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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 20

 

 

Verse 1

1.And God spoke. I am aware that many agree in reading this verse and the next in connection with each other, and thus making them together the first of the ten commandments. Others taking them separately, consider the affirmation to stand in the place of one entire commandment; but since God neither forbids nor commands anything here, but only comes forth before them in His dignity, to devote the people to Himself, and to claim the authority He deserves, which also He would have extended to the whole Law, I make no doubt but that it is a general preface, whereby He prepares their minds for obedience. And surely it was necessary that, first of all, the right of the legislator should be established, lest what He chose to command should be despised, or contemptuously received. In these words, then, God seeks to procure reverence to Himself, before He prescribes the rule of a holy and righteous life. Moreover, He not merely declares Himself to be Jehovah, the only God to whom men are bound by the right of creation, who has given them their existence, and who preserves their life, nay, who is Himself the life of all; but He adds, that He is the peculiar God of the Israelites; for it was expedient, not only that the people should be alarmed by the majesty of God, but also that they should be gently attracted, so that the law might be more precious than gold and silver, and at the same time “sweeter than honey,” (Psalms 119:72;) for it would not be enough for men to be compelled by servile fear to bear its yoke, unless they were also attracted by its sweetness, and willingly endured it. He afterwards recounts that special blessing, wherewith He had honored the people, and by which He had testified that they were not elected by Him in vain; for their redemption was the sure pledge of their adoption. But, in order to bind them the better to Himself, He reminds them also of their former condition; for Egypt was like a house of bondage, from whence the Israelites were delivered. Wherefore, they were no more their own masters, since God had purchased them unto Himself. This does not indeed literally apply to us; but He has bound us to Himself with a holier tie, by the hand of His only-be-gotten Son; whom Paul teaches to have died, and risen again, “that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9.) So that He is not now the God of one people only, but of all nations, whom He has called into His Church by general adoption.


Verse 3

Exodus 20:3Thou shalt have no other gods before me. In this commandment God enjoins that He alone should be worshipped, and requires a worship free from all superstition. For although it seems to be a simple prohibition, yet must we deduce an affirmation from the negative, as will be more apparent from the following words. Therefore does He set Himself before them, in order that the Israelites may look to Him alone; and claims His own just right, in order that it may not be transferred elsewhere. All do not agree in the exposition of the words, for some construe the word פנים , (278) panim, “anger,” as if it were said, “Thou shalt not make to thyself other gods to provoke my anger;” and I admit that the Hebrew word is often used in this sense. The other interpretation, however, seems to me the more correct, “Make not to thyself gods before my face.” Yet still there remains a difference of opinion, for people are not agreed as to the particle על, gnel. Some explain it, “Make not to thyself gods above me, or whom thou mayest prefer to me;” and they quote the passage in Deuteronomy 21:15, wherein God forbids a man, if he have two wives, and children by both, to transfer the rights of primogeniture to the second before the face of the first-born. But though we admit that a comparison is there made between the elder and the younger, still it would be too frigid an interpretation here to say that God demands nothing more than that other gods should not obtain the higher place; whereas He neither suffers them to be likened to Him, nor even to be joined with Him as companions; (279) for religion is defiled and corrupted as soon as God’s glory is diminished in the very least degree. And we know that when the Israelites worshipped their Baalim, they did not so substitute them in the place of God as to put Him altogether aside, and assign to them the supreme power; nevertheless, this was an intolerable profanation of God’s worship, and moreover an impious transgression of this precept, to choose for themselves patrons in whom some part of the Deity should be lodged; because if God have not alone the pre-eminence, His majesty is so far obscured. I consider,therefore, the genuine sense to be, that the Israelites should not make to themselves any gods, whom they might oppose to the true and only God. For in Hebrew the expression, before the face, generally means over against; therefore God would not have companions obtruded upon Him, and placed as it were in His sight. Meanwhile, it seems probable to me that He alludes to that manifestation of Himself which ought to have retained His people in sincere piety; for true and pure religion was so revealed in the Law, that God’s face in a manner shone forth therein. The case was different with the Gentiles, who, although they might rashly make to themselves false gods, still would not do so before the face of God, which was unknown to them. Let us then understand, after all, that those alone are accounted the legitimate worshippers of God who bid adieu to all figments, and cleave to Him alone. Nor can it be doubted that these words comprehend the inward worship of God, since this commandment differs from the next, whereby external idolatry will be seen to be condemned. It is sufficiently notorious, that men may make to themselves gods in other ways besides in statues, and pictures, and in visible forms. If any should adore the angels instead of God, or should foolishly imagine any other secret divinity, none will deny that he would offend against this Law. God, therefore, calls for the affections of the heart, that He alone may be spiritually worshipped; and the expression “before my face,” may be not inaptly referred to this; because, although their impiety, who secretly turn aside to false worship, and cherish their errors within their own bosoms, may be able to evade the eyes of men, yet their hypocrisy and treachery will not escape the notice of God. Hence, again, it follows, that the one God is not rightly worshipped, unless He be separated from all figments. Wherefore it is not enough to make use of His name, unless all corruptions opposed to His word be laid aside; and thence we arrive at the distinction between true religion and false superstitions; for since God has prescribed to us how He would be worshipped by us, whenever we turn away in the very smallest degree from this rule, we make to ourselves other gods, and degrade Him from His right place.


Verse 4

4.Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. In the First Commandment, after He had taught who was the true God, He commanded that He alone should e worshipped; and now He defines what is His Legitimate Worship. Now, since these are two distinct things, we conclude that the commandments are also distinct, in which different things are treated of. The former indeed precedes in order, viz., that believers are to be contented with one God; but it would not be sufficient for us to be instructed to worship him alone, unless we also knew the manner in which He would be worshipped. The sum is, that the worship of God must be spiritual, in order that it may correspond with His nature. For although Moses only speaks of idolatry, yet there is no doubt but that by synecdoche, as in all the rest of the Law, he condemns all fictitious services which men in their ingenuity have invented. For hence have arisen the carnal mixtures whereby God’s worship has been profaned, that they estimate Him according to their own reason, and thus in a manner metamorphose Him. It is necessary, then, to remember what God is, lest we should form any gross or earthly ideas respecting Him. The words simply express that it is wrong (79) for men to seek the presence of God in any visible image, because He cannot be represented to our eyes. The command that they should not make any likeness, either of any thing which is in heaven, or in the earth, or in the waters under the earth, is derived from the evil custom which had everywhere prevailed; for, since superstition is never uniform, but is drawn aside in various directions, some thought that God was represented under the form of fishes, others under that of birds, others in that of brutes; and history especially recounts by what shameless delusions Egypt was led astray. And hence too the vanity of men is declared, since, whithersoever they turn their eyes, they everywhere lay hold of the materials of error, notwithstanding that God’s glory shines on every side, and whatever is seen above or below, invites us to the true God.

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;” (80) 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.


Verse 7

Exodus 20:7.Thou shalt not take the name. There is a manifest synecdoche in this Commandment; for in order that God may procure for His name its due reverence, He forbids its being taken in vain, especially in oaths. Whence we infer on the other hand an affirmative commandment, that every oath should be a testimony of true piety, whereby the majesty of God Himself should obtain its proper glory. Moreover, it is clear that not only when we swear by God, His name is to be reverently honored, but whenever mention of it is made. Thus in these words He maintains His holiness not only in His word, but also in His works, against all profane contempt of it. We shall soon see that to swear by God’s name is a species or part of religious worship, and this is manifest too from the words of Isaiah 45:23; for when he predicts that all nations shall devote themselves to pure religion, he thus speaks, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall swear by me.” (308) Now, if the bowing of the knees be a token of adoration, this swearing which is connected with it is equivalent to an acknowledgment that He is God. Since, then, reason dictates that the species is put for the genus, we must see what is to be understood by God’s name, and by the adverb לשוא , leshav. It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, (309) as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables; but, whereas His essence is invisible, His name is set before us as an image, in so far as God manifests Himself to us, and is distinctly made known to us by His own marks, just as men are each by his own name. On this ground Christ teaches that God’s name is comprehended in the heavens, the earth, the temple, the altar, (Matthew 5:34,) because His glory is conspicuous in them. Consequently, God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, truth, clemency, and rectitude. If a shorter definition be preferred, let us say that His name is what Paul calls τὸ γνωστόν , “ that which may be known” of Him. (Romans 1:19.)

God’s name, then, is taken in vain, not only when any one abuses it by perjury, but when it is lightly and disrespectfully adduced in proof of frivolous and trifling matters: I speak with respect to oaths. In this, however, man’s ingratitude is very gross, that when God grants them His name, as if at their entreaty, to put an end to their strifes and to be a pledge of their truth, still it flies promiscuously from their mouths not without manifest disrespect. God will again condemn perjury in the Fifth Commandment of the Second Table, viz., in so far as it offends against and violates charity by injuring our neighbors. The aim and object of this Commandment is different,i.e., that the honor due to God may be unsullied; that we should only speak of Him religiously; that becoming veneration of Him should be maintained among us. The word לשוא, leshau, might indeed be translated “for falsehood,” and in this sense we shall see it used elsewhere; but since it often is equivalent to חנם , chinam, which means gratuitously, or in vain, this exposition seems to be most appropriate. In this, too, fuller and richer instruction is contained, viz., that men should not drag in His name in light matters, as in sport or derision of Him, which cannot be done without insulting and profaning it. And thus the holiness of God’s name, which preserves us in His fear and in true piety, is contrasted with the particle לשוא, leshau. But since nothing is more difficult than to restrain men’s licentiousness in this respect, and to excuse or at least diminish the sin, the slipperiness of the tongue is pleaded, its punishment is here denounced: that if God’s name is rashly exposed to reproach or contempt, He will avenge it. The more hardened, therefore, in their licentiousness they may be, the less will be their impunity; so far is depraved habit from diminishing the guilt.


Verse 8

Exodus 20:8.Remember the Sabbath-day. The object of this Commandment is that believers should exercise themselves in the worship of God; for we know how prone men are to fall into indifference, unless they have some props to lean on or some stimulants to arouse them in maintaining their care and zeal for religion. Under the Second Commandment we have already indeed made some remarks on the outward profession of piety, and under the First also brief mention has been made of some festivals, inasmuch as in the passover and the offering of the first-fruits the people devoted themselves to God, as if by a solemn repetition of the covenant. Many also of the ceremonies which we have explained had an affinity to the Sabbath. Yet it is not without good cause that God has appointed a special place to the Sabbath as well as to the other festivals; and although there is a connection between the observance of the Sabbath and the tabernacle with its sacrifices, and the priesthood itself, still it was advisedly done that the festivals should be separately appointed, that by their aid the people might be the more encouraged to maintain the unity of the faith and to preserve the harmony of the Church. Meanwhile, the mutual connection between the sanctuary and the Sabbath is evident from what has been already said. God indeed would have it to be a notable symbol of distinction between the Jews and heathen nations. Whence, too, the devil, in order to asperse pure and holy religion with infamy, has often traduced the Jewish Sabbath through froward tongues. But the better to shew what there is peculiar in this Commandment, and what is its difference from the First, we must remember the spiritual substance of the type; for not only did God prescribe certain days for the holding of assemblies, in which the people might give attention to sacrifices, prayers, and the celebration of His praise; but He placed before their eyes as the perfection of sanctity that they should all cease from their works. Surely God has no delight in idleness and sloth, and therefore there was no importance in the simple cessation of the labors of their hands and feet; nay, it would have been a childish superstition to rest with no other view than to occupy their repose in the service of God. (329) Wherefore, lest we should make any mistake in the meaning of this Commandment, it is well to remember its analogy and conformity with the thing it signifies; i.e., that the Jews might know that their lives could not be approved by God unless, by ceasing from their own works, they should divest themselves of their reason, counsels, and all the feelings and affections of the flesh. For they were not forbidden without exception from the performance of every work, since they were required both to circumcise their children, and to bring the victims into the court, and to offer them in sacrifice on that day; but they were only called away from their own works, that, as if dead to themselves and to the world, they might wholly devote themselves to God. Wherefore, since God declares elsewhere by Moses, and again by Ezekiel, that the Sabbath is a sign between Him and the Jews that He sanctifies them, (Ezekiel 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12,) we must see what is the sum of this sanctification, viz., the death of the flesh, when men deny themselves and renounce their earthly nature, so that they may be ruled and guided by the Spirit of God.

Although this is sufficiently plain, still it will be worth while to confirm it by further statements. And first of all, that this was a ceremonial precept, Paul clearly teaches, calling it a shadow of these things, the body of which is only Christ. (Colossians 2:17.) But if the outward rest was nothing but a ceremony, the substance of which must be sought in Christ, it now remains to be considered how Christ actually exhibited what was then prefigured; and this the same Apostle declares, when he states that “our old man is crucified with Christ,” and that we are buried with Him, that His resurrection may be to us newness of life. (Romans 6:4.) It is to be gathered without doubt from many passages, that the keeping of the Sabbath was a serious matter, since God inculcates no other commandment more frequently, nor more strictly requires obedience to any; and again, when He complains that He is despised, and that the Jews have fallen into extreme ungodliness, He simply says that His “Sabbaths are polluted,” as if religion principally consisted in their observance. (Jeremiah 17:24; Ezekiel 20:21.) Moreover, if there had not been some peculiar excellency in the Sabbath, (330) it might have appeared to be an act of atrocious injustice to command a man to be put to death for cutting wood upon it. (Numbers 15:32.) Wherefore it must be concluded that the substance of the Sabbath, which Paul declares to be in Christ, must have been no ordinary good thing. Nor does its excellency require much eulogium, since spiritual rest is nothing else than the truly desirable and blessed death of man, which contains in it the life of God, even as Paul glories that he is as it were dead, because Christ liveth in him. (Galatians 2:20.) The Apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews argues more subtilely, that true rest is brought to us by the Gospel, and that it is rejected by unbelievers, (Hebrews 4:3;) for although he mixes up some allegorical matter with it, he still retains the genuine reason of the Commandment, viz., that we should rest from our works “even as God from His.” (Hebrews 4:10.) On this ground Isaiah, when he reproves the hypocrites for insisting only on the external ceremony of rest, accuses them of “finding their own pleasure” on the Sabbath, (Isaiah 58:13;) as much as to say, that the legitimate use of the Sabbath must be supposed to be self-renunciation, since he is in fact accounted to cease from his works who is not led by his own will nor indulges his own wishes, but who suffers himself to be directed by the Spirit of God. And this emptying out of self must proceed so far that the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own; for rightly does Augustin remark in the last chapter of the 22d book, De Civitate Dei, (331)For even our good works themselves, since they are understood to be rather His than ours, are thus imputed to us for the attaining of that Sabbath, when we are still and see that He is God; (332) for, if we attribute them to ourselves, they will be servile, whereas we are told as to the Sabbath, Thou shalt not do any servile work in it."

Next it is asked, why God rather assigned every seventh day to the Sabbath rather than the sixth or tenth. Because the number seven often represents perfection in Scripture, some have thought that believers were thus reminded that they must strive after perfect holiness with all their might, and not devote themselves to God by halves only. Others elicit a different meaning from it, although not a contrary one, that believers were taught that although they might be sanctified and laboring in all sincerity to cease from their own life, still some remainders of the flesh would continue in them, and therefore that through the whole course of their life they must aspire to that holiness which no mortal attains. I do not, however, doubt but that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, that He might give a manifestation of the perfect excellency of His works, and thus, proposing Himself as the model for our imitation, He signifies that He calls His own people to the true goal of felicity. Although a promise is included in this Commandment, yet will we observe upon it separately, and as if by the way. He promises indeed that as He blessed the seventh day and set it apart, so He will bless believers to sanctify them. But the main point is the command, and the recital of the blessing is equivalent to an exhortation to obedience, since otherwise it would be inappropriately placed here amongst the Commandments of the Law. When I said that the ordinance of rest was a type of a spiritual and far higher mystery, and hence that this Commandment must be accounted ceremonial, I must not be supposed to mean that it had no other different objects also. And certainly God took the seventh day for His own and hallowed it, when the creation of the world was finished, that He might keep His servants altogether free from every care, for the consideration of the beauty, excellence, and fitness of His works. There is indeed no moment which should be allowed to pass in which we are not attentive to the consideration of the wisdom, power, goodness, and justice of God in His admirable creation and government of the world; but, since our minds are fickle, and apt therefore to be forgetful or distracted, God, in His indulgence providing against our infirmities, separates one day from the rest, and commands that it should be free from all earthly business and cares, so that nothing may stand in the way of that holy occupation. On this ground He did not merely wish that people should rest at home, but that they should meet in the sanctuary, there to engage themselves in prayer and sacrifices, and to make progress in religious knowledge through the interpretation of the Law. In this respect we have an equal necessity for the Sabbath with the ancient people, so that on one day we may be free, and thus the better prepared to learn and to testify our faith. A third object of the Sabbath is also stated by Moses, but an accidental one as it were, viz., that it may be a day of relaxation for servants. Since this pertains to the rule of charity, it has not properly any place in the First Table, and is therefore added by Moses as an extrinsic advantage, as will be seen a little further on.

8.Remember the Sabbath-day. The word keep is used in Deuteronomy with the same meaning. Hence we infer that it is no trifling matter here in question, since God enforces the sanctity of the Sabbath by these two words, and exhorts the Jews to its scrupulous observance, thus condemning carelessness about it as a transgression. Moreover, when He says, “Six days shalt thou labor,” He indirectly reproves their ingratitude, if it should be irksome and disagreeable to them, to devote one day out of the seven to God, when He in His generosity gives up six to themselves. For he does not, as some have foolishly thought, make a demand here for six days’ labor; but by His very kindness entices them to obedience, since He only claims a seventh part (of their time) for Himself — as if He had said, Since you cannot be instant in seeking me with all your affection and attention, at any rate give up to me some little undistracted time. Therefore, He says, “all thy work,” whereby He signifies that they have plenty of time, exclusive of the Sabbath, for all their business.


Verse 10

10.Thou shalt not do any work. That is, whatever could have been finished yesterday, or postponed till to-morrow. (For instance, (333)) it was not lawful for judges to give a hearing to two litigants; but if any one had violently assaulted his neighbor, it was allowable to prevent the injury, and to give relief to the unoffending person; because the necessity of the case admitted of no delay. It was not lawful to cook food for your guests; but if an ox or an ass had fallen into a pit it was to be taken out, because aid would have been too late on the morrow. For this reason Christ. declares that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27,) since God does not require more than was useful or necessary for keeping the people in the exercise of piety. Thus it would have been wicked to send out an ox to pasture; but if an ox that tossed had got out, it was right to bring it back to its stall, lest it should kill or injure those whom it met.

Thy man-servant and thy maid-servant. Although it is added in Deuteronomy that God had respect to equity, when He commands a relaxation from labor to be given to the men and maid-servants, and the Israelites are called upon to remember that they were once servants, that they may be more disposed to act humanely, still we must bear in mind what I have stated, that the direct object here was the honoring of the One God. We know that the whole race of Abraham were consecrated to God, and that their servants were a kind of adjunct to them, so that they were circumcised in common with themselves. And assuredly it is very absurd that a man should encourage a profane contempt of God in the family over which he presides, and in which he would be recognised as master. The case of “strangers” was different, who were obliged to rest on the Sabbath, although they remained uncircumcised; for he does not only refer to the foreigners, who had subscribed to the Law, but also to the uncircumcised. If any should object that they were improperly made partakers of the sacred sign whereby God had bound His elect people to Himself, the reply is easy, that this was not done for their sakes, but lest anything opposed to the Sabbath should happen beneath the eyes of the Israelites; as we may understand more clearly from the case of the oxen and asses. Surely God would never have required spiritual service of brute animals; yet He ordained their repose as a lesson, so that wherever the Israelites turned their eyes, they might be incited to the observation of the Sabbath. Nor can we wonder at this, when in the general mournings which were appointed for the deprecation of God’s wrath, a fast was imposed upon the brutes, that wretched men being admonished by the sight, might feel the burden of their guilt the more, and by their voluntary serf-accusation might prevent the judgment of God, and might be seriously dissatisfied with themselves on account of those sins, whose punishment they saw to be imposed to a certain degree upon innocent animals. Besides, if the very least liberty had been conceded to them, they would have done many things to evade the Law in their days of rest, by employing strangers and the cattle in their work.


Verse 11

11.For in six days the Lord made. From this passage it may be probably conjectured that the hallowing of the Sabbath was prior to the Law; and undoubtedly what Moses has before narrated, that they were forbidden to gather the manna on the seventh day, seems to have had its origin from a well-known and received custom; whilst it is not credible that the Observance of the Sabbath was omitted, when God revealed the rite of sacrifice to the holy (Fathers. (334)) But what in the depravity of human nature was altogether extinct among heathen nations, and almost obsolete with the race of Abraham, God renewed in His Law: that the Sabbath should be honored by holy and inviolable observance; and this the impure dogs (335) accounted to be amongst the disgraces of the Jewish nation.


Verse 12

I am not ignorant that the Tables of the Law are usually divided in a different manner; (1) for those, who make only one of the first two Commandments, are obliged finally to mangle the last. Thus the prohibition of God to covet either our neighbor’s wife or his house, is foolishly separated into two parts, whereas it is quite clear that only one thing is treated of, as we gather from the words of Paul, who quotes them as a single Commandment. (Romans 7:7.) There is, however, no need of a lengthened discussion here, since the fact itself explains how one error has grown out of another; for, when they had improperly hidden the Second Commandment under the First, and consequently did not find the right number, they were forced to divide into two parts what was one and indivisible. A frivolous reason is assigned by Augustine why they comprised the First Table in three commandments, viz., that believers might learn to worship God in the Trinity, and thus to adore one God in three persons. By inconsiderately trifling with such subtleties, they have exposed God’s law to the mockeries of the ungodly. Josephus (2) indeed rightly enumerates the Commandments themselves in their proper order, but improperly attributes five Commandments to each Table; as if God had had regard to arithmetic rather than to instruct His people separately in the duties of charity, after having laid down for them the rules of piety. For up to this point the rule of rightly serving God has been delivered, i. e. , the First Table embraces a summary of piety; and now the Law will begin to show how men ought to live with each other, otherwise one Table would have been enough, nor would God have divided his Law without a purpose. But whereas piety (3) and justice comprise the perfect rule for the direction of our lives, it was necessary to distinguish these two parts, that the people might understand the object of the Law, of which we shall again speak hereafter.

Exodus 20:12.Honor thy father Although charity (as being “the bond of perfectness,” Colossians 3:14) contains the sum of the Second Table, still, mutual obligation does not prevent either parents or others, who are in authority, from retaining their proper position. Nay, human society cannot be maintained in its integrity, unless children modestly submit themselves to their parents, and unless those, who are set over others by God’s ordinance, are even reverently honored. But inasmuch as the reverence which children pay to their parents is accounted a sort of piety, some have therefore foolishly placed this precept in the First Table. Nor are they supported in this by Paul, though he does not enumerate this Commandment, where he collects the sum of the Second Table, (Romans 13:9;) for he does this designedly, because he is there expressly teaching that obedience is to be paid to the authority of kings and magistrates. Christ, however, puts an end to the whole controversy, where, among the precepts of the Second Table, He enumerates this, that children should honor their parents. (Matthew 19:19.)

The name of the mothers is expressly introduced, lest their sex should render them contemptible to their male children.

It will be now well to ascertain what is the force of the word “honor,” not as to its grammatical meaning, (for כבד, cabad, is nothing else but to pay due honor to God, and to men who are in authority,) but as to its essential signification. Surely, since God would not have His servants comply with external ceremonies only, it cannot be doubted but that all the duties of piety towards parents are here comprised, to which children are laid under obligation by natural reason itself; and these may be reduced to three heads, i e. , that they should regard them with reverence; that they should obediently comply with their commands, and allow themselves to be governed by them; and that they should endeavor to repay what they owe to them, and thus heartily devote to them themselves and their services. Since, therefore, the name of Father is a sacred one, and is transferred to men by the peculiar goodness of God, the dishonoring of parents redounds to the dishonor of God Himself, nor can any one despise his father without being guilty of an offense against God, ( sacrilegium.) If any should object that there are many ungodly and wicked fathers whom their children cannot regard with honor without destroying the distinction between good and evil, the reply is easy, that the perpetual law of nature is not subverted by the sins of men; and therefore, however unworthy of honor a father may be, that he still retains, inasmuch as he is a father, his right over his children, provided it does not in anywise derogate from the judgment of God; for it is too absurd to think of absolving under any pretext the sins which are condemned by His Law; nay, it would be a base profanation to misuse the name of father for the covering of sins. In condemning, therefore, the vices of a father, a truly pious son will subscribe to God’s Law; and still, whatsoever he may be, will acknowledge that he is to be honored, as being the father given him by God.

Obedience comes next, which is also circumscribed by certain limits. Paul is a faithful interpreter of this Commandment, where he bids “children obey their parents.” (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20.) Honor, therefore, comprises subjection; so that he who shakes off the yoke of his father, and does not allow himself to be governed by his authority, is justly said to despise his father; and it will more clearly appear from other passages, that those who are not obedient to their parents are deemed to despise them. Still, the power of a father is so limited as that God, on whom all relationships depend, should have the rule over fathers as well as children; for parents govern their children only under the supreme authority of God. Paul, therefore, does not simply exhort children to obey their parents, but adds the restriction, “in the Lord;” whereby he indicates that, if a father enjoins anything unrighteous, obedience is freely to be denied him. Immoderate strictness, moroseness, and even cruelty must be born, so long as a mortal man, by wickedly demanding what is not lawful, does not endeavor to rob God of His right. In a word, the Law so subjects children to their parents, as that God’s right may remain uninfringed. An objection here arises in the shape of this question: It may sometimes happen that a son may hold the office of a magistrate, but that the father may be a private person, and that thus the son cannot discharge his private duty without violating public order. The point is easily solved: that all things may be so tempered by their mutual moderation as that, whilst the father submits himself to the government of his son, (4) yet he may not be at all defrauded of his honor, and that the son, although his superior in power, may still modestly reverence his father.

The third head of honor is, that children should take care of their parents, and be ready and diligent in all their duties towards them. This kind of piety the Greeks call ἀντιπελαργία, (5) because storks supply food to their parents when they are feeble and worn out with old age, and are thus our instructors in gratitude. Hence the barbarity of those is all the more base and detestable, who either grudge or neglect to relieve the poverty of their parents, and to aid their necessities.

Now, although the parental name ought, by its own sweetness, sufficiently to attract children to ready submission, still a promise is added as a stimulus, in order that they may more cheerfully bestir themselves to pay the honor which is enjoined upon them. Paul, therefore, that children may be more willing to obey their parents, reminds us that this “is the first commandment with promise,” (Ephesians 6:2;) for although a promise is annexed to the Second Commandment, yet it is not a special one, as we perceive this to be. The reward, that the days of children who have behaved themselves piously to their parents shall be prolonged, aptly corresponds with the observance of the commandment, since in this manner God gives us a proof of His favor in this life, when we have been grateful to those to whom we are indebted for it; whilst it is by no means just that they should greatly prolong their life who despise those progenitors by whom they have been brought into it. Here the question arises, since this earthly life is exposed to so many cares, and pains, and troubles, how can God account its prolongation to be a blessing? But whereas all cares spring from the curse of God, it is manifest that they are accidental; and thus, if life be regarded in itself, it does not cease to be a proof of God’s favor. Besides, all this multitude of miseries does not destroy the chief blessing of life, viz., that men are created and preserved unto the hope of a happy immortality; for God now manifests Himself to them as a Father, that hereafter they may enjoy His eternal inheritance. The knowledge of this, like a lighted lamp, causes God’s grace to shine forth in the midst of darkness. Whence it follows, that those had not tasted the main thing in life, (6) who have said that the best thing was not to be born, and the next best thing to be cut off as soon as possible; whereas God rather so exercises men by various afflictions, as that it should be good for them nevertheless to be created in His image, and to be accounted His children. A clearer explanation also is added in Deuteronomy, not only that they should live, but that it may go well with them; so that not only is length of life promised them, but other accessories also. And in fact, many who have been ungrateful and unkind to their parents only prolong their life as a punishment, whilst the reward of their inhuman conduct is repaid them by their children and descendants. But inasmuch as long life is not vouchsafed to all who have discharged the duties of piety towards their parents, it must be remembered that, with respect to temporal rewards, an infallible law is by no means laid down; and still, where God works variously and unequally, His promises are not made void, because a better compensation is secured in heaven for believers, who have been deprived on earth of transitory blessings. Truly experience in all ages has shown that God has not in vain promised long life to all who have faithfully discharged the duties of true piety towards their parents. Still, from the principle already stated, it is to be understood that this Commandment extends further than the words imply; and this we infer from the following sound argument, viz., that otherwise God’s Law would be imperfect, and would not instruct us in the perfect rule of a just and holy life.

The natural sense itself dictates to us that we should obey rulers. If servants obey not their masters, the society of the human race is subverted altogether. It is not, therefore, the least essential part of righteousness (7) that the people should willingly submit themselves to the command of magistrates, and that servants should obey their masters; and, consequently, it would be very absurd if it were omitted in the Law of God. In this commandment, then, as in the others, God by synecdoche embraces, under a specific rule, a general principle, viz., that lawful commands should obtain due reverence from us. But that all things should not be distinctly expressed, first of all brevity itself readily accounts for; and, besides, another reason is to be noticed, i. e. that God designedly used a homely style in addressing a rude people, because He saw its expediency. If He had said generally, that all superiors were to be obeyed, since, pride is natural to all, it would not have been easy to incline the greater part of men to pay submission to a few. Nay, since subjection is naturally disagreeable, many would have kicked against it. God, therefore, propounds a specific kind of subjection, which it would have been gross barbarism to refuse, that thus, their ferocity being gradually subdued, He might accustom men to bear the yoke. Hence the exhortations are derived, that people should “honor the king;” that “every soul should be subject unto the higher powers;” that “servants should obey their masters, even the froward and morose.” (Proverbs 24:21; 1 Peter 2:13; Romans 13:1; Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:14.)

The Fr. concludes the sentence thus: “et ainsi nous sont comme maistresses pour nous apprendre a recognoistre le bien que nous avons receu de ceux qui nous ont mis au monde et elevez;” and so are, as it were, our mistresses to teach us to repay the benefits of those who have brought us into the world and reared us.

; fu~nai ejpicqoni>oisin a]riston,
Mhd j ejsidei~n aujgav ojxe>ov hjeli>v.
Fu>nta d j o[pwv w]kiva pu>lav aji`>daw perh~sai
Kai< kei+sqai pollh<n gh~n ejpamhsa>menon. — 425-428.

It is also reported by Plutarch, in his Παραμυθητικὸς προς Απολλώνιον, by whom, as well as by Cicero, it is called the reply of Silenus to Midas, — “Affertur etiam de Sileno fabella quaedam: qui cum a Mida captus esset, hoc ei muneris pro sua missione dedisse scribitur: docuisse regem, non nasci homini longe optimum esse; proximum autem, quamprimum mori.” — Tusc Quaest. 1:48. “Ex quo intelligi licet, non nasci longe optimum esse, nec in hos scopulos incidere vitae; proximum autem, si natus sis, quamprimum mori, et tanquam ex incendio effugere fortunae. Sileni quae fertur fabula, etc.” — Consolatio. Lactantius refers to the latter passage, De falsa sapientia, Section 19. “Hinc nata est inepta illa sententia, etc.”


Verse 13

The sum of this Commandment is, that we should not unjustly do violence to any one. In order, however, that God may the better restrain us from all injury of others, He propounds one particular form of it, from which men’s natural sense is abhorrent; for we all detest murder, so as to recoil from those whose hands are polluted with blood, as if they carried contagion with them. Undoubtedly God would have the remains of His image, which still shine forth in men, to continue in some estimation, so that all might feel that every homicide is an offense against Him, (sacrilegium.) He does not, indeed, here express the reason, whereby He elsewhere deters men from murder, i e. , by asserting that thus His image is violated, (Genesis 9:6;) yet, however precisely and authoritatively He may speak as a Legislator, He would still have us consider, what might naturally occur to everybody’s mind, such as the statement of Isaiah 58:7, that man is our “own flesh.” In order, then, that believers may more diligently beware of inflicting injuries, He condemns a crime, which all spontaneously confess to be insufferable. It will, however, more clearly appear hereafter, that under the word kill is included by synecdoche all violence, smiting, and aggression. Besides, another principle is also to be remembered, that in negative precepts, as they are called, the opposite affirmation is also to be understood; else it would not be by any means consistent, that a person would satisfy God’s Law by merely abstaining from doing injury to others. Suppose, for example, that one of a cowardly disposition, and not daring to assail even a child, should not move a finger to injure his neighbors, would he therefore have discharged the duties of humanity as regards the Sixth Commandment? Nay, natural common sense demands more than that we should abstain from wrongdoing. And, not to say more on this point, it will plainly appear from the summary of the Second Table, that God not only forbids us to be murderers, but also prescribes that every one should study faithfully to defend the life of his neighbor, and practically to declare that it is dear to him; for in that summary no mere negative phrase is used, but the words expressly set forth that our neighbors are to be loved. It is unquestionable, then, that of those whom God there commands to be loved, He here commends the lives to our care. There are, consequently, two parts in the Commandment, — first, that we should not vex, or oppress, or be at enmity with any; and, secondly, that we should not only live at peace with men, without exciting quarrels, but also should aid, as far as we can, the miserable who are unjustly oppressed, and should endeavor to resist the wicked, lest they should injure men as they list. Christ, therefore, in expounding the genuine sense of the Law, not only pronounces those transgressors who have committed murder, but also that

“he shall be in danger of the judgment who is angry with his brother without a cause; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.” (Matthew 5:22.)

For He does not there, as some have ignorantly supposed, frame t~ new law, as if to east blame upon His Father; but shows the folly and perversity of those interpreters of the Law who only insist on the external appearance, and husk of things, as is vulgarly said; since the doctrine of God must rather be estimated from a due consideration of. His nature. Before earthly judges, if a man have carried a weapon for the purpose of killing a man, he is found guilty of violence; and God, who is a spiritual Lawgiver, goes even further. With Him, therefore, anger is accounted murder; yea, inasmuch as He pierces even to the most secret feelings, He holds even concealed hatred to be murder; for so we must understand John’s words, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer,” (1 John 3:15;) i.e., hatred conceived in the heart is sufficient for his condemnation, although it may not openly appear.


Verse 14

Although one kind of impurity is alone referred to, it is sufficiently plain, from the principle laid down, that believers are generally exhorted to chastity; for, if the Law be a perfect rule of holy living, it would be more than absurd to give a license for fornication, adultery alone being excepted. Furthermore, it is incontrovertible that God will by no means approve or excuse before this tribunal, what the common sense of mankind declares to be obscene; for, although lewdness has everywhere been rampant in every age, still the opinion could never be utterly extinguished, that fornication is a scandal and a sin. Unquestionably what Paul teaches has been prevalently received from the beginning, that a good life consists of three parts, soberness, righteousness, and godliness, (Titus 2:12;) and the soberness which he commands differs not from chastity. Besides, when Christ or the Apostles are treating of a perfect life, they always refer believers to the Law; for, as it had been said of old by Moses, “This is the way, walk ye in it;” (59) Christ confirms this,

“If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,” (Matthew 19:17;)

and Paul corroborates it, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law,” (Romans 13:8,) whilst they constantly pronounce a curse against all fornicators. It is not worth while to quote the particular passages in which they do so. Now, if Christ and the Apostles, who are the best interpreters of the Law, declare that God’s Law is violated no less by fornication than by theft, we assuredly infer, that in this Commandment the whole genus is comprehended under a single species. Wherefore, those have done nothing but betray their disgraceful ignorance, who have sought to be praised for their acuteness on the score of their ridiculous subtlety, when they admitted that fornication is indeed condemned with sufficient clearness and frequency in the New Testament, but not in the Law. For, if they had reasoned justly, inasmuch as God is declared to have blessed marriage, it must at once be concluded, on the contrary, that the connection of male and female, except in marriage, is accursed. This is the argument of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he contrasts two opposite things;

“Marriage (he says) is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
(
Hebrews 13:4.)

So also, when God forbids the priest to marry a harlot, ( Leviticus 21:14,) the manifest impropriety of fornication is declared; and, if it was unlawful for the daughters of Israel to be harlots, ( Deuteronomy 23:17,) the same reasoning applies necessarily to males. Nor has Hosea taken that reproof from anywhere else but the Law? “Whoredom and wine take away the heart.” ( Hosea 4:11.) Thus, when the Prophets metaphorically condemn the corruptions of their nation, they do not always use the same; word as Moses here does, נפ, naaph, but compare them to fornications, whereas, if fornication were lawful in itself, this metaphor would be altogether inappropriate. Hosea was commanded to take a harlot for a wife, ( Hosea 1:2;) no mention is made of adultery, and still the shame and baseness of the people is thus condemned. Who, then, would say that fornication is free from sin, since God brands it with no ordinary mark of ignominy? But if any should pertinaciously contest this, let him accuse Paul of error, who bears witness that an example is set before us in the Law, that we should. not “commit fornication as some of them committed, and fell in one day three-and-twenty thousand.” ( Numbers 25:9; 1 Corinthians 10:8.) Surely, if they had not transgressed the Law, so horrible a vengeance would not have overwhelmed them. If any should object that the crime of idolatry was mixed up with it., still the declaration of Paul remains untouched, that God was the avenger of fornication in this infliction of punishment, which would not accord, unless it were a transgression of the Law. And in truth, where, as recorded by Luke, ( Acts 15:20,) the Apostles in their decree prohibit fornication amongst the Gentiles, the reason is at the same time added, that “Moses is read in the synagogues.” Now, if it were not a vice opposed to the Law, no offense would have hence arisen.

We have already explained why, under this word adultery, every impure lust was condemned. We know how unbridled was the licentiousness of the Gentiles; for, although God never suffered all shame to be extinguished together with their purity, still respect for what was right was in a manner stifled, so that they evaded the grossness of the sin by ribaldry and scurrilous jests. At any rate, the doctrine of Paul was by no means understood, that those who indulge in whoredom “sin against their own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18.)

Since, then, the minds of all men were stupified by indulgence, it was needful to arouse them by declaring the atrocity of the sin, that they might learn to beware of all pollution. Nor are unbridled lusts only here condemned, but God instructs His people to cherish modesty and chastity. The sum is, that those who desire to approve themselves to God, should be pure “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” (2 Corinthians 7:1;) nor can we doubt but that Paul in these words would interpret the law, as he elsewhere exhorts,

“that everyone should possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:4.)


Verse 15

Since charity is the end of the Law, we must seek the definition of theft from thence. This, then, is the rule of charity, that every one’s rights should be safely preserved, and that none should do to another what he would not have done to himself. It follows, therefore, that not only are those thieves who secretly steal the property of others, but those also who seek for gain from the loss of others, accumulate wealth by unlawful practices, and are more devoted to their private advantage than to equity. Thus, rapine is comprehended under the head of theft, since there is no difference between a man’s robbing his neighbor by fraud or force. But, in order that God may the better withhold His people from all fraudulent injustice, He uses the word theft, which all naturally abhor as disgraceful. For we know under how many coverings men bury their misdeeds; and not only so, but also how they convert them into praise by false pretexts. Craft and low cunning is called prudence; and he is spoken of as provident and circumspect who cleverly overreaches others, who takes in the simple, and insidiously oppresses the poor. Since, therefore, the world boasts of vices as if they were virtues, and thus all freely excuse themselves in sin, God wipes away all this gloss, when tie pronounces all unjust means of gain to be so many thefts. Nor let us be surprised that this decision should be given by the divine tribunal, when the philosophers deliver nearly the same doctrine.

We must bear in mind also, that an affirmative precept, as it is called, is connected with the prohibition; because, even if we abstain from all wrong-doing, we do not therefore satisfy God, who has laid mankind under mutual obligation to each other, that they may seek to benefit, care for, and succor their neighbors. Wherefore He undoubtedly inculcates liberality and kindness, and the other duties, whereby human society is maintained; and hence, in order that we may not be condemned as thieves by God, we must endeavor, as far as possible, that every one should safely keep what he possesses, and that our neighbor’s advantage should be promoted no less than our own.


Verse 16

G od here makes a provision for every man’s character and good name, lest any should be undeservedly weighed down by calumnies and false accusations. The same synecdoche exists here, which I have pointed out in the previous Commandments, for God comprises many things under a single head. With reference to the words, inasmuch as עד, gned, properly means a witness, it may be literally translated, “Thou shalt not answer a false witness against thy neighbor,” but then the particle as must be supplied. The Hebrews poorly translate it in the vocative case, Thou shalt not speak, O false witness, etc.

(165) Although God seems only to prescribe that no one, for the purpose of injuring the innocent, should go into court, and publicly testify against him, yet it is plain that the faithful are prohibited from all false accusations, and not only such as are circulated in the streets, but those which are stirred in private houses and secret corners. For it would be absurd, when God has already shewn that men’s fortunes are cared for by Him, that He should neglect their reputation, which is much more precious. In whatever way, therefore, we injure our neighbors by unjustly defaming them, we are accounted false witnesses before God. We must now pass on from the prohibitive to the affirmative precept: for it will not be enough for us to restrain our tongues from speaking evil, unless we are also kind and equitable towards our neighbors, and candid interpreters of their acts and words, and do not suffer them, as far as in us lies, to be burdened with false reproaches. Besides, God does not only forbid us to invent accusations against the innocent, but also to give currency to reproaches and sinister reports in malevolence or hatred. Such a person may perhaps deserve his ill-name, and we may truly lay such or such an accusation to his charge; but if the reproach be the ebullition of our anger, or the accusation proceed from ill-will, it will be vain for us to allege in excuse that we have advanced nothing but, what is true. For when Solomon says that “love covereth many sins;” whereas “hatred brings reproaches to light,” (166) (Proverbs 10:12;) he signifies, as a faithful expositor of this precept, that we are only free from falsehood when the reputation of our neighbors suffers no damage from us; for, if the indulgence of evil-speaking violates charity, it is opposed to the Law of God. In short, we must conclude that by these words a restraint is laid on all virulence of language which tends to bring disgrace on our brethren; and on all petulance also, whereby their good name suffers injury; and on all detractions, which flow from malice, or envy, and rivalry, or any other improper feeling. We must also go further, and not be suspicious or too curious in observing the defects of others; for such eager inquisitiveness betrays malevolence, or at any rate an evil disposition. For, if love is not suspicious, he who condemns his neighbor either falsely, or upon trifling surmises, or who holds him in light esteem, is undoubtedly a transgressor of this Commandment. Consequently, we must close our ears against false and evil speaking; since he is just as injurious to his brother who eagerly listens to sinister reports respecting him, as he who exercises his tongue in maligning him. The necessity of this instruction let each man estimate by his own disposition; for scarcely one in a hundred will be found who will be as kind in sparing the character of others, as he himself desires to be pardoned for manifest vices; nay, slander is often praised under the pretext of zeal and conscientiousness. Hence it happens that this vice insinuates itself even among the saints, creeping in under the name of virtue. Moreover, the volubility of the tongue causes us to think it a light transgression to inflict a deadly and disgraceful wound on our brother, to whom, nevertheless, his good name is of more importance than his life. The sum is, that we should manifest our charity no less by candor, and by abstaining from slander, than by the performance of other duties.


Verse 17

Exodus 20:17.Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. There is no question but that this Commandment extends also to those that have preceded it. God had already sufficiently forbidden us to set our hearts on the property of others, to attempt the seduction of their wives, or to seek for gain at another’s loss and inconvenience. Now whilst He enumerates oxen and asses, and all other things as well as their wives and servants, it is very clear that His precept is directed to the same things, but in a different way, viz., in order to restrain all ungodly desires either of fornication or theft. The question, however, occurs, — since it has been said before that, agreeably to the nature of the Lawgiver, the inward purity of the heart is everywhere required, and therefore, that under the head of adultery, not only are all filthy acts prohibited, but secret unchastity also; and under the head of theft, all unlawful appetite for gain, — why does God now forbid in His people the lust for theft and fornication? For it seems to be a superfluous repetition which would be very absurd in ten short precepts, wherein God has embraced the whole rule of life, so that their very brevity might render it, easy, and the better attract their readers to learn them. Still, on the other hand, it must be remembered that, although it was God’s design, by the whole Law, to arouse men’s feelings to sincere obedience of it, yet such is their hypocrisy and indifference, that it was necessary to stimulate them more sharply, and to press them more closely, lest they should seek for subterfuges under pretense of the obscurity of the doctrine. For if they had only heard, Thou shalt not kill, nor commit fornication, nor steal, they might have supposed that their duty would have been fully performed by mere outward observance. It was not then in vain that God, after having treated of piety and justice, should give a separate admonition, that they were not only to abstain from evil doing, but also, that what He had previously commanded should be performed with the sincere affection of the heart. Hence Paul gathers from this Commandment, that the whole “Law is spiritual,” (Romans 7:7 and 14,) because God, by His condemnation of lust, sufficiently shewed that He not only imposed obedience on our hands and feet, but also put restraint upon our minds, lest they should desire to do what is unlawful. Paul confesses, too, that whereas he before slept in easy self-deceit, he was awakened by this single word; for since he was blameless in the eyes of men, he was persuaded that he was righteous before God: He says that he was once alive, as if the Law were absent or dead, because, being puffed up with confidence in his righteousness, he expected salvation by his works; but, when he perceived what the Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, meant, the dead Law was raised as it were to life, and he died, i e. , he was convinced he was a transgressor, and saw the sure curse overhanging him. Nor did he perceive himself to be guilty of one or two sins, but then, at length, he was shaken out of his torpor, when he recognized that all the evil desires, of which he was conscious, must be accounted for before God, whereas he had before been satisfied with the mere outward appearance of virtue. We now perceive, therefore, that there is nothing inappropriate in the general condemnation of concupiscence by a distinct commandment; for after God has broadly and popularly laid down rules for moral integrity, at length He ascends to the fountain itself, and at the same time points out with His finger, as it were, the root from which all evil and corrupt fruits spring forth. It must here be added that something more is expressed by the words coveting and wishing for, or desiring, than a desiderium formatum, as it is commonly called; for the flesh often tempts us to wish for this or that, so that the evil concupiscence betrays itself, although consent may not yet be added. Since, therefore, the sin (171) of the will had been already condemned, God now proceeds further, and puts a restraint upon evil desires before they prevail. (172) James points out these progressive steps, where he says that lust conceives before it begets sin; and then “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” (James 1:15,) for the begetting of which he speaks, is not only in the external act but in the will itself, before it has assented to the temptation. I admit, indeed, that the corrupt thoughts which arise spontaneously, and so also vanish before they affect the mind, do not come into account before God; yet, although we do not actually acquiesce in the evil desire, still, if it affects us pleasantly, it is sufficient to render us guilty. In order that this may be understood better, all temptations are, as it were, so many fans; if they hurry us on into consent, the fire is lighted; but, if they only awaken the heart to corrupt desires, concupiscence betrays itself in these sparks, although it neither acquires its full warmth nor breaks forth into a flame. Concupiscence, therefore, is never without desire (affectu,) although the will may not altogether yield. Hence it appears what entire perfection of righteousness we must bring in order to satisfy the Law, since not only are we commanded not to will anything, except what is right and pleasing to God, but also that no impure desire should affect our hearts. Nor would Paul have laid such great stress upon this precept if the Law condemned no concupiscence except that which takes such hold on the mind of man as to exercise dominion over it; for the sin of the will must ever be condemned even by heathen philosophers, nay, and by earthly legislators also; but he says that the Law, by resisting concupiscence, makes sin to “become exceeding sinful.” (Romans 7:13.) Now, it is not credible that, at the time in which he confesses that he knew not what concupiscence was, he was so senseless and stupid as to think no harm of wishing to kill a man, or of being inclined through lust to commit adultery with his brother’s wife; but, if he was not unaware that the will to sin was vicious, it follows that the concupiscence in which he saw no harm was some more hidden disease. Hence, too, it is manifest under what delusion Satan must have held all the Popish schools (173) through which echoes this axiom, that concupiscence is no sin in the baptized, because it is a stimulus to the exercise of virtue; as if Paul did not openly condemn concupiscence, which entraps us in its snares, although we do not altogether assent to it.


Verse 24

24.An altar of earth thou shalt make. This precept differs from the other, which I have just explained; because although it refers to the choice of a place, (111) yet the mention of a place is omitted, and it only touches upon the material and form of the altar. God, therefore, commands that an altar should be built to Him, either of earth or of a heap of stones, which had not been artificially polished. But I understand this of the altars, which either in the desert or elsewhere should be built, before the choice of the perpetual place had been manifested to them. God would have them built of earth, that they might fall down of themselves, and that no trace of them might remain after the departure of the people; but if stones were used, He forbade their being fitted together in a permanent structure, but would have them thrown rough and unpolished into a heap, lest their appearance should entice posterity to superstition. I am surprised that commentators (112) should here put themselves to the pains of inventing allegories; since God had no other object than to remove stumbling-blocks, whereby the Israelites might be turned away from the sanctuary; for we know how antiquity, and the example of our forefathers, is apt to attract the minds of the vulgar. If anything in the shape of an altar had remained, immediately religious notions would have been associated with it, that, God could nowhere be more solemnly or better worshipped, than in the place already dedicated of old by their fathers. Thus degenerate modes of worship would have sprung up, and the dignity of the sanctuary would have been brought into contempt. Wherefore this evil is anticipated when He forbids altars to be built which might exist for any length of time; and only allows them to be adapted for present use, being made of earth, or of an unfashioned heap of stones. As to “the sacrifices of prosperities,". I have elsewhere stated why I so translate the word שלומים, shelumim, (113) which signifies all prosperous and happy results; for the rendering of others, viz., peaceful things, (pacifica ), is very unsuitable. The latter part of the verse, “in all places, where I record my name, I will come unto thee, ” has been ignorantly perverted by commentators, and hence has afforded a ground of error; for they have read it in connection with the former part, as if God had forbidden such an altar to be made in Mount Sion also; whereas He rather anticipates a doubt, which might have otherwise perplexed the minds of the people; Will not God be favorable to us where He heard the prayers of our fathers? He replies, I say, to this by the promise, that they will pray to Him well and duly, if they only obey His command, and seek no other place except that which He shall choose. On this score it is said, that wheresoever it shall please God that sacrifices should be offered, there He will descend to you, to be favorable unto you.


Verse 26

26.Neither shalt thou go up. When God had prescribed modesty to the priests in their whole life, and in their private actions, no wonder that He should require especial care of decency and propriety in the performance of their sacred duties. He had indeed already desired that the priests should wear drawers or breeches when they went into the sanctuary; yet not content with this symbol of purity, He forbids them to ascend the altar by steps, lest haply the drawers themselves should be seen; since the dignity and sanctity of sacred things would thus be impaired. By all means, therefore, He would induce the Israelites to conduct themselves most purely and most chastely in the exercises of religion.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 20:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/exodus-20.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, June 4th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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