The Meaning of Exodus 20:4 Explained

Exodus 20:4

KJV: Thou shalt not make unto thee 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:

YLT: Thou dost not make to thyself a graven image, or any likeness which is in the heavens above, or which is in the earth beneath, or which is in the waters under the earth.

Darby: Thou shalt not make thyself any graven image, or any form of what is in the heavens above, or what is in the earth beneath, or what is in the waters under the earth:

ASV: Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor 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.

What does Exodus 20:4 Mean?

Study Notes

shalt not make
There is a threefold giving of the law. First, orally, in Exodus 20:1-17 . This was pure law, with no provision of priesthood and sacrifice for failure, and was accompanied by the "judgments"; Exodus 21:1 to Exodus 23:13 ; relating to the relations of Hebrew with Hebrew; to which were added Exodus 23:14-19 directions for keeping three annual feasts, and Exodus 23:20-33 instructions for the conquest of Canaan. These words Moses communicated to the people. Exodus 24:3-8 . Immediately, in the persons of their elders, they were admitted to the fellowship of God. Exodus 24:9-11 .
Second, Moses was then called up to receive the tables of stone. Exodus 24:12-18 . The story then divides. Moses, in the mount, receives the gracious instructions concerning the tabernacle, priesthood, and sacrifice (Exodus 25-31.) Meantime (Exodus 32.), the people, led by Aaron, break the first commandment. Moses, returning, breaks the tables "written with the finger of God."; Exodus 31:18 ; Exodus 32:16-19 .
Third, the second tables were made by Moses, and the law again written by the hand of Jehovah Exodus 34:1 ; Exodus 34:28 ; Exodus 34:29 ; Deuteronomy 10:4 .

Context Summary

Exodus 20:1-17 - The "ten Words" Spoken At Sinai
The Law was given by the disposition of angels, through the medium of Moses. See John 1:17; Acts 7:53. It tells us, not what God is, for that is only shown in Jesus Christ, but what man should be. It combines in a concise form that moral code which is part of the nature of things, and is written on man's conscience. See Romans 2:5. Even the Fourth Commandment is deeply graven on our physical nature. These laws are mostly negative, but their positive side is stated in Matthew 5:1-48. For practical purposes this divine code consists of two divisions or tables; the first, of our duties toward God; the second, of those to man; but these are summed up in the one great law of love. See Mark 12:29-31; Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14. Our Lord Jesus stands surety for us at the bar of Sinai. By His righteousness imputed and imparted, by His obedience and death, by the gracious indwelling of His Spirit, He comes "not to destroy, but to fulfill." See Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:4. [source]

Chapter Summary: Exodus 20

1  The ten commandments are spoken by Jehovah
18  The people are afraid, but Moses comforts them
21  Idolatry is forbidden
23  Of what sort the altar should be

What do the individual words in Exodus 20:4 mean?

Not You shall make for yourself a carved image or any likeness [of anything] that [is] in heaven above or that [is] in the earth beneath or that [is] in the water under under the earth
לֹֽ֣א תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־ לְךָ֥֣ פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ ׀‪‬ וְכָל־ תְּמוּנָ֡֔ה אֲשֶׁ֤֣ר בַּשָּׁמַ֣֙יִם֙ ׀ מִמַּ֡֔עַל וַֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר֩ בָּאָ֖֨רֶץ מִתַָּ֑֜חַת‪‬ וַאֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בַּמַּ֖֣יִם ׀ מִתַּ֥֣חַת לָאָֽ֗רֶץ‪‬

תַֽעֲשֶׂ֨ה־  You  shall  make 
Parse: Verb, Qal, Imperfect, second person masculine singular
Root: עָשָׂה 
Sense: to do, fashion, accomplish, make.
לְךָ֥֣  for  yourself 
Parse: Preposition, second person masculine singular
פֶ֣֙סֶל֙ ׀‪‬  a  carved  image 
Parse: Noun, masculine singular
Root: פֶּסֶל  
Sense: idol, image.
וְכָל־  or  any 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Noun, masculine singular construct
Root: כֹּל  
Sense: all, the whole.
תְּמוּנָ֡֔ה  likeness  [of  anything] 
Parse: Noun, feminine singular
Root: תְּמוּנָה  
Sense: form, image, likeness, representation, semblance.
אֲשֶׁ֤֣ר  that  [is] 
Parse: Pronoun, relative
Root: אֲשֶׁר 
Sense: (relative part.).
בַּשָּׁמַ֣֙יִם֙ ׀  in  heaven 
Parse: Preposition-b, Article, Noun, masculine plural
Root: שָׁמַיִם  
Sense: heaven, heavens, sky.
מִמַּ֡֔עַל  above 
Parse: Preposition-m, Adverb
Root: מַעַל 
Sense: higher part, upper part adv.
וַֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר֩  or  that  [is] 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Pronoun, relative
Root: אֲשֶׁר 
Sense: (relative part.).
בָּאָ֖֨רֶץ  in  the  earth 
Parse: Preposition-b, Article, Noun, feminine singular
Root: אֶרֶץ  
Sense: land, earth.
מִתַָּ֑֜חַת‪‬  beneath 
Parse: Preposition-m, Adverb
Root: מִתְחָה 
Sense: the under part, beneath, instead of, as, for, for the sake of, flat, unto, where, whereas.
וַאֲשֶׁ֥֣ר  or  that  [is] 
Parse: Conjunctive waw, Pronoun, relative
Root: אֲשֶׁר 
Sense: (relative part.).
בַּמַּ֖֣יִם ׀  in  the  water 
Parse: Preposition-b, Article, Noun, masculine plural
Root: מַיִם  
Sense: water, waters.
מִתַּ֥֣חַת  under 
Parse: Preposition-m
Root: מִתְחָה 
Sense: the under part, beneath, instead of, as, for, for the sake of, flat, unto, where, whereas.
לָאָֽ֗רֶץ‪‬  under  the  earth 
Parse: Preposition-l, Article, Noun, feminine singular
Root: אֶרֶץ  
Sense: land, earth.