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Calvin's Commentary on the Bible Calvin's Commentary
These files are public domain.
These files are public domain.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ cal/ deuteronomy-4.html. 1840-57.
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
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1.Now, therefore, hearken, O Israel. He requires the people to be teachable, in order that they may learn to serve God; for the beginning of a good and upright life is to know what is pleasing to God. From hence, then, does Moses commence commanding them to be attentive in seeking direction from the Law; and then admonishing them to prove by their whole life that they have duly profited in the Law. The promise which is here inserted, only invites them to unreserved obedience through hope of the inheritance. The main point is, that they should neither add to nor diminish from the pure doctrine of the Law; and this cannot be the case, unless men first renounce their own private feelings, and then shut their ears against all the imaginations of others. For none are to be accounted (true) disciples of the Law, but those who obtain their wisdom from it alone. It is, then, as if God commanded them to be content with His precepts; because in no other way would they keep His law, except by giving themselves wholly to its teaching. Hence it follows, that they only obey God who depend on His authority alone; and that they only pay the Law its rightful honor, who receive nothing which is opposed to its natural meaning. The passage is a remarkable one, openly condemning whatsoever man’s ingenuity may invent for the service of God.
3.Your eyes have seen what the Lord did. This enlargement more clearly shews that so conspicuous was the example given in the punishment, that it could not be hidden from even the most ignorant; for Moses does not here address those of refined judgment, but the common people generally, who had only been spectators. Assuredly, if God’s vengeance had been less manifest, he would not have so confidently appealed to them as witnesses; hence was their stolidity the less excusable, if they were blind to so plain and notorious a fact.
His praise of their constancy I refer to the present case alone; for it is abundantly clear that they did not persevere in cleaving to God. The meaning is, that there was a manifest discrimination in this Divine chastisement, so that the death of the ungodly multitude should preserve the pure worship of God among the survivors.
6.Keep therefore, and do them. In order that they may set themselves more cheerfully about the keeping of the Law, and may proceed more steadily in this endeavor, he reminds them that nothing is better or more desirable for themselves. For God is not duly honored, except with ready minds and volutary obedience, to which we are rather attracted by pleasure than forced by rigor and violence. Now, since all desire to excel, he says, that this is the chief excellence of Israel, that they have God for their Lawgiver and Master. If any object that what he says may be refuted by two arguments, namely, because the Law of God was unknown to heathen nations; and because the form of God’s worship prescribed in it, and the whole Jewish religion, was not only despised but hated by them; I reply, that other nations are not here absolutely stated to be the judges or arbitrators, but that the words must be thus understood, viz., that there will be no nation, if it should come to a right understanding, which will dare to compare itself, much less to prefer itself to you; for by the very comparison it will acknowledge to what a height of dignity God has raised you. Wherefore, although the doctrine of the Law should remain neglected, nay, detested, by almost all the world, still Moses with truth declares, that since God has deigned to deliver to the Jews a rule of life, a stage had been erected before other nations, whereon the nobility of that one people would be conspicuous. For it was unreasonable that the glory of God should be tarnished or extinguished by the ignorance of the blind. But we gather from this passage that we then are truly wise, when we depend on God’s words, and submit our feeling to His revelations. Where I have rendered the words, “Surely (certo) this people,” the Hebrew particle,
, (226) rak, is used, which is often applied in an exclusive sense, so that it would appropriately bear this meaning: “Only this people,” etc. Unquestionably, the eminent condition of the people, on account of their gracious privileges, is referred to. רק
(226) Only; at least; surely. — Nold. Concord. partic. —W.
7.For what nation is there so great? Moses now repeats in his own name what he had stated in the person of others, as if to shew by additional reasons, that not without cause would the Jews be celebrated in the whole world, because it would actually appear that none were equal to them. He mentions two points, first, because God would be ready to afford them help, as often as they call upon Him; secondly, because He had instructed them in perfect righteousness, beyond which nothing could be desired; for, when he says that God is “nigh unto them,” I refer it to the presence of His power, which had been abundantly manifested by many miracles. Justly does he deny that the Gentiles had ever experienced such aid from their gods, since their prayers and cries were offered to deaf and dead idols.
9.Only take heed to thyself The same particle,
, rak, of which I have just spoken, is used here, and its meaning in this place is, as if Moses had said, that this only remained; unless it is preferred to translate it nevertheless. What follows means literally “Guard (custodi) thyself, and guard thy soul;” wherein Moses advances by degrees, reminding them that they needed no common heedfulness, but that they must beware with extreme vigilance and diligence lest they should fail through the want of them; for the slothfulness of the flesh must be spurred on by such instigations as these, and at the same time our weakness must be fortified, and we must take measures against our unsteadfastness; for nothing is more easy than that all our zeal should suddenly be forgotten, or should gradually grow cold. God had established the certainty of His law, as far as was necessary, for the grateful and attentive, yet not without reason does He desire the people to remember how great is the carelessness of men. Nor does he command those only to remember who were eye-witnesses, but also to hand down (what they had seen) to their sons and grandsons, that the memory of such remarkable things might be preserved. רק
10.The day (227) that thou stoodest. The word day might be taken in the accusative, as if in apposition. It is, at any rate, clear that he explains more fully what he had briefly alluded to before, for he summons the people as eye-witnesses, lest, perchance, they should object that they were not sure from whence Moses had derived what he professes to be enjoined him by God. For they were all well aware that he had undertaken nothing without the express command of God. Finally, he proves, from the end and object itself of the doctrine, that God was its author, since it tended to nothing else but that God should be purely served, and that His people might be obedient, than which nothing can be imagined more just and right.
(227) “In the day,” etc. — lat.
11And ye came near, and stood. This explanatory narrative is intended to prove the same thing, viz., that Moses was only the ambassador and minister of God, because the mountain burned in the sight of all the people, that God might be manifested, speaking from the midst of the fire. His statement that they only heard the voice, but saw no similitude, may be understood as a kind of admission, (concessionis.) Thus the two clauses would be read adversatively, “Although no similitude appeared, yet a voice penetrated even to your ears.” But I conceive that this was expressly stated more clearly to shew that it was the voice of God, and not proceeding from a human being; for no man could have so concealed himself by artifice as to prevent himself from being seen to speak, whereas they beheld the voice come out of the fire without any external instrumentality.
Deuteronomy 4:12.And the Lord spake unto you. It is a confirmation of the Second Commandment, that God manifested Himself to the Israelites by a voice, and not in a bodily form; whence it follows that those who are not contented with His voice, but seek His visible form, substitute imaginations and phantoms in His place. But here arises a difficult question, for God made Himself known to the patriarchs in other ways besides by His voice alone; thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob knew Him not only by hearing, but by sight. Moses himself saw Him in the midst of the burning bush; and He also manifested Himself to the Prophets under visible figures. Since it would be superfluous to heap together many citations, let the remarkable vision of Isaiah suffice, which is related in (Isaiah 6:0), and those of Ezekiel, which we read of in (Ezekiel 1:0 and Ezekiel 10:0) And yet God was not forgetful of Himself, when He thus presented Himself to the sight of His servants. Wherefore, this argument does not appear to be valid and good, that it is sinful to represent God in a visible image, because His voice was once heard without His being seen; when, on the other side, it is easy to object that visible forms have often been exhibited, wherein He testified His presence. The solution is twofold: first, that, although God may have invested Himself in certain forms for the purpose of manifesting Himself, this must be accounted as a peculiar circumstance, and not be taken as a general rule; secondly, that the visions shewn to the patriarchs were testimonies of His invisible glory, rather to elevate men’s minds to things above than to keep them entangled amongst earthly elements. In the promulgation of His Law, God first prescribed what believers must follow; because He saw that this was the best method (compendium) for retaining the minds of His people in true religion, and at the same time the best remedy for idolatry. Unless we submit to this counsel of God, we shall not only betray a licentious spirit of contention, but shall run directly against God, like butting bulls. For it was not in vain that Moses laid down this principle, that when God collected to Himself a Church, and handed down a certain and inviolable rule for holy living, He had not invested Himself in a bodily shape, but had exhibited the living image of His glory in the doctrine itself. Hence we may conclude that all those who seek for God in a visible figure, not only decline, but actually revolt, from the true study of piety.
If any one should object that God is not inconsistent with Himself, and yet, as has been said, that He has more than once taken upon Himself a visible form, the reply is simple and easy, that, whenever He appeared to the patriarchs in a visible form, He gave a temporary sign, which still was by no means contradictory of this commandment. Isaiah saw the Lord of hosts sitting on His throne; yet he boldly cries out as from the mouth of God, “To whom will ye liken me?” (Isaiah 40:25.) Nor need I repeat how constantly he speaks against idolaters; certainly he inveighs more strongly than any of the prophets against the folly, nay, the madness of those who make to themselves any image of God; because they thus turn truth into falsehood; and finally he assumes the same principle as that of Moses, that the true nature of God is corrupted by tricks and delusions if a corruptible thing be called His image. But what was His vision itself? The seraphim, who surrounded God’s throne, sufficiently shewed by their covering their faces with their wings that the sight of Him could not be borne by mortals. As to what Ezekiel relates, no painter could represent it; for God has always appeared distinguished from the shape of any creature by those marks which surpass man’s apprehension. This conclusion, therefore, always remains sure, that no image is suitable to God, because He would not be perceived by His people otherwise than in a voice. But then also fire was a symbol of His presence, yet He testified by it that His glory is incomprehensible, and thus would prevent men from idol-making. We have elsewhere explained what it is “to guard themselves as to their souls.” (93) But we infer, from his anxious exhortations, that they should take heed, how great is the leaning of the human soul to idolatry. This is the tendency of that attestation against them, which I have inserted from (Deuteronomy 8:0); for Moses not only threatens them, but, as if summoning witnesses according to the custom of solemn trials, denounces that they shall perish, in order to inspire them with greater fear by this earnest mode of address. Whence it appears that this insane lust (of idolatry) is not to be repressed by ordinary means. With the same object he says that they are “corrupted, or corrupt themselves,” who make any similitude of God. Thus Paul also declares that in this way the truth is changed into a lie, (Romans 1:25;) and Jeremiah and Habakkuk condemn images for their falsehood. (Jeremiah 10:14; Habakkuk 2:18.) No wonder, then, that an idol should be called the “corruption” of men, since it adulterates the worship of God; and it is a most just recompense to those who pollute the pure and perfect knowledge of God, that they should be thence infected with a rottenness which consumes their souls. Hence, also, the stupid ignorance of the Papists is confuted who confine this prohibition to the ancient people, as if it were now permitted to paint or to sculpture (images of God) (94) as if they had been Jews whom Paul was addressing, when he reasoned from the common origin of our nature: “Forasmuch as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold or silver,” or corruptible matter. (Acts 17:29) (95) There is no necessity for entering into details; but the Spirit declares no less plainly now that we must keep ourselves from idols, (1 John 5:21,) than He of old forbade their being made. Moreover, it was an act of diabolical madness to make away with one of the Ten Commandments, in order that they might rush into this foul and detestable extravagance with impunity. They pretend that the Jews were formerly prohibited from idolatry with greater strictness, because they were too much disposed to it, as if they were not themselves much worse in this respect. But, setting aside this, who does not see that the vice of superstition, which is natural to the human mind, was corrected by this remedy? Until, therefore, men have laid aside their nature, we infer that this Commandment is necessary for them.
(93) See Lat. of ver. 15. The explanation to which he alludes is probably that given on Deuteronomy 8:11. Vol. 1 p. 397.
(94) Added from Fr.
(95) Addition in Fr., “
Or, c’estoit aux Payens qu’il parloit ainsi;” Now, they were heathens whom he thus addressed.
19.And lest thou lift up thine eyes. Moses proceeds further, lest the Jews should imagine any divinity in the sun, and moon, and stars; nor does he only recall them from the error with which many were imbued, (96) thinking that these were so many gods; but also anticipates another superstition, lest, being ravished by the brightness of the stars, they should conceive them to be images of God. And to this the expression, to “be driven,” refers. For since God represents His glory in the heavenly host, so also Satan, under this pretext, confuses and stupefies men’s minds by a wily artifice, in order that they may worship God in these luminaries, and thus stumble at the very threshold. Therefore, that the Israelites may the better acknowledge how absurd it is to seek for God in earthly things, or in the elements of the world, or in corruptible matter, he expressly declares that they must not even lean (97) on heavenly creatures; since God’s majesty is superior to the sun, and moon, and all the stars. Besides, he reproves the absurdity of transferring the worship of God to the stars, which, by God’s appointment, are to minister to us; for when he says that “God hath divided them unto all nations,” it implies subjection; as if he had said that the sun was our minister, and the moon, together with all the stars, our handmaid. Still, by the word “divided,” God’s admirable providence is fitly commended in respect to their varied position, and course, and different offices; for the sun does not enlighten and warm all lands at the same moment; and, again, it now retires from us, and now approaches us more closely; the moon has her circuits; the stars rise and set as the heaven revolves. I pass over the slower movement of the planets; but, according to the aspect of the stars, one climate is moister, another drier; one feels more heat, another more cold. This variety is aptly called by Moses “dividing ” Yet it aggravates the sin of superstition, if the Jews give themselves to the service of the stars, which minister also to heathen nations; for what can be more unworthy than for the children of God to worship the sun, which is the servant of all the world? whence again it follows, that in proportion to the dignity and excellence of the creatures themselves, so is the ingratitude of men towards God all the more base, if they adorn with His worship as with spoils, those creatures which He has appointed to minister to their advantage. The silly notion in which some of the Rabbins delight themselves, (98) is unworthy of mention, viz., that God has divided the stars to the Gentiles, since they are subject to their influences, from which by special privilege the Jews are free; as if the condition of the human race had not been the same from the beginning. But the reason which I have adduced plainly shews, that they depart most widely from the meaning of Moses, and therefore pervert his intention; viz., that the creatures which are destined for our use, are by no means to be worshipped as God.
(96) See Job 31:26. Any discussion on the history of Sabaism would be superfluous here. Dr. Layard, (Nineveh and its Remains, vol. 2, p. 446,) points out, that “representations of the heavenly bodies, as sacred symbols, are of constant occurrence in the most ancient sculptures;” whilst the “one symbol” of the supreme Deity is “a winged figure in a circle,” sometimes assuming the form of “a winged globe, wheel, or disc,” resembling the Egyptian representation of the sun, and the Persian Ormuzd.
(97) Lat. “
subsistendum .” Fr. “ s’amuser ."
(98) S.M. says, “Rabbi Aben-Ezra, and the author of the ‘Bundle of Myrrh,’ foolishly think that the Gentiles were under the dominion of decrees emanating from the stars; but that the Jews were free, because the Lord turneth aside their noxious influences. But this text teaches us, that the functions of the stars are distributed among the nations, inasmuch as they afford light and heat, and temper the cold to all men.” — W.
21.Furthermore, the Lord was angry with me. He again records that it arose from the transgression of the people that he was not permitted to enter the land, not by way of expostulation, and much less in order to accuse God of cruelty, as if he had been improperly and unjustly substituted as a criminal in the place of others, but rather to magnify the goodness of God towards those whom He had treated with so much indulgence. For we must observe the comparison, that, whilst they were to enjoy the land, he was to be prevented from entering it. “I must die (he says) in this land” of Moab, whilst to you it is given to enjoy the promised inheritance. We perceive, therefore, that they are upbraided with their guilt in such a way that all the bitterness of the reproof is sweetened by the sense of God’s mercy; nay, that by this sweetness they may be ravished into admiration, when they understand how mercifully that pardon is extended to them, which was denied to Moses.
The sense of the expression which I have rendered “for your words,” (241) might be “for your things,” inasmuch as the Hebrews call men’s affairs (negotia),
, debarim. Assuredly, although he had been impelled to sin by their rebellious clamors, he simply states that he was now punished on their account. If any should inquire why he lays the blame on them, whereas the actual offenders were most of them dead, the reply is obvious, that many of them were still surviving, and that it is no novelty that the children should be included with the fathers, when the whole body of a people has sinned. דברים
(241) A. V., “for your sakes;” (
23.Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget. There is no contradiction in the sense, that he should first of all altogether forbid that idols should be made; and, secondly, speak only of worshipping and adoring them; for it is already in itself a wicked error to attribute any image to God; and another superstition always accompanies it, that God is always improperly worshipped in this visible symbol. There is a strong confirmation here of what I have previously stated, that whatever holds down and confines our senses to the earth, is contrary to the covenant of God; in which, inviting us to Himself, He permits us to think of nothing but what is spiritual, and therefore sets His voice against all the imaginations, whereby heathen nations have always been deceived; because they have been deprived of the light of that doctrine which would direct them to the heavenly greatness of God Himself. But those who have been taught by God’s Law, not only that He alone is to be worshipped, but that He may not be represented by any visible effigy, are justly accounted covenant-breakers, if they do not confine themselves within these bounds; for they violate that Second Commandment (caput) by which they are commanded to worship God spiritually; and consequently are forbidden to make to themselves likenesses, or images, whereby they would deface and pollute His glory. At the end of the verse, which some translate “the likeness, which your God hath forbidden, ” (99) the proper rendering is, “hath commanded, or enjoined: ” and hence the relative
, asher, must be taken, as in many other places, as an adverb of comparison. The meaning of Moses is indeed by no means obscure; viz., that we must simply obey God’s word; and that we must not dispute whether what He has forbidden is lawful or not; and that no other rule of right is to be sought for, except that we should follow what He has prescribed. Let the Papists dispute as they please, that images are not to be removed because they are useful for the people’s instruction; but let this be our wisdom, to acquiesce in what God has chosen to decree in this matter. Although the threat which is subjoined might have been placed amongst the sanctions, which we shall hereafter consider in their proper place, yet I have been unwilling to separate it from the Second Commandment, to which it is annexed. A confirmation is added in Deuteronomy; viz., that God, who has not spared foreign nations, will much less pardon His people; inasnmch as it is a greater crime, and fouler ingratitude to forsake God when once He is known, and to cast aside the teaching of His Law, than to follow errors handed down from our forefathers. I have already explained in what sense He is called a “jealous God;” but in Exodus 34:14, Moses has not deemed it sufficient simply to honor God with this title; but, in amplification, he has added that this is His name, in order that we may know that He can no more bear a companion, or a rival, to be compared with Him, than He can cast away His Godhead, or deny Himself. He compares Him to fire, to increase our terror of Him. We know how audaciously the world indulges itself in superstitions; so that, as if in very sport, it metamorphoses God just as fancy leads. Wherefore, in order to incline men’s minds to reverence, he sets before us in this figure God’s fearful vengeance; as though He would instantly consume them, just as fire consumes stubble, if they shall have dared to think of God otherwise than is right. אור
(99) So the V. which is followed by A.V. and S.M. Our expositor seems to mean that
is here equivalent to even as, and connects the last with the first clause of the verse; so that it should be rendered as follows, “Take heed to yourselves, etc., even as the Lord your God commanded you.” —W. The Fr. thus abbreviates the Latin text: “ אשר La ou j’ay translate, Ce que l’Eternel vostre Dieu vous a defendu, vaut autant que s’il estoit dit Comme ou Selon."
25.When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children. Although at the outset he only adverts to idolatry, yet, inasmuch as he thence takes occasion to inveigh generally against the transgressors of the Law, and denounces punishment against them, I have thought it advisable to introduce this passage amongst the Sanctions (of the Law.) He had already strictly forbidden them to turn aside to idols; he now requires this instruction to be handed down to their grand-children and their whole race; as though he had said, that they must continue faithfully in the pure worship of God, not only lest they should deprive themselves of entering the land of Canaan, but also lest, after having long enjoyed quiet possession of it, they should be expelled from it. For long possession might have hardened their minds in security and arrogance, as if they had no change to fear. Lest, therefore, as time should pass away, they should trust that they were firmly established, and advance to greater license, he now reminds them that the punishment which he had already taught them to await themselves, would also be extended to their descendants; since it was no less easy for God to drive their (257) distant posterity from their quiet nest, than it would have been for Him to prevent their taking possession of it. But although he is treating of idols, still he addresses them on the subject of the curse, which overhangs all despisers of God. And, in order that the threat may affect them more deeply, he calls on “heaven and earth to witness;” as though he had said, that even things inanimate and without reason were in a manner conscious of the vengeance of God. Their opinion (258) is a poor one who think that angels and men are thus designated by a metonomy; for we shall see a little further on that the same form of expression is repeated. And when he says in his song, (Deuteronomy 32:1,) “Give ear, O ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth,” it is to signify by hyperbole that his address is worthy of being listened to by all creatures. Thus Isaiah, the more to shame the Jews, who had become stupified in their folly, addresses his words to the heavens and earth. (Isaiah 1:2.)
When he calls heaven and earth to witness God’s vengeance, it is as much as to say, that it will as clearly appear as the heaven and earth appear before our eyes; and after he has said that they shall perish, he also declares in what manner, viz., that God would scatter them hither and thither, and reduce them to a small number. What follows might seem absurd, inasmuch as it ought not to be reckoned among their punishments that they should serve idols among strangers, whereas they had already worshipped them of their own accord in their own land; but this difficulty is easily solved, and in two ways, either that banishment was a just reward to them in order that there they might indulge to their full these impure dispositions; and thus there will be an antithesis between the nations of the heathen and the Holy Land, as though God had said that He would not; suffer them to profane the latter by their superstitions; or else, that then, the veil being as it were removed, they should be ashamed when they should be compelled to serve dead idols. Nor can it be questioned but that then they were wounded in spirit by the same disgusting practices in which they had before taken pleasure; and I (See ante on Deuteronomy 28:36, p. 254.) have stated elsewhere that I prefer this latter sense. Meanwhile, he reproaches them for their stupidity in adoring (259) dead images, formed of corruptible things, and the work of men’s hands.
(257) “Abnepotes,” — Lat. ; i. e. , their grandchild’s grandchildren.
(258) “When he calls heaven and earth to witness, he calls all things which are in heaven and in earth, by metonomy; and especially angels and men, who are properly called witnesses. Thus Theodoret. So the Poet says:
Vos aeterni ignes, and non violabile numen
Tester; (Virg.Aen., 2. 154;)
for the Platonists thought that the heavenly fires, i. e. , the stars, were animated by their intelligences, or guardian angels, whom they worshipped as inferior gods.” — Corn. a Lapide in loco.
De Lyra’s note is, “i. e. , every intellectual creature existing in heaven and earth, since none but an intellectual creature can properly bear witness.”
(259) “Des marmousets sans sens;” senseless puppets. — Fr.
29.But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord. In this passage also he exhorts and encourages them in the confidence of obtaining pardon, and thus anticipates them, so that they might not be overwhelmed with sorrow when smitten by God’s hand; for despair awakens such rage in the wretched that they cannot submit themselves to God. He sets before them, then, another object in their punishments, that they may not cease to taste of God’s goodness in the midst of their afflictions, whereby He invites them to repentance. For the sinner will never set about seeking God, unless he deems Him to be accessible to prayer. Moreover, he warns them to return truly and sincerely to a sound mind, because they will gain nothing by false profession. We know that nothing is more common than to make complaint to God whenever we are oppressed with troubles, but, when they are at all intermitted, immediately to return to our natural state. Sincere conversion is, therefore, prescribed; for “all the heart” is precisely equivalent to an upright heart, (integrum,) which is contrasted with a double or feigned one; and this must be noted, (260) lest a sense of our infirmity should disturb us; for, since it is not possible for men to give themselves wholly to God, the knowledge of their own inability is apt to induce listlessness; whereas, provided we do not deal deceitfully, it is declared that our penitence is approved by God.
(260) Addition in Fr. , “car s’il avoit une pleine perfection requise;” for if entire perfection were here required.
30.When thou art in tribulation. He here shews the advantage of punishments, on the ground of their usefulness and profit; for what the Apostle says is confirmed by experience, that
“no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby.”
Lest, therefore, they should be provoked to wrath by God’s stripes, he reminds them of their usefulness to them, because they would never turn to God unless aided by this remedy. He tells them that, after they shall have been afflicted by the curses of God, if they sought after Him, they should find Him: and further, he gives them grounds for hope both in God’s nature and in His covenant. He assures them that God will be willing to be appeased, because He is by nature merciful; but he adds another confirmation of this, which is more certain and familiar, viz., because God had adopted them by a perpetual covenant.
32.For ask now. Moses here more forcibly extols and pronounces magnificent praises upon the miracles which he had before more simply related to have taken place at the promulgation of the Law, his object being to produce a fuller conviction of its dignity. He magnifies, too, by comparison, the testimonies whereby its authority had been ratified, viz., because nothing like it had ever occurred; for if any such instance had previously taken place, some portion of its preciousness or honor would have been taken from it. But since from the beginning of the world only one such illustrious manifestation of His power had been given by God, it afforded the greater sanction to the Law. He adds, too, that if they were to search over the whole world they would nowhere find anything similar. For I do not approve of the more refined exposition which some give of this clause, as if he said that all creatures above and below were witnesses that God’s might had never been manifested by so many and such illustrious miracles; as also the sense appears too restricted which others give, understanding “the days that are past” to mean annals or chronicles; for I make no question that Moses simply desires them to inquire and to examine whether from the creation of the world, or in any most remote region, any such thing had come to pass.
33.Did ever people hear? He points out more openly the greatness and extraordinary transcendency of the matter which he has just mentioned, viz., that they heard the voice of God speaking out of the fire. It is true, indeed, that the superstitions of the Gentiles had been confirmed of old by many apparitions, yet amongst the portents which wretched men have imagined for their willing self-deception, there is nothing approaching to this miracle. Many have individually lied, and their false and foolish tales have been rashly believed; but here we have not to do with unfounded and scattered rumors, nor with the dreams of some single person, but Moses produces more than 700,000 witnesses, to whom God’s glory had clearly and certainly appeared; he subjoins, therefore, that God had never assayed to do the same, but had afforded this solitary instance to render His Law illustrious in all ages. (228) Yet in this verse he not only alludes to the promulgation of the Law, but to the whole course of their deliverance, since he names in general His “temptations and signs.” He says that God “took him a nation from the midst of another nation,” for by His incomparable power He rescued the descendants of Abraham, who, though dispersed through Egypt, and, as it were, enclosed in its bowels, were yet an obscure and ignoble part of a most famous nation; whereof no similar example is to be found. (229)
(228) Ce chef-d’-oeuvre unique. — Fr.
(229) Addition in the Fr., “Si quelqu’un aime mieux prendre le nombre singulier pour le pluriel, lors le sens sera tel: Combien que tous peuples fussent pareils, ou d’estat indifferent quant a leur nature, neantmoins que Dieu en a pris un d’entre tousles autres;” if any should prefer taking the singular number instead of the plural, then the sense will be, Although all people were equal, or of the same condition by nature, nevertheless God chose out one of them from amongst all the others.
35.Unto thee it was shewed. He first says that God had so proved His divinity by miracles and prodigies, that the Israelites might know certainly that He was God. Whence, too, he concludes that He is the only God; for although God’s holy name be torn in pieces by various opinions, whilst each one manufactures his own gods for himself, yet is it still sure that the power and dominion of God cannot be withdrawn from Him, but reside in a single subject, as the logicians say. Therefore the essence of the one God overthrows and annihilates all the other deities which we foolishly invent for ourselves. And this we must carefully remark, for this has been the common error of all ages, to seek for a mixture of many gods, whereas all these imaginations should vanish before the brightness of the true God. In the following verse he confirms this declaration, because God instructed His people out of heaven, and in the fire. Is it, however, asked how these two points accord which seem to be opposed to each other, that God’s voice was heard from heaven and from the midst of the fire? I reply, that Moses simply means that the voice which flowed out of the fire into the people’s ears was distinguished by plain indications which proved it to be heavenly.
37.And because he loved. These words admit of two meanings; for the copulative conjunction stands at the beginning of the verse, — “And because he loved thy fathers,” and also before the next clause, “and he chose their seed;” the reasons here assigned might, therefore, be taken in connection with the previous sentence, viz., that so many miracles were wrought because God had chosen Abraham and his seed. Others understand it differently, that this people was honored with so many blessings by God because He loved their fathers. In this case they omit the copula in the middle of the verse, as must be often done. In the main, there is little discrepancy; for Moses desires to shew that whatever good things God has conferred upon His people are gratuitous, by which circumstance he commends God’s grace the more. He had said that by unusual favor this nation was taken from the midst of another; and he now adds that this was done on no other account but because God had embraced Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with His love, and persevered in the same love towards their posterity. But we must remark that by the word “love” is expressed that favor which springs of mere generosity, so as to exclude all worthiness in the person beloved, as may be more clearly gathered from other passages, viz., Deuteronomy 7:8, and Psalms 78:68, and as is pretty plain from the context here, wherein he attributes the election of the people to the love with which God had honored their fathers. If any object that God’s election is eternal, the objection is readily solved, for the seed of Abraham was separated from all nations, because God had gratuitously adopted their father. We now understand the meaning of Moses, that the deliverance of the people was only to be ascribed to God’s goodness. He thus amplifies this blessing by another circumstance, viz., that God had preferred to great and mighty nations this ignoble people, whose own proper worthiness could not have acquired His favor.
39.Know therefore this day. He again inculcates what we have lately spoken of, that the glory of the one true God was proved by the miracles, but he does so by way of exhortation. For he desires them carefully and attentively to consider what God had shewn them, because in so plain a matter there would be no excuse for error or ignorance. He therefore infers from what had gone before, that the people must beware of shutting their eyes against the clear revelation of God’s power, and therefore urges them to keep it in memory, because man’s ingratitude is but too prone to forgetfulness. He afterwards reminds them wherefore God would be known, viz., that they might keep His Law and obey His statutes. The sum is, that they would be inexcusable if they did not obediently receive the Law, which they knew to have come from God; for they must needs be worse than stupid if the majesty of God, known and understood by so many proofs, did not awaken them to reverence. And lest they should undervalue the doctrine as proceeding from a mortal man, he expressly confesses, indeed, that he is the minister, and yet that he had set before them nothing which he had not received from God.
God had destined, as we have before seen, (221) six cities for refuge, in case any one had killed a man, provided he could prove his innocence before the judges. As to the three which He had appointed on the other side of Jordan, Moses records that he had faithfully performed what God had commanded. Hence it appears that, although he could not immediately comply with God’s command to its full extent, still he did not wait until the three other cities could be added; but that, as far as circumstances permitted, he discharged his duty. Hence let us learn that, even when we cannot at once entirely carry out what God commands us to do, we are still to be by no means idle. For nothing but sheer laziness stands in our way, unless we speedily commence at God’s command what it is His will to finish and accomplish by the hands of others.
(221) See ante, on Numbers 35:10; vol. 3, pp. 62,et seq.
44.And this is the Law. This last passage refers to the same thing, viz., that the Law was promulgated anew when the people had now reached the threshold of the promised land, in order that they might be more disposed to obedience, especially when the two tribes and a half had now, by the conquest of the Amorites, obtained a resting-place and a home; for this is the reason why their habitation is mentioned, because the taste of the favor already received ought to stir up their zeal to proceed more cheerfully. We shall elsewhere remark on the country and names of places. It is sufficient here to recollect, that the memory of the Law was renewed, after their inheritance without the promised land had been obtained by the sons of Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, and when their assured possession was before the eyes of the rest. But Moses shews that, although he might explain the Law at fuller length, still nothing had been added to that summary which was originally promulgated; but he rather indicates, that whatever he had taught them during the forty years, had had no other object than that they might more faithfully and exactly keep the Law of God.