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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 26

Verse 1

1. And it shall be when thou art come. The Israelites are commanded to offer their first-fruits, for the same reason that they were to pay the tribute for every soul; viz., that they might confess that they themselves, and all that they had, belonged to God. This was the only distinction, that the tribute was a symbol of their emancipation, that they might acknowledge themselves to be free, as having been redeemed by the special mercy of God; but by the firstfruits they testified that the land was tributary to God, and that they were masters of it by no other title than as tenants at will, so that the direct sovereignty and property of it remained with God alone. This, then, was the object of the first-fruits, that they might renew every year the recollection of their adoption; because the land of Canaan was given to them as their peculiar inheritance, in which they were to worship God in piety and holiness, and at the same time reflect that they were not fed promiscuously, like the Gentiles, by God, but like children; whence also their food was sacred. But we shall have to speak again elsewhere of the first-fruits, in as much as they were a part of the oblations; yet it was necessary to insert here their main object, that we might know that they were appointed to be offered by the people, in pious acknowledgment that their food was received from God, and to shew that, being separated from other nations, they were dependent upon the God of Israel alone.

Verse 2

2. That thou shalt take of the first. We know that in the first-fruits the whole produce of the year was consecrated to God. The people, (338) therefore, bore in them a testimony of their piety to Him, whom they daily experienced to be their preserver, and the giver of their food. This typical rite has now, indeed, ceased, but Paul tells us that the true observation of it still remains, where he exhorts us, whether we eat or drink, to do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31.) As to the place where the first-fruits were to be offered, and why God is said to have placed His name there, we shall hereafter consider, when we come to the sacrifices; I now only briefly touch upon what concerns the present subject.

I profess this day. In these words the Israelites confess that they had not gained dominion of the land either by their own strength or good fortune, but by the free gift of God, and that according to His promise. There are, therefore, two clauses in this sentence; first, that God had gratuitously promised to grant that land to Abraham as the inheritance of his descendants; and, secondly, that He had performed His promise, not only when He had brought the children of Abraham into possession, but by adding’ to His grace by their peaceful enjoyment of it. He pursues the same point more fully immediately afterwards, where the Israelites are commanded to declare how wretched was the condition of their fathers, before the Lord embraced them with His favor, and vouchsafed unto them His mercy. The original word in verse 5, meaning to answer, I translate simply, according to the Hebrew idiom, to speak or say; unless to testify be thought better, which would be very suitable; for the solemn profession is here described, whereby they bound themselves every year to God. They do not count their origin from Abraham, but from Jacob, in whose person God’s grace shone forth more brightly; for being compelled to fly from the land of Canaan, he had spent a good part of his life in Syria, (for he did not return home, till he was old,) and then, being again driven into Egypt by the famine, he had at length died there. The land had not, therefore, fallen to them by hereditary right, nor by their own efforts; their father Jacob not having been permitted even to sojourn there. They call him a Syrian, because when he had married Laban’s daughters, and had begotten children, and was stricken in years before he had returned home, he might seem to have renounced the land of Canaan. Since then he had been content for many years with the dwelling which he chose for himself in Syria, his descendants justly confessed that he was a pilgrim and stranger, because of his long exile; and for the same reason that they also might be counted foreigners. They add that their father Jacob again abandoned the land of Canaan when he was forced by the famine to go down into Egypt; and whilst they recount that he sojourned there with a few, and afterwards grew into a mighty nation, they thus acknowledge that they were Egyptians, since they had sprung from thence, where was the beginning of their name and race. In the rest of the passage they further confirm the fact that they were led into the land of Canaan by the hand of God; because when they were oppressed by tyranny, they cried unto Him, and were heard. They are commanded also to celebrate the signs and wonders whereby their redemption was more clearly manifested, in order that they should unhesitatingly give thanks to God, and contrast His pure worship with all the imaginations of the heathen: otherwise, this would have been but a cold exercise of piety. What follows in the last verse, “And thou shalt rejoice,” etc., seems indeed to have been a promise, as if God, by setting before them the assurance of His blessing, added a stimulus to arouse the people to more cheerful affection; but the sense would appear more clear and natural if the copula were changed into the temporal adverb then; for this is the main thing in the use of our meat and drink, with a glad and joyful conscience to accept it as a testimony of God’s paternal favor. Nothing is more wretched than doubt; and therefore Paul especially requires of us this confidence, bidding us eat not without faith. (Romans 14:23.) In order, then, to render the Israelites more prompt in their duty, Moses reminds them that they would only be able to rejoice freely in the use of God’s gifts, if they should have expressed their gratitude as He commanded.

(338) “Ainsi les enfans d’Israel apportoyent en leur corbeille une protestation qu’ils se vouloyent ranger a Dieu comme enfans, selon qu’ils l’experimentoyent Pere nourissier;” thus the children of Israel bore in their basket a protestation that they desired to rank themselves as God’s children, since they daily experienced Him to be their nursing Father. — Fr.

Verse 12

12. When thou hast made an end of tithing. In this passage Moses urgently stimulates them to offer the tithes willingly and abundantly, by placing God, as it were, before their eyes, as if they paid them into his hand: for a solemn protestation is enjoined, in which they condemn themselves as guilty before God, if they have not faithfully paid the tax imposed upon them; but they pray for grace and peace if they have honestly discharged their duty. For nothing can be more awakening to men, than when (219) God is introduced as the judge of any particular matter. This is the reason why he commands them to protest in God’s sight that they have obeyed His ordinance in the payment of their tithes. To separate, or “bring away out of the house,” is equivalent to their being conscious of no fraud in withholding from God what was His; and thus that they were guiltless of sacrilege, since they had not diverted anything holy to their private use. What follows, “I have not transgressed thy commandments, neither have I forgotten them,” must only be referred to the matter in hand; for it would have been too great an act of temerity and arrogance in them, to have boasted that they had kept and fulfilled the Law in every part and parcel. Still this manner of speaking signifies desire rather than perfection; as if they had said, that it was the full purpose of their minds to obey God’s precepts. We must remember, however, what I have said, that this properly refers to the legal ceremonies. With the same meaning it is soon after said, “I have done according to all that thou hast commanded me:” for if they had gloried in their perfection, they had no need of sacrifices, or other means of purification. But as I have just said, God only invites them to examine themselves, (220) so that they may in sincerity of heart call upon Him as the witness of their piety.

(219) “ Il n’y a rien qui esveille mieux les hommes, et les touche plus au vif, que quand Dieu leur est amend et produit pour juge, et qu’ilsont adjournez comme en sa presence :” there is nothing which awakens men more, or touches them more on the quick, than when God is brought forward and produced as their Judge, and when they are summoned as it were into His presence. — Fr.

(220) The Fr. gives a different turn to this, “ seulement Dieu les a voulu aussi examiner, en les faisant tesmoins et juges de leur syncerite et rondeur :” God only wished them also to make an examination, calling themselves as witnesses of their own sincerity and integrity.

Verse 14

14. I have not eaten thereof in my mourning ( tristitia) It is clear that the sacred offerings are here spoken of; but the question is, what is meant by eating in mourning? This is the exposition received by almost universal consent; that although want may have tempted them to theft and fraud, yet the people assert that, even in their poverty and straits, they have abstained from the hallowed things; and to this I willingly assent; although this word “mourning” may be taken for the anxiety of a mind conscious of its iniquity in this sense, “I have not knowingly and willingly eaten anything consecrated to God, so that the hot iron ( cauterium) of an evil conscience should burn me, in the way in which man’s guilt ever torments and troubles him.” As to the second clause, interpreters differ. Some translate the word בער bagnar, (221) “ to destroy:” as if it were said, that they had suffered nothing to perish through uncleanness; but others explain it, I have taken away nothing for a profane purpose. My own opinion is, however, that the word טמא, tama, is used adverbially for “impurely,” so that the people testify that they are not polluted, or contaminated by withholding anything. (222) Thus, in my idea, some do not badly translate it “by uncleanness:” for it was not possible for the Israelites to apply the tithes to other uses, without contracting pollution by their wicked abuse of them. The ambiguity in the third clause is still greater; literally it is, “I have not given thereof to the dead.” In my version I have followed those who refer it to funeral rites; but some suppose that the word “dead” is used metaphorically for an unclean thing; others, in a less natural sense, for expenses, which do not contribute to support man’s life. But it does not yet appear wherefore it should he said that nothing had been spent on funeral rites. It is true that whatever had touched a dead body was unclean; and therefore some expound it, that the victims had not been polluted by any connection with funeral preparations. But if this sense is preferred, the expression must be taken by synecdoche for anything unclean. My own opinion however, is, that under this particular head all things are included which have a shew of piety. The burial of the dead was a praiseworthy office and a religious exercise; (223) so that it might afford a colorable pretext for peculiar laxity; in this word, therefore, God would have the Israelites declare, that they offered no excuse if they had misemployed any of the consecrated things.

(221) בער, is to consume, and especially as fire consumes. The verb is here in Pihel, in which conjugation it further signifies to carry away, as rendered in A.V. Our author gives the paraphrase of Aben Ezra, as quoted in S. M. — W.

(222) “ En rien appliquant a soy de ce qui appartenoit a Dieu :” by appropriating anything to themselves of what belonged to God. — Fr.

(223) “ Telle apparence pouvoit enhardir les gens a y employer les offertes deues a Dieu :” this pretext might embolden the people to employ upon it the offerings due to God. — Fr.

Verse 15

15. Look down from thy holy habitation. Whilst they are commanded to offer their prayers and supplications, that God would bless the land, on this condition, that they had not defiled themselves by any sacrilege, at the same time they are reminded, on the other hand, that God’s blessing was not else to be hoped for. Meanwhile the expression is remarkable, “Bless the land which thou hast given us, a land that floweth with milk and honey:” for we infer from hence that the land was not so much fertile by nature, as because God daily watered it by His secret blessing to make it so.

Verse 16

16. This day the Lord thy God. He again reminds them that God is the author of the Law, in order that His majesty should the more impress them; and not only so, but that, since the Law was specially delivered to them, its observation was the more enjoined upon them. Hence he exhorts them earnestly to apply their hearts to those things which God had enjoined them to keep, because men grow careless in their duties, unless they are often stirred up. For, undoubtedly, God indirectly rebukes the people’s indifference, by so often calling them to obedience. By the words “with all thy soul” is meant serious apprehension, and carefulness, as well as sincerity, free from all disguise and deceit. For nothing is more displeasing to God than hypocrisy, because He seeth the heart. If any object that it was vain to demand of them what no mortal can perform, viz., to keep the Law with all their heart, I reply, that all the heart is opposed to a double or divided heart, and is equivalent to entire, or altogether without deceit, although (as we shall hereafter see) it is not absurd to propose to believers an object, at which they are to aim, although they may not attain to it as long as the weakness of the flesh hinders them.

Verse 17

17. Thou hast avouched the Lord (231) He shews them from the consequence that nothing can be better or more desirable for them than to embrace God’s Law; for nothing can be more honorable to ourselves than to give to God His due honor, and to exalt His glory to its due preeminence. Moses declares that, if the Israelites submit themselves to the Law, this will be, as it were, to place Him in His rightful dignity; and he promises that the fruit of it will return to them, for that God, on his part, will exalt them, so that they shall far excel all other nations; as it is said in Isaiah, (Isaiah 8:13,) “Sanctify the Lord of hosts — and he shall be for a sanctuary.” For no otherwise does He desire to be glorified by us, than to make us in turn partakers of His glory; and thus Moses gently entices them to receive the Law, because their solid happiness consists in this pious duty, if they altogether devote themselves to obedience. But this excellency of the Church, although it shines forth in the world, is still hidden from the blind, and, since it is spiritual, only obtains its praise before God and the angels.

(231) Thou hast exalted, etc — Lat.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 26". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.