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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 12

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 4

4Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God. The principal distinction, as far as regards the external exercises of devotion, is here laid down between the legitimate worship of God, and all the fictitious rites which the Gentiles have invented; viz., that God would have but one sanctuary and one altar, which might be a symbol of the difference between Himself and all idols; and thus that true religion should have no affinity to superstitions. To this refers the prohibition, that the Israelites should not conduct themselves towards God as the Gentiles did towards their idols; but that a barrier should be raised, which would separate (103) them from the whole world. The whole external profession of God’s worship is fitly annexed to the Second Commandment, because upon that it depends, and has no other object than its due observation. But when I begin to speak of the tabernacle, the priesthood, and the sacrifices, I am entering on a deep and vast ocean, in which many interpreters, whilst indulging their curiosity, have pursued a wild and wandering course. Admonished, therefore, by their example, I will take in my sails, and only touch upon a few points which tend to edification in the faith. But my readers must now be requested, not only to pardon me for abstaining from subtle speculations, but also themselves willingly to keep within the bounds of simplicity. Many have itching ears; and in our natural vanity, most men are more delighted by foolish allegories, than by solid erudition. But let those who shall desire to profit in God’s school, learn to restrain this perverse desire of knowing more than is good for them, although it may tickle their minds. Now let us consider the words of Moses.

(103) Fr. “ l’Eglise."

Verse 5

5But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose. It is asked why God would have sacrifices offered to Him only on one altar? Besides the reason which I have lately advanced, it is not to be doubted but that He in this way had regard to believers, that He might cherish in them an agreement in the unity of the faith. This place, then, was like a standard to gather together the people, lest their religion should be torn by divisions, and lest any diversities should insinuate themselves. Moreover, God, by claiming His right and authority to choose the place, commends obedience, on which also the purity of worship depends. But, again, another question arises; because, before the time of David, the Ark had nowhere a fixed resting-place, but traveled about, as it were, to various lodgings, therefore, if the chosen place is understood to be Mount Zion, the people were free in the intermediate time to perform the sacrifices wherever they pleased. I reply, that the place was not, chosen until the Ark was placed in Zion; for not till then was fulfilled what is said in the Psalm,

"I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord;
our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem,”
(Psalms 122:1;)

in which words the Prophet intimates that there was before no resting-place, because God had not yet pointed out the place in which He would be worshipped. Therefore it is expressly said, “out of all your tribes,” or “in one of your tribes,” whereby a special privilege is referred to, which was to be conferred on one of their tribes, to the exclusion of the others. And to this relates what is said in another Psalm,

"Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim, but chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount Zion which he loved: and he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth, which he hath established for ever.”
(Psalms 78:67)

To the same effect the faithful elsewhere congratulate themselves, after the Ark was deposited with David, “We will go into his tabernacles, we will worship at his footstool;” and, on the other hand, the Spirit declares,

"The Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. This is my rest for ever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it ” (Psalms 132:13.)

Similar statements everywhere occur, confirming the opinion that the Ark never rested in its true home until it was deposited on Zion; and God, in my judgment, in order that He might keep the hope of His people in suspense, promised, although the Ark changed its place from time to time, that He had still determined on a perpetual abode in which it should rest. Yet it does not therefore follow that, up to that period, a free permission was given to the people to sacrifice wherever they would. For, wherever the sanctuary was, there was also a temporary choice of the place, until the legitimate resting-place was shewn them. Therefore God, chastising by Jeremiah the foolish confidence by which the Jews were puffed up, said,

"Go ye now unto my place, which was in Shiloh,
and see what I did to it,” etc., (Jeremiah 7:12;)

in which words he implies that Shiloh had been highly honored for a season, but had now been deprived of its honor, because the sacrifices had there been unworthily polluted.

Although, then, there is a special promise here concerning Zion, still there is no doubt but that God in the meantime confines the Jews to His sanctuary, lest any one should erect a private altar for himself, or build for himself other cities and other temples. The phrase is worthy of observation, “to put his name there;” and again, “his habitation.” The gross imaginations of men are thus obviated, lest the people should enclose God within walls, as they are wont to circumscribe His infinite essence, or to draw Him down from heaven, and to place Him beneath the elements of the world. But God’s name is said to inhabit a place, not in His own nature, but with reference to man; whilst, in deference to their ignorance, He sets before their eyes a visible symbol of His presence. Thus He is often said to “come down,” not as if He, who fills heaven and earth, actually moved, but because the familiar knowledge of Him brings Him near to men. But although He allows Himself to be invoked on earth, yet He would not have the minds of men rest there, but rather lifts them up on high as if by steps. Therefore, by Isaiah, He harshly chides them, because, although enwrapped in their sins, they still thought that He was under obligation to them because His temple was in their sight, (Isaiah 66:1,) whereas it is our business to approach Him by faith and with serious feelings when He extends His hand to us. The Ark of the Covenant indeed is often called “His face;” but, lest men should form any gross or earthly conceptions of Him, the sanctuary is also called “His footstool."

The various kinds of oblations which are here enumerated will be hereafter more clearly explained. I will only briefly remind you that the burnt-offerings are included in the sacrifices, as a part is taken for the whole. The Hebrew word, which we have translated “the elevating of the hand,” is, תרומה, therumah, (104) to which another word, תנופה, thenuphah, is often added; but, although both are derived from the act of elevating, still they seem to differ, and those skilled in the language thus distinguish them, viz., that תרומה, therumah, is to be lifted up, and then brought down; and, תנופה, thanuphah, to be turned at the same time to the right and left, although others think it means to be turned round to the four quarters of the globe. There is a difference between vows and freewill-offerings; for although a vow is at first freely made, yet we may offer things which we have not vowed. I have already spoken of the firstlings.

(104) תרומה, the heaving or elevating; תנופה, the heaving or vibrating. C.’s translation of the first word is that of S.M. ; and his note on both is extracted from a note of S.M. on Exodus 25:2, where תרומה occurs, and is rendered offering in the text of A.V. , but heave-offering in its margin. — W

Verse 7

7And there shall ye eat. We see that the sanctuary in which God manifested Himself is called His face; (105) for, although believers are taught that always, wherever they dwell, they walk before God; yet they placed themselves nearer, and in some special manner in His sight, when they approached His sanctuary. By this mode of speaking God also stimulates the laziness or tardiness of the people, lest it should be irksome to them to come to the Ark of the Covenant for the purpose of sacrificing, inasmuch as this inestimable benefit would compensate for the labor and expense of the journey. I have elsewhere shewn that, when men are said to feast before the Lord, sacred feasts are thus distinguished from our daily meals. For this was as it were an accessory to the sacrifices, to eat what remained of the victims; and in this way the guests were made partakers of the offering, which custom even heathen nations imitated, though improperly. Again, God kindly invites them when He says, “ye shall rejoice in all that thou puttest thine hands unto,” for which some translate it, “in everything to which you shall have sent your hand;” literally it is, “in the sending forth of the land.” There is no ambiguity in the sense, for it refers to those works which require the motion and application of the hands. A little below, where I have translated it, “which he hath blessed,” (quibus benedixerit,) some insert the proposition in, and supply the pronoun you, (i.e., in which he hath blessed you;) but it is quite appropriate to say, that God blesses their works, although it may be understood of their families also. As to the command that the tithes should be eaten in the holy place, I do not extend it to tithes in general, (106) for it was hardly probable that the food of those who were dispersed through various cities should be transferred to another place, so that they would perish (at home) (107) from hunger; but I understand it of the second tithes, which the Levites separated to be a special and peculiar oblation; for we shall see elsewhere that what remained over passed into the nature of ordinary produce, as if the Levites ate of the fruits of their own possessions.

(105) לפני , Heb.; in conspectu, Lat; before, A.V

(106)Ne s’estend pas en general a la nourriture des Levites;” does not extend generally to the maintenance of the Levites. — Fr.

(107) Added from Fr.

Verse 8

8Ye shall not do after all. Even then they observed the rite of sacrifice handed down to them from the fathers; but since as yet they were wandering in the desert, it was lawful for them to build altars anywhere, until an end should be put to their journeyings. And this Moses expressly declares, adding the reason, viz., that they had not yet entered into the rest which the Lord had promised them. He shews them, then, that when they shall have attained the tranquil possession of the land, there would be no further room for excuse if they should sacrifice wheresoever it pleased them. When, therefore, it is said that they then did “every man whatsoever was right in his own eyes,” it does not extend to any of the inventions which men devise for themselves in the worship of God, but only points out a freer system and form in the exercise of devotion, before the place was shewn them in which they must stay their foot. (108)

(108)Ou seroit le sanctuaire;” where the sanctuary should be. — Fr.

Verse 10

10.But when ye go over Jordan. This verse confirms what I have before said, that the Jews were constrained to a certain rule as soon as they should have reached the promised land; and yet that the place in which the Ark was perpetually to rest, would not be immediately manifested to them; for what is declared at the end of the verse, that God would give them rest round about, so that they should dwell in safety, was not in fact perfectly exhibited before the time of David. Still God would have them, as soon as they were in enjoyment of the land, come together even from their remotest boundaries to the sanctuary. He omits certain kinds of offerings of which he had lately spoken, and puts, instead of “vows,(109) “the choice vows,” which some translate “very choice vows,” or “the chief things in your vows.” I do not reject this; but the other sense is more simple, that all the vows were comprised which every one had made of his own free judgment and choice. Soon afterwards he more fully expresses his meaning, when he prohibits them from offering sacrifices of their own accord in any places that might please them; for, “to see a place, ” here, is equivalent to being carried away by the sight, so as to connect religion and holiness with elegance and beauty.

(109) A.V. , Your choice vows; margin, the choice of your vows. Ainsworth in loco, “i.e., the best, or fairest, as the Chaldee translateth."

Verse 15

Deuteronomy 12:15.Notwithstanding thou mayest kill. What precedes I have introduced in its proper place, viz., that they should not kill the sacrifices anywhere but in the sanctuary, of which there was only one in Judea. Here the permission to eat meat is given, provided that they do not offer the animals to God, but eat of them as of wild beasts. By way of example, two kinds are mentioned, the roe-buck and the hart, of which no offering was made. They are, therefore, freely allowed to eat meat wheresoever they pleased, with this exception, that they should not taste the blood; for, although this was observed by their forefathers before the giving of the Law, God ratifies it anew when He would gather a peculiar people to Himself. We know that immediately after the deluge, Noah and his posterity were commanded to abstain from blood; but, inasmuch as the greater part of mankind soon degenerated, it is probable that all nations neglected God’s command, and permitted to themselves a universal license on this point; and it is even questionable whether this observance, which was everywhere fallen into desuetude, prevailed among the family of Shem. Certainly it may be conjectured from the renewed promulgation of the law, that it was altogether obsolete; at any rate, God would have His chosen people distinguished by this mark of separation from heathen nations.

The reason of the prohibition which is now mentioned had already been declared, (18) viz., because the blood is the seat of life. But although it, was allowable to kill an animal for food, yet, was it a useful restraint to prevent inhumanity, that they should not touch the blood; for if they abstained from the blood of beasts, much more necessary was it to spare human blood. After God, therefore, has forbidden blood to be eaten, He immediately proceeds to speak of men themselves: “Whose sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.” (19) (Genesis 9:4.) Hence I have deemed it appropriate to annex all the passages in which God commands the people to abstain from blood, to the Sixth Commandment. In itself, indeed, the eating of blood was a thing of no great importance: since, therefore, God so often inculcates a point of so little weight, it may be inferred that the law has some further object. To this may be added the severity of the punishment, for surely it was not a crime worthy of death to taste the blood of some little bird; and hence, also, it is manifested that the prohibition had another meaning, viz., that cruelty might be abhorred. And the words of Moses show that the eating of blood is not forbidden because it infected man with its uncleanness, but that they might account the life of man to be precious; for it is said, “the blood is the life,” which, in the opinion of Augustine, (20) is equivalent to its being “the sign of life;“ but Moses rather means that animal life is contained in the blood. Wherefore, blood, which represents the life, was not interdicted without reason, nor was it only sinful to eat the blood by itself, but also together with the flesh, as is expressly declared both in Deuteronomy and in the last passage from Leviticus.

(18) See on Leviticus 3:17, vol. 2, p. 335, whence, however, he refers to Genesis 9:4. C. Society’s edition, vol. 1, p. 293.

(19) Lat. “Qui effuderit sanguinem hominis in homine;” he who shall have shed the blood of man in man. — Vide C. in loco.

(20) Quaest. in Leviticum, 57 Section 2. “Illud appellatur anima, quod significat animam.” — Edit. Benedict. tom. 3, p. 1 pag. 516.

Verse 23

23.Only be (21) sure that thou eat not. It is not without cause that he earnestly exhorts them to inflexible firmness, because it was both a matter trifling in appearance, and its observation troublesome, whilst it was easy to decline from it on account of the universal example of the Gentiles. For if they considered within themselves that it contributed not to holiness that they should not touch blood, hence a snare to indulgence might easily have arisen.

(21) Lat. , “Roberare.” Margin, A. V. , “Heb. , Be strong.”

Verse 26

26Only thy holy things. This passage more clearly explains what was meant by the foregoing precepts, viz., that but one place was set apart for the performance of their sacred rites, lest, if each should offer wherever it pleased him, religion should be corrupted, and by degrees the various altars should beget as many gods. He therefore commands that all the victims should be sacrificed on one altar, with a provision that the blood should be poured out.

Verse 28

Here, again, God invites the obedience of the people by the promise of reward; not that the hope of reward at all avails in itself to arouse men, but because He would thus keep all under the conviction of their just condemnation: for how will it help them to answer that they are not sufficient to perform what God requires, when it appears that they are thus wretched through their own fault? But, as has been said before, it is profitable by indulgence to believers that the reward of obedience should be promised them when they have kept the Law, since their innumerable defects are not imputed to them. Still this doctrine remains sure, that if men devote themselves to the keeping of the Law, God, although He owes them nothing, will nevertheless faithfully reward them.

Verse 29

29.When the Lord thy God shall cut off. This passage has some affinity to that in the eighteenth chapter of Deuteronomy, which we have already remarked on. For inasmuch as it was easy for the people to lapse into the imitation of the Gentiles, and to worship their false gods, under whose protection the inhabitants boasted their land to be, all inquiry respecting them is also strictly forbidden. (305) For this is the origin of idolatry, when the genuine simplicity of God’s worship is known, that people begin to be dissatisfied with it, and curiously to inquire whether there is anything worthy of belief in the figments of men; for men’s minds are soon attracted by the snares of novelty, so as to pollute, with various kinds of leaven, what has been delivered in God’s word. Nor does he only withdraw and restrain them from the desire of inquiry, but expressly commands them to “take heed to” themselves, or to keep themselves; because men are naturally disposed to this wanton curiosity, and take much delight in it. Therefore God encloses His people with barriers, which may keep them back from all hurtful desires; nay, He would have them so abominate the practice of superstitions, as to fly even from the infection of hearing of them. We must briefly observe respecting the words, which we have translated “to possess the nations,” that Moses does not mean that they were to become their prey, so as to be their slaves by right of capture, but that he refers to the land. Therefore he says, “thou shalt possess them before thy face;” i.e., when they are destroyed, the land will be vacant for you to possess it. In the Hiphil conjugation this word signifies to expel, as we have already seen; and to this meaning Moses perhaps makes allusion. The word (306) which I have translated “illa-queare,” to snare, some interpreters render to stumble, and others to be carried away, which would be more agreeable to the construction, “lest you should be carried away after them;” yet I have been unwilling to depart from the generally received opinion, when the metaphor of “ensnaring” is very appropriate; as if he had said, that all the perversities of the Gentiles were so many nets or snares to entrap men, if they come too near them; for it presently follows, “after that they be destroyed,” which some also thus render, “lest you should perish after them,” as if He would awaken their fears by holding forth the example of their destruction.

(305) Addition in French, “de peur que de l’un ils ne vienent a l’autre;” for fear that they should pass from one to the other.

(306) תנקש, 2. fut. pass. of נקש. The Chaldee paraphrast is cited by S. M. as explaining it by a word equivalent to thou stumble. It does not appear who has rendered it be carried away.W.

Pol. Syn. gives “aberres,” as the Syriac version, and “ne captarts,” as that of Malvenda.

Verse 31

31.Thou shalt not do so. From these words we may gather what it is not to make to one’s self the gods of others, viz., to bid farewell to all the inventions of men, and to pay attention to this one thing — what God commands. For why does God desire to be worshipped by His elect people, otherwise than the nations were in the habit of serving their gods, except because there ought to be a notable distinction, so that religion may not be confused? And surely unless men cleave to God’s word, so as resolutely to determine that nothing else is permitted to them except what is there taught, they will not only be vacillating, but. they will receive indiscriminately whatever comes in their way. We must then hold fast to this, “Thou shalt not do so;” and our minds must be restrained by this curb, lest any superstition which may defile the service of God should insinuate or establish itself. He adds, that God not only repudiates these strange worships, but even abominates them; and in order to impress this the more, he adduces one form of superstition, in which its absurdity was unusually manifest; for it is a foul barbarity that innocent children should be burnt by their parents.

Verse 32

32.What thing soever I command. In this brief clause he teaches that no other service of God is lawful, except that of which He has testified His approval in His word, and that obedience is as it were the mother of piety; as if he had said that all modes of devotion are absurd and infected with superstition, which are not directed by this rule. Hence we gather, that in order to the keeping of the First Commandment, a knowledge of the true God is required, derived from His word, and mixed with faith. By forbidding the addition, or diminishing of anything, he plainly condemns as illegitimate whatever men invent of their own imagination; whence it follows that they, who in worshipping God are guided by any rule save that which He Himself has prescribed, make to themselves false gods; and, therefore, horrible vengeance is denounced by Him against those who are guilty of this temerity, through Isaiah,

“Forasmuch as this people draw near me, etc., by the precept of men; therefore, behold I will proceed to do a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,” etc. (Isaiah 29:13.)

Now, since all the ceremonies of the Papal worship are a mass of superstitions, no wonder that all her chief rulers and ministers should be blinded with that stupidity wherewith God has threatened them. (307)

(307) Addition in French, “avoit menace les anciens Sacrificateurs.”

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 12". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/deuteronomy-12.html. 1840-57.
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