A Close Encounter
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When the Roman general Pompey successfully entered Jerusalem in the first century B.C., he was determined to satisfy his curiosity about certain stories circulating around the Mediterranean world about the worship of the Jewish people. After conquering this city he made it one of his personal priorities to ascend the Temple Mount to find out the truth behind the puzzling reports that the Jewish people had no physical statue or image of God in their most sacred place of worship, the Holy of Holies.
To Pompey it was inconceivable to worship God without portraying Him in a type of physical likeness, as a statue. So Pompey "bravely" entered forbidden territory, the most-holy sanctuary—and lived to tell about it. What Pompey saw left him greatly puzzled and bewildered. He found no physical statue, no religious image, no pictorial description of the Hebrew God—only an empty space. He left the temple without saying a word!
What this powerful emissary of Rome experienced in Jerusalem, he had seen nowhere else on his travels in the empire. How unlike the worship of other nations! How different from other religions! Jerusalem represented a totally different God from those to whom the rest of the world paid homage.
Pompey did not understand that this was the invisible God (Hebrews 11:27) who was not to be portrayed by human imagery, but who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15)—the One who revealed Himself to Moses as "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14). This God had eternal life within Himself (1 Timothy 6:16).
This omnipotent, all-knowing, invisible God has to be worshiped in spirit and in truth because He is Spirit (John 4:24). But, to the ancient Romans, Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians, religious imagery constituted a normal part of their worship. Initially this is why Pompey refused to give credence to reports from Jerusalem of a people honoring their God without the aid of statues. He knew of no such worship elsewhere. It made no sense to the Roman mind to worship a god without knowing what he looked like.
But when Israel was called out of Egypt—out of abject slavery and religious deception—this generation of God's people was introduced to the One whose unique requirements would make His adherents different from the rest of the world (Deuteronomy 7:6). So it was to a nation of former slaves that the Ten Commandments were given (Exodus 20:1-17)—a moral code not of human origin, but divinely authored and delivered to ancient Israel by the eternal God.