(1) Ye shall make you no idols.--The first two verses of this chapter are still a part of the previous section in the Hebrew original. By separating them from their proper position, and making them begin a new chapter, both the logical sequence and the import of these two verses are greatly obscured. As Lev 26:47-55 legislated for cases where Israelites are driven by extreme poverty to sell themselves to a heathen, and when they may be compelled to continue in this service to the year of jubile, and thus be obliged to witness idolatrous practices, the Lawgiver solemnly repeats the two fundamental precepts of Judaism, which they might be in danger of neglecting, viz., to abstain from idol-worship and to keep the Sabbath, which are two essential commandments of the Decalogue. The same two commandments, but in reverse order, are also joined together in Leviticus 19:3-4.
Idols.--For this expression see Leviticus 19:4.
Nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image.--Better, nor shall ye rear you up a graven image or pillar. Graven image is not only a plastic image of a heathen deity, but a visible or sensuous representation of the God of Israel (Exodus 20:19-20; Deuteronomy 4:15-16).
A standing image.--This expression, which only occurs once more in the text of the Authorised Version (Micah 5:13), and four times in the Margin (1 Kings 14:23; Jeremiah 43:13; Hosea 3:4; Hosea 10:1), is the rendering of a Hebrew word (matzebah), which is usually and more correctly translated "pillar" or "statue" (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 28:22; Genesis 31:13, &c.). This was a plain and rude stone without any image engraved on it, and was not unfrequently erected to God himself. but in after-time more especially as a memorial to false deities. (Genesis 28:18; Genesis 28:22; Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:14, with Exodus 23:24; Exodus 34:13, &c.)
Neither shall ye set up any image of stone.--The authorities during the second Temple interpreted the words here rendered "images of stone" to denote beholding, or worshipping stones--i.e., stones set in the ground in places of worship upon which the worshippers prostrated themselves to perform their devotions. The stone was therefore a kind of signal, calling the attention of the worshipper to itself, so that he may fall down upon it. With such stones, these authorities assure us, the Temple was paved, since they were perfectly lawful in the sanctuary, but must not be used in worship out of the Temple, or rather, out of the land, as these authorities understood the words "in your land" here to denote. Hence the Chaldee Version paraphrases it, "and a painted stone ye shall not place in your land to prostrate yourselves upon it, but a pavement adorned with figures and pictures ye may put in the floor of your sanctuary, but not to bow down upon it," i.e., in an idolatrous manner. Hence, too, the ancient canon, "in your own land" (i.e., in all other lands) "ye must not prostrate yourselves upon stones, but ye may prostrate yourselves upon the stones in the sanctuary."
neither rear you up a standing image; or pillar (g); an heap of rude stones, set up pillar, not bearing the likeness of any creature; otherwise graven and molten images were standing ones, but these were statues without any figure; such as the Arabians used to worship; the god Mars, worshipped in Arabia Petraea, was no other than a black stone four square, unformed, four feet high, and two broad, and was placed on a basis of gold (h):
neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto; any "figured stone", as the Targum and Aben Ezra interpret it, which had figures and representations of creatures cut in it, in order to bow down unto and worship: the word has the signification of covering, as they cover a floor with a pavement of stones:
for I am the Lord your God; who is the alone object of religious worship and adoration.
(g) Sept. "titulos", V. L. "titulum", Samar. Ar. "pillar", Ainsworth. (h) "Suidas in voce" Vid. Arnob. adv. Gentes, l. 6. p. 232.