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Wednesday, June 19th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Deuteronomy 18

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.The priests, the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi. This chapter contains three principal heads; for first, God shews that there was no reason why the Israelites should be aggrieved at paying tithes to the Levites, and at remitting the first-fruits and other oblations to the priests, since this tribe was deprived of their inheritance. Secondly, He obviates all quarrels, and prevents unlawful gains and pilferings, by assigning their just share to the priests and Levites. Thirdly, He defines how the oblations should be parted among them, and what part of the victims the priests were to take. As to the first clause, since God was as it were the lot of their inheritance, they justly claimed to themselves the right which he had transferred to them. If it were disagreeable to the people that their revenue should be tithed, God came as it were between, and declaring that it was His property in His right as King, appointed the Levites to be His stewards and collectors for receiving it. There was then no ground for any one to raise a dispute, unless he chose professedly to rob God. But this declaration often occurs; since it was of great importance that the people should be assured that God accounted as received by Himself what He had assigned to the Levites; not. only lest any portion should be withheld from them, but also that every one should willingly pay the lawful dues of God’s ministers; and again, lest any should wickedly murmur because the first-fruits and some portion of the sacrifices were appropriated for the subsistence of the priests. Another reason is also expressed, why the honor assigned to the priests should be paid without grudging; viz., because God had appointed them to be the ministers of His service; but “the laborer is worthy of his hire."

Verse 3

3.And this shall be the priests’ due. It is not only for the sake of the priests that God enumerates what He would have them receive, that they may obtain what is their own without murmuring or dispute; but He also has regard to the people,lest the priests should basely and greedily take more than their due; which sacred history relates to have been done by the sons of Eli, (1 Samuel 2:23,) for they had advanced to such a degree of licentiousness, that, like robbers, they seized violently on whatever their lust desired. Lest therefore they should give way to this gross covetousness, God prescribes to them certain limits, to which they were to confine themselves, so that if they transgressed them, it was easy for any of the people to convict them of avarice.

Verse 6

6.And if a Levite come. This third head more clearly explains what is elsewhere more obscurely declared; for God seemed to curtail from the Levites whatever He gave to the priests. But He now more distinctly places the priests in the first rank, yet so that they should admit the Levites on the score of their labor’s to a share of the oblations. This is the sum of the law, that the Levites who remained at home, should be content with the tithes, and touch nothing of the other offerings; but that from whithersoever they should come to the sanctuary, they were to be accounted as ministers and take their proper place. By this law then, it was provided that none should be excluded on the ground of the intermission of their duties; and that the condition of those that dwelt elsewhere should not be worse than of those who lived at Jerusalem. For although they might reside in other cities, they did not altogether cease from their ministry, since they had other duties to perform besides that of sacrificing the victims. Yet those who entirely devoted themselves to the work of the sanctuary, were endowed by God with double honor; since it was by no means just that they should be defrauded of their maintenance, who bade adieu to domestic cares and labors, and occupied themselves totally in holy offices. That this distribution was not superfluous, will best appear from the narrative of Josephus, who relates that the (226) priests seized on the tithes by violence, and deprived the Levites of their subsistence by hostile measures.

(226) About this time King Agrippa gave the high priesthood to Ismael, who was the son of Fabi. And such was the impudence and boldness that had seized on the high priests, that they had the hardiness to send their servants into the threshing-floors, to take away those tithes that were due to the priests; insomuch that it so fell out that the poorer sort of the priests died for want.” — Whiston’s Josephus. Antiq. 20 ch. 8, sec. 8. See also ch. 9, sec. 2.

Verse 9

9.When thou art come. It is too well known from experience how eagerly the human race lays hold of bad examples, and how prone it is to imitate them. Especially those who come into a foreign land, accustom themselves readily to its manners and customs. This is the reason why God expressly commands the Israelites to beware, lest, when they come into the land of Canaan, they should catch any infection from its inhabitants. The doctrine, indeed, is universal in its application; but there was a necessity for providing against the danger which immediately impended. Moreover, Moses explains clearly in this passage what it is to have other gods, viz., to mix up the worship of God with things profane, since its purity is only thus maintained by banishing from it all uncongenial superstitions. The sum, therefore, is, that the people of God should abstain from all the inventions of men, whereby pure and simple religion is adulterated. In general, God wished to deter His worshippers from every fallacy whereby, from the beginning, Satan has deluded and fascinated miserable men; but He enumerates certain particular points, which by usage and custom had obtained the greatest prevalence. But in order that God’s purpose may be more apparent, it is expedient to observe what it is that displeases Him in these vices which He condemns. Since men have a natural desire after knowledge, even in the superstitious this has always proceeded from a good principle, inasmuch as God has implanted it in the minds of all, when He would distinguish our race from the lower animals. Neither in this was there anything to be reprehended, that men, being conscious of their own ignorance, conceived that they were to obtain knowledge in no other way than by consulting God. Now this was the sole object of the Gentiles when they inquired of their magicians and sorcerers, to seek from heaven that knowledge of which they perceived themselves to be destitute. Thus they undoubtedly confessed themselves to be overwhelmed with darkness, and that the light of understanding was the special gift of God. Whence also came the name of divination, because they were persuaded that secret things were not within the compass of human apprehension, but that this knowledge must come from divine inspiration. But since by his machinations the devil perverts what is right in itself, these principles implanted in us, as I have said, by nature, have been corrupted by two errors, for both an immoderate desire of knowing more than is lawful has crept into our minds, and then we have had recourse to illicit means of knowledge. From these sources, viz., foolish curiosity and unrestrained temerity or audacity, all the superstitions and errors have flowed whereby the world has been assailed. Therefore does God, by forbidding magical arts, introduce a remedy for these two diseases, which arts were perversely invented that they might search out and bring to light things which He had chosen to conceal. For the best rule of knowledge is sobriety, that it may suffice us to know as much as is expedient for us. The lust of men has carried them deeper, so that they have desired to penetrate into all the most profound secrets. But the second error on which I have touched is much worse, that they should have sought by improper means to discover hidden things. We shall soon see that God also has foretold things to come by his servants; but no further than He knew to be profitable, and only with this object, to make it manifest that He exercises special care for His church. But since men’s curiosity is insatiable, they do not consider what is useful for them, but, like Adam, desire to “be as gods,” and to know all things without exception. When God indulges not these improper desires, they address themselves to the devil, the father of lies, still, however, as I have stated, under the false disguise of God’s name. This is the origin of all the vanities whereby the world has ever been entangled. I now descend to particulars.

Verse 10

10.There shall not be found among you. This horrible and altogether monstrous infatuation, whereby the Gentiles had been possessed, afterwards invaded the Jews also, that they should immolate and even burn their children in honor of the gods to which they had devoted themselves; although it is probable that the greater part of them were not inflamed by such an excess of madness, but satisfied their superstition more easily, by merely making their children to pass through the fire. This was with them a kind of lustration to purge away all filthiness. But their cruel zeal impelled many of them even to murder, so as not even to spare their own flesh and blood. Yet in this they pleaded the example of Abraham, as if there were any similarity between the obedience of that holy man who, led by God’s command, was ready to slay his son Isaac, and this barbarous act of violence in people who, though God prohibited and gainsaid, murdered their children. Yet in this horrible spectacle we perceive how much more fervently men engage in impious rites which their own temerity has dictated, than in efforts to worship God aright, when He openly and expressly enjoins them the thing that is good. This, indeed, ought to be the first care of parents to consecrate their children to God; but the only rite of initiation for the Jews was circumcision, and with this they should have been content. Moses then enumerates the various kinds of divination to which the heathen nations were addicted, in order to satisfy their foolish desire to know more than was lawful. I do not, however, disapprove of the view which some prefer, (282) that the generic term is first used, and the various species are then subjoined. I shall explain these briefly, and not waste time in refuting particular opinions, although it is evident that even some of the rabbis are grossly mistaken about them. The word מעונן , (283) magnonen, I willingly admit to be derived from (a word signifying) clouds; and therefore it may properly mean augurs, or judicial astrologers. There are some who are rather of opinion that its root is מגון , magnon, which in Hebrew means a place; and this etymology would not badly suit the fanatics who divine all things from the position of the stars, and assign their stations both to the planets and the signs of the zodiac for their respective aspects. At any rate this is fully agreed, that auguries, as well as frivolous observations of the stars, are here condemned, when men, in their preposterous curiosity, suppose all events and circumstances to be under the dominion of the stars. The word which follows מנחש , (284) menachesh, means a diviner or soothsayer, (ariolum,) which sufficiently appears from Genesis 44:5, where Joseph pretends that he divined by his cup, because it was commonly believed that he possessed the art of soothsaying; and hence the name has been given to serpents on account of their subtlety. Some interpret the word מכשף, (285) mekasheph, a juggler, (praestigiatorem,) one who dazzles and deceives the eyes by optical illusions. Next follows the fifth (286) term, which I have translated “tying knots,” (colligans colligationes,) whereby some understand enchanters, who by magic arts gather together serpents into one place. But this, in my judgment, is a poor explanation, and I, therefore, rather agree with those who conceive the calling together of evil spirits to be alluded to. But since it may be correctly translated “collecting, or gathering an assembly,” I do not altogether reject the opinion of others, that it relates to those imaginary assemblies, to which unhappy men, whom the devil has bewitched, fancy themselves to be transported to feast and dance together, and to join in wicked conspiracies, and which are commonly called “synagogues.” In the sixth word there is no ambiguity, whereby the people are forbidden to consult a spirit of Python; for thus may we properly render the Hebrew אוב, (287) ob, as St. Luke, a faithful and competent interpreter, has done, when he relates that a spirit of Python was cast out of the damsel at the command of Paul, ( Acts 16:16;) and sometimes the Scripture calls these by the name of אובות, oboth, who allure evil spirits to give replies, of which deception a remarkable example is given in sacred history, ( 1 Samuel 28:7,) in the case of the witch (Pythonissa) who shewed Saul Samuel, although dead. The Greeks have translated the word Python, because the delusions of Apollo Pythius were particularly famous. The seventh class (Ang., wizards) is ידעני, (288) yadgnoni, which may correctly be translated gnostics, or knowers; for I make no doubt that they adopted this honorable name for purposes of deceit, which is by no means an uncommon practice with impostors. Thus the Genethliacs, and others like them, vaunted themselves to be mathematicians. This is the craft of Satan to steal the respectable names of virtues and good things, and to make them a covering for his lies, as, for instance, he gave the name of wise men to the Chaldean and Egyptian impostors; and thus, since the Prophets are called seers, he set against them the vain prognostications of false prophets, to astonish the minds of the simple. (289) For to derive, as some do, this word from a certain bird, is too childish a conjecture; and I wonder that in such a plain matter they have been led so utterly astray, whilst they waste their acuteness upon nothing. Finally, necromancy (290) is condemned, i.e., the deceitful and delusive science of prophesying upon the answers of the dead, which some improperly restrict to those who sleep among tombs, in order to hear in their sleep the dead speaking, because foolish men have in many ways endeavored to obtain communications from the dead. But, let us learn from this passage, with how many monstrous and ridiculous fascinations Satan, whenever God loosens the chain by which he is bound, is able to bewitch unhappy men; and how great, power to deceive the father of lies obtains from the just vengeance of God, for the purpose of blinding unbelievers. As to the notion which some conceited persons entertain, that all these things are fabulous and absurd, it arises from inconsideration and presumption, because they do not reflect how severe a judgment is merited by those who wilfully extinguish the light and enwrap themselves in darkness. For God’s truth is too precious to Him, for Him to suffer it to be rejected with impunity. Certainly it would be an impudent blasphemy to deny that magical arras were ever practiced, since thus would God be accused of inadvertency, as though He had legislated (291) respecting things which did not exist. The objection that is made of its being absurd thus too highly to extol the power of Satan, as if he had the control of prophecies, which God claims for Himself alone, and as if he could cause the living to converse with the dead and change the forms of things, admits of an easy solution. With respect to vaticinations, there is no necessity for a subtle discussion as to how Satan can foreknow secret things, (on which point, as it seems to me, Augustine troubled himself too anxiously,) for this is a labor of supererogation, if we recollect that by God’s just judgment a certain kind of vaticination is permitted to the devils, in order more and more to deceive unbelievers, as will be more fully treated of elsewhere. Meanwhile, we know that unbelievers were mocked with (292) ambiguous responses by all the oracles of false gods, and at length discovered from the event that they had been beguiled by deadly artifices; and, therefore, in Isaiah 41:23, God justly charges every idol with ignorance of futurity. Yet this does not prevent Satan from revealing certain hidden matters, by the prediction of which he may ensnare, as by a bait, the reprobate. I admit, indeed, that in progress of time the Roman augurs abandoned the study of their art, and abused the credulity of the lower orders by nothing but gross fictions; but if in former times Satan had not led even the most sharp-sighted into error by this artifice, Xenophon, (293) the disciple of Socrates, would not have so often mentioned among the chief praises of Cyrus, (294) that he was devoted to augury, and had learnt to be so from his father. Finally, the experience of all ages teaches us that men of depraved curiosity have often received from Satan, by means of magicians, a knowledge of things which could not have been obtained naturally. As to the actual operations of Satan, whether he raises the dead, or bewitches men and beasts, or invests any substances with new forms through enchantment, we must consider that whatever miracles he appears to work are mere delusions; and, since he is the father of darkness, it is clear he has no power except upon unbelievers, whose minds are darkened, so as not to distinguish black from white. Yet we have already seen how Pharaoh’s magicians rivalled Moses in their miracles. Wherefore we need not wonder if, by God’s permission, he should disturb the elements, or afflict the reprobate with diseases and other evils, or present phantoms to their sight. On this account we should more earnestly implore of God to restrain from us an enemy armed against us with so many destructive arts.

(282) In observing that some choose to say that Moses first uses a general term for all soothsayers, and then proceeding to describe particular classes of them, C. is following S. M’s note on קסם קסמים; where the latter has said, “Alii putant esse generale vocabulum ad omnium divinationum species.” The verb seems to be so used in 1 Samuel 28:8, where A. V. renders it divine.W.

(283) The next term, מעונן, S. M. has explained as derived from ענן, a cloud, or its radical verb. Some have chosen to regard it rather as derived from ענן, to watch; but C. must have learnt from some other source that there are critics who derive it from מעון, a place of habitation. — W

(284) מנהש. That this term here means some kind of diviner is certain; but the root is used in an inoffensive sense for making diligent search; and the best critics are now generally agreed that it ought to have been so understood and rendered in Genesis 44:5, where S. M. has acknowledged (in his note on the present passage)that it is used for sciscitari rem occultam, notwithstanding his having there rendered it auguratur. — W.

(285) מכשף. The explanation here given is from S. M. — W.

(286) חבר חבר. The root signifies to join, or combine. How it came to mean enchanting, which it does in Syriac and Arabic, as well as in Hebrew, remains disputable. The explanation disliked by C. he had found in S. M.; that which follows is his own. — W

(287) שאל אוב, S.M., Consulens pythonem. By saying that the Greeks have rendered אוב, Pythonem, C. would naturally lead his readers to suppose that the LXX. had done so, whereas, both in the Pentateuch and in 1 Samuel 28:0, where the Hebrew has an interrogator of אוב , the LXX. has ἐγγαστρίμυθος, a ventriloquist. The word אוב is allowed to mean properly a water-bottle, and its gurgling sound; and, from this last, a ventriloquist. It is obvious that Luke cannot be correctly spoken of as translating a Hebrew phrase when he was relating in Greek what the Greeks said of a person possessed by an evil spirit. — W

(288) ידעני, from ידע, he knew. This word had previously been used by Moses in Leviticus 20:27, where S. M. has said the Jews affirm that there were conjurers who put between their teeth the mouth of a certain animal called ידוע, and speak wonderful things through it. They add a wonderful fable, etc. The LXX. has ἐπάοιδος, an enchanter, in Leviticus, and its equivalent here. — W

(289) Omitted inFr. “The Hebrews describe him thus, that ‘he put into his mouth a bone of a certain bird called Jaduaugh, and burned incense, and did other works, until he fell down as with shame, (or, modestie,) and spake with his mouth things that were to come to pass’Maim. Treat. of Idolatry,. ch, 6, sect. 2.” Ainsworth in loco.

(290) דרש אל-המתים, one who seeks to the dead, (compare last clause of Isaiah 8:19;) a necromancer.

(291) “Fait des loix frivoles et superflues;” passed frivolous and superfluous laws. — Fr.

(292) “Par circuits et responses a deux ententes;” by circuitous and ambiguous answers. — Fr.

(293) Homme de jugement.Fr.

(294) See, for example, at the end of the 1st Book of the Cyropaedia, the advice of Cyaxares: Μάθε δὲ μς, ὦ παῖ, καὶ τάδε, ἔφη, τὰ μέγιςα· Παρὰ γὰρ ἱερὰ, καὶ οἰωνοὺς μήτ ᾿ ἐν σαυτῷ μηδέποτε μηδ ᾿ ἐν τὣ στρατιᾷ κινδυνεῦσὟς, κατανοὼν ὡς ἄνθρωποι μὲν αἱροῦνται πράξεις εἰκάβοντες, εἰδότες δὲ οὐδὲν ἀπὸ ποίας ἔςαι αὐτοῖς τἀγαθόν· κ. τ. λ.

Verse 12

12.For all that do these things are an abomination. First, he would have the authority of God act as a rein to guide them; and then sets before them that vengeance which they were soon about to see inflicted upon the heathen, nay, of which they were themselves to be the executioners and ministers. For since it could not be a matter of the slightest doubt, but that the inhabitants of the land of Canaan were rooted out from their peaceful habitations only by God’s hand, he assigns as the cause of this destruction that they had polluted themselves and their country by these blasphemous and abominable superstitions. By this striking example, then, he deters them from imitating the sins which facts themselves shewed to be thus severely punished. Thus Paul admonishes believers to seek diligently to avoid the sins which provoke God’s wrath against the disobedient. (Ephesians 5:6.)

Verse 13

13.Thou shalt be perfect. He refers to the mutual obligation of that holy covenant whereby as on the one side He had pledged Himself to the Jews, so on the other He had made them His debtors, not to prostitute themselves to idols, or to hanker after strange religions, whereby men’s minds are led astray. This perfectness, then, is opposed to all those mixtures or corruptions which withdraw us from the sincere worship of the one true God; because the simplicity which retains us in obedience to heavenly teaching, is that spiritual chastity which God requires in His Church. The context of the passage proves this with sufficient clearness, viz., that God would restrain the Jews from all licentiousness, so that being devoted to His service, they should not look this way or that way, nor be carried away by vanity and instability, but constantly abide in the pure worship which He had prescribed to them. For this reason Paul declares that he is jealous for Christ; and because he had “espoused” the Corinthians to Christ, he feared “lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve, through his subtlety,” so being ensnared by the wiles of impostors, they should fall “from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2.)

Verse 14

14.For these nations. As God had just before been setting before them the punishment He was about to inflict upon these nations, in order to alarm and warn them, so now does he admonish them that the inheritance was handed over to them on this condition, that they should be mindful of so great a benefit, and beware of all pollutions; and that they succeeded the former inhabitants of the land, with a view to their being separate from them; for whence was this change, except that God might acquire to Himself a new people, and purify the land from all its defilements? Although He only mentions two classes of superstitions, yet thus, by synecdoche, He indicates them all. The sum is, that they should not be like the nations in vices and corruptions, which had been the cause of their destruction; since God had not only exterminated the men themselves, but their abominable rites also. Some divide the latter part of the verse into two clauses, “but thou shalt not do so;” and then, “Jehovah gives you the land,” which last word they supply. But I do not hesitate to think that the pronoun אתה , athah, must be thus rendered, “But as for thee;” and then I think it must be read continuously, “God hath not suffered thee to do so,” for the word נתן, nathan, is of extensive signification. The tendency of the whole is, that the prohibition of God should be of more weight with them than the example of the nations.

Verse 15

15.The Lord thy God will raise up. This is added by anticipation, lest the Israelites should object that they were more hardly dealt with than the rest of the nations of the world; for it was always most justly considered an extraordinary blessing to hold communication with God; and indeed there can be nothing more to be desired. But an opinion had obtained currency, that men approached more closely to God by means of magical arts, by the oracles of Pythonic spirits, and by the study of augury. The people of Israel, then, would have complained of being badly treated, if they had been shut out from all prophecies and revelations. Moses meets this complaint or objection by announcing, that their access to God would be not less familiar than as if He should Himself openly come down from heaven; if only they kept the right way, and were contented with that rule which He deemed best for them. He, therefore, commands that, instead of all the imaginations of the Gentiles, the doctrine of the Prophets should alone have force among them. Thus He signifies that although God should not openly come down from heaven, yet that His will, as far as was expedient, should be surely and clearly made known to them, since He would faithfully teach them by His servants the Prophets. On this ground when, in Isaiah, He has mocked at the prophecies of false gods, He calls the Israelites His “witnesses,” (Isaiah 43:1,) as having made them the depositaries of His secrets and of the treasures of divine wisdom. We see, then, the way pointed out in which God would have His people inquire concerning the things necessary to salvation; and this is more plainly declared in Isaiah 8:19,

“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead? To the law and to the testimony.”

Nor is there any doubt that Isaiah took this doctrine from the passage before us, when he first condemns the errors which men by their curiosity invent for themselves, and then enjoins the faithful simply to give attention to the Law, and to be content with this form of instruction, unless they desired to be miserably misled. Hence we conclude that the expression, “a Prophet,” is used by enallage for a number of Prophets. For it is altogether absurd, as some do, to restrict it to Joshua or Jeremiah; since Moses is here treating of the continual manner of the Church’s government, and is not speaking of what God would do within a short time. Not at all more correct is their opinion, who apply it strictly to Christ alone; for it is well to bear in mind what I have said respecting God’s intention, viz., that no excuse should be left for the Jews, if they turned aside to familiar spirits (Pythones) or magicians, since God would never leave them without Prophets and teachers. But if He had referred them to Christ alone, the objection would naturally arise that it was hard for them to have neither Prophets nor revelations for two thousand years. Nor is there any strength in those two arguments on which some insist, that the Prophet, of whom Moses bears witness, must be more excellent than him who proclaimed him; and that the eulogium that he should be “like unto” Moses could not be applied to the ancient Prophets, since it is said elsewhere that “there arose not a Prophet since like unto” him. (Deuteronomy 34:10.) For he does not at all detract from his own dignity, by recommending that whosoever might be sent by God should be hearkened to, whether they were his equals or his inferiors; and, as to the comparison, this particle translated like (sicut) does not always denote equality. Therefore it is true that there was no Prophet like Moses, that is to say, similar to him in every respect, or in whom so many gifts were displayed; yet it is no less true, that they were all like Moses; because God set over His Church a continual succession of teachers, to execute the same office as he did. This is referred to in the words, “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John,” (Matthew 11:13, and Luke 16:16,) where we see others united as colleagues with Moses in the government of the Church, until the coming of Christ. Yet Peter aptly and elegantly accommodates this testimony to Christ, (Acts 3:22,) not to the exclusion of others of God’s servants, but in order to warn the Jews that in rejecting Christ they are at the same time refusing this inestimable benefit of God; for the gift of prophecy had so flourished among His ancient people, and teachers had so been constantly appointed to succeed each other, that nevertheless there should be some interruption before the coming of Christ. Hence, in that sad dispersion which followed the return from the Babylonish captivity, the faithful complain in Psalms 74:9, “We see not our signs; there is no more any prophet.” On this account Malachi exhorts the people to remember the Law given in Horeb; and immediately after adds, “Behold I send you Elijah the prophet,” etc., (Malachi 4:4;) as much as to say, that the time was at hand in which a more perfect doctrine should be manifested, and a fuller light should shine. For the Apostle says truly, that

“God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son,” (Hebrew 1:1, 2;)

and, in fact, by the appearing of the doctrine of the Gospel, the course of the prophetic doctrine was completed; because God thus fully exhibited what was promised by the latter. And this was so generally understood that even the Samaritan woman said that Messias was coming, who would tell all things. (John 4:25.) To this, then, what I have lately quoted as to the transition from the Law and the Prophets to the Gospel refers; and hence it is made out, that this passage was most appropriately expounded by Peter as relating to Christ; for unless the Jews chose to accuse God of falsehood, it was incumbent upon them to look to Christ, at whose hand was promised both the confirmation of doctrine and the restoration of all things. They had been for a long time destitute of Prophets, of whom Moses had testified that they should never be wanting to them, and whom he had promised as the (295) lawful ministers for retaining the people in allegiance, so that they should not turn aside to superstitions; they had, therefore, either no religion, or else that greatest of Teachers was to be expected, who in his own person (unus) would present the perfection of the prophetic office. But we must remark the peculiar circumstances whereby God restrains the evil affections of the Jews. It was no common act of His indulgence, that He should take to himself Prophets from among that people, so that they should have no need to run about to a distance in search of revelations, and at the same time that they might be taught familiarly according to their capacity. But with regard to the comparison which Moses makes between himself and other prophets, its effect is to raise their teaching in men’s estimation. They had been long accustomed to this mode of instruction, viz., to hear God speaking to them by the mouth of a man; and the authority of Moses was so fully established, that they were firmly persuaded that they were under the divine government, and that all things necessary to salvation were revealed to them.

(295) Ordinaires. — Fr.

Verse 16

16.According to all that thou desiredst. He pronounces them to be guilty of ingratitude if they did not quietly submit themselves to their Prophets, since on this point God had complied with their own request. For in order that the prophetic office might be more reverenced and beloved by them, and lest it should fall into disrepute through their beholding the Prophet to be but a mortal, God had extracted the confession from them that nothing could be better than that He should make choice of human interpreters. At the promulgation of the Law, the visible majesty of God had shone forth, and the people, terrified at the sight, had voluntarily desired that Moses should be given to them as a teacher, and as the proclaimer of the heavenly voice. We have already seen how useful was this terror to recommend the teaching which is delivered by the mouth of man. We have abundant experience that our minds are often carried away by vain speculations. Thus we should wish to bring down God from heaven as often as any doubt creeps into them. It was necessary, therefore, that the Israelites should be convinced of their weakness, lest they should go beyond their due bounds, and that they might be led to ask for that as a great blessing which God had foreseen to be for their good, and at the same time might abandon that proud curiosity which would always have been exciting them, had it not been corrected betimes by the application of this remedy. But it would have been anything but excusable in them to have grown weary of that gift which they had judged to be so good for themselves. The sum is, that God had appeared once to obtain credit and authority for His Prophets; but that He had established that order for the government of His Church, and for the declaration of His will, which the people themselves had known by experience to be most highly advantageous to themselves.

Verse 17

17.They have well spoken. Moses relates how this desire of the people was approved by the judgment and the voice of God. Not as if whatever the foolish caprice of men may have urged them absurdly to ask, ought therefore to be immediately granted; but when God’s consent and, so to speak, His vote coincides with it, then whatever He shews to be pleasing to Him ought to stand firm and inviolable. Hence it follows that God, in sending the Prophets, provided for the salvation of men as was most expedient. Moreover, He asserts that when pious teachers arise, who faithfully shew the way of salvation, it is an extraordinary proof of His favor, and He takes to Himself the praise when He repeats it again, (296)

“I will raise them up a Prophet.” (Deuteronomy 18:18.)

Thus also Paul teaches, —

“And how shall they preach except they be sent?”
(Romans 10:15.)

The same Apostle, too, bears witness that none will be found sufficient for this office, and that the power of teaching aright is received from God. (2 Corinthians 2:14, and 4:1.) Hence it follows that God, by a certain evidence of His presence, declares His favor towards us as often as He enlightens with the gifts of His Spirit, and raises up faithful and true teachers. Moses afterwards reminds them that God so governs His Church by the hands and the operation of men as not to derogate from Himself; for He retains this as His attribute, to suggest to the mouth, as it were, of His Prophets what they are to say; neither does He permit them to say or advance more than He has commanded. We perceive, then, that pastors were from the first appointed, not that they should themselves rule, or subject the Church to their imaginations, but only to be the organs of the Holy Spirit. And those who in these days usurp a greater power, ought to be altogether deposed from their sacrilegious despotism.

(296) S. M. says, in his note on this verse, “Some of the Hebrews understand by that Prophet, Joshua, who succeeded Moses as ruler; others think Jeremiah must be meant, who rebuked the people in the same terms as Moses had done. But Christians who devoutly assert that this passage speaks of Christ, confute the Jews by referring to what is said in the last chap. of Deut., — ‘There arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses,’ etc. This passage must be prophetic of some other remarkable Prophet who should not be inferior to Moses, especially as the text says, like thee, ‘that as thou didst deliver the people from corporal bondage, so shall the prophet whom I will raise up for them deliver them from the bondage of sin.’” — W.

Verse 19

Thus far I have reviewed The Supplements To The First Commandment, which relate to the Ancient Types and Legal Worship. The Commandment itself will always remain in force, even to the end of the world; and is given not only to the Jews, but likewise to us also. But God formerly made use of the ceremonies as temporary aids, of which, although the use has ceased, the utility still remains; because from them it more clearly appears how God is to be duly served; and the spirit of religion shines forth in them. Therefore the whole substance is contained in the precept, but in the external exercise, as it were, the form to which God bound none but His ancient people. Now follow The Political Supplements, (52) whereby God commands the punishments to be inflicted, if His religion shall have been violated. For political laws are not only enacted with reference to earthly affairs, in order that men should maintain mutual equity with each other, and should follow and observe what is right, but that they should exercise themselves in the veneration of God. For Plato also begins from hence, when he lays down the legitimate constitution of a republic, and calls the fear of God the preface of all laws; nor has any profane author ever existed who has not confessed that this is the principal part of a well-constituted state, that all with one consent should reverence and worship God. In this respect, indeed, the wisdom of men was at fault, that they deemed that any religion which they might prefer was to be sanctioned by laws and by punishments; yet the principle was a just one, that the whole system of law is perverted if the cultivation of piety is ignored by it.

But, whilst God commends the care and study of religion to the judge, and commands that the contempt of it should be publicly avenged, He at the same time provides against a common error, that they should not rush into severity with rash and inconsiderate zeal. For, inasmuch as the several nations, cities, and kingdoms foolishly invent their own gods, He propounds His own Law, from the regulation of which it is sinful to decline. It has been wisely forbidden by human legislators, that men should make to themselves private gods; but all this is vain unless the knowledge of the true God enlightens and directs them. Justly, therefore, does God recall His people to that doctrine which He has delivered, to the end that whosoever shall have contumaciously despised it should be punished. But, since it would be insufficient that they should be once instructed in the proper worship of God by a written law, unless daily preaching were subjoined, God expressly furnishes His prophets with authority, and denounces the punishment to be inflicted if any should violate it. He had previously said that He would raise up prophets, that the condition of His chosen people should not be worse than that of other nations; since, therefore, He had deposited with them the treasure of true religion, that they might be, as it were, its guardians, He now threatens with destruction whosoever shall refuse to obey their commands. It is plain, however, from the expression “in my name,” that He does not speak of all who may usurp the name of prophet, for it is as much as to say that they came from Him, and advanced nothing without His command. For, although many may falsely present themselves in God’s name, this honorable distinction does not belong to them unless God should ratify it; but this is truly the characteristic of faithful and approved teachers, that they speak in the name of God. Thus, when Christ promises that

"where two or three are gathered in His name, there is He in the midst of them,” (Matthew 18:20,)

He does not dignify with such great honor hypocrites, who with sacrilegious audacity usurp His name; but He speaks of the reality, as will also appear more clearly from the reverse law, which follows.

(52) Les dependences, qui concernent la justice et la policeFr.

Verse 21

21.And if thou say in thy heart. This exception has reference to the prohibition, which we have already noticed in this same chapter. God, in His appointment of Prophets to be His substitutes in teaching the people, had invested them with no common authority, enjoining obedience to be paid to their precepts. But those, upon whom the office of teaching is conferred, do not alwayduly fulfill it; and hence the doubt naturally arises, how the people shall determine when they are addressed as by Gods mouth, so as to distinguish the true from the false. There is, therefore, no question expressed in words, but God anticipates the secret scruples which might otherwise keep men’s minds in suspense; for to “say in the heart” is equivalent to doubting in one’s self when any danger is perceived. Now, to remove this difficulty, He does not enumerate all the marks of distinction; because He does not indeed allude to doctrine, but only to prophecies. But, speaking popularly, as to evil and ignorant persons, He commands them to observe whether those, who pretend to the name of Prophet, foretell the truth. But although, as we have lately seen, false teachers also rival in this respect the servants of God, and are found to be veracious in some particular prophecy; yet it is sufficient as the touchstone of their truth, to set down what happens for the most part, ( ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ;) just as God himself chooses to be distinguished and separated from idols by the same test. Nor does Moses affirmatively pronounce that credit must be given to prophets, whenever events correspond with their predictions; but only admonishes them, that, if they consider attentively, they cannot be deceived, because God will speedily expose the false prophets to ridicule, and will confound their folly. Thus Jeremiah prudently accommodates this passage to the circumstances of his own times, in order that it may be manifested how rashly and falsely Hananiah spoke in promising impunity for those sins over which God’s vengeance impended. ( Jeremiah 28:6.) In sum, Moses means nothing more than that the people would not be exposed to the danger of going astray, if they endeavored heartily to obey God; because it would come to pass by His just judgment, that the temerity of all who have falsely abused His holy name should be made to appear, and thus they should be unmasked.

Verse 22

22.The prophet hath spoken it presumptuously. He not only condemns the folly and vanity of those who advance their own inventions in the place of God’s commands, but also their arrogance; since doubtless, this is impious and intolerable audacity, to set forth the offspring of man’s earthly brain as if it were a divine revelation. And on this ground it is that their impiety is detestable, who fill the air with the fumes of their revelations in order to alarm the simple. Wherefore, he adds, that they should “not be afraid” of such a prophet; because, as nothing can be more arrogant than the ministers of Satan, they confidently utter their boastings, by which we may be easily moved and even overwhelmed, unless we had this buckler to protect us, viz., that their terrific noise may be safely despised. This doctrine is now-a-days very useful for us. We know how insolently the Papists boast of the Catholic Church; of the Apostolic See; how fiercely they rage in Peter’s name; how impetuously they fulminate their curses and anathemas; but, when it is ascertained that whatever they put forward as revelations of the Spirit are but the empty figments of men, it will be easy to dispel those terrors which flow from this same fountain of presumption.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 18". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/deuteronomy-18.html. 1840-57.
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