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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 16

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.Observe the month Abib. For what purpose God instituted the Passover, has already been shewn in the exposition of the First Commandment; for since it was a symbol of redemption, and in that ceremony the people exercised themselves in the pure worship of the One God, so as to acknowledge Him to be their only Father, and to distinguish Him from all idols, I thought that the actual slaying of the lamb should be introduced amongst the Supplements to the First Commandment. It only remains for us to speak here of what relates to the Sabbath. This then was the first solemn day, on which God would have His people rest and go up to Jerusalem, forsaking all their business. But mention is here made not only of the Paschal Lamb, but He also commands sheep and oxen to be slain in the place which He should choose. In these words He signifies that on that day a holy convocation was to be held; which is soon after more clearly expressed, for I have already given the two intermediate verses in the institution of the Passover itself, He therefore prohibits their slaying the Passover apart in their own cities, but would have them all meet in the same sanctuary. It has been elsewhere said that one altar was prescribed for them, as if God would gather them under one banner for the preservation of concord and the unity of the faith. What is added respecting the solemnity of the seventh day is very appropriate to this place.

Verse 3

Deuteronomy 16:3Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it. Because by this sign they were reminded of their having escaped in haste, as it were from the very flames; therefore does Moses so often enforce the prohibition of leaven. And here this reason for it is alleged, viz., that their recollection should be recalled to the affliction from which they were rescued; for they must needs have been involved in the greatest straits, when there was no time even for baking bread. Unleavened bread is therefore called “the bread of affliction,” that the manner of their deliverance may the more enhance God’s grace. He repeats what we have seen before, that none of the flesh of the Lamb should be reserved to the following day. In the former passage from the Book of Exodus, because Moses speaks generally, the command may at first sight be referred to the perpetual sacrifice; but the latter passage takes away all obscurity, by the express mention of the passover. We need not wonder that in one place the word “fat” is used for the whole carcase, or any part of the lamb, either by synecdoche, or that God might commend the superior sanctity of the fat, of which they were not permitted to eat, and which was burnt in all sacrifices.

Verse 9

9.Seven weeks shalt thou number. It must be observed that the Passover fell in a part of the year when the harvests were beginning to ripen; and consequently the first-fruits, of which I treated under the First Commandment, were then offered. Seven weeks afterwards they celebrated another feast-day, which was called Pentecost, i.e., the fiftieth, by the Greeks. There was just this number of days between the departure of the people and the publication of the Law. Another offering of first-fruits was then made, in which each one, according to his ability, and in proportion to the produce of the year, consecrated a gift to God of the harvested fruits. In order that they might be more ready and cheerful in their liberality, God’s blessing is set before them, as if Moses had commanded the people to testify their gratitude; since whatever springs from the earth, is the mere bounty of God Himself.

Verse 11

11.And thou shalt require. On another ground he exhorts and excites them to willingness, because the service of God brings this rejoicing; for there is nothing which ought more to stimulate us to obedience, that when we know that God rather consults our good than seeks to obtain any advantage from us. Ungodly men, indeed, rejoice also, nay, they are wanton and intemperate in their joy; but since that joy is not only transient, but their laughter is turned into weeping and gnashing of teeth, it is not without cause that Moses here magnifies it as a peculiar blessing, to rejoice before God; as if a father should invite his children to delight themselves together with him. But by this external exercise, believers were reminded that there is no real or desirable joy, unless in reference to God. And surely, however the wicked may exult in their pleasures, and abandon themselves to gratifcations, still, since tranquillity of conscience, which alone brings true rejoicing, is wanting to them, they do not enjoy the merriment into which they plunge themselves. Finally, Moses amplifies by a comparison the good which they enjoyed in the service of God, when he says, “And thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt;” for that their present condition might be more pleasant to them, he heightened its sweetness by the recollection of their most miserable captivity. I have here neglected Cicero’s (360) very subtle distinction between the words gaudium and laetitia, for unless I take both of them in a good sense, I could not translate the Hebrew words, whereby God would express how indulgently He deals with His children. Meanwhile, this passage contains an exhortation to render thanks to God our deliverer.

(360) Tusc. Quoest iv., “Nam cum ratione animus movetur placide et constanter, tum illud gaudium dicitur; cum autem inaniter, et effuse animus exultat, tum ilia laetitia gestiens, vel nimia dici potest; quam ita definiunt, sine ratione animi elationem.” —Edit. Elz., 1661, p. 1088, a.

Verse 13

13.Thou shalt observe the feast of tabernacles. Its first day was called the day of In-gathering, (collectionum ,) because the produce of the whole year was then stored in their granaries (361) and provision cellars. Since, therefore, they then rested from their rural labors, it was a convenient time of year for the celebration of the festivals; for in order that they might more willingly go up to Jerusalem, it was arranged by God, that it should be done with but little expense and sacrifice of their domestic interests. Where our translation is, “When Jehovah shall have blessed thee,” it stands literally, “Because he shall bless thee,” (362) but the sense is nearly the same; for Moses assures them that, provided they devote their minds diligently and faithfully to the service of God, they shall never want grounds for rejoicing, since He will never interrupt the flow of His blessing. The end, therefore, of the fifteenth verse, is not a mere command, but also a promise; as if he had said, that, if they were not ungrateful, there was no fear but that God would continually supply new cause for gladness; and these two clauses are to be taken in connection, “God will bless thee, and, therefore, thou shalt only rejoice;” for in this passage I willingly interpret thus (363) the particle אך, ak. It is indeed absurd to take it adversatively. It will not, therefore, be improper to explain it exclusively, as if he said, that, there should be no sorrow or anxiety, which should hinder them from the performance of their pious duty; those who render it “surely,” approach also to this meaning.

(361)Aux greniers, ou aux caves, ou fenils, et gardoirs de toute provision.” — Fr.

(362) Vide A. V., Deuteronomy 16:15, “Because the Lord thy God shall bless thee,” etc.

(363)Car il y a ici un mot qui se prend bien pour Toutes fois; mais il signifie pareillement Tant y a, ou Quoy qu’il en soit, ou Pour vrai; for there is here a word, which may properly mean, Nevertheless; but it also means However, or, At any rate, or, Truly. —Fr.

"Only (Utique, Vatablus; veruntamen, Pagninus; profrcto,Malvenda ) joyful; understand, and not sad, i.e., You shall indulge in nothing but rejoicing.”Pol. Syn. in loco.

Verse 16

16.Three times in a year. We have previously said that although the other feast-days were not to be neglected, still, because God would make some allowance for the infirmity of His people, the necessity of going up to Jerusalem five times a year was not imposed upon them. Again, because only half of the seventh month contained three feast-days, i.e., from the first to the fifteenth, for the same reason it is only required of the males that they should leave their houses and celebrate the sacred convocations; for thus the females are spared, to whom traveling is not so convenient. Besides, through the fecundity promised them by God, they were almost always either pregnant or nursing. It is also certain that the boys and young men were excepted under the age of twenty, since God includes under the term males only those who were comprised in the census. If any object that in God’s spiritual worship there is no difference between males and females; the reply is easy, that the fathers of families presented themselves there in the names of their wives and children: so that the profession was extended to the other sex, and to those of tender age. To this David seems to allude, when he says: (364)

"Thy people shall come with voluntary offerings in the day of thy assembly, in the beauties of holiness,” (Psalms 110:3;)

for, speaking of the free-will-offerings of the people, he seeks an example of it, after the manner of the prophets, from the legal worship. Lest the Jews should object that there was danger of hostile invasion, if the land should be stripped of its defenses by the gathering together of all the men into one place, God anticipates this doubt in Exodus 34:0, promising that He will provide that no one shall desire to assail their forsaken homes; for to this the sentence refers: “I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders, so that no man shall desire thy land, ” Exodus 34:24 Whence also we gather, that God’s worship was not entirely established until all the neighboring nations were subdued, and He had placed His sanctuary in Mount Zion. Not that it was allowable for the people to omit the feast-days before that time; but that experience itself might teach them that God was wroth with them, whilst He deprived them of this special blessing; for fear and alarm arose only from their own fault. But let believers collect from hence the useful doctrine that, whenever they are following God, they will be safe under His protection, since it is in His power to repel the assaults of enemies, and everything that can harm them.

And they shall not appear before the Lord empty, (365) I know not how it could have entered the minds of some to suppose that God here promised that all should be rich who should present themselves three times (a year) before His sanctuary: whereas it is plain from the words of Moses that He requires from every one some gift in token of their gratitude. And perhaps (366) what historians relate respecting the Persians, that none should dare to address the king without a gift, was a more ancient custom, and common to other nations. God would indeed have a gift presented Him by each individual, as a symbol or earnest of their subjection; and, although this legal rite has ceased, yet its substance is to be retained, viz., that those only are true servants of God who do not boastfully make a mere empty profession, but effectually testify that they acknowledge Him as their King.

(364)Populus tuus liberalitatum est,” etc.Lat. “ Ton peuple est de franche volonte,” etc. — Fr. See Calvin on Psalms 110:0, Calvin Translation Society’s Edition, vol. 4, p. 296, and note, p. 301.

(365) “Others thus explain it, viz., that you should not be troubled at having to go so often to Jerusalem, because you should never go there in vain: some blessing shall always be brought away; I will not send you away empty.” Fagii Coll. Vers. in Poli. Syn. Exodus 23:15.

(366) “Nobody, of what rank soever, appeared before the king without a present, which custom prevails among the Orientals to this day. When he went on his progress, or marched out with his army, all the inhabitants of the countries or provinces through which he passed were obliged to declare their vassalage by some present or other; even the inhabitants of the villages and fields flocked to him with some donation, some offering sheep, oxen, corn, wine, etc.; others milk, cheese, dates, etc., every one according to his ability.” Ancient Universal Hist., Vol. 5:139, from Aeliani Var. Hist. 1:32, 33.

Dr. Kitto, in his little work, “The Court of Persia,” gives some remarkable particulars from Morier respecting this custom as still existing.

Verse 18

18.Judges and officers shalt thou make. I have placed this passage among the Supplements of the Fifth Commandment, for, if it pleases God that judges should be appointed for ruling the people, it follows that their laws and edicts should be obeyed; and thus the parental authority extends also to them. But, in order that the people may more readily submit themselves to judges, God reminds them that the human race could not otherwise be preserved. Public utility, therefore, renders the authority of magistrates pleasant and agreeable, though it would else be hateful. But, although it be not conceded to all to elect their judges, because God honored His chosen people with this prerogative, still he here recommends in general a regular government, since He signifies that human society cannot hold together unless the lawful rulers have authority to execute justice. Whether, then, magistrates are appointed by the suffrages of the people, or imposed in any other way, let us learn that they are the necessary ministers of God, to confine all men under the yoke of the laws. The latter passage, which I have annexed from Deuteronomy 7:0, refers to the same thing, viz., that even in war discipline is necessary, lest all things should be thrown into confusion. Now, if it pleases God that certain superior officers should have the command, it follows that they must be obeyed; for it would be ridiculous to appoint governors, if it were lawful to despise them with impunity. When, therefore, God sets military commanders over the people, He enforces the duty of humble submission.

Verse 20

20.That which is altogether just (131) By an emphatic repetition God inculcates that judges should study equity with inflexible constancy; nor is this done without cause, for nothing is more likely to happen than that men’s minds should be clouded by favor or hatred. Besides there are so many quibbles whereby justice is perverted, that, unless judges are very cautious in watching against deception, they will often find themselves ensnared.

(131) “Justitiam, justitiam.” — Lat. See Margin A. V. , “Heb. , Justice, justice.”

Verse 21

21.Thou shalt not plant thee. It is plain from the end of this verse that it is part of the Second Commandment. We know (300) that amongst the heathen nations groves were sacred, so that with them no religious object would receive due reverence, except under the shade of trees. Wherefore lest conformity with this general custom should vitiate the pure worship of God, this distinction was made; and this then is the intent of the prohibition, that the Jews should fly from all strange rites, lest by too closely approaching the Gentiles, they should introduce a sinful medley. But how necessary this prohibition was, appears from their eager imitation (of the heathen), of which mention is constantly made in the sacred history. For there was scarcely any period in which they abstained from “high places.” Nor is it without reason that Isaiah and Jeremiah reprove them for “playing the harlot under every green tree.” (Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 2:20.)

(300) See Lucian in Dea Syria, sub initium ; Πρῶτοι μὲν ὦν ἀνθρώπων, τῶν ἡμεῖς ἴδμεν, Αἰγύπτιοι λέγονται θεῶν τε ἐννοίαν λαβεὶν, καὶ ἱρὰ εἴσασθαι, καὶ τεμένεα, κ. τ. λ. , — Tacitus Germ. 9. “Lucos et nemora consecrant.” Virgil. Ecclesiastes 6:73. “Ne quis sit lucus, quo plus se jactet Apollo."

Verse 22

22.Neither shalt thou set thee up. Hence also it more clearly appears what is the meaning and tendency of the Second Commandment. God elsewhere commands, (100) (as we have seen,) that statues (101) should be erected on the borders of the land, on which the sum of the Law should be inscribed. At first sight this prohibition seems to be contradictory; and indeed it would be so, unless you understand “statue” to be a false image of God, in which men set Him before them in bodily form; and, therefore, it is added, that He hates such statues. But I have preferred translating (102) the relative in the neuter gender, that the sentence might be fuller; i.e., that the erecting of statues is an abomination to the Lord; because in this way His glory is dishonored, when He is transfigured into a body, or when anything corporeal is mixed with His spiritual nature.

(100) Deuteronomy 27:2. See vol. 1, p. 369.

(101) A.V, image. Margin, statue, or pillar.

(102) C makes the relative refer, not to the image set up, but to the act of setting it up. So also V. and Dathe, though the relative is plural with them.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 16". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/deuteronomy-16.html. 1840-57.
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