography, lust and sexual indulgences are so very excessive in our highly permissive world, even among some professing Christians. It is common even for some Christian websites to quickly give approval for various kinds of sexual behaviors that were once committed only in pagan religions. These websites declare the Bible does not prohibit them and even encourage their readers to engage in them. It is true that foreplay and sex in marriage and different sexual positions are clearly acceptable and various sexual acts such as oral sex and anal sex are not clearly condemned by God. Yet, we should not give ourselves to indulge in every imaginable type of sexual activity. The issue is not engaging and enjoying those sexual activities approved by God, but the over preoccupation with sex. Many believers are excessively given to sexual activities. Sexual activity has become their god!

Jesus warns in Luke 17:22-30 that in the last days the world will be given to eating, drinking, marrying, buying, selling, planting and building. Jesus is not saying these activities are evil. What He is saying that the world will be given to “things.”  These “things” will be more important to people in the end times before He returns. The world will be pursuing wealth and pleasure. These are the idols and graven images of men and women before Christ’s return. 


1 John 5:21 warns believers,

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21 (NASB)

Is your job your idol?  Maybe your idol is that 1935 Ford truck? Maybe it is travel to various parts of the world? Maybe it is your home or your career? What idol have you created? What did you make with your hands, fingers, legs or mind?

“What profit is the idol when its maker has carved it,
Or an image, a teacher of falsehood?
For its maker trusts in his own handiwork
When he fashions speechless idols.
Woe to him who says to a piece of wood,
‘Awake!’ To a mute stone, ‘Arise!’
And that is your teacher?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
And there is no breath at all inside it.
But the LORD is in His holy temple.
Let all the earth be silent before Him.” Habakkuk 2:18-20 (NASB)

What is your idol or graven image? Sex? Food? Pornography? Money? Yourself? Your children, wife or husband? Or are you devoted to the one and only living God?

Suggested Links:

What are the high places in the Bible?
Porneia Definition — What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?
Are there idols? Can we eat food that has been offered to an idol?
The Gold Idol
Why do people believe in saints & images of the Virgin Mary?
Should we review history and the myths to find the lost gods?