Exodus 20:5 MEANING

Exodus 20:5
(5) Nor serve them.--The idolatry of the ancient world was, practically, not a mere worship of celestial beings through material representations of them, but an actual culture of the images themselves, which were regarded as possessed of miraculous powers. "I myself," says Arnobius, "not so very long ago, worshipped gods just taken out of the furnace, fresh from the anvil of the smith, ivory, paintings, stumps of trees swathed in bandages; and if I happened to cast my eyes on a polished stone smeared with olive oil, I made reverence to it, as if a power were present therein, and addressed myself in supplication for blessings to the senseless block" (Advers. Gentes, i. 29). "People pray," says Seneca, "to the images of the gods, implore them on bended knees, sit or stand long days before them, throw them money, and sacrifice beasts to them, so treating them with deep respect" (Ap. Lactant., ii. 2).

A jealous God.--Not in the sense in which He was regarded as "jealous" by some of the Greeks, who supposed that success or eminence of any kind provoked Him (Herod. iii. 40, 125), but jealous of His own honour, one who will not see "His glory given to another" (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 48:11), or allow rivals to dispute His sole and absolute sovereignty. (Comp. Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 6:15; Joshua 24:19.)

Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children.--It is a fact that, under God's natural government of the world, the iniquity of fathers is visited upon their children. Diseases caused by vicious courses are transmitted. The parents' extravagance leaves their children beggars. To be the son of a felon is to be heavily handicapped in the race of life. That this should be so is perhaps involved in "the nature of things"--at any rate, it is part of the scheme of Divine government by which the world is ordered. We all inherit countless disadvantages on account of our first parents' sin. We each individually inherit special tendencies to this or that form of evil from the misconduct of our several progenitors. The knowledge that their sins will put their children at a disadvantage is calculated to check men in their evil courses more than almost anything else; and this check could not be removed without a sensible diminution of the restraints which withhold men from vice. Still, the penalty upon the children is not final or irreversible. Under whatever disadvantages they are born, they may struggle against them, and lead good lives, and place themselves, even in this world, on a level with those who were born under every favourable circumstance. It is needless to say that, as respects another world, their parents' iniquities will not be visited on them. "Each man will bear his own burthen." The soul that sinneth, it shall die. "The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezekiel 18:20).

Verse 5. - Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them. Every outward sign of honour was shown to images in the ancient world. They were not regarded as emblems, but as actual embodiments of deity. There was a special rite in Greece (Theopoea) by means of which the gods were inducted into their statues, and made to take up their abodes in them. Seneca says of the Romans of his own day - "They pray to these images of the gods, implore them on bended knee, sit or stand long days before them, throw them money, and sacrifice beasts to them, so treating them with deep respect, though they despise the man who made them" (Ap. Lact. 2:2). I, the Lord thy God am a jealous God. God "will not give his glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8; Isaiah 48:11), will not suffer a rival near his throne. He is not "jealous." as the Greeks thought (Herod. 7:10, § 5), of mere success, or greatness; but he is very jealous of his own honour, and will not have the respect and reverence, which is his due, bestowed on other beings or on inanimate objects. Compare with the present passage Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 5:9; Deuteronomy 6:15; Joshua 24:19; etc. Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children. Exception has been taken to the plain meaning of this passage by a multitude of writers, who dread the reproach of the sceptic, that the God of the Old Testament is a God careless of justice and bent upon revenge. But neither does society, nor does civil justice itself, regard the visiting of parents' sins upon their children as in all cases unjust. Society by its scorn punishes for their parents' transgressions the illegitimate, the children of criminals, the children - especially the daughters - of adulteresses. Civil justice condemns to forfeiture of their titles and their estates, the innocent children of those executed for treason. God again manifestly does by the laws which obtain in his moral universe, entail on children many consequences of their parents' ill-doing - as the diseases which arise from profligacy or intemperance, the poverty which is the result of idleness or extravagance, the ignorance and evil habits which are the fruit of a neglected education. It is this sort of visitation which is intended here. The children and grandchildren of idolaters would start in life under disadvantages. The vicious lives of their parents would have sown in them the seeds both of physical and moral evil. They would commonly be brought up in wrong courses, have their moral sense early perverted, and so suffer for their parents' faults. It would be difficult for them to rise out of their unhappy condition. Still, "each would bear his own iniquity." Each would "be judged by that he had, not by that he bad not." An all-wise God would, in the final award, make allowance for the disadvantages of birth and inherited disposition, and would assign to each that position to which his own conduct - his struggles, efforts, endeavours after right - entitled him. To say that the threat "applies only to such children as follow the sins of their fathers" Kalisch) is to empty the passage of all force. It applies to all; but the visitation intended consists in temporal disadvantages, not in the final award of happiness or misery.

20:3-11 The first four of the ten commandments, commonly called the FIRST table, tell our duty to God. It was fit that those should be put first, because man had a Maker to love, before he had a neighbour to love. It cannot be expected that he should be true to his brother, who is false to his God. The first commandment concerns the object of worship, JEHOVAH, and him only. The worship of creatures is here forbidden. Whatever comes short of perfect love, gratitude, reverence, or worship, breaks this commandment. Whatsoever ye do, do all the glory of God. The second commandment refers to the worship we are to render to the Lord our God. It is forbidden to make any image or picture of the Deity, in any form, or for any purpose; or to worship any creature, image, or picture. But the spiritual import of this command extends much further. All kinds of superstition are here forbidden, and the using of mere human inventions in the worship of God. The third commandment concerns the manner of worship, that it be with all possible reverence and seriousness. All false oaths are forbidden. All light appealing to God, all profane cursing, is a horrid breach of this command. It matters not whether the word of God, or sacred things, all such-like things break this commandment, and there is no profit, honour, or pleasure in them. The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. The form of the fourth commandment, Remember, shows that it was not now first given, but was known by the people before. One day in seven is to be kept holy. Six days are allotted to worldly business, but not so as to neglect the service of God, and the care of our souls. On those days we must do all our work, and leave none to be done on the sabbath day. Christ allowed works of necessity, charity, and piety; for the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath, Mr 2:27; but all works of luxury, vanity, or self-indulgence in any form, are forbidden. Trading, paying wages, settling accounts, writing letters of business, worldly studies, trifling visits, journeys, or light conversation, are not keeping this day holy to the Lord. Sloth and indolence may be a carnal, but not a holy rest. The sabbath of the Lord should be a day of rest from worldly labour, and a rest in the service of God. The advantages from the due keeping of this holy day, were it only to the health and happiness of mankind, with the time it affords for taking care of the soul, show the excellency of this commandment. The day is blessed; men are blessed by it, and in it. The blessing and direction to keep holy are not limited to the seventh day, but are spoken of the sabbath day.Thou shall not bow down thyself to them,.... Perform any worship to them, show any reverence of them by any gesture of the body; one being mentioned, bowing the body, and put for all others, as prostration of it to the earth, bending the knee, kissing the hand, lifting up of hands or eyes to them, or by any outward action expressing a religious esteem of them, as if there was divinity in them:

nor serve them; in a religious manner, internally or externally, by offering sacrifice and burning incense to them; by praying to, or praising of them; by expressing love to them, faith and trust in them, hope and expectation of good things from them, and the like. The reason of this second command, relating to the making and worshipping of images, next follows:

for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God; jealous of his own honour and glory, and will not give it to another; even to graven images, nor suffer it to be given to them without resenting it; and jealousy is fierce and cruel, and breaks forth into great wrath, and issues in dreadful scenes oftentimes among men; as a man that has reason to be jealous of his wife, and especially if he takes her and the adulterer in the fact, it often costs them both their lives, being so enraged at such an insult upon him, and such a violation of the marriage bed; and thus the great Jehovah, the God of Israel, their head and husband, is represented, in order to deter from idolatry, or spiritual adultery, than which nothing could be more provoking to him:

visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children; meaning chiefly, if not solely, the iniquity of idolatry; which being such an insult on his honour, "crimen laesae majestatis", is treated by him as high treason is among men; not only he punishes the authors and perpetrators of it in their own persons, which is meant by "visiting", but upon their children also, which are parts of themselves; and whatsoever is inflicted on them is the same as on themselves, and is an addition to, and a sensible aggravation of their punishment; and especially these are visited in such a manner, when they tread in their father's steps, and fill up the measure of their iniquity. So the Targum of Jonathan,"visiting the iniquity of ungodly fathers on rebellious children:

unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; as all idolaters must be thought to do, whatsoever love and affection they may pretend to God, by worshipping idols before him, besides him, along with him, or him in them: "the third and fourth generation" are mentioned, because sometimes parents lived to see these, and so with their eyes beheld the punishment inflicted upon their posterity for their sins, which must be distressing to them; or, however, these being but small removes from them, might impress their minds and affect them, to think what their sins would bring upon their descendants, who would quickly come after them, and share in the sad effects of their iniquities, and so be a means to deter them from them.

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