“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List.
It’s true that the Lord sometimes would reveal Himself in certain signs so that He was said to be seen face-to-face. But all the signs He employed were in perfect accordance to true doctrine and at the same time gave some indication of His incomprehensible essence. For example, the cloud, smoke and flame were symbols of heavenly glory (Deuteronomy 4:11). Yet, these symbols curbed people’s mind from trying to penetrate into the mysteries of God’s essence. Even though Moses prayed to see God’s face, he wasn’t allow to because God’s glory is too great (Exodus 33:20). The Holy Spirit also appeared as a dove. The symbol of the dove, however, vanished instantly. Who can’t understand then that this symbol was a call for us to regard the Spirit as invisible and be content with His power and grace? It was not a call for us to worship an external form.
God sometimes would appear in the form of a man. But such appearances were an anticipation of the revelation of the God-Man, Jesus. Therefore, these appearances did not give the Jews any reason for creating a symbol of God in the form of a man. The mercy-seat was also a symbol of God’s invisible presence (Exodus 25:17, 18, 21). The mercy-seat was made in such a way that it points us to contemplate God’s invisible glory: the Cherubim with outstretched wings shaded it, and veil covered it, and its remote location in the Holy of Holies concealed it. Therefore, it is mere fantasy to try to defend the use of images by appealing to the Cherubim which adorn the ark of the covenant.
Because what did these figures means except that images are unfit to represent the mysteries of God? The Cherubim’s wings concealed a view of God not only from our eyes but from every human sense. Furthermore, the prophets add that the Seraphim covered their eyes from looking at the glory of God because it is too great to see. Even angels cannot look at it directly! Meanwhile, the minutes beams of glory which come angels are shield from our eyes. Moreover, everyone acknowledges that the Cherubim were made under the era of the Law; they are not for our new covenant time. That old age in which things of that era were adapted has passed away.
Surely, it is disgraceful that pagan writers should be more skillful interpreters than Roman Catholics. Juvenal ridicules the Jews for supposedly worshipping thin clouds and the earth. He did this perversely and blasphemously, but he still acknowledged that the Jews were worshipping no visible form of God. He speaks more accurately than the Roman Catholics who argue that the Jews used some real images for worship.
Let’s learn something here: The fact that the Jews occasionally were drawn away and tempted by idols shows us how prone our human nature is toward idolatry. Do not use the Jews as a scapegoat for your own idolatry and be lead away into death-like sleep.