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Psalm 115:4-8

4. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. 5. They have a mouth, but they do not speak: they have eyes and see not: 6. They have ears, and do not hear: they have noses, and smell not: 7. They have hands, and feel not: they have feet, and walk not: they do not speak through their throat. 367367     Hammond reads the last clause, “neither breathe, or murmur, they through their throats.” “What יהגו here signifies,” says he, “will be concluded by the context which immediately before had mentioned their having mouths and not speaking. Here, therefore, (as there the proper action of the mouth was speech,) the proper action of the throat or larynx seems to be intended, and that is to breathe. So when, Psalm 90:9, he saith, ‘We consume our days, כמו הגה, the Targum reads, היך הבל פומא, ‘as a vapor,’ i.e., ‘breath of the mouth in winter.’ If this is not the sense, then certainly it is an inarticulate sound, contradistinct from speaking. So Kimchi and Aben Ezra state it, and quote Isaiah 38:14, where the word is applied to the murmuring of the dove. 8. Those that make them shall be like unto them; and all those who trust to them.

 

4 Their idols This contrast is introduced for the purpose of confirming the faith of the godly, by which they repose upon God alone; because, excepting him, all that the minds of men imagine of divinity is the invention of folly and delusion. To know the error and the madness of the world certainly contributes in no small degree to the confirmation of true godliness; while, on the other hand, a God is presented to us, whom we know assuredly to be the maker of heaven and earth, and whom we are to worship, not without reason or at random. The more effectually to silence the arrogance of the ungodly, who proudly presume to set at nought God and his chosen people, he contemptuously ridicules their false gods, first calling them idols, that is to say, things of nought, and, next, showing from their being formed of inanimate materials, that they are destitute of life and feeling. For can there be anything more absurd than to expect assistance from them, since neither the materials of which they are formed, nor the form which is given to them by the hand of men, possess the smallest portion of divinity so as to command respect for them? At the same time, the prophet tacitly indicates that the value of the material does not invest the idols with more excellence so that they deserve to be more highly esteemed. Hence the passage may be translated adversatively, thus, Though they are of gold and silver, yet they are not gods, because they are the work of men’s hands. Had it been his intention merely to depreciate the substance of which they were composed, he would rather have called them wood and stone, but at present he speaks only of gold and silver. In the meantime, the prophet reminds us that nothing is more unbecoming than for men to say that they can impart either essence, or form, or honor to a god, since they themselves are dependent upon another for that life which will soon disappear. From this it follows, that the heathen vainly boast of receiving help from gods of their own devising. Whence does idolatry take its origin but from the imaginations of men? Having abundance of materials supplied to their hand, they can make of their gold or silver, not only a goblet or some other kind of vessel, but also vessels for meaner purposes, but they prefer making a god. And what can be more absurd than to convert a lifeless mass into some new deity? Besides, the prophet satirically adds, that while the heathen fashion members for their idols, they cannot enable them to move or use them. It is on this account that the faithful experience their privilege to be the more valuable, in that the only true God is on their side, and because they are well assured that all the heathen vainly boast of the aid which they expect from their idols, which are nothing but shadows.

This is a doctrine, however, which ought to receive a greater latitude of meaning; for from it we learn, generally, that it is foolish to seek God under outward images, which have no resemblance or relation to his celestial glory. To this principle we must still adhere, otherwise it would be easy for the heathen to complain that they were unjustly condemned, because, though they make for themselves idols upon earth, they yet were persuaded that God is in heaven. They did not imagine that Jupiter was either composed of stone, or of gold, or of earth, but that he was merely represented under these similitudes. Whence originated this form of address common among the ancient Romans, “To make supplication before the gods,” but because they believed the images to be, as it were, the representations of the gods? 368368     “Car que vouloit dire ceste facon de parler dont usoyent les anciens Romains, faire oraison deuant les dieux sinon qu’ils estimoyent que les idoles estoyent comme les representations des dieux?” — Fr. The Sicilians, says Cicero, have no gods before whom they can present their supplications. He would not have spoken in this barbarous style, had the notion not been prevalent, that the figures of the heavenly deities were represented to them in brass, or silver, or in marble; 369369     But though these images might, at first, be intended merely to bring the real Deity before the senses, and thus to impress the mind the more deeply with sentiments of awe and devotion, yet in process of time they began to be considered, especially by the ignorant multitude, as being really gods. and cherishing the notion, that in approaching these images the gods were nearer to them, the prophet justly exposes this ridiculous fancy, that they would enclose the Deity within corruptible representations, since nothing is more foreign to the nature of God than to dwell under stone, or a piece of marble, or wood, and stock of a tree, or brass, or silver. 370370     The heathen not only considered their idols or images as representing their gods, but believed that, when consecrated by their priests, they were thereby animated by the gods whom they represented, and hence were worshipped as such. “Augustine (De Civitate Dei, B. 8, c. 23) tells us of the theology of the heathen, received from Trismegistus, that statues were the bodies of their gods, which, by some magical ceremonies, or θεουργίαι, were forced to join themselves as souls, and so animate and enliven those dead organs, to assume and inhabit them. And so Proclus (De Sacrif et Mag.) mentions it as the common opinion of the Gentiles, that the ‘gods were, by their favor and help, present in their images;’ and, therefore, the Tyrians, fearing that Apollo would forsake them, bound his image with golden chains, supposing then the god could not depart from them. The like did the Athenians imagine when they clipped the wings of the image of Victory; and the Sicilians, in Cicero, (De Divin.) who complain that they had no gods in their island, because Verres, Praetor in Sicily, had taken away all their statues. And so we know Laban, when he had lost his Teraphim, tells Jacob, (Genesis 31:30,) ‘that he had stolen his gods;’ and so of the golden calf, after the feasts of consecration, proclamation is made before it, ‘These be thy gods, O Israel!’ But this of the animation and inspiriting of images, by their rites of consecration, being but a deception and fiction of their priests, the Psalmist here discovers it, and assures all men that they are as inanimate and senseless after the consecration as before; base silver and gold, with images of mouths and ears, etc., but without any power to use any of them, and, consequently, most unable to hear or help their votaries.” — Hammond For this reason, the prophet Habakkuk designates that gross mode of worshipping God, the school of falsehood. (Habakkuk 2:18.) Moreover, the scornful manner in which he speaks of their gods deserves to be noticed, they have a mouth, but they do not speak; for why do we betake ourselves to God, but from the conviction that we are dependent upon him for life; that our safety is in him, and that the abundance of good, and the power to help us, are with him? As these images are senseless and motionless, what can be more absurd than to ask from them that of which they themselves are destitute?

8 They who make them shall be like unto them. Many are of opinion that this is an imprecation, and hence translate the future tense in the optative mood, may they become like unto them But it will be equally appropriate to regard it as the language of ridicule, as if the prophet should affirm that the idolaters are equally stupid with the stocks and stones themselves. And he deservedly severely reprehends men naturally endued with understanding, because they divest themselves of reason and judgment, and even of common sense. For those who ask life from things which are lifeless, do they not endeavor to the utmost of their power to extinguish all the light of reason? In a word, were they possessed of a particle of common sense, they would not attribute the properties of deity to the works of their own hands, to which they could impart no sensation or motion. And surely this consideration alone should suffice to remove the plea of ignorance, their making false gods for themselves in opposition to the plain dictates of natural reason. As the legitimate effect of this, they are willfully blind, envelop themselves in darkness, and become stupid; and this renders them altogether inexcusable, so that they cannot pretend that their error is the result of pious zeal. And I have no doubt that it was the prophet’s intention to remove every cause and color of ignorance, inasmuch as mankind spontaneously become stupid.

Whosoever trusteth in them. The reason why God holds images so much in abhorrence appears very plainly from this, that he cannot endure that the worship due to himself should be taken from him and given to them. That the world should acknowledge him to be the sole author of salvation, and should ask for and expect from him alone all that is needed, is an honor which peculiarly belongs to him. And, therefore, as often as confidence is reposed in any other than in himself, he is deprived of the worship which is due to him, and his majesty is, as it were, annihilated. The prophet inveighs against this profanity, even as in many passages the indignation of God is compared to jealousy, when he beholds idols and false gods receiving the homage of which he has been deprived, (Exodus 34:14; Deuteronomy 5:9) If a man carve an image of marble, wood, or brass, or if he cast one of gold or silver, this of itself would not be so detestable a thing; but when men attempt to attach God to their inventions, and to make him, as it were, descend from heaven, then a pure fiction is substituted in his place. It is very true that God’s glory is instantly counterfeited when it is invested with a corruptible form; (“To whom hast thou likened me?” he exclaims by Isaiah 40:25, and 46:5, and the Scripture abounds with such texts;) nevertheless, he is doubly injured when his truth, and grace, and power, are imagined to be concentrated in idols. To make idols, and then to confide in them, are things which are almost inseparable. Else whence is it that the world so strongly desires gods of stone, or of wood, or of clay, or of any earthly material, were it not that they believe that God is far from them, until they hold him fixed to them by some bond? Averse to seek God in a spiritual manner, they therefore pull him down from his throne, and place him under inanimate things. Thus it comes to pass, that they address their supplications to images, because they imagine that in them God’s ears, and also his eyes and hands, are near to them. I have observed that these two vices can hardly be severed, namely, that those who, in forging idols, change the truth of God into a lie, must also ascribe something of divinity to them. When the prophet says that unbelievers put their trust in idols, his design, as I formerly noticed, was to condemn this as the chief and most detestable piece of profanity.


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