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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 10

 

 

Verse 1

1.At that time the Lord said unto me He had had intercourse with the people for some time, before he returned into the mount with the second tables; and therefore he now begins to relate more fully what he had already mentioned in the inverted order of time, i.e., that he stayed in the mount forty days to make entreaty for them. And this also the repetition in the 10th verse more clearly demonstrates, where he says, that he stayed in the mount “according (393) to the first days.” But, although he there says that he was hearkened to when he interceded in the mount, still he includes the prayers which he had previously offered when he heard of the people’s revolt, and after he had broken the tables and taken away God’s tabernacle, in which he prayed apart to obtain pardon for their sin. What is also here said respecting the ark is not in its proper place; for it was a part of the tabernacle, as we have elsewhere seen. It is, therefore, exacting too much to require that the things which are related together, should be referred to the same instant of time.


Verse 6

6.And the children of Israel. Since it is not the design of Moses to specify the stations here, as he does in Numbers 33:0, but only to mark the place in which Aaron died, I have therefore thought fit to connect what we read here with the preceding narrative. In the death of Aaron, they might recognize the punishment of their own rebellion. But that Eleazar should be substituted in his place, was a sign of the paternal grace of God, who did not suffer them to be deprived of this blessing. This succession, too, was to be a perpetual rule for the future, so that the sacerdotal dignity, according to God’s prescription, should remain in that family.

He here specifies the names of certain places, which he omits in the passage above cited; for he there states that the Israelites went straight from Kadesh-barnea to Mount Hor; and then makes them pass on to Zalmonah and Punon, perhaps because the places had different names, or because they did not pitch their camp in Gudgodah, or Jotbath; although the advantages of the spot might have invited them to stop in a well-watered valley, for it is called “the land of torrents,” through which an abundance of water flowed.

I do not advert to what every reader will readily observe for himself, that in the discourse of Moses the order of the history is inverted; for he says that the Levites were separated from the rest of the people, after the death of Aaron.


Verse 8

8.At that time the Lord separated the tribe of Levi Moses does not exactly observe the order of time in the chapter from which this passage is taken, since he deemed it sufficient to collect here and there what was required to complete his general exhortation. The object indeed of the recital of this history was, lest any should attempt to overthrow God’s invioable decree in their pride and audacity; and therefore, in order that the dignity of the tribe of Levi may not beget envy, he testifies that God is its author. The clause, “unto this day,” seems to refer to those instances in which God had manifested His favor towards the Levites, lest any similar rivalry should hereafter arise. The rest has been expounded elsewhere.


Verse 12

Deuteronomy 10:12.And now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require? After having expounded each Commandment in its order, it now remains for us to see what is the sum of the contents of the Law, and what the aim and object of its instructions. For Paul elicits its true use, when he declares that its end is

“charity, out of a pure heart and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned,” (1 Timothy 1:5,)

since even then it had its false interpreters, who, he says, had “turned aside unto vain jangling,” when they swerved from that object. Now, as it is contained in two Tables, so also Moses reduces it to two heads, that we should love God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves; for, although he does not unite the two in one passage, yet Christ, by whose Spirit he spoke, ought to suffice to explain to us his intention, (Matthew 22:37;) for, when He was asked what was the great Commandment of the Law, He replied that the first indeed was, that God should be loved, and the second like unto it, regarding the love of our neighbor; as if He had said, that the whole perfection of righteousness, which is set before us in the Law, consists of two parts, that we should serve God with true piety, and conduct ourselves innocently towards men according to the rule of charity. The same is the sense of Paul’s words, for the faith, which is there called the source and origin of charity, comprehends in it the love of God. At any rate, the declaration of Christ stands sure, that nothing is required of us by the Law, but that we should love God, together with our neighbors. From hence a short and clear definition may be laid down, that nothing is required unto a good life except piety and justice. (174)

Paul, indeed, seems to add a third clause, when he says, that

“the grace of God hath appeared, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world,” (Titus 2:11, 12;)

but this σωφροσύνη, (soberness,) is there added as the seasoning, so to speak, of a just and pious life; and assuredly no one will prove that he aims at holiness and integrity, unless by living chastely, honestly, and temperately. Thus, where the service of God is omitted, (175) and the doctrine of the Law confined to the love of our neighbor alone, it is not so much that religion is put out of sight (176) ( sepelitur,) as that the proof of it is made to rest on serious self-examination; for since it is the way with hypocrites to cover themselves with ceremonies as with a mask of sanctity, whilst they are puffed up with pride, burn with avarice and rapacity, are full of envy and malice, breathe out threatenings and cruelty, and are abandoned to filthy lusts, Christ, in order to disperse these clouds of pretense, declares that the three chief points in the Law are “judgment, mercy,” and fidelity, (177) ( Matthew 23:23;) and elsewhere, discoursing of the righteousness of the Law, He makes no mention of the First Table. ( Matthew 19:18.)

For the same reason, Paul calls charity the fulfillment of the Law, (Romans 13:8,) and elsewhere, “the bond of perfectness.” (Colossians 3:14.) Still, nothing was further from their intention than to draw us away from the fear of God, that we might devote ourselves to our duties towards men, as I have already shown from another passage, where Christ, in summing up the Law, begins with the love of God. And Paul, where he teaches that we should be altogether perfect, if faith works in us by love, (Galatians 5:6,) does not omit the cause and principle of a good life. And thus are reconciled the passages which else might appear contradictory, via, that holiness is perfected in the fear of the Lord, when

“we cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” (2 Corinthians 7:1;)

and

“all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” (Galatians 5:14;)

that is to say, because our piety cannot otherwise make itself clear by certain proof, unless we behave justly and harmlessly towards men. (178) Again, since “our goodness extendeth not to” God, so it is perceived what our mind is by our performance of the duties of the Second Table, as it is said in the Psalm,

“my goodness extendeth not to thee, but to the saints that are in the earth, in whom is all my delight,” (179) (Psalms 16:2;)

for how will any one boast, (as John says,) that he loves God, whom he does not see, if he loveth not his brother with whom he is familiarly united? (1 John 4:20.) Since, therefore, falsehood is thus detected, God exercises us in piety by mutual charity; and hence John concludes, that

“this Commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” (1 John 4:21.)

Before, however, I say any more of these two precepts, we must observe the end of the Law as it is described by Moses; “Now, Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul?” For, although he further eulogizes the Law, because it prescribes nothing which nature does not itself dictate to be most certain and most just, and which experience itself does not shew us to be more profitable, or more desirable than anything else, still, at the same time, he reminds us what is the means by which it is to be kept. (180) Therefore he sets before us at the same time the fear and the love of God; for, inasmuch as God is the Lord, He justly desires to be feared in right of His dominion; and, inasmuch as He is our Father, He requires to be loved, as it is said in Malachi 1:6. Let us learn, therefore, if we would set ourselves about keeping the Law, that we must begin with the fear of God, which is hence called the “beginning of wisdom.” (Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, and Proverbs 9:10.) But, since God has no pleasure in extorted and forced obedience, love is immediately added. And this deserves to be well weighed, that whereas there is nothing pleasanter than to love God, still it always occupies the first place in all His service. Surely he must be more than iron-hearted who is not attracted by such kindness; since, for no other cause, does He invite and exhort us to love Him, than because He loveth us; nay, He has already prevented us with His love, as is said in 1 John 4:10. Meanwhile, we may at the same time gather, that nothing is pleasing to God which is offered “grudgingly or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7.) It is true that Paul is there speaking of alms-giving; but this voluntary and hearty inclination to obey, such as we see in good and ingenuous children, who take delight in subjection to their parents, ought to be extended to all the actions of our lives. And assuredly the reverence which is paid to God flows from no other source than the tasting of His paternal love towards us, whereby we are drawn to love Him in return; as it is said in Psalms 130:4, “There is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” Whenever, then, we hear what Scripture constantly inculcates; “O love ye Jehovah, (181) all ye his meek ones!” (Psalms 31:23.) let us remember that God shews Himself loving towards us, in order that we may willingly and with becoming cheerfulness acquiesce in what He commands.

The perfection which is here required shews with sufficient clearness how far we are from a thorough obedience to the Law. We are commanded to love God with all our heart, and soul, and strength. However much we strive, our efforts are weak and imperfect, unless the love of God has possession of all our senses, and all our desires and thoughts are altogether devoted to Him, whilst all our endeavors are also directed to Him alone. But every one is abundantly convinced by his own experience, in how many ways our minds are carried away to vanity; how many corrupt affections creep over us; how difficult it is for us to restrain and overcome the evil motions of our flesh. Surely the very best wrestler, with all his strivings, is hardly able to make advances in this spiritual warfare; and if it be a great attainment not to faint altogether, certainly none will dare to boast that he comes near the mark which is set before us in the Law. In short, whenever worldly snares and foolish appetites insinuate themselves upon us, we must so often feel that some part of our soul is empty of the love of God, since otherwise nothing repugnant to it would penetrate there. The word heart here, (182) as elsewhere, is not used for the seat of the affections, but for the intellect; and, therefore, it would have been superfluous to add διάνοιας, as the Evangelists have done, unless for the purpose of removing all ambiguity; but because this signification was not commonly in use among the Greeks, they have not hesitated to add a word of their own in explanation. Those, however, who are well acquainted with the teaching of Moses, are not ignorant that the word heart is equivalent to mind; for he elsewhere says, “The Lord hath not given you an heart to understand, (183) and eyes to see, unto this day,” ( Deuteronomy 29:4;) but the expression would have been obscure to the Greeks, as being unusual in their language. (184)


Verse 14

14.Behold the heaven. He again enforces upon them the grace, on account of which we have seen that the people were under obligation to God; because this was the most effectual observation for moving them to submit themselves to their deliverer, to whom they were reminded that they owed altogether themselves and all that they had. First, then, he admonishes them that they differed from others, not by their personal dignity, nor the excellency of their race, but because it pleased God to prefer them, when He ruled equally over all. Literally it is, “Jehovah coveted to love your fathers,” by which expression, as may be gathered from many passages, the feeling of inclination to love them is undoubtedly marked. Jerome, therefore, has not aptly used the word “adhere.” (230) Now, this desire, whereby God was freely and liberally induced, Moses opposes to all other causes, lest Israel should arrogate anything to themselves or their fathers. We must also remark the comparison between the less and the greater; for this was inestimable condescension, that he should in a manner pass by the heaven and earth with all their beauty and abundance, and set His heart upon a few obscure men. To this the limitation refers, that of all people He chose the seed of Abraham alone; for the word רק, rak, is here used exclusively, therefore, I have translated it “tantummodo,” only; unless it should be thought better to render it “But,” or “And yet.” The meaning, however, is clear, that God, having disregarded all the nations of the earth, had gratuitously adopted Abraham and his race. For he says that not only were their fathers loved, but all their descendants in their persons; since otherwise the exhortation which follows would not be suitable.


Verse 16

16.Circumcise, therefore. From this inference it appears wherefore mention was made of this adoption,. viz., that the Jews should more earnestly and solemnly serve God, whom they had known from experience to be so gracious. He requires, then, a reciprocal love; for nothing could be more base than not to testify their gratitude by a pious and righteous life. But, because men are by no means inclined or disposed to obey God, Moses exhorts them to self-renunciation, and to subdue and correct their carnal affections; for to circumcise the heart is equivalent to cleansing it from wicked lusts. Meanwhile, he reproves their former perverseness, when he desires them to be no more stiff-necked; as much as to say, that now at last they should put off that depravity of mind, wherein they had too long hardened themselves. We now perceive the design of Moses. He would have his fellow-Israelites submissive and obedient to God, who, by His great goodness, had furnished them with the motive. But, because hitherto they had repaid His kindnesses with ingratitude, at the same time, he enjoins them to amend their conduct. In the first clause, he alludes to the rite appointed by the Law; for circumcision is, as it were, the solemn consecration, whereby the children of Abraham were initiated unto the worship of God and true piety, and at the same time were separated from heathen nations, to be His holy and peculiar people; and they were to be admitted to this elementary rite in their infancy, that by its visible sign they might learn that the defilements of the flesh and the world were to be renounced. There were also other objects in circumcision, but here reference is only made to newness of life, or repentance (resipiscentia). Wherefore, the conclusion is, that since God had chosen them as His people, and by an external sign had devoted them to the cultivation of holiness, they ought sincerely and really to prove that they differed from heathen nations, and that they were circumcised in spirit, no less than in the flesh. For Paul declares, that they alone are truly Jews who are circumcised “inwardly,” as he says, and not those who only have to boast of “the letter” of circumcision. (Romans 2:28.) Wherefore, the Prophets frequently taunt the transgressors of the Law by calling them uncircumcised, although they bore the visible sign in their flesh. In fine, when he desires to exhort them to sanctify themselves to God, he reasons from the nature and use of the sign, whereby they professed themselves to be His chosen people. In the second clause, there is an elegant metaphor, of frequent occurrence, taken from oxen; for, since the oxen which quietly offer their necks to the yoke are easily subdued to obedience, those are said to be “stiff-necked” (durae cervicis) which are fierce and obstinate in their nature.


Verse 17

He confirms the foregoing decree by a reference to the nature of God Himself; for the vile and abject condition of those with whom we have to do, causes us to injure them the more wantonly, because they seem to be altogether deserted. But God declares that their unhappy lot is no (102) obstacle to His administering succor to them; inasmuch as He has no regard to persons. By the word person is meant either splendor, or obscurity, and outward appearance, as it is commonly called, as we gather from many passages. In short, God distinguishes Himself from men, who are carried away by outward appearance, to hold the rich in honor, and the poor in contempt; to favor the beautiful or the eloquent, and to despise the unseemly. Προσωποληψία is, therefore, an unjust judgment, which diverts us from the cause itself, when our minds are prejudiced by what ought not to be taken into account. Therefore Christ teaches us that a judgement is righteous, which is not founded upon the appearance, ( John 7:23;) since truth and justice never prevail, except when we attend to the case itself. It follows that the contemptible are not afflicted with impunity, for although they may be destitute of human aid, God, who sitteth on high, “hath respect unto the lowly.” ( Psalms 138:6.) As regards strangers, God proves that he cares for them, because He is gracious in preserving them and clothing them; and then a special reason is again adduced, that the Israelites, when they were formerly sojourners in Egypt, had need of the compassion of others.


Verse 20

Leviticus 19:12.And ye shall not swear by my name falsely. Although Moses is treating of the duties of the Second Table, and had previously forbidden men to deal fraudulently with their neighbors, he still adds this sentence by way of confirmation. It may, however, be inferred from the second clause of the verse that He directly had regard to the glory of God when he says, “Thou shalt not profane the name of thy God.” For raging greediness after gain causes the avaricious and rapacious man not only to defraud men, but to become insolent to God Himself. Moses, therefore, although he is professedly condemning the falsehood and deceit whereby our neighbors are injured, at the same time takes occasion to introduce the declaration that we must beware lest, whilst covetousness impels us to do wrong, injury should be done not only to men but to God Himself also. The word used here, however, is not שוא, shau, as before, but שקר, sheker, which properly signifies deceitfulness; and therefore I have said that it enjoins us to beware lest any one by his perjury should do any injury to his neighbor; nevertheless, that this prohibition has direct reference to the Third Commandment, since Moses especially insists on this point, that God’s name is profaned by perjury, and thus he not only inculcates integrity, but also has regard to religion, that God’s majesty may not be violated. The expression is worthy of notice, “Thou shalt not pollute the name of God,” because God, who is eternal and immutable truth, cannot be more grossly insulted than by being summoned as a witness to falsehood, which is assuredly a shameful and wicked pollution. This was not regarded by the heathen, who, although they pretended to reverence God’s name in their oaths, yet made no scruple of deceiving, if he whom they had promised deserved it. Thyestes in the poet says, “I never have pledged my faith, nor do I pledge it to any faithless person;” (310) since his brother was a villain, he considered that he lay under no valid obligation to him. This is as if God’s majesty were dependent upon men’s deservings, so that it was allowable to call Him to witness whilst we deal deceitfully. Let this, then, be our firm conclusion, that in our oaths God is first to be regarded, whose holy name is more precious than a hundred worlds.


Verse 21

21.He is thy praise. That he may the more easily persuade his countrymen that nothing is better, or more desirable for them than to devote themselves to God’s service, Moses reminds them that they have nothing to boast of out of Him; as if he had said, that they were happy in this one respect, that God had taken them under His charge; but that if this glory were to be taken away, they would be miserable and ruined. For God is called “the praise” of His people, as being their honor and their ornament. Consequently, if they desire to enjoy true and solid blessedness, they must take care to keep themselves under His guardianship; for, if they should be deprived of this, nothing would remain to them but ignominy and shame. To the same effect, he adds, that He is their God; because nothing can be more perverse and absurd than not to receive the Creator of the world Himself, when He freely offers Himself as our God. In proof of this, he subjoins, that He has exerted His power in many miracles for His people’s safety; and, in order that they might be rendered the more inexcusable, he cites their own eyes as witnesses of so many mighty acts which had been wrought in their favor. Thence he goes a step higher, (reminding them, (252)) that their race had been wondrously increased in a short time; whence it was plain, that they had been thus incredibly multiplied by preternatural and divine influence. For assuredly the signal blessing of God was clearly manifested, in the procreation of seven hundred thousand men in less than two hundred and fifty years. (253) Those who then lived had not seen them with their own eyes; but Moses retraces God’s grace to the fountainhead, that they may more fully acknowledge, that whatever good they had experienced depended on that adoption, which had made them God’s people.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 10:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/deuteronomy-10.html. 1840-57.

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