You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on their children, to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me,
I. A FACT AMPLY ATTESTED. Borne out -
2. By observation and experience. The case of children suffering in mind, body, character, and fortune, as the result of the sins of parents, is one of the commonest and saddest things in life.
3. Science. The law of heredity. (For illustrations, see Rev. Joseph Cook's 'Lectures.')
4. Literature. Especially do the Greek tragedies give expression to, and strikingly work out, this thought.
II. A FACT MYSTERIOUS, YET TO BE VIEWED IN THE LIGHT OF VARIOUS RELIEVING CONSIDERATIONS. The difficulty is one of natural, quite as much as of revealed, religion. The following considerations relieve it only in part:
1. Every original disadvantage will be taken into account by the Searcher of hearts in estimating personal responsibility (Luke 13:48).
2. The final judgment on a man's character will turn, not on inherited tendencies, but on what he has made himself by his own moral determinations (Ezekiel 18.).
3. The less favorable conditions in which the sins of parents have placed the individual cannot turn to his ultimate disadvantage if he struggle well and persevere to the end (see 'Speaker's Commentary' on Exodus 20:5).
4. It is open to the evil-doer to cut off the entail of punishment by choosing for himself the way of righteousness (Ezekiel 18:15-18). God is reluctant to contemplate the heritage of evil descending further than the third or fourth generation, while thousands of generations are spoken of in connection with the blessing.
5. Experience of the effects of a parent's evil-doing is designed to act as a deterrent from like sins. The child is less likely to imitate the parents' vices, suffering these results, than if entirely exempt.
6. The Law is the consequence of a constitution of society originally intended for the conveyance, not of evils, but of blessings. This is a consideration of importance as throwing light on the equity, as well as on the goodness, of Divine providence. The design of the organic constitution of society is obviously to hand down to succeeding generations the moral gains of those which precede. It is sin which has wrought the mischief, reversing the operation of a constitution in itself beneficent, and making that which is good work death to so many.
Lesson - The tremendous responsibility of parents, and of all who have it in their power to influence the destinies of posterity. - J.O.
I. WHAT IS STRICTLY AND PROPERLY PROHIBITED IN THIS COMMANDMENT? It is quite manifest that the prohibitory statute relates exclusively to religion — to such images as were made to be "worshipped and bowed down to" - nothing else and nothing more. They were not only to have no other gods besides Jehovah, but were not to worship Jehovah Himself under any similitudes.
Exodus 20:4-6). The first word on Sinai declares that there is but one God; the second word teaches us that God is not to be worshipped under any visible representation or form. Isaiah asks, "To whom, then, will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto Him?" In the early ages of history there were no images of the Deity known. Herodotus, when writing of the manners and customs of the Persians, says, "They have among them neither statues, temples, nor altars; the use of which they censure as impious, and a gross violation of reason, probably because, in opposition to the Greeks, they do not believe that the gods partake of our human nature. Their custom is to offer from the summits of the highest mountains sacrifices to Jove, distinguishing by that appellation all the expanse of the firmament." The worship of the heavenly bodies was the earliest form of idolatry, and Moses warns against it: "Take good heed lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them." The origin of idolatry may be traced to this fact, that men looked about for some visible representations of the invisible Deity, and that in course of time the image or the symbol became a substitute for the Deity Himself. Men looked for God everywhere, and they could not see Him; they could see the stars crowning the night with glory, they could see the sunlight flooding the universe, and they said, "The sun and the stars shall be to us an image of the all-glorious Deity, a symbol of His greatness, and power, and goodness." But, as time advanced, the symbols themselves were deified, and the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, were worshipped and served. The Israelites, then, were forbidden to set up an image of the true God; not only forbidden to worship false gods, but also forbidden to make any image of the true God. When Aaron made the golden calf, and Jeroboam the son of Nebat made similar images, in both instances it was the worship of Jehovah as represented by the image that was intended; and in both instances a connecting link with Egypt is afforded us in the sacred narrative. In the case of Aaron we have the fact of Egypt having been the birthland of the sinning people; while in the case of Jeroboam we have the fact that it was after a long residence in Egypt, in the court of Shishak, that he devised this worship. The prophets of Jehovah denounced it; and in the Second Book of Kings the fall of the kingdom is expressly attributed to the gods of Jeroboam. Animal worship was common among the Egyptians; a multitude of beasts, birds, and fishes were regarded and served as representatives of their deities; the hawk, and the crocodile, and the serpent, and the lion, and the wolf, and other creatures, were the forms under which the gods were worshipped. We believe that the masterpieces of art, whether in painting or sculpture, have a refining and elevating influence on those who admire and study them. But art is not necessarily religious, and some of the ages in which art has flourished were not remarkable for their purity or refinement. Painting and sculpture were not forbidden by this second word of the law — and we read of the forms of the cherubim in the temple — but no image was to be set up as an object of worship; and the influence of this prohibition upon the history of the Jews is perceived in the fact that no painters or sculptors have ever risen among them. They have had poets and musicians, but no painters; and while among the Greeks Phidias and Praxiteles were carving the statues that became the wonders of the world, on the roll of Hebrew worthies we find the name of no painter or sculptor. It is remarkable that in the four Gospels we have no description of the person of our Lord, no hint as to His stature, or His face. Art has embodied its loftiest conceptions of that Divine face on the canvas, but, Raphael's "Transfiguration," Holman Hunts "Light of the World," Dore's "Christ leaving the Praetorium," Munkacsy's "Christ before Pilate," marvellous as they all are as works of genius, do not satisfy the soul that has entered into fellowship with the Perfect life, and who feels that there is an unspeakable, infinite beauty in Him. It is one of the strangest things in the history of the world that a rational, intelligent being should take a piece of metal, or of wood, and mould it into a certain shape, and then, investing it with the attributes of divinity, fall down before it, and pray to it, and worship it. Well might the inspired prophet wield the lash of satire when speaking of it. He says, "The carpenter stretcheth out his rule (Isaiah 44:13), falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, deliver me, for thou art my god." This is done, not by a little child who nurses and talks to the doll as if it were a living creature; but by an intelligent man, who can conduct business, frame wise laws for a nation, discuss great moral problems, or speak eloquently in the forum or the school; this man falls down before the idol, the toy, the nonentity, and saith, "Deliver me, for thou art my god." Idolatry robs Jehovah of His honour, and it is therefore denounced as a crime, an injustice, an offence against the Majesty on high. "Ye shall bear the sins of your idols, and ye shall know that I am the Lord God." Would not a true patriot look with indignation upon a foeman's flag planted On England's shore? Would not his desire be to trample that flag in the mire, or tear it to ribbons, and unfurl the old English standard that "has braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze"? And the apostle looked upon idol worship in Athens as the flag of an enemy on the territory of God, as the occupation by an enemy of the palace that belonged to God. Idolatry was the sin to which the Jews were most prone. Surrounded by heathen nations, and forgetful of the mercies they had received from Jehovah, they were often contaminated with idol worship; and even Solomon forsook the temple of Jehovah for an idol grove. This image worship is prohibited by this second word of the law; how, then, did Rome deal with this prohibition? With the cunning craftiness of men who lie in wait to deceive, it omitted this word from the Decalogue, and divided the last commandment into two, in order to make up the number ten. The idolatry practised in the Romish Church is one of the signs of its apostasy, and of the certainty of its doom; for, as Max Muller says, "One of the lessons which the history of religions certainly teaches is this, that the curse pronounced against those who would change the invisible into the visible, the spiritual into the material, the Divine into the human, the infinite into the finite, has come true in every nation on earth." Consider, then, the reasons by which this prohibition is enforced.
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image.Eusebius, the most learned prelate of his day, to send her as a present a likeness of Christ, he replied, with hardly suppressed indignation, "What do you mean, Empress, by a likeness of Christ? Not, of course, an image of Him as unchangeable, not of His human nature glorified. Such images," he said, "are forbidden by the Mosaic law, that we may not seem like idolaters to carry about our God in an image. Since we confess that the Saviour is God and Lord, we prefer to see Him as God, and if you set a value on images of the Saviour, what better artist can there be than the God-Word Himself?" Thus he referred the Empress to the Gospels to learn what Christ really was. If you will search and read those Gospels diligently for yourselves, with minds washed clean of prejudices, private interests, and partial affections; if you will read them with open eyes and souls cleansed from idols, you will then see what Christ was, and will need no image or false human conception of Him; you will see Him, stern, indeed, to the Pharisee and to the hypocrite, yet large-hearted, human, loving, tender to sorrow with an infinite tenderness, merciful and compassionate even to the guiltiest of the children who would come with tears to Him.
1. He is a jealous God. Our character will receive its form and impress very much from the notions we entertain of God. If we regard Him as an impassive, emotionless, heartless Being, who is too high to take any interest in this world, who is not affected by our sorrows, by our circumstances, by our entreaties who requires, not our worship, then the effect will be that we shall meet indifference with indifference, we shall lead careless lives, we shall not be watchful in the formation of a character that will never be inspected by the eyes of Divinity. "How doth God know? Can He judge through the dark cloud?" But if we regard Him as the righteous and merciful Father, who is looking with pity on His rebellious children, the effect will be seen in our penitential return to Him, and in our desire to please Him and serve Him. Now, this verse reveals to us something of the nature and character of God. He is a personal Being, not an abstraction, not a mere force; not a tendency or (as Matthew Arnold puts it) "a power not ourselves that works for righteousness," whatever such a phrase may mean. To worship a God who is nothing more than that would be like paying homage to a sum in algebra, or praying to a theorem in Euclid, or worshipping the Gulf Stream. He is a personal Being, who loves, who may be offended, who is jealous; not jealous lest He should suffer any diminution of His glory and blessedness through man's sin, but jealous lest sin should deface and destroy the nature He accounts so precious. His jealousy is His love on fire, love wounded, love insulted, love incensed. If your son were led astray by evil companions, if your daughter became the prey of the tempter, and fell from the fair Eden of purity to the hell of an abandoned life, would you not be jealous and angry? Man is God's child; and when the child is led astray, and becomes an Absalom, with the fire of defiance in his eye and the weapon of hostility in his hand, it is no wonder that God is jealous.
2. He punishes His enemies. "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation," etc. Right across the brightness of the world lies the dark shadow of suffering. It is there, whether you believe the Bible or not. We see everywhere that moral characteristics and physical infirmities and sufferings are transmitted from one generation to another. And this principle of hereditary transmission is recognised in the Bible. The Jews said, "Our fathers have sinned, and are not, and we have borne their iniquities." And these words of doom were pronounced by Christ, "That the blood of all the prophets which was shed from the foundation of the world may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zecharias, who perished between the altar and the temple; verily I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation." Do you not see this principle illustrated in daily life? Children inherit the physical constitution, the propensities, the diseases, the wealth or penury, the glory or disgrace of their parents. Sometimes men are proud of their ancestors, and they "borrow merit from the dead," and if a baronet or lord has ever appeared in their family, they forget not to proclaim the fact. Good and evil are transmitted from one generation to another. But though a man may suffer on account of the sins of his ancestors, yet the suffering is never in the nature of retribution, unless the man's own guilt has called for it. If the penalty goes down to the third and fourth generation, then they are, God says, "the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me." And although innocent children may suffer the consequences of the sins of their parents, yet those consequences are temporal; in another world, and in the coming day of account, everyone will be judged personally and separately; the son will not be punished for the sins of his parents, nor will he be excused on the ground of the righteousness of his parents. A man feels, and rightly, that he is not responsible for his grandfather's sins; but he may be in some measure responsible for the conduct of his children, and even grandchildren. And men are entreated to act wisely for the sake of their descendants — to be good and to do good for the sake of others. The Israelites gathered round the base of Sinai were the founders of a new nation, a nation that was to play an important part, that would have a name in history to the end of time, and if the fountainhead were defiled, the streams would be muddy also.
3. And He blesses His friends. "And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love Me and keep My commandments" — unto thousands of generations. "Where sin hath abounded, grace hath much more abounded." "Mercy rejoiceth against judgment." There is mercy shining even in the law. In the midst of the storms of Sinai mercy is appearing like a quenchless star. I have said that moral qualities are transmitted, as well as physical features. Lying had become so characteristic of the inhabitants of Crete that the apostle quoted the proverb, "The Cretans are always liars." And habits of industry and temperance and truthfulness may go down like healthy blood from one generation to another, even to thousands of generations. But do not think that the renewing grace of God in the heart may be transmitted from sire to son, or that the spiritual life will flow down with the natural life from fathers and mothers to their children. Inherited dispositions backed by education, and example may do much to secure this result, but every child must seek for himself "the good part that shall never be taken away from him." It is not the godliness of the parents, but the mercy of God, that goes down unto thousands of generations, and converts them into generations that love Him and keep His commandments.
1. Such representations of the true God as are here interdicted were probably the origin of the whole idolatrous system. The Second Commandment, I apprehend, ought to be regarded both as a prohibition of what in itself was wrong; and, at the same time as a guard to the first, that they might not only be kept from embracing directly the idolatries of the surrounding countries, but also from introducing a practice in the worship of their own Jehovah which tended to lead them ultimately into the same errors.
2. The commandment was evidently designed to cherish just conceptions of the spiritual nature of Jehovah, and of the corresponding spirituality of the worship He required.
3. Spiritual conceptions of God's nature are connected with spiritual conceptions of His worship. The awfulness of felt incomprehensibility is an impression, in regard to the Infinite Spirit — the great object of our worship, incomparably more desirable and beneficial, than one of gross material familiarity. There is sublimity in it. And there is in it the impression of constant nearness. Whereas when the worship is associated with material emblems, the mind, from the force of habit, becomes incapable of realising the presence of the Deity when the emblem with which that presence is associated is absent.
II. THE REASON ANNEXED TO THIS COMMANDMENT.
1. What is meant by Jehovah when He designates Himself "a jealous God"?
2. The manner in which this Divine jealousy operates, or manifests itself. "Visiting the iniquities."(1) The "visiting of the iniquities of the fathers upon the children" formed no part, nor was it at all a principle, of the judicial law in Israel. On the contrary, it was peremptorily interdicted (Deuteronomy 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6). It was Jehovah Himself, in His own judicial and providential administration, that was to exemplify the principle in its actual application.(2) If Jehovah retained the principle and the application of it in His own hands, this shows it to have been a principle that could admit of being entrusted to none but Himself. He alone, the omniscient God, was capable of distinguishing in what cases it would, without a violation of equity, be put in practice.(3) Judgments and corrections of a national description, if they were to be executed at all, could not, in the nature of things, be executed otherwise. They unavoidably involved the children of the present generation; and, if continued for a series of successive years, involved all those of the generations following.(4) There were cases, they were frequent indeed, in which the children themselves persisted in the sins of their fathers.(5) It appears to be on this principle that Jehovah reasons with His ancient people, in the eighteenth chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, and vindicates His procedure from their capricious and sullen objections to it. In the spirit of pride, and dissatisfaction, and self-vindication, they were laying their own sufferings to the door of their fathers' sins. But Jehovah puts it to their consciences whether, on the supposition of the sins of their fathers being put out of the account, and His "judging them after their own sins," their sufferings, as His judicial visitation, would be removed or lightened.(6) There are still cases remaining, and in them lies the principal difficulty, in which the innocent appear to suffer with the guilty; unoffending children with their criminal parents; families with their guilty heads (Joshua 7:24, 25; Numbers 16:27-34, etc.). In regard to these, let the following considerations be attended to: — First, the retribution must be viewed as confined to the present life. Secondly, the number actually involved in the sin and its personal guilt, it is, in such instances as those referred to, difficult for us to ascertain — how far, in each of the two cited, for example, the wives, the sons, and the daughters, and others took part themselves, directly or indirectly, in the crime. We know that Ahab was stirred up by Jezebel; so might Achan by his wife, and so might Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. Thirdly, when little children suffered, who could take no part in the trespass, and contract no personal guilt, it was in their case only temporal death coming upon them in another way and at an earlier time than it might otherwise have come.(7) It may further be observed, that the declaration is in harmony with numberless facts in the ordinary administration of Divine providence. How often do the vices of intemperance, incontinence, and extravagance entail disease and misery on a man's immediate and even more distant offspring!(8) How striking and delightful the contrast between the extent, respectively, of the visitation of iniquity and the showing of mercy. To all without exception — individually, who "love Him and keep His commandments," He "showeth mercy." But the contrast is between the third and fourth generation on the one side, and the thousandth on the other. The contrast is designed to intimate and impress the Divine delight in mercy.
III. THE IDOLATRY, OR RATHER THE IMAGE WORSHIP, OF THE SO-CALLED CHRISTIAN CHURCH. It is very strange, and shows the inconsistency of error, and how "hard bestead" it sometimes is for something to say for itself, that the setting up of the brazen serpent has been cited as an instance of reverence due to images, as if the command to the Israelites to look to it had been a command of worship to the object looked at. The best reply to this is simply to point to what became of the brazen serpent; what was done to it for the very reason of its having become an object of idolatrous reverence and superstitious reliance.
(R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
II. THE REASON FOR THE PROHIBITION. To ascertain this let us inquire why man makes an image or a picture to help him in his worship. The answer may be briefly stated — the spiritual sense in man, that which realises God, is dead. None who know what it is to live and walk with God amid the work of the week would derive help from an image placed in front of them when they worship. By the new birth of the Spirit they have had the spiritual consciousness restored: so that they know God, and are able to commune directly with Him. If a man crave help, it is thereby proven that he lacks spiritual consciousness. This very lack renders him incapable of creating anything which gives a proper representation of God. God knew that if men who had lost their sense of Him and His presence made something to represent Him, it would be a false representation, and men would thereby get false notions of Him, even as they sought to worship. Look at the matter from another point of view. In the instant that man sets up a representation of any description to help him to realise God he denies that which is essential in God. Limitlessness lies at the heart and centre of the thought of God, and the moment a man makes an image he denies the essence of God. The thought of God produced by a false representation of God will produce character that is false. In effect God says to man, "Thou shalt not attempt to liken Me to anything: because every effort of that kind must result in failure, and must re-act upon man to his abiding injury."
III. WAYS IN WHICH THE COMMANDMENT IS BROKEN TODAY. What is the priest? An attempt to reveal God to my heart, in order that I may worship Him. Wherever a man gives his soul away to the priest, because he imagines that he is getting to know God through the priest, the latter become to the man an image and an idol. In every case where this has been done man's conception of God has suffered, and the result has been the degradation of the worshipper. The same danger is seen with regard to ritual. An ornate service, beautiful and aesthetic surroundings, are supposed to create the conditions of true worship. We ask what is the result of all this upon the spiritual nature of man? Are the men and women who go over to ritualism in any corm becoming more spiritual? When ornate service is put in the place of the rights of individual souls we are as great idolaters as were the men of olden days, who made graven images or painted pictures, and fell down to worship them. Turning from that higher level, we remember how much is said today about worshipping God through nature. I love the flowers, the valleys, the hills, the sunshine, the birds; but I say to you, that no man ever reaches God through nature. Men do get to nature through the God who made it. Let a man be right with God, and he will find the mystic key that unlocks all nature for him; but the men who try to climb to God through nature never succeed. The new cult of humanitarianism is really an attempt to worship God through human nature; but it is a sorry business. If this new idea of God is expressed in the individual or in the sum total of the race, let it be remembered that God Himself becomes guilty of all the awful things which have blotted the page of human history — a terrible thought!
IV. THE SOLEMN WARNING AND THE GRACIOUS PROMISE LINKED TO THE COMMANDMENT. If in your worship you put something in the place of God, if you come under the influence of worship which is an attempt to put something between God and man then you are not only harming yourself but your child. The probability is that your idea of worship will be transmitted to your child, and your child's idea of worship will be transmitted to his child, so that the wrong that you do yourself when you misrepresent God is a wrong which you are doing to your child likewise. That, I believe, is the first and simple meaning of the words used in connection with this commandment. But we proceed to notice the gracious promise standing side by side with the warning: "Showing mercy unto thousands." That is to say, if a man sweeps the idols away, and gets into living connection with God, worshipping Him without anything between, the result will be that his child will thus worship, and his child's child will most likely so worship.
(G. Campbell Morgan.)
1. For instance, God is all-powerful, almighty, and we worship Him who is the Maker and Ruler of all things. But the world, as we know it and have to do with it, is full of forces and necessities, whose origin and law is lost in darkness, which we cannot trace beyond a little way back, which seem self-originated and self-acting. They are awful, tremendous, irresistible, irreversible. They seem blind and aimless. We are powerless in their grasp if we oppose them; if we can use and direct them, it is still as blind and deaf and unchangeable and senseless forces. They bind us fast in their chain; they cut across the field of human will and feeling and purpose, reckless of the havoc they make, of the hopes they disappoint. In the onward roll and tide of what seems a boundless ocean, comprehending all things, from the hypothetic atom or the microscopic cell and germ to the farthest sun, the moral world, as we know it, seems swamped and lost. They care neither for good nor bad. They bind us with bonds which oppress and crush us. This tremendous side of nature is an idea which enlarging knowledge has brought home to our generation with a sharpness and definiteness never recognised before. It fills and occupies minds, till even the consciousness of will becomes overshadowed and cast into the background, a phenomenon or a doubt. And with this dread linage before men's minds there grows up a terrible religion of despair. Nature, in its garb of fate and necessity, has shut out God.
2. There is a religion of literature. Literature, the record and image of the thoughts, impressions, and feelings of men, in the most diversified conditions and in the most diversified expression, is one of the gifts which have been made to our time: a gift, a real and inestimable gift it is; a strange and new one, distributing without stint to the many what used to be the prerogative and treasure of the few; opening more and more the inexhaustible wonders of the intellect and the character of man; placing within increasing range access to all that is loftiest and wisest, most perfect and noblest in what men now and before us have thought and said; leaving us utterly without excuse if, with the very highest placed within our reach, we choose the refuse and the vile. But it is a dazzling gift, a gift which makes men think that there can he nothing to match it, nothing beyond it. Is not this enough for the heart and soul of man, of man at least, cultivated, civilised, instructed, enlightened! Is it not enough for his meditations, his aspirations, his secret acts of devout homage and devout uplifting of the spirit? Will not the religion of great books and great thinkers, the religion of genius and poetic truth, be a sufficient religion!
3. There is a mysterious power in the world, a mysterious endowment given to man, one of the most wonderful and lofty of all his prerogatives — the sense of beauty. Is it surprising that art should almost become a religion — a worship and an enthusiasm in which the wondrous shadows of God's glory take the place of God Himself, in His holiness, His righteousness, His awful love? It is not surprising; but alas for us, if we yield to the temptation! The love of beauty, in work and speech and person, was the master passion of the reviving intelligence of Italy: it attracted, it dominated all who wrote, all who sang, all who painted and moulded form. Out of it arose, austere and magnificent indeed, yet alive with all instincts of beauty, the Divina Commedia, the mighty thought of Leonardo and Michael Angelo, the pathetic devotion and deep peace of the Lombard, Tuscan, Umbrian schools; but to whole generations of that wonderful people — from the fresh sonnet writers and story tellers of the closing middle-age, Guido Cavalcanti and Boccaccio, to the completed refinement of the days of the great Venetian masters and Ariosto — the worship of the beautiful, as the noblest, worthiest devotion, stood in the place of truth, of morality, of goodness, of Christian life. This idolatry of beauty brought its own punishment, the degeneracy and deep degradation both of art and character.
4. Yes; the world in which we now pass our days is full of great powers. Nature is great in its bounty, in its sternness, in its unbroken uniformity; literature, art, are great in what they have created for us; beauty is great in its infinite expressions: but these are not the powers for man — man, the responsible, man, the sinner and the penitent, who may be the saint — to fall down and worship. They are to pass with the world in which we have known them, the world of which they are part; but man remains, remains what he is in soul and character and affections. They at least feel this who are drawing near to the unseen and unknown beyond; they to whom, it may be, these great gifts of God, the spell and wonder of art and of literature, the glory and sweet tenderness of nature, have been the brightness and joy of days that are now fast ending — they feel that there is yet an utter want of what these things cannot give: that soul and heart want something yet deeper, something more lovely, something more Divine, that which will realise man's ideals, that which will complete and fulfil his incompleteness and his helplessness, — yes; the real likeness in thought and will and character to the goodness of Jesus Christ. "My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever." Man has that within him which tells him in presage and parable of greater and more. awful, things than anything he can admire and delight in yet: he has that without him which certifies him that his hopes and aspirations are justified; that when these precious things of the present must pass with the world to which they belong there is laid up for him what "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, what God hath prepared for them that love Him," — sinlessness, strength, peace, the vision of God.
For I the Lord thy God am a Jealous God
Christian Observer.1. First, He is so in respect of idolatry. "They moved Him to jealousy with images" (Psalm 78:58). "Behold at the gate of the altar this image of jealousy" (Ezekiel 8:5) — a more provoking place than if it had been in a less holy spot. Take Mohammedanism, where the idol of a false prophet stands in the place of the Lord's Anointed; or Socinianism, where the idol of human reason usurps the place of Divine Revelation; and these two are neither better nor worse than the idolatry of the pagan or papal falsehood: they are equally the erection of man against God, and of human reason as opposed to the Word of God.
2. God is a jealous God in respect of all the self-righteousness, worldly-mindedness, creature dependences, pride, formality, or whatever other carnal principle would exclude spiritual humility, and in fact set up idols in the heart, under the Reformed religion we profess, although in itself a purer form of Christianity than any other.
3. God is a jealous God in respect more especially of His honour among His peculiarly professing people. "What do ye more than others?" "Are there not with you, even with you, sins against the Lord your God?" The Lord looks here for proportionate fruit, which yet He finds not. An unsanctified carriage dishonours our heavenly Father, and provokes His jealousy. A barren and unfruitful walk does this also. A discontented and repining spirit has the same effect.
Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children
1. Then it will be of some use to us, in order to free the doctrine of the text from the difficulties that may seem to accompany it, to consider the more than ordinary malignity of those sins which God is provoked to visit upon the offspring of wicked parents. The sin more particularly pointed at in the text is that of idolatry, which is a sin of a heinous nature.
2. Again, whereas it is said in the text that God will visit the sins of the fathers upon the children, this visitation must be understood to imply no more than the infliction of temporal evils only. For as the virtues of parents, how eminent soever, will not be imputed for righteousness to a degenerate posterity, so neither will their vices.
3. And to proceed yet further, even the temporal evils denounced by God in the text against the offspring of notoriously wicked parents are there supposed (ordinarily, at least) to extend no further than to the third and fourth generation of them that hate Him; which period of time is therefore conceived to be mentioned to satisfy us that God primarily and more especially designs to punish sin in the immediate authors of it, since it may be presumed and is often true, in fact — that wicked parents may live to see themselves thus punished in those that come out of their loins; whereas, on the contrary, the goodness of Almighty God is such an overbalance to His vindictive justice that He has likewise declared that He will show mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments.
4. Add to this, that the temporal curse pronounced in the text must ordinarily be allowed to be conditional only — that is, to take place no otherwise than as wicked parents shall continue obstinate in the practice or defence of those sins by which they had provoked the Divine vengeance — which condition, it must be confessed, may be superseded by a thorough repentance; and when it is so, it may please God to respite the execution of His sentence, or to mitigate, as there shall be sufficient reason, the severity of it.
5. Lastly, for a more clear and full vindication of the justice of God's proceeding visiting, upon some special occasions, the sins of the fathers upon the children, it will be necessary that we consider further the character and qualifications of those persons upon whom He determines to visit, in the manner above mentioned, the sins of their forefathers. For we must not imagine that He punishes, even with temporal evils (according to the usual methods of His providence), the sins of guilty parents on a guiltless offspring. On the other hand, there are several ways by which the descendants from a wicked stock may make the guilt originally contracted by their fathers in some measure their own, either by treading in the steps of their ancestors — which is not unusual, considering the powerful influence of their bad principles and examples, strongly inclining them to such an imitation, by which and other means family vices, as well as diseases, become hereditary — or by presuming to justify or to palliate the malignity of the transgressions committed by them; or yet further, by not humbling their souls, under a just and lively sense of the heinousness of them; or lastly, by some personal crimes of their own, no less notorious, which may justly provoke God to take occasion from thence to visit both their own and the iniquity Of their parents upon them. In which several cases we have no reason to arraign the justice of God's dealings with mankind. Also those judgments of God, how severe soever, may always be improved to the spiritual and often temporal advantage of those on whom they light, if they are not wanting to themselves in making a proper use of them; which is so evidently true, in fact, that temporal evils are sometimes the only means, under God, of reclaiming societies of men, as well as private persons, from the guilt of the most daring and presumptuous sins.
(John Pelling, D. D.)Study of Words, Dean Trench has given us a chapter on the "mutation of language," showing how a word may change its meaning through the lapse of years. Perhaps no word in our language has been more abused than the word "jealous." In the Scriptures it has a double significance. Primarily it implies, "I am sensitive of My rights and honour." And who is not? He who is indifferent to his rights and honour is unworthy of manhood; for underlying this sensitiveness is the appreciation of highborn character, out of which come those forces that make men good, powerful, and dignified. This is the meaning of Elijah, when he said, "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts" — that is, "I have been very sensitive as to Thine honour; I have proclaimed Thy majesty and declared Thy law on the plains of Esdraelon, on the summit of Gilboa, and on the heights of Mount Carmel; I have risked everything because I knew that Thou hadst Thy rights and honour, and that I was set for their defence." St. Paul uses the term in another signification, implying a solicitude and deep concern for the welfare of others. "I am jealous over you with godly jealousy" — that is, "I am deeply solicitous for your happiness; my concern is profound." It is in this endearing sense, as if the Almighty had said, "I cannot allow My creatures to place themselves in a position wherein I cannot love and bless them." Could we ask more of the Infinite Father than to be solicitous for His children, that they may not place themselves in the position of idolaters and thereby forfeit His gracious blessing? As a patriot, true and ardent, might say, "I cannot allow my country to be placed in a position, by a false administration, by the enactment of unrighteous laws, by the adoption of a foreign policy, whereby it would be excluded from the favour of Jehovah and the prosperity which springs from its principles and history." And so a true husband would say, "I cannot permit my wife to place herself in such a state wherein I cannot love and cherish her." No true man is indifferent to the welfare of the woman he has wedded, nor would he expose her love and person to companionship fraught with temptations and dangers; to do so would prove his unworthiness of husbandry and of honourable manhood. A husband is the eternal guardian of the wife of his bosom. He is to protect her to the last degree; to preserve her honour he is to sacrifice everything, even life itself. In this loftier sense Jehovah says, "I am a jealous God; do not worship idols, and thereby place yourselves beyond the limitations of My love and benediction." There is another declaration in this ancient law capable of an explanation reflective of a better and truer view of our sovereign Creator: "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation." The old interpretation is both false and cruel, that "the Lord of heaven holds the children responsible for the sins of their parents." How monstrous this conception of the Creator! To vindicate Himself against such a degrading charge He has left on record this answer: "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." What, then, is the meaning of this extraordinary expression? The term "iniquity" is not equivalent of punishment. He does not say that He visits the punishments due the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation, but simply declares a great truth, brought out distinctly by the most eminent scientists of our day, that the law of transmission is a fact, that the past is handed down, that virtuous and vicious tendencies are transmitted from generation to generation. The whole history of the world is in proof of this; every man is a living illustration of a fact which cannot be denied. Our physical, intellectual, and moral characteristics are an inheritance. Men are born liars, thieves, murderers, as others are born truth-loving, the soul of honour, and tender of the life of every living thing. Gibbs, the pirate, was a pirate from his mother's womb; the elder Booth, the famous tragedian, who could personate murder on the stage with such apparent actuality that his auditors cried "Murder, murder!" yet, from his birth to his death, was tender of everything that had life. It is one of the proverbs in all literature that men are born poets, orators, warriors. Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, Columbus, Voltaire, and David Hurtle represent this great law of transmission, whose characteristics were inherited, and were as conspicuous in childhood as in their riper years. In these words of His law God only proclaims what He had already written on the whole order and constitution of nature, Herein He applies this law, in its operations, to the transmission of idolatrous tendencies to the third and fourth generation. The "third and fourth" may here be proverbial, as the terms "seventh" and "tenth" are proverbial; and it is a significant and historical fact that, in the history of the Jews, it requires three or four generations for the taint of idolatry to run its course and become extinct. The Hebrew captives, on their return from Babylon, were no longer idolaters. Whatever their offence may have been, charged against them prior to their exile, the generation who came from the banks of the Tigris and of the Euphrates, and who were of the third and fourth generations, were free from the sin which led to the captivity of their ancestors. Here, then, is simply a declaration of the operation of a law which we recognise in the dog that caresses us, in the horse which carries us, in the flowers that cheer us, in almost everything that lives. We have seen the son inherit the evil tendencies of his father, and have witnessed the results of a vicious, prodigal life of a father through succeeding generations. If fault is found with the teachings of the Bible in this regard, fault must be found with the order of nature. And it is as remarkable as true, that what, can be affirmed of individuals may be of nations; for this law of transmission binds national life as it does the life of individuality. What we are today we are under the operation of this fearful law, and what American generations may be, through unnumbered centuries, will be under the operation of this same marvellous law of heritage. It is in this light that when Jehovah speaks of visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations He speaks of the taint of idolatry, and utters a fact for which all history stands in proof. There is a third point in this wonderful picture worthy a moment's consideration — God declares Himself a discriminating judge, "that will by no means clear the guilty." And who would have Him clear the guilty? Out of this question grows the deeper one, Shall we have government or no government? A government without justice is unworthy the name thereof. Law that can be infracted with impunity, where no penalties are executed for the violation thereof, is unworthy the honourable designation of law. If the right to punish inheres in the family and in organised society, why may we not assume that it is in accord with the government of the Infinite Sovereign of the universe? A system of pains and penalties is everywhere prevalent. We may make a distinction between penalties and consequences, yet the issue is the same — pain attends transgression of law. The whole universe moves in orderly procession. The uniformities of nature declare that order is the first law of heaven. Man is no exception to this rule of administration. He is a living, walking code of law, and, whatever his religious faith or his purpose, he suffers if he sins. There is more beneficence in the prohibitions of law than in the permissions and mandates. Doubtless the Almighty had a choice, in the creation of man, whether His noble creature should be a machine, whose every act should be automatic and subject to another's touch, or whether he should be dignified with the sovereignty of liberty, to stand or fall for himself, to obey or disobey, to live in harmony or in dissonance with his Creator. Man's crown of glory is liberty. Liberty means free will, free will means government, government means law, law implies penalty, penalty implies pain. The Almighty could have been simply our Creator, and been indifferent to our acts and the results of our actions; but in the boundlessness of His beneficence He has placed us under the rule of justice, and in keeping thereof there is great reward.
(J. P. Newman, D. D.)
(A. H. Moncur Sime.)
1. Let us not forget that, however we may explain it, the facts remain. If there were no Bible, no revelation of God in Christ, the tragic effects of heredity would remain.
2. And still more let us bear in mind — and this seems to me profoundly important — that the law of heredity is not a law meant to curse, but rather intended to bless man. In other words, the fact that the iniquity of the fathers is visited on the children is only part of a wider law, that moral and physical qualities are transmitted, a law that was meant to secure an entail of blessing on posterity, and not a heritage of woe. A "godly seed," what a wealth of untold blessing there is in these words! If we read the Old Testament, nothing is more significant than to notice how this law of the inheritance of blessing is repeated again and again. (Genesis 18:19.) (Psalm 102:28.) (Proverbs 20:7.) (Psalm 45:16.) May we not see this law in operation before our eyes today? Are there not homes we know which have been blessed for their parents' sake?
3. And thirdly, we may see that even in the solemn sanction to this law there is a larger inheritance of blessing promised than of evil. If we look at the margin of Revised Version we shall find the true rendering, not "thousands," but "unto a thousand generations." (Compare Deuteronomy 7:9.) We stand now in the full sunshine of this beneficent law. One question remains. Why is this sanction to this law introduced here? I think the reply is two-fold. First, there was in the solemn sanction to the law a special warning to the Jews against the peril of image or idol worship. It would descend to their children, and would involve them as well as their forefathers in its punishment. Unhappily, they found this only too true. Generation after generation of Israelites suffered from the idolatry of their parents. It was not until the fierce fires of the dispersion and the exile in Babylon had burned out the last remnants of idolatry from the heart of the nation that they obeyed this law. Then there was another and more general reason for this warning, and one that applies to all nations as well as the Jews. The worship of false gods, and the false worship of the true God are crimes against the holiness and majesty of the Eternal God, and as such are visited therefore with the most tremendous penalties. False religion vitiates the family and the nation as well as the individual. There are nations in Europe, for instance, which are suffering today because this law of God has been wickedly broken.
(G. S. Barrett, D. D.)
I. HOW THIS ZEAL OF HIS WRATH IS MANIFESTED TOWARD THOSE WHO HATE HIM.
1. This is shown in various examples in the New Testament. Punishment follows, like a dark shadow, the footsteps of the criminal. Indeed, one has merely to look around on the world to see how true this is. What is the meaning of the proverb, "As men live so it fares with them"? It means that men had observed and noticed that when a man sinned by excess against a sound body and against reason, it fared ill with him! The body became sickly, the mind weak; that when a man is discontented with an honest calling, or manages carelessly the goods entrusted to him, it fares ill with him. His trade does not support him, his possessions vanish, his end is want, beggary, or crime. To the unfaithful, etc., will come home the proverb, "God punishes one rogue through another," etc.
2. Does this mean that sin is punished naturally? Yes. "Sin is the destruction of a people." God has so formed the world that this is the result.
3. But God's zeal against those who hate Him is manifested in ways which we cannot understand; e.g., how often examples proving the proverbs, "Ill-gotten gain never prospers," "It does not come to the third generation," come before men! So, too, the saying, "The pitcher goes to the well until it is broken." Many begin a godless course apparently with success, until at some moment the word comes, "Thus far and no farther," and in a moment the fabric formed by evil deeds is shivered in fragments. "The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." "They who drink deep must finish with the lees."
4. But God's hand often is seen, as it were, visibly in this terrible work. Duke Rudolph of Swabia, who rebelled against the emperor, over eight hundred years ago, when his hand was cut off in battle he cursed the bleeding stump, and said with a sigh, "This was the hand with which I swore fealty to the Emperor Henry." So with people, the Canaanites — the Romans under the late empire.
5. This word is terrible to God's enemies, and although many an evil-doer seems to prosper, yet could we see his heart! The evil man carries a tormenter within him. "An evil conscience is as a fire in the bosom" — it is a mirror that reflects every sin. With pleasure the prodigal leaves the father's house — with pain he must return, if ever he does. And to the evil man the thought of death is like the thought of the executioner to the criminal.
6. But suppose that punishment does not come here, that the sinner's conscience is hardened, and that he meets death suddenly without a thought of past or future — what then? Let who will call him happy. Not even the heathen did that, but considered that the reward would follow. And thus, too, Scripture declares that the reward of unrepented evil-doing shall follow the sinner into the invisible. Them that hate Me — and there are many who may not be classed with murderers, thieves, etc., who do so: mockers of religion, etc., despisers of God's revealed Word and law.
7. And that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children is a fact of actual experience. The enemy of the faith, who brings up his children to despise religion, etc., is taking the moral foundation from his child's life. The children of prodigals may be beggars; the children of the debauchee inherit a weak and feeble frame, it may be, etc. This is the order of the world. Yet to the children this is intended to be a salutary cross teaching them to avoid the sins of their parents, for God has also said, "The son shall not bear the iniquity," etc. (Ezekiel 18:20).
II. CONSIDER HOW THE ZEAL OF GOD'S LOVE IS SHOWN TOWARDS THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.
1. He shows mercy unto thousands — unto many generations — of those who love, and show their love in keeping His commandments. Not that we can gain or purchase the Divine mercy by keeping perfectly the Divine law. No man can do this.
2. But God shows mercy to them that love Him. It is well-pleasing to Him when men seek to keep His commandments out of love to Him — not from amiability of character merely, or from fear of punishment, or with a view to present or future reward, but from love to God.
3. If we love God because He has first loved us, and sent His Son, etc., because we know Christ and the riches of His grace, and seek to show our gratitude to Him by doing His will — these God sees in upright hearts which love Him, and because of this goodwill He spurns not our imperfect efforts to serve Him. "Thou Lord dost bless the righteous," etc. Psalm 5:12). Many a pious man may be poor and of little account in the world — his life seems poor in joy, etc. Yet ask him how it fares with him, and you will find that amid his poverty he can rejoice in this blessedness of the righteous.
4. "Say to the righteous that it shall be well with" him," etc. (Isaiah 3:10). It is not their lot to sow and not reap, to labour and yet lack bread, to build and yet be roofless, etc. A blessing shall rest on their labour, etc.; their children shall rise up and call them blessed; whilst the godless shall not see when good comes, and in the end shall be like chaff which the wind drives away (Psalm 1).
5. It is they who believe that "the blessing of the Lord maketh rich" who shall stand fast in evil days. They trust in God's friendship and fear not the world's enmity; they go not with the multitude to do evil, but walk in the ways of God. The Lord may prove and try them, but it is that they may stand more firmly in His strength; but He will make the crooked straight before them. The morning may be dark, but the day will brighten. "If I must choose," said a good man, "I had liefer sow in rainy weather, and reap in fair weather, than sow in fair weather and reap in rain" (Psalm 126.).
6. And the blessing of the Lord shall continue on the house of the righteous — to a thousand generations. Of the tree planted by watercourses it is said "his leaf shall not wither." The righteous children of the righteous shall inherit the blessing. Well said the apostle, "Godliness is profitable unto all things," etc. (1 Timothy 4:8).
(K. H. Caspari.)
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