Exodus 20:6
And showing mercy to thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
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(6) Shewing mercy unto thousands.—Rather, to the thousandth generation, as is distinctly expressed in Deuteronomy 7:9. God’s mercy infinitely transcends His righteous anger. Sin is visited on three, or at most four, generations. Righteousness is remembered, and advantages descendants, for ever.

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.Unto thousands - unto the thousandth generation. Yahweh's visitations of chastisement extend to the third and fourth generation, his visitations of mercy to the thousandth; that is, forever. That this is the true rendering seems to follow from Deuteronomy 7:9; Compare 2 Samuel 7:15-16.4, 5. Thou shalt not make … any graven image … thou shalt not bow down thyself to them—that is, "make in order to bow." Under the auspices of Moses himself, figures of cherubim, brazen serpents, oxen, and many other things in the earth beneath, were made and never condemned. The mere making was no sin—it was the making with the intent to give idolatrous worship. Unto thousands, to wit, of their generations, i.e. for ever; whereas his punishment extended only to three or four of them: so far is God’s mercy exalted above his justice. Compare Psalm 103:17.

Them that love me, and keep my commandments: this conjunction is very observable, both against those that falsely and foolishly pretend or insinuate that the inward affection of love to God is not absolutely and always necessary to salvation; and also against them who, pretending inward love to God, live in the customary breach of God’s known commands. And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me,.... And show their love by worshipping God, and him only, by serving him acceptably with reverence and godly fear, by a cheerful obedience to all his commands, by all religious exercises, both internal and external, as follows:

and keep my commandments; not only this, but all others; for keeping these from right principles, and with right views, is an instance and evidence of love to God, see John 14:15 and to such persons he shows mercy and kindness, performs acts of grace, and bestows on them blessings of goodness; and indeed it is owing to his own grace, mercy, and kindness to them, that they do love him, and from a principle of love observe his precepts; and this is shown to thousands, to multitudes, who are blessed with such grace as to love the Lord, and keep his commandments: though rather this is to be understood of a thousand generations, and not persons, and should have been supplied, as in the preceding verse, "unto a thousand generations", God being more abundant in showing mercy, and exercising grace and goodness, than he is rigorous in inflicting punishment.

And shewing mercy unto {e} thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

(e) So ready is he rather to show mercy than to punish.

6. unto thousands, of them, &c.] i.e. not thousands consisting of them that love me, but (notice the comma added in RV.) thousands belonging to them that love me (Heb. le, just as in v. 5, properly ‘belonging to them that hate me’). The antithesis is between the narrow limits, the third or fourth generation of descendants, within which the sin is visited, and the thousands belonging to,—i.e. primarily, descended from, though possibly those ‘belonging to’ in a wider sense, as servants or other dependents, may be included,—such as love God, who, in virtue of this relation, and for the sake of those who thus love Him, experience His mercy. The intention of the passage is thus to teach that God’s mercy transcends in its operation His wrath: in His providence the beneficent consequences of a life of goodness extend indefinitely further than the retribution which is the penalty of persistence in sin. Naturally ‘thousands’ is not to be understood literally: it is simply intended to convey an impressive idea of the greatness of God’s mercy. It is not apparent how it can mean (RVm.) ‘a thousand generations’: Deuteronomy 7:9 is a rhetorical amplification, not an exact interpretation, of the present passage.

that love me] shew towards Him the pure and intense affection and devotion which we denote by the term ‘love.’ The thought is one strongly characteristic of Deuteronomy. ‘Love to God is in Dt. the essence of religion, and the primary motive for obedience to His commands. In no other stratum of the Hexateuch is this lofty conception of religion to be found’ (Bä.). See Deuteronomy 6:5 [Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27], Deuteronomy 10:12, Deuteronomy 11:1; Deuteronomy 11:13; Deuteronomy 11:22, Deuteronomy 13:3, Deuteronomy 19:9, Deuteronomy 30:6; Deuteronomy 30:16; Deuteronomy 30:20, Joshua 22:5; Joshua 23:11 both Deuteronomic); and cf. the writer’s Deuteronomy, pp. xxi, xxviii, lxxviii, 91. Love to God is not mentioned elsewhere in the Hexateuch, except in the parallel, Deuteronomy 5:10 (cf. Exodus 7:19 : see, however, Jdg 5:30).

It is, of course, not through extraordinary or miraculous interferences that the sins of parents are visited upon their children, but through the natural providence of God, operating through the normal constitution of society, which in its turn takes its organization and form from the character of human nature, which is His appointment. History and experience alike teach how often, and under what varied conditions, it happens that the misdeeds of a parent result in bitter consequences for the children. The principle here asserted is not in conflict with Deuteronomy 24:6 (children not to be put to death for the fathers): the legislator is not there dealing with a principle involved in the constitution of society itself; he is laying down a rule for the administration of justice by the State. See, on the distinction between the two cases, Mozley’s Ruling Ideas in Early Ages, Lect. V.Verse 6. - Shewing mercy unto thousands. Or, "to the thousandth generation." (Compare Deuteronomy 7:9.) In neither case are the numbers to be taken as exact and definite. The object of them is to contrast the long duration of the Divine love and favour towards the descendants of those who love him, with the comparatively short duration of his chastening wrath in the case of those who are his adversaries. And keep my commandments. Thus only is love shown. Compare John 14:15-21; 1 John 2:5; 2 John 1:6. After these preparations, on the morning of the third day (from the issuing of this divine command), Jehovah came down upon the top of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20), manifesting His glory in fire as the mighty, jealous God, in the midst of thunders (קלת) and lightnings, so that the mountain burned with fire (Deuteronomy 4:11; Deuteronomy 5:20), and the smoke of the burning mountain ascended as the smoke (עשׁן for עשׁן), and the whole mountain trembled (Exodus 19:18), at the same time veiling in a thick cloud the fire of His wrath and jealousy, by which the unholy are consumed. Thunder and lightning bursting forth from the thick cloud, and fire with smoke, were the elementary substrata, which rendered the glory of the divine nature visible to men, though in such a way that the eye of mortals beheld no form of the spiritual and invisible Deity. These natural phenomena were accompanied by a loud trumpet blast, which "blew long and waxed louder and louder" (Exodus 19:16 and Exodus 19:19; see Genesis 8:3), and was, as it were, the herald's call, announcing to the people the appearance of the Lord, and summoning them to assemble before Him and listen to His words, as they sounded forth from the fire and cloudy darkness. The blast (קול) of the shophar (Exodus 19:19), i.e., the σάλπιγξ Θεοῦ, the trump of God, such a trumpet as is used in the service of God (in heaven, 1 Thessalonians 4:16; see Winer's Grammar), is not "the voice of Jehovah," but a sound resembling a trumpet blast. Whether this sound was produced by natural means, or, as some of the earlier commentators supposed, by angels, of whom myriads surrounded Jehovah when He came down upon Sinai (Deuteronomy 33:2), it is impossible to decide. At this alarming phenomenon, "all the people that was in the camp trembled" (Exodus 19:16). For according to Exodus 20:20 (17), it was intended to inspire them with a salutary fear of the majesty of God. Then Moses conducted the people (i.e., the men) out of the camp of God, and stationed them at the foot of the mountain outside the barrier (Exodus 19:17); and "Moses spake" (Exodus 19:19), i.e., asked the Lord for His commands, "and God answered loud" (בּקול), and told him to come up to the top of the mountain. He then commanded him to go down again, and impress upon the people that no one was to break through to Jehovah to see, i.e., to break down the barriers that were erected around the mountain as the sacred place of God, and attempt to penetrate into the presence of Jehovah. Even the priests, who were allowed to approach God by virtue of their office, were to sanctify themselves, that Jehovah might not break forth upon them (יפרץ), i.e., dash them to pieces. (On the form העדתה for העידת, see Ewald, 199 a). The priests were neither "the sons of Aaron," i.e., Levitical priest, nor the first-born or principes populi, but "those who had hitherto discharged the duties of the priestly office according to natural right and custom" (Baumgarten). Even these priests were too unholy to be able to come into the presence of the holy God. This repeated enforcement of the command not to touch the mountain, and the special extension of it even to the priests, were intended to awaken in the people a consciousness of their own unholiness quite as much as of the unapproachable holiness of Jehovah. But this separation from God, which arose from the unholiness of the nation, did not extend to Moses and Aaron, who were to act as mediators, and were permitted to ascend the mountain. Moreover, the prospect of ascending the holy mountain "at the drawing of the blast" was still before the people (Exodus 19:13). And the strict prohibition against breaking through the barrier, to come of their own accord into the presence of Jehovah, is by no means at variance with this. When God gave the sign to ascend the mountain, the people might and were to draw near to Him. This sign, viz., the long-drawn trumpet blast, was not to be given in any case till after the promulgation of the ten words of the fundamental law. But it was not given even after this promulgation; not, however, because "the development was altogether an abnormal one, and not in accordance with the divine appointment in Exodus 19:13, inasmuch as at the thunder, the lightning, and the sound of the trumpet, with which the giving of the law was concluded, they lost all courage, and instead of waiting for the promised signal, were overcome with fear, and ran from the spot," for there is not a word in the text about running away; but because the people were so terrified by the alarming phenomena which accompanied the coming down of Jehovah upon the mountain, that they gave up the right of speaking with God, and from a fear of death entreated Moses to undertake the intercourse with God in their behalf (Exodus 20:18-21). Moreover, we cannot speak of an "abnormal development" of the drama, for the simple reason, that God not only foresaw the course and issue of the affair, but at the very outset only promised that He would come to Moses in a thick cloud (Exodus 19:9), and merely announced and carried out His own descent upon Mount Sinai before the eyes of the people in the terrible glory of His sacred majesty (Exodus 19:11), for the purpose of proving the people, that His fear might be before their eyes (Exodus 20:20; cf. Deuteronomy 5:28-29). Consequently, apart from the physical impossibility of 600,000 ascending the mountain, it never was intended that all the people should do so.

(Note: The idea of the people fleeing and running away must have been got by Kurtz from either Luther's or De Wette's translation. They have both of them rendered וגו ויּנעוּ, "they fled and went far off," instead of "they trembled and stood far off." And not only the supposed flight, but his idea that "thunder, lightning, and the trumpet blast (which were silent in any case during the utterance of the ten commandments), concluded the promulgation of the law, as they had already introduced it according to Exodus 19:16," also rests upon a misunderstanding of the text of the Bible. There is not a syllable in Exodus 20:18 about the thunder, lightning, and trumpet blast bursting forth afresh after the proclamation of the ten commandments. There is simply an account of the impression, which the alarming phenomena, mentioned in Exodus 19:16-19 as attending the descent of Jehovah upon the mountain (Exodus 19:20), and preceding His speaking to Moses and the people, made upon the people, who had been brought out of the camp to meet with God.)

What God really intended, came to pass. After the people had been received into fellowship with Jehovah through the atoning blood of the sacrifice, they were permitted to ascend the mountain in the persons of their representatives, and there to see God (Exodus 24:9-11).

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