In Genesis 31: 34-35, “Meanwhile Rachel had taken the household images, put them inside the camel’s saddlebag, and seated herself upon them. When Laban had rummaged through her whole tent without finding them, she said to her father, “Do not let my lord be angry that I cannot rise in your presence; I am having my period.” So, despite his search, he did not find the household images.”

Jacob, Leah and Rachel were about to leave Laban and embark on to a new journey of their lives, however, Rachel clung on to the teraphim, the household images used for divination. The presence of teraphim tell us that the ancestors of our faith in the historical chapters of Genesis (Genesis being composed of two parts – the stories and fables that speak of certain truths of God in the first 11 chapters, and then the historical components of salvation history) did not necessarily abide to the code of conduct and later biblical religious standards and laws. Nonetheless, despite the flawed nature of these ancestors of our faith, they too were instrumental in being a part of Salvation History. The teraphim are what Laban calls his gods, and they represent a vestige of the past, an unwillingness to let go of the past, and a clinging on to the practices and customs of ancestors that may be pagan in nature.

This biblical occurrence reminds me of the viral incident where a food delivery person was recorded via cctv, stealing someone’s tuapekgong statue (a Taoist deity) outside the customer’s  house and putting it in his food delivery bag before riding away.

In Scripture, we are instructed by the Word of God that “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them.” (Exodus 20: 2-5)

This scriptural instruction is echoed and supplemented by the words of Jesus, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it,” (Matthew 10: 37-39) and reinforced in the teachings of the Apostles – “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Corinthians 7:1)

This scriptural teaching has often been misinterpreted that we should not even have artistic renditions such as statues and paintings of God, the saints, the Divine. In reality, Scripture contains many passages wherein the Lord God commands the making of these images of Himself and of the Divine – for example, when King David presents the plans to Solomon, the plans contain instructions for statues of cherubim – “the refined gold, and its weight, to be used for the altar of incense; and, finally, gold to fashion the chariot: the cherubim spreading their wings and covering the ark of the covenant of the LORD. All this he wrote down, by the hand of the LORD, to make him understand it—the working out of the whole design.” (1 Chronicles 28: 18-19); and when the Lord God gave instructions to Moses to build the Ark of the Covenant – “Make two cherubim of beaten gold for the two ends of the cover; make one cherub at one end, and the other at the other end, of one piece with the cover, at each end. The cherubim shall have their wings spread out above, sheltering the cover with them; they shall face each other, with their faces looking toward the cover.” (Exodus 25:18-20)

Scripture also tells us that these religious images had a ritualistic purpose. When the Israelites were sent serpents in the desert, and many fell stricken the Lord God instructed Moses to “Make a seraph and mount it on a pole, and everyone who has been bitten will look at it and recover. Accordingly, Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a pole, and whenever the serpent bit someone, the person looked at the bronze serpent and recovered.” (Numbers 21: 8-9) In this case, the serpent was not an image of God, but an image of the people’s sin, and upon gazing upon their sin, and repenting of their sin, the people were healed. The word seraph refers to a species of venomous snake in Hebrew, but etymologically may be traced to mean “the fiery one” and makes reference also to the winged and fiery guardians of God’s throne (cf. Isaiah 6:2, 6; Isaiah 14:29; 30:6) (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, n.d.) These winged and fiery guardians of God throne were also His messengers and in layperson’s terms, God’s vicar or representative. This makes sense then, as this act of raising the seraph foreshadows Christ being raised on a cross – where the people would gaze on both their sin, and at Jesus the visible face of God.

Detractors of the Catholic Faith have often cited Deuteronomy 4: 15-19, “Because you saw no form at all on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, be strictly on your guard not to act corruptly by fashioning an idol for yourselves to represent any figure, whether it be the form of a man or of a woman, the form of any animal on the earth, the form of any bird that flies in the sky, the form of anything that crawls on the ground, or the form of any fish in the waters under the earth. And when you look up to the heavens and behold the sun or the moon or the stars, the whole heavenly host, do not be led astray into bowing down to them and serving them.”

The reason for this is that in the history of Salvation, God earlier, had not revealed Himself in a visible form, and given the proliferation of pagan cultures around the Israelites, the Israelites would have been tempted to fashion God and to worship God in some form of object like a bull or the sun, as seen from how Aaron made the golden calf at the Israelites’ request. Thus, the Lord God forbade the Israelites to make a visible form of God’s Divinity. When the Israelites began to become more established and matured in their faith over several generations, the Lord God eventually began to reveal Himself in visible forms for example in Daniel 7: 9-10, “As I watched, Thrones were set up and the Ancient of Days took his throne. His clothing was white as snow, the hair on his head like pure wool; His throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire. A river of fire surged forth, flowing from where he sat; Thousands upon thousands were ministering to him, and myriads upon myriads stood before him.” The Holy Spirit also revealed Himself in the likeness of a dove and as tongues of fire (cf. Matthew 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; John 1:32; Acts 2: 1-4). Christ made visible the invisible face of God – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” (Colossians 1:15)

Since God has chosen to reveal Himself in these visible forms, it is not an error to use artistic renditions of these visible forms to lead us into knowing God more (Catholic Answers, n.d).

The seventh ecumenical council at Nicaea in the year 787 “justified … the veneration of icons — of Christ, but also of the Mother of God, the angels, and all the saints. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God introduced a new ‘economy’ of images” (CCC. 2131). The Church has since proclaimed that, “Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, ‘the honour rendered to an image passes to its prototype,’ and ‘whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.’ The honor paid to sacred images is a ‘respectful veneration,’ not the adoration due to God alone” (CCC 2132).

So what is the first commandment really condemning?

CCC. 2112 The first commandment condemns polytheism. It demands of man not to believe in gods other than the one God, not to worship other divinities than the One. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of idols which are “silver and gold, the work of the hands of man”, who “have mouths and speak not, have eyes and see not… ». These vain idols make man vain: “Let him who makes them and everyone who trusts in them be like them” (Ps 115:4-5, 8). God, on the contrary, is the “living God” (Jos 3:10), who gives life and intervenes in history.

CCC. 2113 Idolatry does not concern only the false cults of paganism. It remains a constant temptation of faith. It consists in divinising what is not God. There is idolatry when man honours and reveres a creature in place of God, be it gods or demons (e.g. Satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. “You cannot serve God and Mammon”, Jesus says (Mt 6:24). Many martyrs died for not worshipping “the Beast”, refusing even to simulate his worship. Idolatry rejects the one Lordship of God; therefore it is incompatible with divine communion.

Idolatry happens when we attempt to put something else in the place of God. It “divinises what is not God” (CCC. 2113). This could be something that is culturally ingrained and beliefs that are inherited, for example Chinese who may believe that they are born under the year of an animal zodiac, and identity themselves as oh I am a pig or cow; or a superstitious practice for instance,  we must ensure that our house is aligned to fengshui or geomancy principles; these are also practices of seeking out mediums and attempts at divination through astrology, tarot cards, or fortune tellers.

These idols in the suitcase could be things that we hold dear to and are afraid to let go off – unhealthy coping mechanisms, status, wealth, another person’s validation of us, prejudices, old ways of doing things. These are things that prevent us from growing in love and knowledge of the Lord, and could also comprise of mindsets – I already know who Jesus is, why do I need to go for this retreat.

Pope Francis reminds us that idolatry stems from our inability to trust in God and surrender everything to Him: “Everything, stems from the inability to trust above all in God, to place our safety in Him, to let Him give true depth to the desires of our heart. Without God’s primacy one easily falls into idolatry and is content with meagre assurances.” (Brockhaus, 2018)

Today, we are invited to let the words of Jesus speak to us: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8: 34 – 38) To follow Jesus, means that we need to be intentional about it, and to consciously be aware of what may be an idol in our life that is preventing us from drawing closer to God, and then to renounce it, and surrender it completely to Jesus.

What is an idol that you are carrying in your suitcase?


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan






Brockhaus, H. (2018, Aug 8). Pope Francis: Trust God – not idols. Catholic News Agency. Retrieved July 3, 2023 from

Catholic Answers. (n.d.). Do Catholics worship statues? Catholic Answers. Retrieved July 3, 2023 from

Catechism of the Catholic Church. (1993). Life in Christ. The First Commandment. Catechism of the Catholic Church. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. (n.d.). Biblical Commentary on Numbers 21. USCCB. Retrieved July 3, 2023 from