28. As the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness round about. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
28. Tanquam similitudo atcus,1 tanquam aspectas arcus, qui est in nube in die phvia2 sic fuit aspectus splendoris in circuitu. Haec visio similitudinis gloriae Iehovm, et aspexi, et cecidi super faciem meam, et audivi vocem loquentis.3
The Prophet now adds, that the likeness of a celestial bow was presented to him, which profane men call his, and imagine that she performs the commands of the gods, and especially of Juno. But Scripture calls it the bow of God, not because it was created after the Deluge, as many falsely suppose, but because God wished to stir up our hope with that symbol, as often as thick vapors cloud the heavens. For we seem as if drowned under those waters of the heavens. God therefore wished to meet our distrust, when he wished the bow in the heavens to be a testimony and pledge of his favor, because it is said by Moses, I will put my bow in the heavens. (Genesis 9:13.):Now some distort this as if the bow was not in existence before: but there is no doubt that God wished to inscribe a testimony of his favor on a thing by no means in accordance with it, as he freely uses all creatures according to his will. The bow in the heavens is often a sign of continued rain, and seems as if it attracted the shower. Since then its very aspect may cause terror, God says in opposition to this feeling, as often as the bow appears, it is clearly determined that. the earth is now safe from a deluge. But the opinion of those who consider it in this place a testimony of favor does not seem to me proved, for the whole vision is opposed to it. This is indeed plausible that a bow appeared because God now wished to show himself propitious to his servant, just as they interpret that verse in the fourth chapter of Revelations, (Revelation 4:3,) when John saw the throne of God surrounded by a bow, because God was reconciled to the world by Christ. As far as this passage is concerned, I do not dispute it, but to interpret it so here would be altogether out of place, because the whole of this vision was formidable, as I said at the beginning. Thus to mingle contrary things would pervert the whole order of the vision.
What, then, is the object of this bow in the heavens? We have said that heaven appeared to the Prophet as he ascended by degrees to comprehend the glory of God, because the marks of deity are more conspicuous in heaven than on earth. For if we look back upon what we have formerly explained, God is never without witness, as Paul says, (Acts 14:17,) but yet his majesty shines clearer in the heavens. But when the bow appears, a new reason occurs for magnifying the glory of God. For in the bow we have the image of deity more clearly expressed, whilst we reflect on the magnificent workmanship of heaven, and whilst we turn our eyes round to all the stars and planets. In this way, I allow, God compels us to admire his glory, but the bow presents an addition not to be despised, as if God would add something to the; bare aspect of heaven. Now therefore we see why the Prophet saw a celestial bow, -- that he might be more and more affected when God presented such signal appearances to his view, and that he might be more induced to contemplate his glory. Hence what interpreters bring forward about a symbol of reconciliation is altogether out of place.
I saw, says he, the form of a bow which is placed, or which is in the cloud on a rainy day. If any one should ask if those colors are without substance, it is certain that colors arise from the rays of the sun on a hollow cloud, as philosophers teach. Therefore when the Prophet says, a bow appears on a rainy day, he simply means, exists or appears in the midst; not that the colors have any substance, as I have just said, but the rays of the sun, whilst they are mutually reflected on the hollow cloud, occasion the manifold variety. Afterwards he adds again, like the appearance of brightness round about. Again the Prophet confesses that his eyes were blinded, because he could not bear such great splendor. And God manifests himself familiarly to all his servants, yet so as not to foster our curiosity, to which mankind are 'far too inclined. God then wished to manifest himself as far as it was useful, but not so far as the desire of mankind -- which is always immoderate -- would carry them. Since mankind so eagerly strain themselves that they easily become weakened, we must remark what the Prophet inculcates a second time, namely, that the appearance of brightness was seen round about. Of what sort, then, was that brightness? Why, such as to blind the Prophet's eyes, and to render him conscious of his weakness, so that he should not desire to know more than was lawful, but submit himself humbly to God.
At length he says, this was a vision of the likeness of the glory of Jehovah, and by these words confirms what I have said before, that the glory, of God was so beheld by the Prophet, that God did not appear as he really is, but as far as he can be beheld by mortal man. For if the angels tremble at God's glory, if they vail themselves with their wings, what should we do who creep upon this earth? We must hold, then, that as often as the Prophets and holy fathers saw God, they saw as it were the likeness or aspect of the glory of God, but not the glory itself, for they were not fit for it; for this would be to measure with the palm of our hands a hundred thousand heavens, and earths, and worlds. For God is infinite; and when the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, how can our minds comprehend him? But although God has never appeared in his immeasurable glory, and has never manifested himself as he really exists, yet we must nevertheless hold that he has so appeared as to leave no doubt in the minds of his servants as to their knowing that they have seen God. And this is the purport of those phrases which sometimes appear difficult. I have seen God face to face, says Jacob. (Genesis 32:30.) But was he so foolish as to think that he saw God like a mortal? by no means; but that appearance convinced him of its certainty, as if he had said that no specter by which he could be deceived was presented to his view; for the devil deludes us unless we are attentive and cautious. Therefore Jacob here distinguishes the vision which he enjoyed from all prodigies in which profane nations delighted. Familiar knowledge, then, is the meaning of seeing face to face. At the same time, as I have said, God never gave the Fathers a sight of himself except according to their capacity. He always had respect to their faculties, and this is the meaning of the phrase, this was a vision of the splendor of Jehovah's glory. Since, then, it is certain that Christ was beheld by him, he is Jehovah, that is, Eternal God; and although he is distinct from the person of the Father, yet he is entirely God, for the Father is in him: for the essence cannot be divided without impiety, although the persons must be distinguished. The rest I shall put off till tomorrow.
Grant, O Almighty God, since of thine unbounded goodness, thou hast counted us worthy of such honor as to descend to earth in the person of thine only-begotten Son, and to appear familiarly to us daily in thy gospel, in which we contemplate thy living image: -- grant, I pray thee, that we may not abuse so great a benefit to vain curiosity, but may be truly transformed into thy glory, and so proceed more and more in the renewal of our mind and conduct, that we may at length be gathered to that eternal glory which has been obtained for us by thine only-begotten Son our Lord. Amen.
After the Prophet has recited the Vision, the object of which was to confirm his mission, he now adds, I fell upon my face, by which words he expresses his persuasion that God's glory was manifested to him. For the knowledge of God does truly humble us, while the Prophet also teaches that men cannot be brought to order unless they are laid prostrate: for he does not say that he was only prepared to receive the commands of God, nor does he commend his own teachableness, but rather signifies that he was violently thrown down. For he had not all at once put off the affections of the flesh; but we know that confidence is born with us. Therefore, because the Prophet was not naturally disposed to obey God, he ought to be cast down with fear, that at length he might be really humbled. Now he adds:
1 We must repeat the words "I saw" from the former verse. -- Calvin.
2 That is, when it rains. -- Calvin.
3 Others translate, a speaking voice. -- Calvin.
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