You shall not make to you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath…
Look carefully at a very important feature of the appeal which is not brought out clearly in our English translation. He visits iniquity "unto the third and fourth," and shows mercy "unto the thousandth," the commandment reads. Our translators have supplied the word "generation" in italics to the first numeral, and evidently they were right in doing so, but they should have supplied for the same reasons the same word to the second numeral: "He visits iniquity unto the third and fourth generation," "He shows mercy unto the thousandth generation. The third and fourth show an indefinite number, the thousandth is also an indefinite number, but it is a much larger number. The principle of the Divine government has a very decided leaning to the side of mercy. Now, perhaps you will say: I see that this feature of the Divine government works with absolute impartiality, with strict justice, but I can see no indication of its leaning to the side of mercy." Then look again, and more closely, at the race and the individual.
1. Look at the individual first. A child inherits an impaired constitution. Two features of the Divine government respond at once. First, the restorative forces within the child, the recuperative powers of man's nature; and second, the restorative forces without, the whole realm of remedies and skill awakened in others in their application. The child of ignorant parents is ignorant. Two features here also are on the side of mercy. The innate thirst of the mind for knowledge, present though weak in the child; and the intelligence of the community in which the child lives, the atmosphere of enlightenment which he must breathe while he lives. The child of irreligious parents is irreligious. Here, too, there are two principles on the side of mercy. However corrupt he may be, there is something in the soul of the child at unrest for God which may be touched into power; and the surrounding Christianity — the Christ who has loved and died to save — lives in many believing hearts through whom He seeks to save the child.
2. Now, concerning the race, it may be said that the limit of degradation seems to be fixed, but the limit of progress cannot be even imagined. How far man will advance in the control and use of the powers of nature, we who witness to-day the stupendous achievements of Christian civilization will not even dare to conjecture. And how far man will be lifted up, in the knowledge and fellowship of God, the Bible tells us that we cannot even imagine. In the whole race, also, the two principles we have seen working in individuals on the side of mercy exist. However corrupted in idolatry men may become, however great the ascendancy of the flesh over the spirit in man, the spirit still exists, and in its very nature cannot be satisfied until it finds and lays hold upon the living God. There is something within men that cannot be satisfied with idolatry, or with sensual corruption, something that may be touched into strong and glorious life. And there is something to touch it. God makes the appeal of His infinite love in Jesus Christ, who has at infinite cost taken away sin and brought in new life to all who receive Him. And we who receive Him, as He lives in us, will touch all the dark souls we can reach with His light and life. We have received from our fathers the elevation and happiness of our Christian land. Let us cherish and transmit to our children the glorious inheritance, and let us send the light into the whole earth. Let us, receiving forgiveness and new life in our Saviour, bring our whole being into a shape worthy of God in moral likeness.
(F. S. Schenck.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not make unto 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 water under the earth: