You shall not make you any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath…
The "ten words" are prefaced with the declaration, "I am the Lord thy God"; now He declares, "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God — showing mercy." Our fathers declared that these words of God are "terrible to His foes, gracious to His friends." Consider —
I. HOW THIS ZEAL OF HIS WRATH IS MANIFESTED TOWARD THOSE WHO HATE HIM.
1. This is shown in various examples in the New Testament. Punishment follows, like a dark shadow, the footsteps of the criminal. Indeed, one has merely to look around on the world to see how true this is. What is the meaning of the proverb, "As men live so it fares with them"? It means that men had observed and noticed that when a man sinned by excess against a sound body and against reason, it fared ill with him! The body became sickly, the mind weak; that when a man is discontented with an honest calling, or manages carelessly the goods entrusted to him, it fares ill with him. His trade does not support him, his possessions vanish, his end is want, beggary, or crime. To the unfaithful, etc., will come home the proverb, "God punishes one rogue through another," etc.
2. Does this mean that sin is punished naturally? Yes. "Sin is the destruction of a people." God has so formed the world that this is the result.
3. But God's zeal against those who hate Him is manifested in ways which we cannot understand; e.g., how often examples proving the proverbs, "Ill-gotten gain never prospers," "It does not come to the third generation," come before men! So, too, the saying, "The pitcher goes to the well until it is broken." Many begin a godless course apparently with success, until at some moment the word comes, "Thus far and no farther," and in a moment the fabric formed by evil deeds is shivered in fragments. "The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding small." "They who drink deep must finish with the lees."
4. But God's hand often is seen, as it were, visibly in this terrible work. Duke Rudolph of Swabia, who rebelled against the emperor, over eight hundred years ago, when his hand was cut off in battle he cursed the bleeding stump, and said with a sigh, "This was the hand with which I swore fealty to the Emperor Henry." So with people, the Canaanites — the Romans under the late empire.
5. This word is terrible to God's enemies, and although many an evil-doer seems to prosper, yet could we see his heart! The evil man carries a tormenter within him. "An evil conscience is as a fire in the bosom" — it is a mirror that reflects every sin. With pleasure the prodigal leaves the father's house — with pain he must return, if ever he does. And to the evil man the thought of death is like the thought of the executioner to the criminal.
6. But suppose that punishment does not come here, that the sinner's conscience is hardened, and that he meets death suddenly without a thought of past or future — what then? Let who will call him happy. Not even the heathen did that, but considered that the reward would follow. And thus, too, Scripture declares that the reward of unrepented evil-doing shall follow the sinner into the invisible. Them that hate Me — and there are many who may not be classed with murderers, thieves, etc., who do so: mockers of religion, etc., despisers of God's revealed Word and law.
7. And that the sins of the fathers are visited on the children is a fact of actual experience. The enemy of the faith, who brings up his children to despise religion, etc., is taking the moral foundation from his child's life. The children of prodigals may be beggars; the children of the debauchee inherit a weak and feeble frame, it may be, etc. This is the order of the world. Yet to the children this is intended to be a salutary cross teaching them to avoid the sins of their parents, for God has also said, "The son shall not bear the iniquity," etc. (Ezekiel 18:20).
II. CONSIDER HOW THE ZEAL OF GOD'S LOVE IS SHOWN TOWARDS THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.
1. He shows mercy unto thousands — unto many generations — of those who love, and show their love in keeping His commandments. Not that we can gain or purchase the Divine mercy by keeping perfectly the Divine law. No man can do this.
2. But God shows mercy to them that love Him. It is well-pleasing to Him when men seek to keep His commandments out of love to Him — not from amiability of character merely, or from fear of punishment, or with a view to present or future reward, but from love to God.
3. If we love God because He has first loved us, and sent His Son, etc., because we know Christ and the riches of His grace, and seek to show our gratitude to Him by doing His will — these God sees in upright hearts which love Him, and because of this goodwill He spurns not our imperfect efforts to serve Him. "Thou Lord dost bless the righteous," etc. Psalm 5:12). Many a pious man may be poor and of little account in the world — his life seems poor in joy, etc. Yet ask him how it fares with him, and you will find that amid his poverty he can rejoice in this blessedness of the righteous.
4. "Say to the righteous that it shall be well with" him," etc. (Isaiah 3:10). It is not their lot to sow and not reap, to labour and yet lack bread, to build and yet be roofless, etc. A blessing shall rest on their labour, etc.; their children shall rise up and call them blessed; whilst the godless shall not see when good comes, and in the end shall be like chaff which the wind drives away (Psalm 1).
5. It is they who believe that "the blessing of the Lord maketh rich" who shall stand fast in evil days. They trust in God's friendship and fear not the world's enmity; they go not with the multitude to do evil, but walk in the ways of God. The Lord may prove and try them, but it is that they may stand more firmly in His strength; but He will make the crooked straight before them. The morning may be dark, but the day will brighten. "If I must choose," said a good man, "I had liefer sow in rainy weather, and reap in fair weather, than sow in fair weather and reap in rain" (Psalm 126.).
6. And the blessing of the Lord shall continue on the house of the righteous — to a thousand generations. Of the tree planted by watercourses it is said "his leaf shall not wither." The righteous children of the righteous shall inherit the blessing. Well said the apostle, "Godliness is profitable unto all things," etc. (1 Timothy 4:8).
(K. H. Caspari.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: