Master: Let us pass to the second head.
Scholar: Thou shalt not sculpture to thyself the image, or form any of those things which are either in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the waters under the earth. Thou shalt not adore nor serve them.
M. Does it entirely prohibit us from sculpturing or painting any resemblance?
S. No, it only forbids us to make any resemblances for the sake of representing or worshipping God.
M. Why is it unlawful to represent God by a visible shape?
S. Because there is no resemblance between him who is an eternal Spirit and incomprehensible, and a corporeal, corruptible, and lifeless figure. (Deuteronomy 4:15; Acts 17:29; Romans 1:23.)
M. You think then that an insult is offered to his majesty when he is represented in this way?
S. Such is my belief.
M. What kind of worship is here condemned?
S. When we turn to a statue or image intending to pray, we prostrate ourselves before it: when we pay honor to it by the bending of our knees, or other signs, as if God were there representing himself to us.
M. We are not to understand then that simply any kind of picture or sculpture is condemned by these words. We are only prohibited from making images for the purpose of seeking or worshiping God in them, or which is the same thing, for the purpose of worshiping them in honor of God, or abusing them in any way to superstition and idolatry.
M. Now to what end shall we refer this head?
S. As under the former head he declared that he alone should be worshiped and served, so he now shows what is the correct form of worship, that he may call us off from all superstition, and other vicious and carnal fictions.
M. Let us proceed.
S. He adds the sanction that he is Jehovah our God, a strong and jealous God, who avengeth the iniquity of the fathers upon the children of them who hate him, even to the third and fourth generation.
M. Why does he make mention of his strength?
S. He thereby intimates that he has power enough to vindicate his glory.
M. What does he intimate by the term jealousy?
S. That he cannot bear an equal or associate. For as he has given himself to us out of his infinite goodness, so he would have us to be wholly his. And the chastity of our souls consists in being dedicated to him, and wholly cleaving to him, as on the other hand they are said to be polluted with idolatry, when they turn aside from him to superstition.
M. In what sense is it said that he avengeth the iniquity of fathers on children?
S. To strike the more terror into us, he not only threatens to inflict punishment on those who offend him, but that their offspring also will be cursed.
M. But is it consistent with the justice of God to punish any one for another’s fault?
S. If we consider what the condition of mankind is, the question is answered. For by nature we are all liable to the curse, and we have nothing to complain of in God when he leaves us in this condition. Then as he demonstrates his love for the righteous, by blessing their posterity, so he executes his vengeance against the wicked, by depriving their children of this blessing.
M. Go on.
S. To allure us by attractive mildness, he promises that he will take pity on all who love him and observe his commands, to a thousand generations.
M. Does he mean that the innocence of a pious man will be the salvation of all his posterity, however wicked?
S. Not at all, but that he will exercise his benignity to believers to such a degree, that for their sakes he will show himself benign also to their children, by not only giving them prosperity in regard to the present life, but also sanctifying their souls, so as to give them a place among his flock.
M. But this does not always appear.
S. I admit it. For as he reserves to himself liberty to show mercy when he pleases to the children of the ungodly, so he has not so astricted his favor to the children of believers as not to repudiate at pleasure those of them whom he will. (Romans 9.) This, however, he so tempers as to show that his promise is not vain or fallacious.
M. But why does he, here say a thousand generations, whereas, in the case of punishment, he mentions only three or four?
S. To intimate that he is more inclined to kindness and beneficence than to severity. This he also declares, when he says that he is ready to pardon, but slow to wrath. (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 103:8; 145:8.)