Friday, April 2, 2010

The Second and Third Commandments

There is some interesting language contained in the second commandment which seems at first glance to be a contradiction to a passage in Ezekiel.  God threatens that he "will visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, to the third and fourth generation."  This sounds like a generational curse.  We Americans have a really hard time with the idea of a generational curse because we believe in our own concept of fairness and earning on our own.  Why should we be punished for our grandparents' sin?  But then we look at Ezekiel 18:20 which reads, "The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not bear the guilt of the father, nor the father bear the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself."  At first glance this is in direct contradiction to the threat contained in the second commandment.  For the first time, Calvin has helped me to reconcile these two passages.  Children often follow in their parents footsteps, good and bad.  Children of Christians often become Christians.  Children of wicked idol-worshipers often become idol-worshipers.  Part of why God was so insistent that the Jewish people did not inter-marry with the pagans was because God knew that their children would often become pagans themselves.  These third and fourth generations referenced in the second commandment will be punished for their own sin, not the sins of their fathers, however, it is because of their fathers' sins that they will be more likely to commit the same sin themselves.  "But the fact that they are also subjected to temporal miseries, and at last to eternal destruction, is the punishment inflicted by God's righteous judgment, not for another's sins, but for their own wickedness."

Calvin speaks more about this threat to the third and fourth generations, and also his promise to the many thousands who will receive his mercy when he writes, "For the Lawgiver desired here to frame no such perpetual rule as might detract from his election...For the temporal punishments inflicted upon a few scoundrels are testimonies of the divine wrath against sin, and of the judgment someday coming to all sinners, though many go unpunished till the end of this life.  Thus, when the Lord gives one example of this blessing to show his mercy and kindness to the son for the father's sake, he gives proof of his constant and perpetual favor toward those who worship him."  Calvin writes that " passing he commends to us the largeness of his mercy, which he extends to a thousand generations, while he has assigned only four generations to his vengeance."  God is so merciful.  So often, especially when we see his threats against the wicked, we temporarily forget about just how merciful he is.

The third commandment reads, "You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain" (Exodus 20:7 NKJV).  Calvin writes that the purpose of this commandment is that "God wills that we hallow the majesty of his name.  Therefore, it means in brief that we are not to profane his name by treating it contemptuously and irreverently."  We should treat his name with the honor and respect it deserves.  This command has even more meaning when applied to oaths, "wherein the perverse abuse of the Lord's name is in the highest degree detestable, that thereby we may be better frightened away altogether from all profaning of it."  Calvin makes a distinction between the reason for this commandment and the commandment about bearing false witness.  Here, the offense is in the "First Table" therefore it is an offense directly against God.  Bearing false witness is a commandment from the "Second Table" and it is an offense between two men.

When an oath is taken, "It is calling God as witness to confirm the truth of our word."  We see examples of people invoking God's name in oaths in Scripture and in our lives today.  By taking an oath "...we call upon him not only as the fit witness of truth above all others, but also the only affirmer of it, who is able to bring hidden things to light..."  1 Corinthians 4:5 reads, "Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God."  God gets especially angry at those who swear by false gods.  He sees this type of swearing as "a proof of open treason."  Think about it: by swearing by another god, a person is openly declaring that this other god is the true god, not Jehovah.  Jeremiah 5:7a reads "How shall I pardon you for this? / Your children have forsaken Me / And sworn by those that are not gods."  He was not happy.  Zephaniah 1:4-5 records God's threat to those who swear by false gods, "I will stretch out My hand against Judah, / And against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. / I will cut off every trace of Baal from this place, / The names of the idolatrous priests with the pagan priests—  / Those who worship the host of heaven on the housetops; / Those who worship and swear oaths by the LORD, / But who also swear by Milcom..."

Giving false oaths desecrates God's holy name.  God is dishonored when someone gives an oath in his name but then perjures himself.  According to Calvin, "...we cannot call God to be the witness of our words without asking him to be the avenger of our perjury if we deceive."  Though that seems readily apparent, some obviously do not understand it or do not believe it.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.25-2.8.27 

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