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1.And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken. He teaches the same thing as before in different words; but the diversity of expression, as well as the repetition, tends to its confirmation. First, God says that He would deal with them so bountifully that they should excel all other nations; for this is the meaning of the words, that they should be illustrious above all the rest of the world on account of the special blessings of God. He afterwards enumerates the blessings which shall never depart from them, if they persevere in the service of God; and here it must be observed that they are reminded, not only in how many ways God is bountiful towards His servants, but also to how many necessities they are exposed, which require His direct and constant aid; for if we are blessed in the city and in the field, we can no more move a foot than stand still, except by His blessing. Such also is the tendency of the whole list, that a scarcity of all things impends over us at every moment, unless God should continually succor us by remedies sent down from heaven, and that every good thing can only come from that one source.
9.The Lord shall establish thee a holy people unto himself. This refers indeed to earthly blessings, as if Moses said, that by them would be manifested God’s love towards His chosen people; still it rises higher, so that the Israelites, led on by degrees, should learn to embrace God alone, and to trust in Him according to the covenant which He had made with Abraham, “I am thy exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1.) For the children of Abraham were set apart and chosen to be a holy people, not only in order that, being well fed, and with a full belly, they should aspire to nothing but earthly things, but that they might be confidently assured that they would be blessed in death as well as life. Although their adoption was gratuitous, still, inasmuch as they were called unto purity, it is not without reason that God promises that what He had spoken should be sure, if by keeping the Law the Israelites themselves should continue in the covenant; as much as to say, that their sanctification (215) should be firm and perpetual if they walked in the commandments of the Law. When He adds that it should be manifest “to (216) all people of the earth that the name of God was called upon them,” it is equivalent to saying, that it should be known that they were under God’s defense and patronage, and that thus they should always be safe and secure in His protection.
(215) “Leur election.” — Fr.
(216) “And all the people of the earth shall see that those are called by the name of the Lord.” — A. V. “And all peoples of the earth shall see that the name of Jehovah is called upon thee,” i. e. , “thou art called by his name.” — Ainsworth.
12.The Lord shall open to thee his good treasure. He again repeats, that the goodness of God shines forth in many ways in the life of men, since He not only supplies the bread that they eat, but that the rain which descends from heaven waters the earth; and that thus He produces whatever is required for food from His plenteous store-house or treasure. Let us learn, therefore, both above and beneath, as well in the temperature of the atmosphere, in the quickening heat of the sun, in the rain, and in other means, as in the fertility of the earth, to contemplate the manifold riches which God brings forth from His treasures. And when He declares that He will bless the work of our hands, hence, too, let us learn that we can attain nothing by our industry and hardest labors, except in so far as God vouchsafes us good success; and that all our efforts without His secret blessing are mere useless fatigue. For the figure which Paul uses in reference to the spiritual culture of the Church, is taken from nature itself:
“Neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase.” (1 Corinthians 3:7.)
God would not, indeed, have (217) us lie idle, and therefore He requires the labor of our hands, but He would have the fruit of our labors attributed to Himself.
After having spoken of the whole Law, and forbidden that they should turn aside to the right or the left, He adverts to the principal point, i. e. , that they should not revolt to strange gods. Wherefore, the sum comes to this, that, in order that God may continue to shew us the favor which He has begun towards us, we ought on our sides to be altogether submissive to His rule. This indeed He demands of us by His word, and enables us to perform it by the power of His Spirit; not, it is true, fully to do our duty, but to strive to reach the goal; and, whereas we are far from attaining perfection, His indulgence supplies what is wanting in us.
Here, however, a difficult question arises, — If all prosperity proceeds from the peculiar blessing which God vouchsafes to His servants, whence is it that many of His despisers have children, easy and happy circumstances, abundance of the fruits of fire earth, enjoyment and luxury, honors and power? I answer, that the happy condition of life, which He assigns to His servants, does not prevent Him from diffusing His bounty promiscuously over the whole human race. He is truly called in Psalms 36:6, the preserver of “man and beast.” It is said elsewhere, (218) that His mercy is extended over all His creatures, (Psalms 145:17;) and justly does Christ exalt His unbounded goodness, in that “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.” (Matthew 5:45.) But equally true is the exclamation of the Prophet;
“Oh, how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up
for them that fear thee!” (Psalms 31:19.)
For since all without exception enjoy all the supports of life, God’s goodness, which thus contends with the wickedness of men, shines forth universally even towards the ungodly, so that He does not cease to cherish and preserve those whom He has created, although they be unworthy. He therefore does good to the ungodly, because He is their Creator; besides, in order to keep the minds of believers in suspense in expectation of the final judgment, He now suffers many things to be confusedly mixed together, and hides His judgment in the darkness of night, as it were, or at least under clouds; whilst He also so tempers His patience towards the reprobate, as that, in this confusion of which I have spoken, some signs of His anger and favor are manifested. Thus, although the government of the world is not yet reduced to a perfect rule, still God shews by it that He is both the avenger of sins and the rewarder of righteousness, and some sparks are seen through the darkness; whilst the faithful, although they do not attain to the full enjoyment of the blessing promised them, nevertheless taste of it as far as is expedient. But to the ungodly, although they abound with all sorts of good things, not a single drop of God’s goodness is dispensed; for unless a sense of God’s paternal favor is awakened by His blessing, the blessing itself ceases to exist; nay, the more they gorge themselves, they attain to a deadly fatness; and God purposely lifts them up, that He may cast them down more heavily from their high estate. In a word, they are fed, as the Prophet says, (219) “unto the day of slaughter.”
It must be concluded, therefore, that the blessings which God here promises to His servants are seasoned by Him with spiritual salt, lest they should be tasteless; whilst the reprobate, who are destitute of a sense of His grace, are also deprived altogether of all His blessings. There still, however, remains a difficulty, because the felicity here spoken of does not always, nor equally fall to the lot of God’s servants; nay, even under the Law they were sharply tried by many troubles and adversities. I answer, that since none, not even the most holy, was ever a perfect keeper of the Law, since none was ever free from all transgression, it is no cause of surprise that they only partially enjoyed the promised blessings; inasmuch as they were not fit recipients (capaces) of their fullness; and, if it sometimes happens that they are chastised more severely than the ungodly, neither in this is there any absurdity, since God usually begins His judgment at His own house. (Isaiah 10:12; 1 Peter 4:17.) Still, even in this confusion we see what the Prophet teaches, that the righteous are never forsaken, (Psalms 37:25,) and that they are like green and fruitful olive-trees in the courts of the Lord, (Psalms 52:8,) whilst the ungodly, although for a season they may be exalted like cedars of Lebanon, yet are plucked up in a moment by the roots, so that no trace of them remains.
(217) “Que nous demeurions assis, et lesjambes croissees comme des faineans;” that we should remain seated, with our legs crossed, like do-nothings. — Fr.
(218) See margin A. V. , “Merciful, or bountiful in all his works.”
(219) No reference is here given in the original. The allusion might be to Jeremiah 12:3, or Jeremiah 51:40.
15.But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken. This list of curses is longer than the previous one which was proclaimed from Mount Sinai, undoubtedly because the Spirit of God foresaw that the sluggishness of the people had need of sharper stimulants. If they had been only moderately teachable, what they had already heard would have been even more than sufficient to alarm them; but now God redoubles His threatenings against them in their inertness and forgetfulness, that they might not only be compelled to fear, but also aroused by constant reminding. For this reason, He declares that they should be “cursed in the city and in the field,” i e. , at home and abroad, in the house or out of the house; and again, that their food should be cursed in the seed and in the meal. Afterwards, He enumerates three kinds of fruit in which they should be cursed, viz., their own offspring, the produce of the soil, and the young of their animals; for all these Scripture embraces in the word fruit, as sufficiently appears from this passage.
19.Cursed shalt thou be when thou comest in. God here pronounces that all their undertakings should meet with ill success; for going out and coming in signifies their various actions, and the whole course of their life; and this is more clearly expressed in the next verse, where He denounces against them misfortune in all their affairs, in that God would confound and mar whatever they should undertake. The words (237)
21.The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee. He now proceeds to diseases which are as it were the lictors of God; and finally, His executioners, if men pertinaciously continue in their ungodliness. He does not, therefore, merely declare that He will send the pestilence, but that He will cause it to cleave to them, and when it shall have once laid hold of them, that it shall be impossible to remove it. It might also be translated, The Lord shall cause that the pestilence should seize thee; but with the same meaning, viz., that the pestilence should be fixed, or glued (agglutinatam) upon them, until it should consume them in the Holy Land itself. He adds phthisis, or consumption, which disease emaciates the body, and gradually exhausts its juices. It is superfluous to speak particularly of the other diseases, only let us learn that, whilst the multitude of diseases is almost innumerable, they are all so many ministers (satellites) prepared to execute God’s vengeance. It is true, indeed, that diseases are contracted in various ways, and especially by intemperance; still, this does not prevent God from smiting the transgressors of the Law with them, although no natural cause may be apparent. He adds war, which He designates by the name of “the sword,” but of this curse He will soon speak more fully.
He then unfolds in more distinct detail what He had before adverted to with respect to the curse on the produce of the land. And, first, He names two blights of the corn, which destroy it just as it is ripening, and snatch the bread, as it were, out of men’s mouths; for dryness (238) is not here used for all want of moisture in the soil, but for that emptying of the ears, which is caused by the east wind. Mildew occurs from the sudden heat of the sun, if it strikes upon the corn when moistened with cold dew. Now, although these evils arise from natural causes, still God, the Author of nature, in His supreme power, so controls the atmosphere, that its unwholesomeness is His undoubted scourge. (239)
(238) “Ariditas. ” — Lat. “Blasting.” — A. V. ; “i. e. , (says Ainsworth,) of corn and fruit with a dry wind, 2 Kings 19:26, for the original word signifieth dryness; and such was the east wind that blasted in those parts, Genesis 41:6. Therefore the Greek translateth it corruption with wind. ”
(239) “Un certain signe de son ire;” a certain sign of His wrath. — Fr.
23.And thy heaven that is over thy head. He enumerates other causes of barrenness, and especially drought. Often does God by the Prophets, desirous of giving a token of His favor towards the people, promise them the rain of autumn and of spring: the one immediately following the sowing, the other giving growth to the fruits before they begin to ripen; whilst in many passages He also threatens that it should be withheld. To this refers what He now says, that the heavens shall be of brass, and the earth of iron, because neither shall the moisture descend from heaven to fertilize the earth, whilst the earth, bound up and hardened, shall have no juice or dampness in order to production. Whence we gather, that not even a drop of rain falls to the earth except distilled by God, and that whenever it rains, the earth is irrigated as if by His hand. It must, however, be observed, as we have seen before, that the land of Canaan was not like Egypt, which was watered by the care and industry of man, but fertilized by the bounty of heaven. Thus God, by the Prophet, marks the degrees which are worthy of observation, viz., that when He is reconciled to His people, He will “hear the heavens, and they shall hear the earth; and the earth shall hear the corn, and the wine, and the oil;” so that, finally, all these things shall hear starving men. (240) (Hosea 2:21.)
It is not superfluous that He should expressly speak of the “heaven over our head,” and the earth that is “under our feet,” for He thus indicates that His weapons are prepared both above and below to execute His vengeance, so as to assail the people on all sides. Another Prophet confirms this, although only in a brief allusion:
“Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit; and I called for a drought,” etc. (Haggai 1:10.)
Another mode of expression is then used to make the same thing more sure, viz., that the rain should be turned into “powder and dust;” still this clause may be explained in two ways, either that the rain shall no more fertilize the ground than as if it were ashes; or that, instead of rain, dust should fall, as though God would dry up the rich soil by scattering ashes on it.
(240) See C. in loco. Calvin Society’s edit., vol. 1, p. 118.
25.The Lord shall cause thee to be smitten before thine enemies. What He had briefly threatened in His mention of “the sword,” He now more fully pursues, that they should be given up to the will of their enemies, so as to be indiscriminately slaughtered. We have previously seen that those who execute punishment on the transgressors of the Law, are stirred up and armed by the just judgment of God; Moses does not now touch on that point, but merely declares that the enemies of the people should be their conquerors, should cruelly entreat them and pursue them in their flight. Moreover, in order that God’s judgment might be more conspicuous, He says, that when they have gone out to battle by one way, i e. , with their army in regular order, they should return by seven ways, because, in the confusion of their flight, they should be dispersed in all directions. Hence we gather that the bravery of men is in God’s power, so that He can make cowards of the boldest whenever He so pleases. And we must bear in mind what we shall see elsewhere, “How should one chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight, except God had sold them and had shut them up” under their hand? (Deuteronomy 32:30.) And for this reason God calls Himself the God of hosts, in order that believers may live securely under His guardianship; whilst the wicked, and the despisers of the Law, should dread the slightest motion when He is wroth with them.
What follows, that they should be “for (241) a removing in all the kingdoms of the earth,” some take to mean that they should be a laughing-stock; because we usually shake or move our heads by way of insult; but others explain it, that they should be wanderers and vagabonds in unknown places of exile. The first exposition is the one I prefer. In Ezekiel (242) (Ezekiel 23:46,) it is used for a tumultuous rout; nor am I indisposed to understand it in this way, that whatever nations shall assail them, they should be shaken by their slightest attacks.
(241) See Margin, A. V. “In commotionem.” — Lat. The first exposition, approved by C. , is that of S. M. and Malvenda, who refers to Psalms 21:8, and Psalms 44:15. See Poole’s Synopsis in loco.
(242) This reference is omitted altogether in Fr.
26.And thy carcase shall be meat. The punishment is here doubled by the disgrace which is added to death; for it is ignominious to be deprived of burial, and justly reckoned amongst the curses of God; whilst it is a sign of His paternal favor that we should be distinguished from the brutes, inasmuch as the rites of burial arouse us to the hope of resurrection and everlasting life. Wherefore, on the contrary, God deprives of burial those whom He curses. But as we have said that punishments affecting the body are common to the pious and the reprobate, so also we must think of being deprived of sepulture, since it sometimes happens that the reprobate are honorably buried, as Christ relates of the luxurious Dives, (Luke 16:22,) whilst the bodies of the pious are ignominiously cast a prey for birds and beasts; as the Prophet complains in Psalms 79:2. Still such an interchange does not prevent God from avenging the contempt of His Law by this mode of punishment, as by pestilence, famine, or sword.
27.The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt. Whether you understand this passage of the extraordinary plagues which God inflicted on the Egyptians at the time of His people’s deliverance, or of the ordinary diseases which had before prevailed among them, though the latter is more probable, still Moses signifies, that whilst the Egyptians were smitten with these plagues, God’s people escaped them, in order that this distinction might more clearly represent His favor. For it could not happen naturally that in the same place the diseases, from which the Israelites were free, should afflict the Egyptians alone. God therefore threatens, that if they should despise His Law, He would deal with them as they had seen Him deal with heathen nations. And assuredly, since God then chose to multiply His people miraculously, it can be by no means doubted but that He wonderfully privileged them by the bestowment of health and rigor. It is doubtful whether by diseases of the fundament He signifies hemorrhoids or prolapsus, or some other secret disease, such as that which attacked the Philistines when they captured the ark of the covenant. (1 Samuel 5:6.) He subjoins other diseases, in which there appear special marks of God’s wrath; for although they sometimes affect the children of God also, still I have shewn elsewhere that the same punishments are so dealt out to them respectively, that they widely differ from each other. When Job was smitten with terrible ulcers, so as to become corrupt, he seemed for a time to present the marks of a reprobate person; but what in that holy man was an exercise of patience, is in the transgressors of the Law the just reward of their crimes by the curse of God.
28.The Lord shall smite thee with madness and blindness. This punishment is very often referred to by the Prophets, when God is said to smite the wicked with a spirit (243) of giddiness and madness, to make them drunk with astonishment. Now, whatever God declares respecting this blindness or fury of mind, has a wide application; for hence it arises that the wicked rush willfully into vile lusts, shudder at no crime, are hurried headlong to destruction, are utterly deprived of discretion, throw away the remedies which are in their hands; and although (244) the carnal sense is not greatly disturbed by this form of vengeance, still it is much more severe and awful than any bodily disease. The Poets imagined that wicked men were agitated and terrified by the furies, because experience taught them that it was not without a secret impulse from God that they became so senseless, when, their minds being affected, they were like beasts in the shape of men. Even heathens, then, perceived that when the wicked are given over to a reprobate mind, God thus manifests Himself as the just Avenger of their crimes. And so it is in all cases of “astonishment;” for it is plain that those who are thus stupified by their miseries, are prostrated by the hand of God.
(243) C gives no references here. It is probable that the passage, which he most had in his mind, was Isaiah 19:14, “The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit;” in V. , “Dominus miscuit in medio ejus spiritrum vertiginis, etc.” His own Commentary on these words is, “The expression is metaphorical, as if one were to mix wine in a cup, that the Lord thus intoxicates the wise men of this world so that they are stunned and amazed, and can neither think nor act aright.” Calvin Soc. edit., vol. 2, p. 64. He also might refer to Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15; Psalms 60:3, etc.
(244) “L’apprehension commune des hommes;” the ordinary apprehension of men. — Fr.
30.Thou shalt betroth a wife, and another man. He here denounces that all they possessed should be rifled and plundered by their enemies. He, however, puts the most painful thing of all in the first place, viz., that they shall be despoiled of their wives, and magnifies the enormity of the evil, by saying, that not only shall the wife be torn from her husband’s bosom, but that the betrothed virgin shall be defiled. The same denunciation is extended to their houses and vineyards. It is grievous indeed to see the fruit of our labors seized on by our enemies before we have been permitted to enjoy them; since the frustration of our hope does not slightly increase our pain. He then passes on to their flocks and their herds: then to their children, and in their case heightens the calamity, in that their sons and their daughters should be taken from them in their very sight, so that their eyes should fail with grief, and their hands, as if dead, should be unable to afford them assistance. For two reasons He says that the robbers, who shall strip them of everything, should be unknown to them; both because they might expect less consideration and kindness from strangers and barbarians than from neighbors; and also that the Jews might be alarmed by this threat, so as not to suppose that they only had to deal with neighboring nations; inasmuch as it was in God’s power to fetch nations from afar. Finally, He adds that there shall be no end to their affliction, until the magnitude of their calamities (245) shall stupify them.
(245) Deuteronomy 28:34. “Obstupesces.” — Lat. “Thou shalt be mad.” — A. V. The former is the rendering of Pagninus, the Samaritan text, and LXX. ; the latter of Vatablus, Munster, Oleaster, Malvenda, and the Arabic Version. See Poole’s Synopsis, in loco.
35.The Lord shall smite thee in the knees. Since death is common to the whole human race, they must needs also be all subject to disease; nor is it a matter of surprise that the whole posterity of Adam, which is infected with the taint of sin, should so be liable to many afflictions, which are the wages of sin. But, since the offenses of all are not alike, God also maintains a just proportion in the execution of His various punishments; thus, in this passage He does not speak only of common maladies, but of those whereby He openly shews His vengeance against the transgressors of the Law; of which sort are incurable diseases.
36.The Lord shall bring thee, and thy king. The fulfillment of this prophecy at length taught the Jews, though too late, that it was no empty threat, merely for the purpose of frightening them; and this also applies to the other predictions. For, on account of the great distance from them, the Jews would never have supposed that the Assyrians and Chaldeans were God’s scourges, as they actually found them to be; because they placed no faith in the words of Moses. Much less credible was it to them that the king, whom they had appointed, should be dragged as a prisoner to distant countries. And surely this was a very sad and formidable punishment, since all their safety depended on the stability of their kingly government. Thus Jeremiah magnifies this evil above all others, that the Christ of God, who was the breath of the Church, and under whose shadow they hoped to be everywhere safe, should be taken. (246) (Lamentations 4:20.) And this was fulfilled in the case of Jeconiah, as well as in that of Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. Let us, therefore, learn not to measure God’s judgments by our own reason, but to tremble at them, although they are hidden from us. All aggravation of their captivity is also added, i e. , that they should be oppressed by such tyranny as to be compelled to serve wood and stone. Dull and stupid as they were, still they ought to have retained their abomination of such gross wickedness. Hence it might be gathered that they would not be reduced to such a necessity except by the terrible vengeance of God. For although they had been attracted by the superstitions of the Gentiles, so as eagerly to run after them, still, after they were deprived of the worship of God, and had undergone the yoke of the wretched and ungodly servitude which was imposed on them, the foulness of idolatry must have been more fully understood. There is also an antithesis implied in these words, viz., that because they had refused to submit themselves to the true God, and to obey His Law, they should become the slaves of idols.
(246) “The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall lie among the heathen.” — Lamentations 4:20.
37.And thou shalt become an astonishment. The climax of their miseries is here added, that they should be so far from receiving consolation from men, that on every side their misery should meet with taunts and insults; for nothing more bitterly wounds the wretched than this indignity of being harassed by reproaches and sarcasms; and thus to be a laughing-stock and byword to all nations, is a dreadful infliction. Again, there is an implied antithesis between the ignominy to which God condemns His ungrateful people, and the extraordinary dignity with which He had honored them, so that they should be illustrious before the whole world. Hence the Prophets have often imitated this mode of expression; I will not quote the instances of it which everywhere occur.
38.Thou shalt carry much seed out into the field. He again makes mention of the scarcity of wine, of wheat, and all sorts of corn; but He assigns different causes for it. He proclaims that the harvest shall be scanty, notwithstanding an abundant sowing, because the locust shall consume the seed; that the vintage shall be poor, nay, almost nothing, because the worms shall devour the bunches; that the oil produced should be little, because the olives should wither on the trees and fall of themselves. Thus He admonishes them that He has at hand innumerable ministers (satellites) wherewith to destroy by famine the transgressors of His Law. Thus, whenever we see beetles, and locusts, and other insects attacking the fruits, we should remember that God, as it were, puts forth His arm to take away the food which He had given: thus Joel reminds us, that when the locust eats that which the palmer-worm hath left, and another insect that which the locust hath left, the curse of God is sufficiently conspicuous. (247) (Joel 1:4.) Philosophers discover the reason why more of these little creatures are generated in one year than another; but we must remember the teaching of Moses, that they never trouble us except by God’s command. For if we were submissive to God, as we ought to be, such a prodigy would never happen as that vile and filthy insects should devour the fruits of the earth which He Himself has provided for the sustenance of His children.
(247) “Que la main de Dieu est toute evidente;” that God’s hand is quite evident. — Fr.
43.The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee. This also was no doubtful mark of God’s wrath, that the sojourners who dwelt in the land of Canaan by sufferance should in a manner become its masters; for we know how those who are in debt are under the power of their creditors. In fact, what Solomon says is found to be true, that
“the rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant
to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7.)
The Israelites, therefore, must have felt that God was contrary to them, when they were suppliants to their own guests, especially since He had promised that He would so enrich them that they should lend to others. This revolution of affairs, then, plainly convinced them of their iniquities. Meanwhile, it must be observed that poverty as well as wealth is in God’s hands, and that whilst the latter is a proof of God’s favour the former is reckoned amongst His curses; still, however, in such a manner that God often chastises His own children with want, or proves and exercises their patience without ceasing to be their Father, whilst he bestows abundance upon the reprobate, wherewith they may gorge themselves to their own destruction. God’s blessing, however, shines forth in the elect, as far as it is expedient for them; nor is it said in vain in the Psalm, “Wealth and riches are in the house (of the just,”) in order that he may lend and be bountiful. (Psalms 112:3.)
45.Moreover, all these curses shall come upon thee. He not only confirms what he has already said, but takes away all hope of alleviation, since God’s scourges shall not cease until they have repented. He declares that all the curses shall come upon them; for although they are not always congregated into a single band, still it is true that God pays the wages of the transgressors of His Law with this multitude of miseries which Moses has recounted. By the word pursue, he takes away all hope of escape, whilst to overtake is equivalent to laying hold of them tenaciously, till, as it is further said, they be destroyed. The sum is, that the ungodly by their subterfuges only bring it to pass that they accumulate upon themselves heavier punishments, which will never cease to afflict them until they are destroyed by them. For this reason, he says that they shall be “for a sign and a wonder,” i e. , that they shall awaken astonishment in all men; for those who are but little moved by the common and ordinary judgments of God, are compelled, whether they will or no, to give attention to these prodigies. Thus, notable punishments, and such as are worthy of special observation, are “for a sign and a wonder.”
Their ingratitude is also reproved as well as their contempt of the Law, because they served not God “with joyfulness and gladness of heart,” when He had been so abundantly generous to them; for it is the fault of a corrupt and malignant nature, that it should not be possible to bring it to serve God joyfully, when He invites us by His liberality. But Moses takes it for granted that, since God will prevent the Israelites with His favor, before He proceeds to inflict punishments upon them, they will be guilty of this brutal sin, not to allow themselves to be liberally sustained by Him.
49.The Lord shall bring a nation against them from far. He enforces the same threatenings in different words, viz., that unknown and barbarous enemies should come, who shall attack them with great impetuosity and violence. And still further to aggravate their cruelty, He says that their language shall be a strange one; for, when there can be no oral communication, there is no room for entreaties, which sometimes awaken the most savage to mercy. But Jeremiah shews that this was fulfilled in the case of the Chaldeans;
“Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel; it is a mighty nation, a nation whose language thou howest not, neither understandest what they say.” (Jeremiah 5:15.)
On the other hand, when Isaiah promises them deliverance, he mentions this among the chief of their blessings, that the Jews should “not see a fierce people,” that they should not hear
“a people of deeper speech than they could perceive, of a stammering tongue (248) that they could not understand.” (Isaiah 33:19.)
For, as I have elsewhere said, the Prophets were careful to take their form of expression from Moses, lest the Jews should, according to their custom, proudly despise the threats which God had interwoven with His Law.
Lest the distance of their countries should lull them into security, He says that they should be like eagles in swiftness, so as suddenly to overwhelm them, just as God often compares the ministers of His wrath to the whirlwind and the storm. Jeremiah has also imitated this similitude, where he declares that the slaughter which the Jews in their false imagination had supposed to be far away from them, should come suddenly upon them. (Jeremiah 4:13.)
Moses adds, that this nation shall be “strong of face, (249) which shall not regard the person of the old, nor shew favor to the young,” whereby he signifies their extreme ferocity. I have already expounded what follows respecting their rapine and plunder.
(248) “Cui lingua stridet absque intelligentia.” — Lat. “Lesquels grondent sans intelligence.” — Fr.
(249) See margin, A. V.
52.And he shall besiege thee in thy gates. He overthrows every ground of false confidence. The number of their towns inspired them with courage, because they never would have supposed that their enemies would undergo so much fatigue as not to cease from fighting till they were all taken. He therefore includes all their towns, in reliance upon whose multitude they despised hostile aggression. He adds, that in vain they trust in their high and fortified walls, which will be either overthrown by military engines, or shall voluntarily surrender from the length of their besiegal; for the passage may be explained in both ways, either that the enemies shall overthrow and lay prostrate all their fortresses, or that by their perseverance they shall pass over the walls however high. It seems to me that the length of the siege as well as their valiant fighting is indicated. The repetition which follows magnifies the evil, viz., that they shall be thus sorely pressed in their own land given them by God; for the very associations of the place only increased the indignity.
53.And thou shalt eat the fruit of thine own body. This is one of those portents which was mentioned a little while ago; for it is an act of ferocity detestable and more than tragical, that fathers and mothers should eat their own offspring, so great love of which is naturally implanted in every heart, that parents often forget themselves in their anxiety for their children; and many have not hesitated to die to insure their safety. Nay, when the brute animals so carefully cherish their young, what can be more disgusting or abominable than that men should cease to care for their own blood? But this is the most monstrous of all atrocities, when fathers and mothers devour the offspring which they have procreated, and yet this threat by no means failed of its fulfillment, as we have elsewhere seen. We ought then to be the more alarmed when we see that God thus terribly punished the sins of those whom He had deigned to choose for His own. Still, it was not without very just cause that this wrath was so greatly kindled against the Jews who had left no kind of iniquity undone, so that their wickedness was altogether intolerable. Never, then, must it be forgotten that those of the household of the Church to whom God’s truth is revealed, are on that account the less excusable, because they knowingly and willfully provoke His wrath, whilst their continued perseverance in sin is altogether unworthy of pardon. The monstrous brutality of the act is heightened, when He says that men, in other respects tender and accustomed to delicacies, should be so savage through hunger that they shall refuse to give a share of this horrible food to their wives and surviving children; as also Jeremiah expressly says, the pitiful women shall be so maddened by hunger as to cook their own children. (Lamentations 4:10.) What follows as to the after-birth is still more horrible, for thus they call the membrane by which the foetus is covered in the womb, with all its excrements. That they should dress for food a filthy skin, the very look of which is disgusting, plainly demonstrates the awfulness of God’s vengeance.
58.If thou wilt not observe to do all the words of this law. Inasmuch as even believers, although they are disposed to a willing obedience to the Law, and earnestly apply themselves to it, are still impeded and withheld by the infirmity of their flesh from fulfilling their duty, care and attention is here demanded of them; for “to observe ( custodire) to do” is equivalent to giving sedulous and diligent heed. Now, God declares that, unless the Israelites thoroughly devote themselves to the keeping of the Law, vengeance is prepared for their neglect. It is indeed a harsh and severe threat whereby transgression in any respect is without remission; for perfect obedience is required by the words, “to do all the words that are written in the Law.” But it is necessary that we should bear in mind what I have already shewn, that Moses was thus severe in his exactions, in order that the people, being convinced of their condemnation, should betake themselves to the mercy of God; for no one longs after Christ, unless he first abandons all confidence in his works, and rests all his hope of salvation in gratuitous pardon. The curse here recorded so awaits the transgressors of the Law, that, whilst God pardons His children, He at the same time sometimes chastises them, and executes upon the reprobate the vengeance they deserve. The fountain-head of obedience is indicated when it is said, “that thou mayest fear the Lord;” for all virtues are but smoke, which do not spring from the fear of God. Moreover, in order that their contempt may be without excuse, God’s name is called “glorious and fearful;” for it is a mark of gross stupidity, when God’s majesty and glory are openly set before us, not to be affected with becoming reverence so as to humble ourselves before Him. He, however, threatens something more terrible than before, when he says that the plagues shall be wonderful not only on the parents but on their children and descendants; instead of which some construe it, (250) He shall increase in a wonderful manner; and others, He shall separate; but this is too constrained and obscure. The word
He again mentions “the diseases of Egypt,” not those which they had themselves suffered in Egypt, but those under which they had seen the Egyptians laboring. He says, therefore, that the severity of God against unbelievers, of which they had been spectators, should fall upon their own heads, if they should be followers of their ungodliness; for it was natural that they should tremble at the judgments of God, whereof they had been eye-witnesses; and not only so, but at which they had trembled for fear.
(250) So V. The translation, “He shall separate, or shall make distinct from all others, because they shall be greater and worse,” is that of Oleaster, quoted in Poole’s Synopsis.
61.Also every sickness and every plague. This passage confirms what I have said about the plague and the sickness, for the sickness stands first as the species, and then the plague follows, which has a wider meaning, and comprehends all the curses in itself. Still, after he has enumerated so many forms of punishment, he declares that God is armed with yet other weapons to smite them; and assuredly as His blessings are endless and innumerable, so also His power is incomprehensible for avenging the contempt of His Law. Posterity has experienced, and we also even now partly perceive how true these threatenings were; for, as the obstinacy of men has burst forth and exalted itself more and more, so new and unheard of punishments have abounded from God, like a deluge.
62.And ye shall be left few in number. Since it had been promised to Abraham that his seed should be like the stars of heaven in multitude, it was a signal token of God’s wrath that his posterity should be reduced (252) to so small a number; thus the comparison which is here made for the purpose of heightening their calamity, must not simply be referred to the “multitude” or great band, and the “fewness in number,” but must be extended to the promise, the truth of which had been clearly manifested; so that, on the other hand, they might perceive that their former populousness could only have been put an end to, like waters dried up by the excessive heat of the sun, through the wrath of God.
(252) “A une pongnee de gens;” to a handful of people. — Fr.
63.And it shall come to pass, that as the Lord rejoiced over you. The wonderful and inestimable love of God towards His people is here set forth, via, that He had rejoiced in heaping blessings upon them; wherefore their depravity was all the more base and intolerable, in that God, though voluntarily disposed to be bountiful, was obliged by it to lay aside His affection for them. But although it is only by a metaphor that God is said to rejoice in destroying the wicked, yet it is not without good reason that this expression is applied to him; that we may know that He can no more fail to be the defender of His Law, and the Avenger of its contempt, than deny Himself. He complains, indeed, by Isaiah, (Isaiah 10:24) that He is unwillingly forced to punish the Jews; but these two things are quite consistent, that He rejoices in His just judgment, and at the same time is mindful of His clemency and indulgence, so that He would rather pardon, if the wickedness of men would allow Him. But this expression of Moses, that God receives consolation from punishing the wicked, constantly occurs in the Prophets.
64.And the Lord shall scatter thee among all people. At the end of the preceding verse, he had threatened them with banishment, which was far more painful to the people of Israel than to other nations. Inasmuch as affection for our country is natural to all, it is disagreeable to be away from it; but the condition of the Israelitish people was peculiar, for to them the inheritance of Canaan was promised them by God, and they could not be expelled from it without being renounced by their heavenly Father. But he now proceeds a second and third step further; for he adds to banishment a miserable scattering, and to scattering, trembling and wanderings full of disquietude. For, if they had been expelled all together into any one corner of the world, their banishment would have been more tolerarable from their very association with each other. Their calamity is, therefore, augmented when the storm of God’s wrath scatters them hither and thither like chaff, so that they should be dispersed, and dwell in widely different countries. Another kind of servitude, which I have elsewhere noticed, is incidentally added, i e. , that He would enslave them not only to men, but to idols also. The third step is their want of rest, for there was to be no fixed abode for them in their captivity; and this is far the most wretched state of all, to serve tyrannical conquerors as captives, and to have no certain master. Still it was a most just reward of the people’s ingratitude, that they should nowhere find a fixed resting-place, because they had rejected the rest offered them by God, as we read in Isaiah (Isaiah 28:12) He, however, extends the evil, bitter as it was in itself, still further, for they were not only to be compelled to wander in confusion, and immediately to pass onwards, but, wheresoever they should come, inward perturbation of mind was to follow them as their inseparable companion. Now, it is more sad to be agitated within with secret fear, than to be oppressed by external violence; for believers, although they too may be unsettled and tossed by many troublesome waves, still repose with tranquil minds on God; whilst the wicked, however they may desire to lull themselves in security, are nevertheless always without true peace; and if, for a while, they sink into lethargy, are still soon compelled to arouse themselves by God whether they will or not. Surely as the repose of a well-regulated mind is a signal mark of God’s favor, so a constant and irremediable fear, such as is here referred to, is one of His terrible punishments.
Since the fear of spiritual punishments but lightly affects ungodly men, Moses magnifies in many words what the Israelites would else have carelessly passed over. Especially he points out what dreadful torments of anxiety would affect the wicked, when he says that their life should hang in suspense, as it were, before their eyes, so that they should fear day and night. An amusing device is related of Dionysius, (253) who commanded an exquisite supper, supplied with every delicacy, to be prepared for a courtly flatterer by whom his happiness had been lauded; he placed him in his own seat, so (254) that he might feast pleasantly, but ordered a sword to be suspended by a thread so as to overhang his head, insomuch that he who had pronounced the tyrant to be happy, when he saw that death was so near him every moment, did not dare to taste either of meat or drink. Dionysius, therefore, confessed, and not without shame to himself, that he and all other tyrants, whilst they are formidable to others, are tormented by perpetual fear. Now, this same disquietude is common to all the despisers of God; for the more wantonly they rage in forgetfulness of His fear, the more deservedly they dread their own shadow. Besides, when we look around us and see by how many forms of death our lives are beset, it cannot be but that innumerable anxieties should naturally possess us; how, then, can the wicked help being harassed by miserable and perplexing doubts when they perceive themselves to be shut out from the protection of God, and exposed to so many evils? Tranquillity of mind, therefore, can only arise from having God as our Keeper, and from resting under His protection.
By the words, “the sight of thine eyes,” I have no doubt but that Moses designates those spectres (255) and bug-bears whereby death is set before the eyes of the reprobate.
(253) This well-known story of Dionysius of Syracuse and his courtier Damocles, is beautifully told by Cicero. — Tusc. Quoest. 5. 21.
(254) “Pour reciter ceste felicite, qu’il avoit tant preschee;” to make a rehearsal of this felicity, which he had so greatly praised. — Fr.
(255) “Toutes illusions, fantasmes, et espouvantails, qui nous menacent de la mort;” all illusions, phantoms, and horrors, which threaten us with death. — Fr.
68.And the Lord shall bring thee into Egypt again with ships. We know that the people were so driven about in the desert amidst divers perils, that they only escaped from it in safety by extraordinary miracles. It was therefore a thing most highly to be desired by their posterity, that they should never be carried back into those mighty depths. He who had once rescued them from those deaths might indeed often be their deliverer; but in order to make His blessing at that time more memorable, He had provided that they should never return into that wilderness. To bring them back into it again, was, then, in a manner to blot out the grace of redemption. If any object that it was impossible that the people should be conveyed in ships through dry places, the reply is easy, that since mention is made of the captivity, there is no absurdity in their being carried in ships and landed on the shore which (256) belongs to the plain of Moab, so as to finish their journey by wandering through the desert on foot.
Finally, he shews how melancholy their condition would be, since they would desire to sell themselves to their enemies, and would find none to buy them on account of their vileness.
(256) There appears to be some oversight here. The Latin is “littus, quod planitiem Moah respicit;” and the Fr. sufficiently removes any difficulty which the latter word would present, by simply translating it “pour les jetter en la plaine de Moab;” i. e. , to put them ashore on the plain of Moab. Now, the only shores of the plain of Moab would be formed by the Dead Sea, and this would, of course, be inapplicable in the circumstances referred to. The very impossibility of crossing the desert in ships, clearly proves that the word way must not be understood as indicating the line of route. Thus Holden paraphrases the words: “Thou shalt be taken there in ships, and not by the way in which I appeared and spake to thee;” and Dathe’s translation is, “Navibus Jova vos deportari sinet in Aegyptum, quam terram nunquam a vobis revisendam dixerat.” The wonderful fulfillment of the prophecy is thus well summed up by Dr. Kitto: “This was accomplished on several occasions. It is related both by Aristeas and Josephus, that in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, there were vast numbers of Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and that the king himself bought above 100,000 of them from their masters, and set them free. Egypt, indeed, was the great slave-mart of ancient times; and several of the conquerors and oppressors of the Jews sent at least a portion of their captives thither to be sold. Titus had 90,000 captives after Jerusalem was taken. Those above seventeen years of age were sent to different parts of the Roman empire to labor on the public works, besides great numbers who perished in compulsory combats with wild beasts. Those under seventeen were doomed to be sold for slaves; but in such deep contempt and detestation was the nation held, that few were willing to buy them; and the Jews who remained at large, were too few and poor to be able to redeem their brethren. The market was also glutted with their numbers, so that they were sold at a mere nominal price, — sometimes thirty for a small piece of money. Those who remained unpurchased were sent into confinement, where they perished by hundreds and by thousands together, from neglect and hunger. Egypt received a large proportion of these slaves, who were probably sent thither in ships, as the Romans had a fleet in the Mediterranean, and this was a much easier and safer way of transporting them than by land across the desert. The same things precisely took place on the final desolation of Israel by Hadrian, who may be said to have consummated their doom by decreeing, with the concurrence of the Roman Senate, that no Jew should ever, on pain of death, enter the land of his fathers.” — Illust. Comment. in loco.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 28". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19