Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Fifth and Sixth Commandments

When we first began reading Calvin's thoughts on the Ten Commandments, we read about there being "Two Tables."  The First Table contained the first four commandments, all of which concerned themselves with our relationship to God.  The Second Table which we begin today contains the last six commandments that deal with our relationships with each other.

The fifth commandment in Exodus 20:12 is this, "Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you."  Calvin sums up this commandment by stating, "...we should look up to those whom God has placed over us, and should treat them with honor, obedience, and gratefulness.  It follows from this that we are forbidden to detract from their dignity either by contempt, by stubbornness, or by ungratefulness."  Calvin discusses other places in Scripture where the term "honor" is used.  He quotes I Timothy 5:17 where Paul is speaking of elders who rule well deserving double honor.  Anyone whom God has placed in a position of authority is deserving of our honor, obedience, and gratefulness.  Calvin states that God has shared his titles "Father," "God," and "Lord" with certain people.  These terms immediately stir up an awareness of majesty in our minds when we hear them.  An example that Calvin uses is that of a "prince" or a "lord."  The name alone should cause us to recognize the honor that is due them because it is God who has shared this name with them.  Honestly, I think there must be something a little lost in the translation into English.  I understand what Calvin is reasoning with the names "Father" and "Lord."  However, I have never heard anyone called "god" and had anything but a sense of this person attempting to take away the honor properly due to Jehovah.  If there is a little "g" for the word "god," I am always thinking that it is a false god.

So we should recognize that the people who have been placed over us have achieved this position through God's will and ordination.  Therefore we must show them their due "reverence, obedience, and gratefulness."  Calvin writes, "It makes no difference whether our superiors are worthy or unworthy of this honor, but whatever they are they have attained their position through God's providence - a proof that the Lawgiver himself would have us hold them in honor."  Calvin then says this has been expressly given to our parents because they brought us into this life.  He then begins speaking of the punishment for breaking this commandment.  "Those who abusively or stubbornly violate parental authority are monsters, not men!  Hence the Lord commands that all those disobedient to their parents be put to death."  See Exodus 21:17 and Deuteronomy 21:18-21 as examples.  I sure am grateful that my parents did not do this with me (although I bet my mother was tempted at times). 

Now there is a promise also attached to this commandment.  Paul points this out in Ephesians 6:2-3, "'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with promise:  'that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.'"  Promises before this in the First Table were for the whole law, this was for one commandment in particular.  We must remember that the present life is not in itself the blessedness, but it is a proof of God's benevolence toward us.  The real blessing is eternal life which is given to God's people.  Therefore if a child is taken away early in life, it does not mean that the child did evil or did not honor his parents and is undeserving of God's blessings.  For he may be enjoying the true blessedness of eternal life.  "The whole point lies here: we should reflect that we are promised long life in so far as it is a blessing of God; and that it is a blessing only in so far as it is an evidence of God's favor, which he testifies to his servants far more richly and substantially through death, and proves it in the reality."

Calvin speaks more of the threat of breaking this commandment.  Even if the lawbreaker avoids being put to death, he will not escape punishment forever.  Sometimes, these are the people who are killed in battle or in other ways.  Others still may end up living a long miserable life only to receive punishment after death.  Calvin concludes the discussion on this commandment by telling us that we should obey not only our parents, but all who are in authority provided that they do not incite us to sin against God.

The next commandment has little discussion with it.  The sixth commandment as found in Exodus 20:13 reads, "You shall not murder." Calvin writes that men are bound together by God in a "certain unity, hence each man ought to concern himself with the safety of all."  It is interesting that Calvin does not even bother to speak of the debate between killing (as in war) or murder which seems to be at the forefront of most modern discussions of this commandment.  Instead, Calvin goes in another route, speaking as to what else this commandment implies.  "We are accordingly commanded, if we find anything of use to us in saving our neighbors' lives, faithfully to employ it; if there is anything that makes for their peace, to see it; if anything harmful, to ward it off; if they are in danger, to lend a helping hand."  To me, this is the most profound interpretation of this commandment aside from Christ's interpretation in Matthew 5.  Not only is this a command to refrain from taking the life of our neighbor, but it is also a command to make our neighbor's life more complete.

There is a two-fold reason for this commandment.  First, man is made in the image of God.  By murdering another man, we violate the image of God.  Therefore, we should "hold our neighbor sacred."  The second is man is flesh - our neighbor is made from the same flesh as us.  Therefore, "if we do not with to renounce all humanity, we ought to cherish his flesh as our own flesh."  Calvin reminds us like Christ did, if we are even wishing our neighbor dead, or plot against him, we are guilty of breaking this commandment.  We must actively seek to make the lives of all men better.

Tomorrow's reading: 2.8.41-2.8.44

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