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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 22

Verse 5

5.This decree also commends modesty in general, and in it God anticipates the danger, lest women should harden themselves into forgetfulness of modesty, or men should degenerate into effeminacy unworthy of their nature. Garments are not in themselves of so much importance; but as it is disgraceful for men to become effeminate, and also for women to affect manliness in their dress and gestures, propriety and modesty are prescribed, not only for decency’s sake, but lest one kind of liberty should at length lead to something worse. The words of the heathen poet are very true: (97)

“What shame can she, who wears a helmet, show,
Her sex deserting?”

Wherefore, decency in the fashion of the clothes is an excellent preservative of modesty.

(97) The quotation is from Juvenal, Sat. 6:252:

“Quem praestare potest mulier galeata pudorem,
Quae fugit a sexu.”

The Fr. translation is forcible: “qu’une femme, qui contrefait le gendarme, et fuit son sexe, ne gardera nulle honte.”

Verse 6

Since by this precept God instructed His people in the, law of kindness, it is a Supplement to the Sixth Commandment. Regard was had, indeed, to the preservation of the breed; but, besides, when birds are sitting, as being very lean, it is certain that they are not wholesome food; still there is no question but that it was God’s intention to accustom His people to study humanity. For, if there be one drop of compassion in us, it will never enter into our minds to kill an unhappy little bird, which so burns either with the desire of offspring, or with love towards its little ones, as to be heedless of its life, and to prefer endangering itself to the desertion of its eggs, or its brood. Wherefore, it is not to be doubted but that in this elementary lesson, God prohibited His people from savageness and cruelty.

Verse 8

This precept also has reference to the preservation of human life. We know that the roofs of the Jewish houses were fiat, so that they might freely walk upon them. If there were no railings round them, a fall would have been fatal; and every house would have often been a house of mourning. God, therefore, commands the edge to be fortified with battlements, or railings, or other inclosure, and accompanies the injunction with a severe denunciation; for He declares that the houses would be defiled with blood, if any one should fall from an uninclosed roof. Now, if guile were thus contracted by mere incautiousness, it hence appears how greatly He abominates deliberate cruelty; and, if it behooved everybody to be thus solicitous as to the lives of their brethren, it shows how criminal it is to injure them purposely and in enmity.

Verse 9

Deuteronomy 22:9.Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard. These four precepts, which all condemn strange medleys, I doubt not to be supplements of the First Commandment; and the reason, which is subjoined in Deuteronomy, directs us to this, where God declares that the produce of the seed and of the vineyard is polluted, if there be divers mixtures. Whence it appears that nothing else is demanded but that they should cultivate purity. The word indeed, which Moses uses, means to “sanctify,קדש kadesh; but, by antiphrasis, it is taken for to “contaminate. ” To the same effect is what follows, that they should not plough with an ox and an ass together; for this diversity is forbidden on no other account, but because men contract some defilement as soon as they depart from simplicity. Yet, if any one thinks otherwise, I shall not strongly contend with him. It might indeed be objected, that when God forbids animals to be used promiscuously, so that those of different kinds should not be mixed together, He has regard to chastity, (30) and that, by forbidding the fields to be sown with divers seeds, and garments to be woven of divers materials, He would prevent frauds. But the more simple explanation is, that the people were thus retained in purity, lest they should accustom themselves to corrupt habits, and lest they should bring in strange rites from various quarters, or seek, with depraved curiosity, for mixtures which might at length invade the worship of God. For if animals of different species are joined together, the integrity of nature is corrupted, and an adulterine offspring is produced, which degenerates from the institution of God; but, if various kinds of seed should be mixed together, or if a garment should be woven of linen and wool, there would be no danger of deception or fraud in so manifest a matter. It is probable, therefore, that the end which, as I have said, was proposed by God was, that, by cultivating natural and simple habits all their life through, they should keep themselves pure and uncorrupted from every strange vice. On this account Scripture compares strange doctrines to leaven, since by their additions or curtailings they corrupt the pure word of God. (Matthew 16:11.) And this was by no means a useless discipline; when, in trifles, and almost things of nought, the rein was applied to them, so that they should not decline from purity in the very least degree. It was a small matter to interweave a thin thread with a thicker one, and perchance such a process would have been profitable for their general advantage; in some fields, too, a better crop is grown, if the seed is compounded of pure wheat, and some other sort of grain (siligine), as also the union of the horse and ass has been approved of, since thus mules are produced. But God would not allow these things amongst His ancient people, lest, sinking by degrees to greater license, they should at length addict themselves to the practice and customs of the heathen. He therefore uses this preface: “Ye shall keep my statutes,” (Leviticus 19:19;) from whence we gather that the people were surrounded with fixed barriers, lest they should defile themselves with foreign vices, and imitate the nations, from which they had been separated. Wherefore this is the sum, that they should abide in God’s statutes.

(30)Au septieme commandement de la Loy, qui est d’observer chastet;” to the Seventh Commandment of the Law, which is to observe chastity. — Fr.

Verse 12

12.This also was a part of, or accessory to, chastity, to have regard to modesty in dress; for since the thighs were then without covering, a door was thus opened to many improprieties, if the upper garments were not closed, and many, as if by accident, would have abused this, if it had been allowed, as an incentive to licentiousness; for we see that many rush into such excesses of lasciviousness, as to glory in their shame. God, therefore, would have the flaps of their gowns thus drawn together by ties or latchets, that not even by chance could those parts be uncovered, which cannot be decently or modestly looked upon. But if divine provisions were made even with respect to their garments, so that the elect people should cultivate decency, and diligently guard against everything immodest, it is abundantly clear that not only were adulteries condemned, but whatever is repugnant to purity and chastity. This passage is improperly referred to the fringes which were sewed to their garments to renew the recollection of the Law, since decency and delicacy are here alone regarded.

Verse 13

13.If any man take a wife. This passage also tends to the exaltation of chastity. God provides against both cases, lest a husband should unjustly bring reproach upon a chaste and innocent young woman, and lest a young woman, having been defiled, should escape punishment, if she pretended to be a virgin. A third object is also to be remarked, viz., that parents were thus admonished to be more careful in watching over their children. This is, indeed, an act of gross brutality, that a husband, wittingly and willingly, should seek a false pretext for divorcing his wife by bringing reproach and infamy upon her; but, since it does not infrequently happen that the libidinous become disgusted with their vices, and then endeavor to rid themselves of them in every way, it was needful to correct this evil, and to prescribe a method whereby the integrity of the woman should be safe from the calumnies of an ungodly and cruel husband; whilst it was also just to give relief to an honest man, lest he should be compelled to cherish in his bosom a harlot, by whom he had been deceived; for it is a very bitter thing to ingenuous minds silently to endure so great an ignominy. An admirable precaution is here laid down, i e. , that if a woman were accused by her husband, it was in the power of her parents to produce the tokens of chastity which should acquit her; but if they did not, that the husband should not be obliged against his will to keep her in his house, after she had been defiled by another. It is plain from this passage, that the tokens of virginity were taken on a cloth, on the first night of marriage, as future proofs of chastity. It is also probable that the cloth was laid up before witnesses as a pledge, to be a sure defense for pure and modest young women; for it would have been giving too much scope to the parents if it had been believed simply on their evidence; but Moses speaks briefly as of a well-known custom.

Verse 18

18.And the elders of that city shall take that man. Calumny in this case received a threefold punishment; first, that he, who had invented the false accusation, should be beaten with stripes; secondly, that he should pay an hundred pieces of silver to the father of the girl; thirdly, that he should never be allowed to put her away; and tie reason is given, “because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel.” God here shows Himself to be the protector of virgins, that young women may be the more encouraged to cultivate chastity. If any should object that it was a bad provision for the unhappy woman that she should be subjected for ever to tyrannical rule, I reply, that this was done because there was no means for her release; for although, as we shall presently see, men were permitted to obtain a divorce from their wives, still it was neither just nor right to overthrow God’s earliest institution. Besides, it was necessary to obviate the trick of the husband who would have gloried in her divorce, as having gained what he desired.

Verse 20

20.But if this thing be true. If the punishment should seem to anybody to be somewhat too severe, let him reflect that no kind of fraud is more intolerable. A false sale of a field or a house shall be accounted a crime, as also the utterance of false money; and, therefore, she who abuses the sacred name of marriage for deception, and offers an unchaste body instead of a chaste one, much less deserves to be pardoned. The cause of severity, however, which is expressly mentioned, is much more extensive, i e. , because she hath wrought wickedness, or filthiness in Israel. The translation which some. give, folly, is poor; for although the word. is derived from נבל, nabal, it still means something more atrocious than folly; just as Simeon and Levi, in excuse for their slaughter of the Shechemites, call the defilement of their sister (83) נבלה, nebalah, that is, filthiness in Israel. ( Genesis 34:7.) Whence it appears once more how greatly acceptable to God is chastity.

(83) “Folly, that which is contrary to sound reason, wickedness.” — Simon’s Heb. Lex. — W. Taylor, in his Concordance, says, “Folly, rather vice: , villany, or what can be supposed in bad morals to be answerable to sapless, withered flowers, leaves, or fruit. Genesis 34:7; Joshua 7:15; Judges 19:23.”

Verse 22

Deuteronomy 22:22.If a man be found lying with. A Political Supplement, whereby it appears how greatly God abominates adultery, since He denounces capital punishment against it. And assuredly, since marriage is a covenant consecrated by God, its profanation is in no wise tolerable; and conjugal faith should be held too sacred to be violated with impunity, whilst it is an act of horrible perfidiousness to snatch from a man’s bosom the wife who is as his very life, or at any rate half of himself. Wherefore, also, the Prophet ignominiously compares adulterers to neighing horses, (Jeremiah 5:8;) for where such lasciviousness prevails, men degenerate, as it were, into beasts. Another reason is, however, here referred to; for, if a man had broken faith with his wife by having connection with a harlot, it was not a capital offense; but if any man, though a bachelor, had committed adultery with the wife of another, (he was to die, (68)) because both the husband is grossly injured, and the dishonor descends to the offspring, and all adulterine race is substituted in place of the legitimate one, whilst the inheritance is transferred to strangers, and thus bastards unlawfully possess themselves of the family name. This cause impelled the Gentiles, even before the Law, to punish adultery with severity, as clearly appears from the history of Judah and Tamar. (Genesis 38:14.) Nay, by the universal law of the Gentiles, the punishment of death was always awarded to adultery; wherefore it is all the baser and more shameful in Christians not to imitate at least the heathen. Adultery is punished no less severely by the Julian law (69) than by that of God; whilst those who boast themselves of the Christian name are so tender and remiss, that they visit this execrable offense with a very light reproof. And lest they should abrogate God’s law without a pretext, they allege the example of Christ, who dismissed the woman taken in adultery, whereas she ought to have been stoned; just as He withdrew Himself into a mountain that He might not be made a king by the multitude. (John 8:11, and 6:15.) For if we consider what the office was which the Father delegated to His only-begotten Son, we shall not be surprised that He was content with the limits of His vocation, and did not discharge the duties of a Judge. But those who have been invested with the sword for the correction of crime, have absurdly imitated His example, and thus their relaxation of the penalty has flowed from gross ignorance.

Although the disloyalty of husband and wife are not punished alike by human tribunals, still, since they are under mutual obligation to each other, God will take vengeance on them both; and hence the declaration of Paul takes effect before the judgment-seat of God, Let not married persons defraud one another; for the wife hath not power of her own body, nor the husband of his. (1 Corinthians 7:4.)

(68) Added from Fr.

(69) See Plin., Ep. 6:13.

Verse 23

23.If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed. The severity of the punishment is now extended further, and a betrothed woman is counted as a wife; and this for a very good reason, because she has plighted her troth, and it is a token of abandoned incontinency for the mind of a woman to be so alienated from the man to whom she is betrothed, as to prostitute her virginity to another’s embraces. But since one who has been ravished is not criminal, a woman is absolved if she be forced in a field, because it is probable that she yielded unwillingly, inasmuch as she was far from assistance. Although, however, the terms are accommodated to the comprehension of a rude people, it was the intention of God to distinguish force from consent. Thus if a girl had been forced in a retired part of a building, from whence her cries could not be heard, God would undoubtedly have her acquitted, provided she could prove her innocence by satisfactory testimony and conjecture.

Verse 30

30.A man shall not take his father’s wife. Since Moses does not here refer to any other kinds of incest, but speaks only of that with a step-mother, it is probable that, what he had more fully set forth before he here briefly recalled to the minds of the Israelites under a single head. At any rate, the prohibition of one offense does not open the gate to other abominations. The expression which he adds, “nor discover his father’s skirt,” is as much as to say, that the father is exposed to shame when the step-son has; no regard to decency, and goes in to his step-mother. Perhaps he alludes to the sin of Ham, who betrayed his ungodliness by exposing the shame of his father. (Genesis 9:22.)

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 22". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.