2. And now they sin more and more, and have made them molten images of their silver, and idols according to their own understanding, all of it the work of the craftsmen: they say of them, Let the men that sacrifice kiss the calves.
2. Et nunc addunt ad peccandum (hoc est, pergunt peccare,) et fecerunt sibi conflatile ex argento suo, secundum intelligentiam suam, idola opus artificum omnis (vel, omne:) ipsis ipsi dicunt sacrificantes hominem, vitulos osculentur.
In this verse the Prophet amplifies the wickedness of the people, and says, that they had not only in one day cast aside the pure worship of God, and entangled themselves in superstitions; but that they had been obstinate in their own depravity. They have added, he says, to their sin, and have made a molten thing of their silver. When Israel, as we have said, departed from the worship of God, they made calves, and made them under a specious appearance; but when many superstitions were added, one after another, there was, as it were, an accumulation of madness, as if the Israelites designedly wished to subvert the law of God, and to show that they cared nothing for the only true God, by whom they had been redeemed. This is the reason why the Prophet says that they made progress in wickedness, and observed no moderation in sinning, and this is what usually happens, unless God draws men back. As soon as they fall away, they rush headlong into evil; for they take a greater liberty in sinning, after they have turned their back on God.
Hence this reproof of the Prophet ought to be noticed, for he inveighs against the obstinate wickedness of Israel; and says, that they made for themselves of their silver a molten thing. As we have seen above, they abused the gifts of God by devoting to superstition what the Lord had destined for their use. The end for which God has bestowed silver, we know, is, that men may carry on commerce with one another, and apply it also to other useful purposes. But when they make to themselves gods of silver, there is an astonishing stupidity in their ingratitude, for they pervert the order of nature, and forget that silver is given for another end, and that is as we have said for their use. The Prophet at the same time intimates, that the Israelites were less excusable, inasmuch as when they were enriched, they became proud of their wealth. Satiety, we know, is the cause of wantonness, as, it will be shortly stated again.
But what the Prophet adds ought to be especially observed, According to their own understanding. Here he severely reproves the Israelites, because they had not subordinated all their thoughts to God, but, on the contrary, followed what pleased themselves. It was then according to their own invention. The word which the Prophet uses is not unsuitable, though "understanding," the word which the Prophet adopts, is among the Hebrews taken in a good sense. But what is treated of here is the worship of God, with respect to which all the prudence, all the reason, all the wisdom of men, and, in short, all their senses, ought to be suspended: for if, in this case, they of themselves adopt any thing, be it ever so little, they inevitably vitiate the worship of God. How so? Because obedience, we know, is better than all sacrifices. This then is the rule, as to the right worship of God, -- that men must become foolish, that they must not allow themselves to be wise, but that they are only to give ear to God, and to follow what he commands. But when men's presumption intrudes, so that they devise a new mode of worship, they then depart from the true God, and worship mere idols. The Prophet then by the word, understanding, condemns here whatever pleases the judgement and reason of men; as though he said, "The true rule of religion, as to the worship of God, is, that nothing human is to be mingled, that no one is to bring forward what is his own, or what seems good to himself." In short, the understanding of men is here opposed to the command of God; as though the Prophet said, "One great difference between the true worship of God and all fictitious and degenerated modes of worship, is obedience to the word of God; if we be wise according to our own judgement, all we do is corrupt." How so? Because whatever men devise of themselves is a pollution of divine worship. Hence Paul, in Colossians 2, refutes all the fancies of men by this one argument, "They are," he says, "the traditions of men, though they may have the show of wisdom."
We now apprehend what the Prophet meant, and why he added the word "understanding;" it was, that the Israelites might learn, that all the worship which was in use among them, was perverted and vicious; for it was not founded on the command of God, but flowed from a different source, even the understanding of men. It then follows, as we have said before, that in religion nothing is to be attempted by us, but we are to follow this one law in worshipping God -- simply to obey his word.
He afterwards adds, Idols, the work of artificers altogether. The Prophet, in the second place, derides the grossness which had fascinated the minds of the people, as they worshipped in the place of God the works of men. For it is usual with all the Prophets, in order to render the stupidity of men as it were palpable, to show that it is wholly unreasonable to worship idols; for a material cannot with any propriety be worshipped. When there is before us a great mass or a great heap of gold or silver, no one imagines that there is in it any divinity: when one passes through a wood, he transfers not to trees the glory due to God; and the same may be said of stones. But when the hand of the artificer is applied, the plate of gold begins to be a god; so also the trunk of a tree seems to put on the glory of God, when it receives a certain form from the workman; and the same is the case with other things. Now it is extremely absurd to suppose that an artificer, as soon as he has hewn some wood, or as soon as he has melted gold or silver, can make a god, and convey divinity to a dead thing; and yet it is well known that this is thought everywhere to be the case. Superstitious men allege in excuse, that this does not proceed from the hand of the artificer, but that as they wish for some sign of God's presence, and as they cannot otherwise set forth what God is, God is in that form. But this still remains true, that workmen by their skill make gods of lifeless things, to which no honour can belong. Since it is so, the Prophet now justly says, that what the people of Israel worshipped was the work of artifices; and he said this, that they might know that they became shamefully foolish, when they left the true God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and prostrated themselves before idols made by hands.
But he adds, that they say to one another while they sacrifice men, Let them kiss the calves 1. Though this place is in various ways explained, I am yet content with the obvious meaning of the Prophet. He again derides them for exhorting one another to worship the calf: For by kissing he means by a figure a profession of worship or adoration, as it is evident from other parts of Scripture. It is said in 1 Kings 19, I have preserved for myself seven thousand men, who have not bent the knee before Baal, nor kissed him. To kiss Baal then was a sign of reverence. And this practice, we see, has been retained by the superstitious, as the case is at this day with the Papists, who observe this special custom of kissing their idols. But what does the Prophet now say? They encourage one another, he says, in the worship of the calves, and in the meantime "they sacrifice men". The Prophet doubtless condemns here that abominable and savage custom of parents sacrificing their children to Moloch. It was utterly repugnant to the feeling of nature for parents to immolate their own children. For though this was once commanded to Abraham, we yet know that the design was, that God intended by this proof to try the obedience of his servant: but Abraham was not at last suffered to do what he purposed.
They then immolated men. If it was right to sacrifice men, surely such a service ought to have been rendered at least to the only true God. If it was lawful to sacrifice man for the sake of man, it was certainly ridiculous to do so to conciliate the calf; and it was especially strange, when parents hesitated not to appease dead statues by the blood of their children. This absurdity then the Prophet now points out as with the finger, that he might try to make the Israelites ashamed of their base conduct. "See," he says, "how brutish ye are; for ye immolate to the calves and kiss them, and more still, ye sacrifice men. Is there so much worthiness in the calf, that man, who far excels it, must be killed before it? Is not this wholly inconsistent with every thing like reason?" We now understand what the Prophet meant. They say then one to another, while they immolate men, Let them kiss the calves.
But we learn from this and similar places, that we ought to notice those absurdities in which wretched men involve themselves, when they are lost in their own devices, after having left the word of God: for this word is to be to us as a bridle to keep us from going astray with them in their monstrous devices; for when we observe these delirious things which even nature itself abhors, it is evident that God thereby restrains and preserves us as it were by his outstretched hand. With this design the Prophet now shows how stupid the Israelites were, and how prodigious was their frenzy when they kissed the calves with great reverence, and also sacrificed men. So at this day with respect to those under the Papacy, we ought not only to adopt this argument, that they departed from the true God when they sought for themselves new and strange modes of worship, without the warrant of his word, but we ought also to bear in mind that their puerilities are to be ascribed to the same cause. And we see how God has given them up to a reprobate mind, so that they throw aside no kinds of absurdities. And this consideration, as I have said, will serve to awaken those who are as yet healable, when they understand that they have been infatuated; having been in this manner admonished, they may return to the right way. And that we ourselves may give thanks to God, and detest more and more that filth in which we were for a time involved, and remember that there is nothing more to be dreaded than that the Lord should allow us loose reins, the very example of his vengeance as to all idolaters is made known to us; for as soon as they departed from the pure worship of God, they gave themselves up, as we have stated, to the most shameful stupidity. Let us proceed --