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 Hebrews 11:27By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.
American King James Version×) who was not to be portrayed by human imagery, but who inhabits eternity (Isaiah 57:15 Isaiah 57:15For thus said the high and lofty One that inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.
American King James Version×)—the One who revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14 Exodus 3:14And God said to Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shall you say to the children of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.
American King James Version×). This God had eternal life within Himself (1 Timothy 6:16 1 Timothy 6:16Who only has immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach to; whom no man has seen, nor can see: to whom be honor and power everlasting. Amen.
American King James Version×).
This omnipotent, all-knowing, invisible God has to be worshiped in spirit and in truth because He is Spirit (John 4:24 John 4:24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.
American King James Version×). 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 Deuteronomy 7:6For you are an holy people to the LORD your God: the LORD your God has chosen you to be a special people to himself, above all people that are on the face of the earth.
American King James Version×). So it was to a nation of former slaves that the Ten Commandments were given (Exodus 20:1-17 Exodus 20:1-17 1 And God spoke all these words, saying, 2 I am the LORD your God, which have brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 You shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down yourself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6 And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain. 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. 12 Honor your father and your mother: that your days may be long on the land which the LORD your God gives you. 13 You shall not kill. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is your neighbor’s.
American King James Version×)—a moral code not of human origin, but divinely authored and delivered to ancient Israel by the eternal God.