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Commentary On Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai by Jean Calvin

Habakkuk 2:18

18. What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?

18. Quid prodest sculptile? quia sculpsit illud fictor ejus conflatile et doctorem mendacii; quia confidit fictor figmento suo, ut faciat idola muta.

The Prophet now advances farther, and shows that whatever he had predicted of the future ruin of Babylon and of its monarchy, proceeded from the true God, from the God of Israel: for it would not have been sufficient to hold, that some deity existed in heaven, who ruled human affairs, so that it could not be, but that tyrants would have to suffer punishment for their cruelty. We indeed know that such sayings as these were everywhere common among heathen nations -- that justice sits with Jupiter -- that there is a Nemesis -- that there is Divine vengeance. Since then such a conviction had ever been imprinted on the hearts of men, it would have been a frigid and almost an empty doctrine, had not the Prophet introduced the God of Israel. This is the reason why he now derides all idols, and claims for God the government of the whole world, and clearly shows that he speaks of the Jews, because they worshipped no imaginary gods, as the heathen nations, but plainly understood him to be the creator of heaven and earth, who revealed himself to Abraham, who gave his law by the hand of Moses. We now perceive the Prophet's design.

As then the king of Babylon did himself worship his own gods, the Prophet dissipates that vain confidence, by which he might be deceived and deceive others. Hence he says, What avails the graven image? He speaks here contemptuously of images formed by men's hands. And he adds a reason, because the maker has graven it, he says. Interpreters give a sense that is very jejune, as though the Prophet had said, |What avails a graven image, when it is graven or melted by its artificer?| But the Prophet shows here the reason why the worship of idols is useless, and that is, because these gods are made of dead materials. And then he says, |What deity can the artificer produce?| We hence see that a reason is given in these words, and therefore we may more clearly render them thus -- |What avails the graven image, when the framer has graven it?| that is, since the graven image has its origin from the hand and skill of man, what can it avail? He then adds, he has formed a molten image; that is, though the artificer has given form to the metal, or to the wood, or to the stone, yet he could not have changed its nature. He has indeed given it a certain external appearance; but were any one to ask what it is, the answer would surely be, |It is a graven image.| Since then its nature is not changed by the work of man, it evidently appears, how stupid and mad must all those be who put their trust in graven images.

He then adds, and a teacher of falsehood. He added this clause, because men previously entertain false notions, and dare not to form a judgement on the matter itself. For, how comes it that a piece of wood or a stone is called a god? Had any one asked the sages at Rome or at Athens, or in other cities, who thought all other nations barbarous, What is that? on seeing a Jupiter made of silver; or of wood, or of stone, the answer would have been, |It is Jupiter, it is God.| But how could this be? It is a stone, a piece of wood, or of silver. They would yet have asserted that it was God. Whence came this madness? Even from this, because men were bewitched, so that seeing they saw not; they wilfully closed their eyes, and resolved to be blind, being unwilling to understand. This is the reason why the Prophet, by way of anticipation, says, the artificer has formed -- what has he formed? a graven image and a teacher of falsehood. The material remains the same, but a false notion prevails, for men think idols to be gods. How come they to think so? It is no doubt the teaching of falsehood, a mere illusion. He then confirms the same thing; the fashioner, or the artificer, he says, trusts in his own work, or in what he has formed. How is this? Must they not be void of sense and reason who trust in lifeless things? |The workman,| as Isaiah says, |will take his instruments, will form an idol, and then he will bow the knee, and call it his god; yet it is the work of his own hands.| What! art not thou thyself a god? thou knowest thine own frailty, and yet thou createst new gods! Even in this manner does the Prophet confirm what he had previously said, that men are extremely stupid, nay, that they are seized with monstrous sottishness, when they ascribe a kind of deity to wood, or to a stone, or to metal. How so? because they are, he says, false imaginations.

And he adds, that he may make dumb idols. He again repeats what he had said, -- that the nature of the material is not changed by men's workmanship, when they form to themselves gods either from wood or from stone. How so? because they cannot speak. To the same purpose is what immediately follows; the next verse must therefore be added. We shall afterwards say something more on the general subject.

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