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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Deuteronomy 27

 

 

Verse 1

1.And Moses, with the elders. This precept is of the same character as those that have preceded it; for, as God would have His precepts written on the door-posts, and on the borders of their garments, so that they might constantly meet their eyes, so also would He have a monument existing at the very entrance of their land, from which the people might learn that they dwelt in it, in order that they might worship God purely. Wherefore, lest by the people’s carelessness the knowledge of the Law should be obscured, or in any way obliterated, God would have its sum inscribed in a conspicuous place. Hence may be gathered the similarity I have adverted to between the private houses of individuals and the whole land. When the precepts were written on the doors, every one was admonished that his house was sacred to God, and the same was the case with the whole land, so that whosoever entered it might know that it was, as it were, the sanctuary of heavenly doctrine, and thus their zeal might be stirred up to the pure worship of God. The object of the plain and distinct writing of the Scripture, referred to in verse 8, was to take away (the excuse of (237)) ignorance.


Verse 5

5And there shalt thou build an altar. At their first entrance into the land, God commands that a sacrifice of thanksgiving should be offered to Him; and this Joshua performed, as is related in Joshua 8:30

"Then Joshua built an altar unto the Lord God of Israel in Mount Ebal;
as Moses the servant of the Lord commanded the children of Israel,
an altar of whole stones, over which no man hath lift up any iron."

First of all, then, this testimony of their gratitude is required, that the children of Israel, as soon as they have begun to set foot in the land of Canaan, might celebrate the praises of the Lord; secondly, he forbids all artificial work, because, if the altar had been permanent, it would have been an occasion of superstition, and this exceptional instance would have been more regarded than the perpetual Law of God. Hence the nine tribes and half were so greatly wroth against the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and half Manasseh, on account of the altar which was built on the bank of Jordan, (Joshua 22:0,) insomuch that they determined utterly to destroy their brethren, until they had cleared themselves by alleging that they had only built it as a memorial of their brotherly union, and not for sacrifice. Assuredly they were good expounders of the Law who accounted it an inexpiable crime, that an altar should be left for posterity, to withdraw the people from the one sanctuary, and thus to destroy the unity of faith.


Verse 9

The ground of his exhortation is again taken from the special favor of adoption, wherewith the God of Abraham had honored them; for there was nothing which should have more effectually stimulated them to obedience, than that more than paternal love, and the gratuitous kindness with which He had prevented them. Although, at the same time, they were admonished in these words of the object for which they were separated from other nations; for the conclusion he draws is, that because they were received by God as His people, they, therefore, lay under an obligation to keep His statutes; as Paul more plainly teaches us that we are redeemed from all iniquity, that Christ might purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14.) Moreover, since the priests were now appointed, from whose lips the doctrine of the law was to be sought, they here come forward in God’s own name, and engage the people to respond to His generous calls upon them; and not only this, but also to obey His ministers.


Verse 11

11.And Moses charged the people the same day. In order that both the promises and threats might have more efficacy in affecting the minds of all, God enjoined not only that they should be proclaimed in a solemn rite, but also that they should be approved by the people in a loud voice, and sealed, as it were, by their consent. It is elsewhere recorded that this was faithfully performed by Joshua. ( Joshua 8:33.) Let it suffice to say at present that they were all summoned, and conducted before God to subscribe to them, so that henceforth all subterfuge might be put an end to. The tribes of Israel were divided into two parties, that they might stand opposite to each other, and that the blessings might sound forth from one side, and the curses from the other, (196) like ἀντίστροφοι. I confess I do not know why the descendants of Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin, were chosen by God to proclaim the blessings, rather than the others; (197) for there is no force in the opinion of the Hebrew writers that those who descended from free mothers were placed in the post of highest dignity: since the tribe of the first-born, Reuben, was united with some who sprang from the bond-maids; unless, perhaps, we may say that the descendants of Reuben were degraded into the second class as a mark of ignominy; but, since both the blessings and curses were offered in the name of the whole people, it is not a point of much importance. For, if this division (198) was made to bear witness to their common consent, it was equivalent to their all alike confessing that the transgressors of the Law were accursed, and those who kept it blessed; and consequently I am not very curious to know why, in their common office, God preferred some to the others. Moses will elsewhere relate that the tribes, which are here separated, were then united together. It would perhaps be a probable conjecture that God, who well knew what would hereafter be the inheritance of every tribe, placed them severally in that station which would correspond to their future allotment.

In order that the sanction might have more solemnity, God chose that the Levites should dictate the words as if He Himself spoke from heaven; for, since they were appointed to be the expounders of the Law, as it behooved them faithfully to repeat what God had dictated out of His own mouth, so they were heard with greater attention and reverence.


Verse 15

15.Cursed be the man that maketh any graven. Hence it appears that Moses is silent as to the half (of what he had spoken of before; (199)) for no mention is made of the blessings (200) which occupied before the first place. Perhaps the Spirit would indirectly rebuke the wickedness of the people, from whence it arose that He was not at liberty to proclaim the praises conveyed in the blessings; for, when they ought to have embraced cheerfully the reward promised to them, their ungodliness deprived them of this honor; and nothing remained but that they should submit themselves to the just punishment of their iniquities. Meanwhile, it cannot be doubted but that they were taught by the forms of cursing which we here read what course was to be observed in blessing. For, when God pronounces His condemnation of transgressors, we may hence infer that the hope of blessedness is laid up for His true servants, if any fulfill His law. Besides, in the list of curses here recorded, a synecdoche is to be observed, since no special curse is separately denounced against blasphemers, perjurers, Sabbath-breakers, slanderers, and adulterers. It is plain, therefore, that some kinds of crime which were worthy of the greatest abomination, were selected, in order that the people might learn from hence that transgression against any particular of the Law would not be unpunished; for, by speaking of graven images, God undoubtedly defends His worship from all pollutions; and thus this curse extends to every breach of the First Table. Moreover, when He threatens to punish secret sins, we may readily infer that, although offenders might be hidden from earthly judges, and escape from their hands a hundred times, still God would be the avenger of His polluted worship. If any had put an idol in a secret place, or had smitten his neighbor secretly, he will not suffer the punishment which cannot be inflicted unless his crime be detected, and he is convicted of the offense; but, lest impunity should encourage any one to become obdurate in sin, the people are summoned before the heavenly tribunal of God, that they may be retained in the path of duty, not only by the fear of punishment, but for conscience-sake. Whence, again, it is clear that God did not only deliver a political Law, which should merely direct their outward morals, but one which would require true sincerity of heart.


Verse 16

16.Cursed be he that setteth light by his father. What follows refers to the Second Table of the Law; and, first, He pronounces those cursed who should be undutiful ( impii) to their parents; for the word קלל, kalal, (201) which means to despise, as well as to curse, is put in opposition to the honor which, by the Fifth Commandment, is due to our father and mother. Then He mentions such thefts as generally escape the knowledge of men; as also, He only adverts to those acts of fornication which are anxiously concealed on account of their filthiness. To have connection with a beast, with one’s mother-in-law, or step-mother, or sister, is so unnatural and detestable a crime, that it is generally concealed more carefully. But God admonishes us that, whatever modes of concealment the sinner shall adopt, they will profit him nothing, but that, when He shall at length ascend His judgment-seat, their shame shall be discovered. For the same reason he does not curse all murderers, but only such as have shed innocent blood for hire, which nefarious compact cannot easily be discovered so as to be punished by laws. (202)


Verse 26

26.Cursed is he that confirmeth not. Although it was God’s purpose to summon the consciences of all men before Him, and, in order that they might not only fear human judgments, He designedly threatened them with the punishment of secret sins, yet the conclusion, which is now added, extends the same judgment to all iniquities of whatever kind. Nay, He briefly declares, that whosoever shall not perform what the Law requires, are accursed. From whence Paul rightly infers, that “as many as are of the works of the Law are under the curse.” (Galatians 3:10.) For let the most perfect man come forward, and, although he may have striven ever so diligently to keep the Law, he will have at least offended in some point or other; since the declaration of James must be borne in mind, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all;” for he that forbade murder and adultery, forbade theft also. (James 2:10.) Paul indeed does not quote the very words of Moses, for he thus cites his testimony;

“Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them,” (Galatians 3:10;)

but there is no difference in the sense, since all are here condemned without exception, who have not confirmed the Law of God, so as to fulfill to the uttermost whatever it contains. Whence if is clear that, in whatever respect the deficiency betrays itself, it brings men under the curse; and to this the Israelites are commanded to assent, so as to acknowledge that they were all without exception lost, since they were involved in the curse. And now-a-days, also, it is necessary that we should all to a man be struck with the same despair, in order that, embracing the grace of Christ, we should be delivered from this melancholy state of guilt; since he was made accursed for us, that He might redeem us from the curse of the Law. (Galatians 3:13.)

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 27:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/deuteronomy-27.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, June 5th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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