The Second Commandment
4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any 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:
4. Non facies tibi sculptlie, neque ullam imaginem eorum quae sunt in coelo sursum, neque eorum qae in terra deorsum, neque eorum quae in aquis sunt subter terram.
5. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
5. Non adorabis ea, neque coles ea, ego enim Jehova Deus tuus, Deus zelotes, visitans iniquitatem patrum super filios, in tertiam et quartam generationem in his qui me oderunt:
6. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
6. Et faciens misericordiam: in mille diligentibus me, et custodientibus praecepta mea.
Since, therefore, men are thus deluded, so as to frame for themselves the materials of error from all things they behold, Moses now elevates them above the whole fabric and elements of the world; for by the things that are "in heaven above," he designates not only the birds, but the sun, and the moon, and all the stars also; as will soon be seen. He declares, then, that a true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence that His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. Now we must remark, that there are two parts in the Commandment -- the first forbids the erection of a graven image, or any likeness; the second prohibits the transferring of the worship which God claims for Himself alone, to any of these phantoms or delusive shows. Therefore, to devise any image of God, is in itself impious; because by this corruption His Majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is. There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue God's glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it. And assuredly it is a most gross indecency to make God like a stock or a stone. Some expound the words, "Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, which thou mayest adore;" 2 as if it were allowable to make a visible image of God, provided it be not adored; but the expositions which will follow will easily refute their error. Meanwhile, I do not deny that these things are to be taken connectedly, since superstitious worship is hardly ever separated from the preceding error; for as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship. And surely whosoever reverently and soberly feels and thinks about God Himself, is far from this absurdity; nor does any desire or presumption to metamorphose God ever creep in, except when coarse and carnal imaginations occupy our minds. Hence it comes to pass, that those, who frame for themselves gods of corruptible materials, superstitiously adore the work of their own hands. I will then readily allow these two things, which are inseparable, to be joined together; only let us recollect that God is insulted, not only when His worship is transferred to idols, but when we try to represent Him by any outward similitude.
THE REPETITION FROM DEUTERONOMY 5
8. Thou shalt not make 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 waters beneath the earth:
8. Non facies tibi sculptile, vel ullam imaginem eorum quae sunt in coelo sursum, nec eorum quae sunt in terra deorsum, nec eorum quae sunt in aquis sub terra.
9. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,
9. Non adorabis ea, neque coles: ego enim Jehova Deus tuus, Deus zelotes, visitans iniquitatem patrum super filios, in tertiam et quartam generationem in his qui me oderunt.
10. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
10. Faciens autem misericordiam in millia diligentibus me, et custodientibus praecepta mea.
Since, then, He here promises that He will shew mercy, it is as much as to say that He will be beneficent, or will deal with clemency. Hence it follows, that the main source of reward is that. gratuitous beneficence wherewith He liberally blesses His people. Now, when it is said, "unto them that love me," 7 the fountain and origin of true righteousness is expressed; for the external observation of the Law would be of no avail unless it flowed from hence. And praise is given to love rather than to fear, because God is delighted with none but voluntary obedience, but He rejects that which is forced and servile, as we shall again see elsewhere. But because hypocrites also boast that they love God, whilst their life corresponds not with the profession of their lips, the two things are here distinctly connected; viz., that the true servants of God love Him, and keep His commandments, i.e., make effectual proof of their piety. But here a difficult question arises, for the history of all ages shews that a great proportion of the progeny of the holy have been rejected and condemned; and that God has inflicted upon them weightier manifestations of His curse and vengeance, than upon strangers. We must, however, observe, that in these words grace is not promised severally to all the posterity of the saints, as if God were bound to each individual who may derive their race and original from them. There were many degenerate children of Abraham, to whom it profited nothing that they were called the offspring of the holy patriarch; nor indeed is the promise restricted to individuals, for many who are children after the flesh, are not counted for the seed -- but God in His free election adopts whom He will, yet so governs His judgments, as that His paternal favor should always abide with the race of believers. Besides, the fruits of this promised grace are manifested in temporal blessings; and thus although God severely avenged the sins of the children of Abraham, and at length when their impiety shewed itself to be desperate, renounced them, yet did He not fail to be kind to them for a thousand generations. For again, God fulfills and performs what He here promised by the outward testimonies of His favor, although they turn to the destruction of the reprobate. Thus He was merciful to the race of Abraham, as long as he saw fit to leave them the Law, the Prophets, the Temple, and other exercises of religion. 8 Now, again, it. will be well for us to consider how far even the holiest fall short of the perfect keeping of the Law, and perfect love of God; and therefore we need not wonder if they experience in many respects the failure of this grace, and only enjoy some slight taste of it. In any case, the goodness of God ever superabounds, so that His grace, if it does not shine with full splendor, still appears in bright sparks unto a thousand generations. As to the opposite clause, wherein God limits His vengeance to the third or fourth generation, we see how He prefers to attract men to duty by gentle invitations, than by terrifying threatenings to extort from them more than they are willing to do; inasmuch as He extends His mercy further than the severity of His judgment. We must also observe that the transgressors of the Law are called the enemies and haters of God. It is surely horrible, and almost monstrous impiety to hate God; and scarcely would any one be found so wicked as openly to declare Him to be his enemy; yet it is not without a cause that God pronounces thus harshly respecting their impiety; for since He cannot be separated from His justice, a contempt of the Law convicts men of this hatred; for it is impossible that they should not wish to deprive Him of His dominion, who endure Him not as a Lawgiver and a Judge.
"The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; but the soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20.)
The difficulty, which arises from the words of the Prophet, is easily solved, for God therein refutes the wicked expostulation of the people, that their children, who were not in fault, were unjustly and cruelly exposed to punishment. The proverb was generally rife, that "the fathers had eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth were set on edge;" but God replies, that not one of those with whom He was angry and severe was free from crime; and, therefore, that their complaint was false, since each of them received the recompense of his own iniquity. And this is most true, that God's severity never assails the innocent; and however the world may murmur against His judgments, that He will always be clear in condemning this person or that9
But when God declares that He will cast back the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of the children, He does not mean that He will take vengeance on poor wretches who have never deserved anything of the sort; but that He is at liberty to punish the crimes of the fathers upon their children and descendants, with the proviso that they too may be justly punished, as being the imitators of their fathers. If any should object, that this is nothing more than to repay every one according to his works, we must remember that, -- whenever God blinds the children of the ungodly, casts them into a state of reprobation, (conjicit in sesum reprobum), and smites them with a spirit of madness or folly, so that they give themselves up to foul desires, and hasten to their final destruction, -- in this way the iniquity of the fathers is visited on their children. But suppose other punishments are added, all are under condemnation (convicti, so that they have no ground for murmuring against God; and even then also God still proceeds to execute the vengeance which He here denounces; for, when He would direct one work to various objects, He uses wonderful and secret expedients. When He commanded the people of Canaan to be destroyed, it is certain that those, who then were living, were worthy of this punishment; yet, inasmuch as God foretold 10 that their iniquities were not yet full, we infer that He then inflicted the punishment upon them which He had deferred for 400 years. On this ground, Christ declares that the Jews of His time were guilty of all the blood that had been shed from that of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachias, (Matthew 23:35.) But if it be not agreeable to our judgment that God should repay every one according to his deserts, and yet that He at the same time requires the sins of their fathers of the children, we should remember that His judgments are a great depth; and, therefore, if anything in His dealings is incomprehensible to us, we must bow to it with sobriety and reverence. But since this doctrine will recur elsewhere, I have thought fit only to touch upon it lightly here. One question remains, how we can reconcile the statement of Paul, that the fifth commandment is the first with promise, (Ephesians 6:2,) whereas a promise is annexed to this second. The solution of this is easy; for if you duly consider, this promise, which we have now explained, is not peculiarly annexed to any single commandment, but is common to the whole first Table of the Law, and these refer to the whole service of God; but when it is said, "honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long," the keeping of that commandment is particularly and specially sanctioned.
1 "C'est une folie et perversite." -- Fr.
2 "All such images, or likenesses, are forbidden by this commandment, as are made to be adored and served; according to that which immediately follows, thou shalt not adore them nor serve them. That is, all such as are designed for idols or image-gods, or are worshipped with divine honor. But otherwise, images, pictures or representations, even in the house of God, and in the very sanctuary, so far from being forbidden, are expressly authorized by the Word of God. See Exodus 25:15, etc.; 38:7; Numbers 21:8-9; 1 Chronicles 28:18-19; 2 Chronicles 3:10." -- Note to Douay Version. Dublin, 1825; by authority.
3 The Fr. will sufficiently explain this distinction in: "Que l'honneur est bien defendu, mais non pas le service." See C.'s Institutes, book i. chap. xii. sec. 2 and 3; and C. on the Psalms: -- (Calvin Society's Translation) Vol. 2. pp. 272-273.
4 i.e., as the Fr. explains it, "De le prendre pour un nomme propre;" to take it as a proper name.
6 Obtrectatio autem est ea, quam intelligi zelotypiam volo, aegritudo ex eo, quod alter quoque potiatur eo, quod ipse concupiverit."-- Tusc. Quaest. iv.
7 La source de toute vertu, et de toutes bonnes oeuvres. -- Fr.
8 Addition in Fr., "Combien qu'ils n'en fissent point leur profit;" although they did not profit by them.
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