The workman melts a graven image, and the goldsmith spreads it over with gold, and casts silver chains.…
A strong tone of irony and ridicule runs through the description; and nothing could better illustrate by contrast that sublime faith which has just been presented to our view.
I. THE IMAGE CONTRASTED WITH JEHOVAH. All our thought is composed of images, but what a descent from that image in the mind and solely there on which we have been dwelling, to yonder thing of metal, which the craftsman casts, and the goldsmith overlays with gold, and for which he forges chains of silver! Let art be honoured; let artists strive their best to give distinctness to thoughts that must otherwise wander in the vague. But if the concrete thing be thrust into the place of that spiritual reality it can but faintly suggest, it becomes an object of scorn instead of admiration. Have the great traditions of our fathers ended in this? What has that thing of your poor manufacture to do with the great scheme of things?
II. THE ETERNAL REVELATION. The prophet is astonished that men are blind and deaf to that eternal truth which has been announced from the beginning of the creation - the speech poured out from day to day, the declarations of every starry night. The works of God are the shadows of himself. "The whole system of the world is but a standing copy and representation of the Divine goodness, writing little images of itself upon every the least portion of this great body." "The night itself cannot conceal the glories of the heaven; but the moon and stars, those lesser lights, then show forth their lesser beauties. While the labourer ties down for his rest, the astronomer sits up and watches for his pleasure." When men were talking atheism around Napoleon on the passage to Africa, the great man exclaimed, pointing to the starry sky, "It is all very well for you to talk, gentlemen; but who made all that?" Again the prophet rises to that conception of the sublimity of Jehovah and the insignificance of man's power in contrast with him, which may be called contrast in Hebrew thought. A series of "admiring exclamations" follows. Jehovah sits above the circle that over-arches the earth (Job 22:14; Proverbs 8:27); and men seem as insignificant insects in comparison (cf. Numbers 13:33). His vast hand has spread out the heavens like a curtain of fine cloth; they resemble a habitable tent - also an idea frequent in Hebrew poetry (Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12; Isaiah 51:13; Job 9:8; Zechariah 12:1). Thus the dimensions of nature suggest the majesty and infinitude of God. So the revolutions of the nations suggest the sovereignty and spiritual might of God. Men of weight are by him brought to nothing, and the judges of the earth become as worthless chaos. A magnificent city, with the tombs of departed and the palaces of living kings, is an imposing monument of human passion and human intelligence. Nineveh and Babylon "seemed planted for eternity, firmly rooted in the soil; but to the prophets, regarding them from the point of view of the future, they seemed as though they had never been." Prefound faith in the Eternal fills the mind with contempt for the gloria mundi, which seems to be withering in the very hour it most proudly flourishes. The prophet falls back upon the thought of the holy and incomparable One, who marshals the starry hosts, who is Lord of the physical universe and of the world of man's spirits. We need to rest our thought upon the infinite power of God. Weak ourselves, we need to lean upon that which is strong and enduring. And here we are liable to many illusions - the illusion of the permanence of physical systems, the illusion of the permanence of human customs and institutions. God can cause the heavens to be shrivelled like a scroll, can efface the cities of the nation as if they were so many rubbish-heaps from the face of the earth. He and the soul alone abide. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.