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Joshua 7:6

Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads.

Does this break the First Commandment that one is to worship God alone? Why is Joshua permitted to bow down before the Ark?

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    Obviously not. If someone is going to fall down before the Lord (whilst still in the body and upon this earth) then they have to do it somewhere. And the most pertinent place to do it, was where Joshua did it. See also Daniel praying when he faced Jerusalem whilst exiled in Babylon.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 9:36
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    You can show reverence to God's holy ark, and thereby honor God, without considering it God. Is kneeling or bowing to a king necessarily worship? No, nothing in that action assumes they are God, even if you can also do that before God. One distinguishes any action as worship in their heart; the external gestures might look identical. For example, when you ask Jesus for some grace, versus ask your friend to pray for you. The gesture of asking will look the same, but not the inward intention or consideration of who the one being asked is. Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 13:42

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If one were to insert the word "before" prior to "the Ark" then the answer is yes. They worshiped God while lying prone before the Ark. But the actual answer is no.

The question is worth asking, however. They did indeed bow down before a "graven image" of the cherubim and it is reasonable to wonder how this is not a violation of Ex. 20:3-5

You shall not make for yourself a graven 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 the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them...

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Christians and Jews explain that although they bowed down before the Ark, and although priests did minister to it in various ways, this does not constitute either worshiping or serving the object itself. The problem here, of course, is that those whom the Bible considers as "idolaters" can make the same argument. For example, when the Taliban destroyed the huge, supposedly idolatrous statues of Buddhas in Afghanistan, the Washington Post reported that:

Buddhist teachers point out that despite the images' importance, Buddhists do not worship them. "There is a misunderstanding that Buddhists try to worship idols," said Guoyuan Fashi, abbot at the Chan Meditation Center in New York City. "The main thing is that we respect the Buddha because we understand his teachings."

Thus those who are considered idolatrous by Christians, Jews or Muslims, may understand themselves to be acting in a similar way to Joshua in the OP. Outwardly they seem to worship an idol but inwardly they are honoring their religion's teaching and striving to embody its principles.

Conclusion: Joshua and his companions did not worship the Ark, but the outward appearance of their act, in terms of body language, could easily be misunderstood as being little different from what the Bible calls idolatry.

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