You shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither raise you up a standing image…
cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11; Isaiah 48:18; Matthew 5:44, 45; and 1 Timothy 4:8. There is in this chapter a distinct assertion of moral government exercised over Israel. If they obeyed God's Law, he would grant them great temporal blessing; if they disobeyed, he would send them sore chastisement; but if after disobedience they became penitent, he would remember their fathers and his covenant with them, and receive their penitent seed into favour again. The whole question, consequently, of the "method of the Divine government" is hereby raised. And here let us remark -
I. GOD'S JUDGMENTS, WHETHER REWARDS OR PUNISHMENTS, WERE EXECUTED WITH BECOMING LEISURE AND DELIBERATION. It is along the lines of natural law, as distinguished from miracle, that he proposes to execute his decisions. If the people prove obedient, then they are to have
(1) bountiful harvests;
(2) national triumph and consequent peace;
(3) riddance of the beasts of the field, so far as they would injure their crops;
(4) great increase of the population; and
(5) the enjoyment of religious ordinances.
On the other hand, if the people prove disobedient, they are to have
(4) devastation by wild beasts;
(5) famine in its most fearful forms; and
(6) a sabbatic desolation in the Lord's land.
Now, it is to the leisurely and deliberate element in the rewards and the punishments that we direct attention. If God chose to execute his sentences speedily, if obedience got its reward immediately, if disobedience got its punishment without one moment's delay, - then men would have no room for question, and no room for moral education and decision. Such a childish regulation would doubtless prevent a large amount of evil in the world, but it would keep men children always. It is a pitiable stage of education when the child insists on seeing its reward before it obeys, and requires the immediate "slap" to prevent disobedience. If men are to be trained morally, they must be asked to take upon credit God's promises and threatenings, and decide in the interval before he is pleased to act. This leaves room for a large amount of evil. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Men may say, because God does not show quickly his hand, that he may possibly not show it at all. Hence they sin and say, "The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it" (Psalm 94:7). The Lord's delay is interpreted as Divine indifference. This is one of the evils due to man's sinful heart exercising its freedom under a truly paternal government. Instead of God's goodness in the delay leading men to repentance, it is allowed to foster a hope that he will resign the reins of government altogether and sit indifferently by, while men do as they please. An instance of this tendency to misinterpretation is afforded by Professor Tyndall, in his 'Fragments of Science,' where he has the audacity to deduce from Matthew 5:45, "He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust," as the doctrine of the Master himself, that "the distribution of natural phenomena is not affected by moral or religious causes;" whereas the context shows that the whole arrangement is prompted by love towards his enemies, that they may be induced to become his friends. Men get easily warped in their interpretations, and miss the point, or want to miss it. On the other hand, God's delay in making good his promises and threatenings affords an opportunity for humiliation and faith. When men believe he will be as good and as severe as he says, then they humble themselves under his mighty hand, and supplicate his forgiveness. When also, as his forgiven ones, they try to the best of their ability to obey him, then the delay of the promised blessing enables them to cultivate the "patience of hope," and thus to complete their character. If, therefore, there are drawbacks through man's sin on the one side, there are vast advantages to human character on the other attending this arrangement.
II. GOD'S JUDGMENTS, EVEN WHEN EXECUTED, HAVE NOT THE AIR OF FINALITY ABOUT THEM. Notwithstanding the special pleading of Warburton and his followers about the temporal character of the Divine judgments among the Jews, and their consequent ignorance about a future life, it is evident on the face of the judgments that they are not final. Little children perishing and eaten in the sieges (verse 29) could not be regarded surely as a final judgment. Children suffering for their parents' sins could not be regarded as a final judgment. In truth, God's judgments among the Jews, like his judgments still, were imperfect, and designedly so. "For observe," says the Hey. Charles Wolfe, "if we found every man in this life received just what he deserved, and every evil work always brought swift punishment along with it, what should we naturally conclude? There is no future punishment in store. I see nothing wanting; every man has already received the due reward of his works; everything is already complete, and, therefore, there is nothing to be done in the next world. Or if, on the other hand, there were no punishment visited upon sin at all in this world, we might be inclined to say, Tush, God hath forgotten; he never interferes amongst us; we have no proof of his hatred of sin, or of his determination to punish it; he is gone away far from us, and has left us to follow our own wills and imaginations. So that if sentences were either perfectly executed on earth, or not executed at all, we might have some reason for saying that there was a chance of none in a future world. But now it is imperfectly executed; just so much done as to say, 'You are watched; my eye is upon you; I neither slumber nor sleep; and my vengeance slumbereth not.' And yet, at the same time, there is so little done, that a man has to look into eternity for the accomplishment."
III. GOD'S PROMISE TO THE PENITENT IMPLIES THAT THEY ARE NOT PARDONED SIMPLY ON THE GROUND OF THEIR PENITENCE. The Lord contemplates the Jewish defection as practically certain. At the same time, he holds out the hope of the penitent people being restored to favour (verses 40-46). But it is surely significant that penitence is expressly shown not to be the ground of acceptance. Doubtless it is the condition; but were it the sole ground of acceptance, as it is confidently asserted to be, it is not easy to see why in such a case as that now before us God would speak about remembering their fathers, and throwing the radiance, so to speak, of their obedience round about their children (verses 42, 45). It is evident the penitents, even after they have been punished, cannot stand alone. And in truth, when the whole matter of acceptance is analyzed, it is seen to rest upon a covenant of sacrifice. The sacrifices of the covenant; as we have already seen, point unmistakably to a suffering Substitute, the glory of whose merits must encircle all accepted ones. In a word, we are led straight to Jesus, the Lamb of God, by whose blood we are redeemed and received into covenant relations. "Accepted in the Beloved," we are careful to "abstain from the very appearance of evil," and in the exercise of new obedience we find a triumphant power bestowed. When we hearken to his commandments our peace flows like a river, and our righteousness becomes resistless like the waves of the sea (Isaiah 48:18). We find that "godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). - R.M.E.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God.
WEB: "'You shall make for yourselves no idols, neither shall you raise up an engraved image or a pillar, neither shall you place any figured stone in your land, to bow down to it: for I am Yahweh your God.