About Number Your Days > Why No Images

In addition to the experiment that is itself Number Your Days, there is a second experiment occurring simultaneously on this Web site. By way of background, as given on Mount Sinai, the Second Commandment specifically calls for not making any images. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Images, sometimes called likenesses, are direct visible representations of other visible things designed to look like those other things.

Images are in contrast to words and grammar which have meanings other than the written markings by which we recognize them. These meanings are not derived directly from the markings by which one forms letters and words in writing and thus are quite literally invisible. Making the point another way, if one is reading the words of a language the reader does not understand, there is no visual meaning to infer from the markings, especially those that use a phonetic alphabet.

Indirect visible representations like charts and graphs may be a gray area. Neither is a direct visible likeness of another thing. They are visible representations of other things not otherwise seen in that way. Perhaps one could argue a map is a likeness, though some are not of “anything … that is in the earth” so much as they are of the earth and of where the waters were “gathered together into one place” and the dry land was separated (Genesis 1:9).

A world without images is not one without symbols. The people of Israel camped “by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father's house” (Numbers 2:2). The Hebrew words for standard and emblems there are different from words used for images. A logo today bears some similarities to tribal flags or insignia. How one designs a logo can span the full spectrum from text to images. At some point, even text branding can become so ornate as to become an image unto itself. Somewhere between plain text and images, lie the gray areas of maps, charts, and graphs. Because Web site tools like browsers and social media sites consider an avatar image of integral importance, Number Your Days has opted to have a logo, one that is most like a chart, the meaning of which is only understood when explained.

The Number Your Days logo has several design elements. First, the six working days of Creation occur in a pattern of two sets of three days. In the first three days, God forms various environments of increasing granularity. In the second three days, God goes back and fills those environments. For instance, the birds and fish (Day 5), live in the sky and the water (Day 2). Land animals and man (Day 6), live on the dry land and eat the plants (Day 3). Thus, two sets of three blocks are in the Number Your Days logo. Second, each block is of a different color. Peter wrote, “As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). The word for manifold there means multi-colored. Think of the multi-colored grace of God! The colors in the logo simply reflect colors one may see in the sky, some days and places more than others.

On some social media sites the main form of user-generated content is or can include an image file. While those images files may be actual images, they can also be used for non-image content such as text. Number Your Days may make full use of these tools in this way on other social media platforms. This pattern may not have always been adhered to, and there may be exceptions in the future, but the intent is to swim upstream in a cultural current that strongly favors images and image.

Other than these exceptions, Number Your Days has no images on its Web site, and intends to keep it that way as much as possible for as long as possible. The term for this practice is aniconism. At a practical level, this means faster load times and a greater emphasis on links. While links may send people away to other sites, of all the Web metrics available for analysis, Number Your Days is far more interested in repeat daily traffic than on the time spent per visit.

Some people object to this line of thinking about images. There are several typical defenses of image creation and use including (a) that is not what the Second Commandment means, (b) this is not happening today, and (c) there are benefits of images.

Some defend images based on certain parts of God's instructions for the tabernacle (Exodus 25:17-22), in the wilderness (Numbers 21:8), and for the temple (1 Kings 6:23-28). None of these references use either of the Hebrew words for images or likenesses used in Exodus 20:4.

In the tabernacle, they were referred to as “hammered works.” A hammer is not to be confused with a carving or engraving tool. Similar to the cherub instructions for the tabernacle are mentions of inscriptions and figures for the temple that were “carved” on the walls and the doors (1 Kings 6:29-35). The verb there means to sling or hurl. Elsewhere this word—that some assume means to create graven images—is also used to describe how David hurled a stone from his sling into Goliath's forehead (1 Samuel 17:49). A very different sense of purpose for these objects in the temple emerges if they were formed with that kind of circular motion.

Putting aside the differences in the Hebrew words, if one were to assume these objects qualify as images, there are still problems with concluding images are acceptable. Does the exception to the rule become the rule? These were not objects with a wide audience. Those items for the temple, especially those in the Holy of Holies, were only seen once a year by one person (Exodus 30:7-10). That priest, chosen by lot (Luke 1:9), likely never saw the hammered works again. The temple, built according to the law which is a shadow of things to come (Hebrews 10:1), is a preview of angels which stand before God (Revelation 8:2-4) and a city with no temple (Revelation 21:10-22), “things we cannot now speak in detail” (Hebrews 9:5). King Solomon, no stranger to beauty (1 Kings 11:3), had none of these objects in the palaces for himself and his wife that he built immediately after building the temple (1 Kings 7:1-8). Much later, God told the prophet Hosea to “take yourself a wife of harlotry” (Hosea 1:2) Does that invalidate the Seventh Commandment against adultery?

Others defend images by limiting the direct application of the Second Commandment to our practices today. One couple wrote, “We don't share your concern about images in general. It seems that the Law given to God's Chosen People was intended to prevent the worship of graven (carved) idols, which was rampant at that time. Nowadays, few people would be likely to worship a photograph or an oil painting. We have far more subtle idols to resist.” This is a common view among well-meaning, Bible-believing Christians.

Three thoughts on isolating the instruction on images to only those of the graven/carved variety. First, engraving or carving was simply the means or method of creating an image. Just because we don't use that method today does not mean we don't have our own means of forming images. Second, other idols had been mentioned earlier in Genesis (31:19, 34, 35), and this Exodus reference is the first mention of images in the Bible. Third, another phrase in Exodus 20:4 included any likeness in general with no stipulation on them being graven or carved images.

These days photographs are worshipped, perhaps not as deity, but ascribed much worth and attention nonetheless. It is not an overstatement to observe this worship is intense both by individuals and companies. Among the biggest players on the Internet today are billion-dollar companies competing to be the world's largest photo sharing Web site. The reason this competition is so fierce is because people are willing to spend time and attention gazing at photos for long periods of time many times each day. That kind of attention is extremely valuable. This may be subtle, but it is rampant in our world today.

Our culture defends images today with statements like, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The most subtle word in that statement is worth because one would do well to ask, What is the value of those words? Reverse the question, and the deception becomes even more apparent. What picture is there that can adequately capture the meaning of a thousand words? Words are worth vastly more than images. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Another belief about photos has been summed up in the statement, “Pictures don't lie.” It's tempting to say there is some truth here. For instance, a photo can tell you if someone was at an event or not. Although even there, there is a carving tool called Photoshop whereby photos can become overtly misleading. But let's assume for a minute that nothing about the photo has been edited or adjusted in any way. The photo is still no better than the medium on which it is produced. Whether we're talking about paper, a canvass, a screen, a wall, etc., none can make an image a match for the real thing.

Attilla Danko is an astronomer who was once asked in an interview why he was not into astro-photography. His answer was brilliant: “no image, no matter how wonderful, has caused me to spontaneously swear.” While this is no advocacy of unrestrained profanity, the point is made that there is a vast difference between seeing something for yourself, and an image.

Have you ever seen a real solar eclipse with your own eye? Have you ever watched a video of people watching a solar eclipse? The video, no matter how wonderful, can never adequately show what the people are seeing with their own eyes. A crowd of people watching a solar eclipse together with their own eyes can spontaneously break out into cheers. For people watching a video of this, it's easy to scoff and scorn and hold those cheering in derision as having some ridiculous reaction to something no better than what was seen on the screen.

Therein is the unseen danger in images that are seen. They feed our pride. They lie to us and tell us that things are no better or no different than the perceptions and biases of those presenting and those viewing a representation. “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, the molded image, a teacher of lies, that the maker of its mold should trust in it, to make mute idols?” (Habakkuk 2:18). We may not be carving up wood into birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Instead, we have millions of people staring at screens so much that we now generate even more content about how much people stare endlessly at their screens, often to the detriment of friends and loved ones in our very presence, and sometimes to the loss of their own lives.

Perhaps this now sounds more familiar: “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23).

We would do well to be humble about those who have been misled before us. Understanding the reactions of those watching a solar eclipse gives us a glimpse into how people in ages past were misled into believing that the sun is a god. Could we be even worse off today? Which is worse: worshipping the sun, or worshipping something else and being prideful about it? There are six things the Lord hates, and “a proud look” is the first (Proverbs 6:16-17). Pride turned Lucifer into Satan (Isaiah 14:12-15).

God's instructions to the people of Israel regarding images were consistent and consequential throughout Israel's history. Before Israel had left the wilderness, God reiterated, “You shall not make idols for yourselves; neither a carved image nor a sacred pillar shall you rear up for yourselves; nor shall you set up an engraved stone in your land, to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 26:1). The people affirmed this: “‘Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen!’” (Deuteronomy 27:15). After Israel had crossed the Jordan River into the land and driven out its inhabitants, they were to “destroy all their engraved stones, destroy all their molded images, and demolish all their high places” (Numbers 33:52). Images were among the reasons Israel was ejected from the Promised Land into exile. “Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge; Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image; For his molded image is falsehood, And there is no breath in them” (Jeremiah 10:14; 51:17). “For thus says the LORD: ‘Behold, I will throw out at this time The inhabitants of the land, And will distress them, That they may find it so’” (Jeremiah 10:18). (The Hebrew verb for “throw out” there is the same as the one for David hurling a stone at Goliath.) Dispersed among the nations, Israel would learn to turn away from images. “You will also defile the covering of your images of silver, and the ornament of your molded images of gold. You will throw them away as an unclean thing; you will say to them, “Get away!”” (Isaiah 30:22). “Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed” (Isaiah 44:9). “Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, you who have escaped from the nations. They have no knowledge, who carry the wood of their carved image, and pray to a god that cannot save” (Isaiah 45:20).

Images were a problem for other nations, too. “The LORD has given a command concerning you: ‘Your name shall be perpetuated no longer. Out of the house of your gods I will cut off the carved image and the molded image. I will dig your grave, For you are vile’” (Nahum 1:14).

The problem of images for a nation is also seen outside the pages of Scripture. In his inaugural address on the Senate floor, Freshman Senator Ben Sasse noted among his observations “the ubiquity of cameras everywhere that we talk.” He explained cameras have a distorting effect on their ability to speak, reason, and deliberate: “Socrates said it is dishonorable to make the lesser argument appear the greater or to take someone else's argument and distort it so that you don't have to engage their strongest points. Yet here, on this floor, we regularly devolve into a bizarre politician speech. We hear the robotic recitation of talking points. Well, guess what. Normal people don't talk like this. They don't like that we do, and more important than whether or not they like us, they don't trust our government because we do [talk like this]. It is weird, because one-on-one, when the cameras are off, hardly anyone around here really thinks the Senators from the other party are evil or stupid or bribed. There is actually a great deal of human affection around here, but again, it is private, when the cameras aren't on.”

Images can also be damaging at the family level. After the passing of a loved one, among the most contentious of items left behind are family photographs.

The instructions about idols persist into the New Testament. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (1 John 5:21). Some take this to have a meaning beyond the literal. The earlier-quoted couple explained: “We recently read a book that warned about idolatry in modern form. The author defined an idol as anything more important to a person than God. Whatever absorbs one's heart and imagination; whatever or whoever one seeks or trusts to provide what only God can rightfully give. The idol can be an inherently bad person, object, or practice. But it can also be a relatively good person, object, or practice that we elevate above God. A few examples: social status; relationships; security / money; comfort / food; leisure / entertainment. In short, an idol is whatever causes us to exceed proper boundaries resulting in God being relegated to second-place status.”

There is a lot to agree with here. Indeed, Jesus expanded the commandments against murder and adultery to include unjustified anger and lust (Matthew 5:21-32). Conversely, we may have nonetheless expanded the role of images also. Still, for how many of these less tangible things is our perspective on them also affected by literal images? Physical images may not be the only form of idol today, but they remain a powerful form of one. The history of photography is short, especially relative to the longstanding words of Scripture. We should not be quick to dismiss the influence of images in modern form considering the transformation of methods may also be magnifying our tendency towards and the effects of idolatry.

There are two main reasons for why there is great joy to be found in not being distracted by images made with hands. First, God made the original image when He made man in His image. “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26-28). (It is worth noting the Hebrew words for image and likeness in Genesis 1:26 are different from those used in Exodus 20:4).

Second, for those of us made in God's image, there can be great joy in focusing not on images, but on the things that are not seen. “For we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). “For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:24-25). “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4). “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1).

Admittedly, strict observance of a literal meaning as described here could present some practical challenges. It is worth noting that the original instructions for how to build the temple came in the form of words. Building anything today often requires an intermediate step of blueprints and diagrams to visually represent and understand what one would see when the building is built. This could present problems to the ocean charts used to map the paths in the seas. The seas and coastlines described in Acts 27 are represented with words, not a map. These implications of a literal approach also are not sufficient justification to invalidate a plain interpretation of the words if that is what God intended.

The intent here is not to be under the Law. “The law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect” (Hebrews 10:1). If we believe in Jesus Christ we “are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). For the believer in Jesus Christ, following His commands is out of love, not duty. “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

Some may find this argument compelling, and others may not. Some may see specific examples of overt idol worship in passages like 2 Kings 17:16 and Isaiah 44:15-17 and be content with observance that is no more limited than that. For Number Your Days, Daniel is a model. “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's delicacies, nor with the wine which he drank” (Daniel 1:8). The Lord gave him wisdom, honored his deference, and eventually everybody was put on the Daniel meal plan. Similarly, there are companies today like Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby whose founders seek to honor the Lord by observing the Fourth Commandment with a 7th Day and closing on Sunday. Both practices are recognized in the New Testament. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:5-6). The application of this principle here is not to shut down or block access to the Internet servers on Sunday in observance of the Fourth Commandment, but to exclude the use of images as part of the service in observance of the Second Commandment.

As this document opens, this is an experiment, and one not likely to be executed perfectly. Nonetheless, it is an attempt to be faithful to God and His Word in this area. What God decides to do with this is up to Him. It may mean interest is vastly diminished, or it could mean the reach of Number Your Days is more easily expanded into bandwidth-constricted parts of the developing world. That is being left entirely in His very capable Hands. The decision here is simply to be faithful to this understanding of His Word. Perhaps this is one way those who believe on Him “will not be put to shame” (Psalm 25:3; Isaiah 28:16; Romans 9:33; 10:11; 1 Peter 2:6).

Agreement is not required. You do not have to universally agree with the principles described here in order to use Number Your Days. This is not part of the Terms of Service, but the principle is deeply embedded into the nature of the service. This lengthy explanation is so that site visitors and users can understand the reason for this approach. If you decide to join this experiment, you are welcome and encouraged to share your results of participating.

This experiment does not need to be limited to this Web site either. Think of the times many of us have a story, perhaps even recently, of talking or writing another person about a photo of something another person has actually seen, and their reaction is, that photo or video “does not do justice” to whatever the image attempts to represent. That insufficiency or inaccuracy of the image is in part the essence of this discussion. If you keep up with the news and current events, another method is to ask yourself, “If images were not involved here, would this be a story?” It may be surprising how often it would not. If you seek to avoid temptation, the same question can apply: “If images were not involved here, would this be a temptation?”

As stated at the outset, this is swimming upstream against increasingly strong currents favoring and demanding more images in our culture. Aside from obvious monetary motivations, one also should not be surprised to hear persuasive arguments in favor of images. The latest seems to be body cameras on police officers in the name of justice. Arguing from the Scriptures, justice honors the Lord, and images do not. Discernment to separate truth from error is essential in this matter.

Finally, a discussion of this nature would not be complete without a strong warning about an image yet to come. This image may well be part of the “strong delusion” that Paul wrote about (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Near the end of the Bible after the beast and his image have been established, we learn of the destiny of him and his followers: “Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, ‘If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name’” (Revelation 14:9-11). “Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Revelation 19:20).

Whatever you do, do not take the mark of the beast or worship his image. Doing so comes at the cost of your eternal soul subjected to the undiluted wrath of God. It is better to put your trust in Jesus no matter the cost. There is great reward for those who do.