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17 You shall not make cast idols.
Exodus 34:17. Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. When he calls graven things, statues, and pictures, by the name of gods, he shews the object and sum of the Second Commandment, viz., that God is insulted when He is clothed in a corporeal image. Moreover, the name of God is transferred to idols, according to common parlance, and the corrupt opinion of the Gentiles; not that unbelievers thought that the Deity was included in the corruptible material, but because they imagined that it was nearer to them, if some earthly symbol of its presence were standing before their eyes. In this sense, they called the images of the gods their gods; because they thought they could not ascend to the heights in which the Deity dwelt, unless they mounted by these earthly aids. There is no doubt but that he comprehends by synecdoche, all kinds of images, when he forbids the making of molten gods; because metal is no more abominated by God than wood, or stone, or any other material, out of which idols are usually made; but, inasmuch as the insane zeal of superstition is the more inflamed by the value of the material or the beauty of the workmanship, Moses especially condemned molten gods. All question on this point is removed by the fourth passage here cited, wherein the Israelites are forbidden to make gods of silver or gold, viz., because idolaters indulge themselves more fully in their worship of very precious idols, by the external splendor of which all their senses are ravished. To the same effect is the third passage, in which mention is not, only made of graven images, but there is also added the name of a statue 8989 A.V. “a standing image.” Margin, “pillar:” or “image of stone.” Margin, “figured stone, Heb. a stone of picture." or figured stone; for, although some expound these words as referring to a pavement, yet I have no doubt but that all monuments are included in them, wherein foolish men think that they have God in some measure visible, and therefore that they express all sculptures and pictures by which the spiritual worship of God is corrupted. For the object of Moses is to restrain the rashness of men, lest they should travesty God’s glory by their imaginations; for another clause is immediately added, “I am the Lord your God,” in which God reminds them that He is despoiled of His due honor, whenever men devise anything earthly or carnal respecting Him. The word מצבה, 9090 The same word occurs in Genesis 28:18 and 22, where the AV. has pillar, and where the narrative shews that no idolatry was meant. — W. matsebah, is sometimes used in a good sense; whence it follows, that no other statues are here condemned, except those which are erected as representations of God. The same also is the case as to the polished stone, 9191 משכית C polished. S.M., figured. AV, image of stone, and in. the margin, figured, stone. V, insignem. S.M quotes Rabbinical interpreters, who explain the root שכה as meaning to imagine; and the noun as somewhat painted, or fashioned after an imagination. The root does not occur in Hebrew, but is preserved in Arabic, where it means to form an obscure resemblance. Hence in Simon’s Lexicon, the words אבן משכית, are interpreted as meaning such a stone as an Egyptian obelisk, with its hieroglyphics. — W. viz., when it receives a consecration, which may attract men’s minds to regard it in a religious light, so as to worship God in the stone. But both in the second and third passages, Moses teaches men that as soon as they imagine anything gross or terrestrial in the deity, they altogether depart from the true God. And this is also expressed in the word אלילים, elilim, which embraces in it statues, stones, and graven images, as well as molten gods. Some think that this word is compounded of אל, al 9292 So S.M. says “Some think this word compounded of אל, not, and אל, God, as much as to say, those who are not gods; but others interpret it to mean an empty thing, and that which profiteth not.” Lexicographers observe that the same word occurs in Syriac, in which language it means weak either in body or mind, and is therefore a fit epithet for designating idols. — W the negative particle, and אל, el, God. Others translate it “a thing of nought;” the Greeks and Latins have rendered it “idols.” It is plain, that the false representations, which travesty God, are so called to mark them with disgrace and ignominy. But, since the superstitious cease not to gloss over their errors with cavils, God is not content with this opprobrious name, but adds others also, respecting which their pretext was more specious; that we may know that whatsoever withdraws us from His spiritual service, or whatsoever men introduce alien from His nature, is repudiated by Him. In the fourth passage, the antithesis must be noted, which will presently be explained more fully, viz., when God forbids them to make gods of corruptible materials, since He has “spoken from heaven;” in which words He signifies that all are doing wrong, who, when they ought to look up to heaven, tie down their own minds as well as Him to earthly elements.