Problem: The context of the “Thou shall not make a graven image” passages is dealing with the worship of false things. Exodus 20:4 states that no one is to make an image of what is in heaven, so that you may not worship them or bow down to them (20:5). This is reiterated in Leviticus 26:1. The Deuteronomy passages, contextually, are dealing with the same thing: an admonition against worshipping a false image. God does not want people bowing down before idols and worshiping false gods.
Shall not make graven images
Exodus 20:4-5, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 “You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me.”
Leviticus 26:1, “You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves an image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the Lord your God.”
Deuteronomy 5:8, “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.”
Deuteronomy 27:15, “Cursed is the man who makes an idol or a molten 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.’”
Shall make graven images
(Exodus 25:18)–“And you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat.”
(Exodus 37:7-8)–“And he made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered work, at the two ends of the mercy seat; 8one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at the two ends.” See also, Exodus 26:1,31; 36:8; 1 Kings 6:23-35.
The instruction by God to make cherubim, which are angels in heaven, is not for the purpose of worship at all. Instead, it is a representation of the heavenly realm where God dwells, and the angels are about the throne (1 Samuel 4:4; Hebrews 9:5). The Cherubim were placed on the Ark of the Covenant – in the Holy of Holies in the temple (2 Chron. 3:10). There, they would never become objects of worship because they were not public artifacts to which the general populace would become familiar and thereby risk falling into idol worship.