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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 11

 

 

Verse 1

1.Therefore thou shalt love the Lord thy God. The whole address has this scope, that the people should testify their gratitude by their obedience, and thus being allured by God’s bounties, should reverently embrace His Law. On this account also, he requires them to love God, before he exhorts them to obey the Law itself. For, although he might have imperiously and menacingly commanded them, he preferred to lead them gently to obedience, by setting before them the sweetness of His grace. In sum, he exhorts them that, being invited by God’s love, they should love him in return. Meanwhile, it is well to observe that free affection is the foundation and beginning of duly obeying the Law, for what is drawn forth by constraint, or servile fear, cannot please God. He designates the precepts of the Law by various names, in order that they may zealously and attentively apply themselves to listen to God, who has omitted nothing calculated to regulate their life; for, by this variety of words, he signifies that God had familiarly and perfectly taught whatever was required. As to the three latter words, “his statutes, and judgments, and commandments,” what I have observed in Genesis and in the Psalms may be referred to. The word משמות, (254) meshamroth, or guards, (custodiae,) which here stands first, is spoken in commendation of the Law on this ground, that it fences in our life, as it were, with rails, lest it should be exposed to errors on the right hand and on the left,. At the end of the verse he exhorts them to perseverance, because it was not allowable for the recollection of their deliverance ever to cease.


Verse 2

2.And know ye this day. He again confirms the preceding sentence; because they had been more than sufficiently taught by the illustrious acts of God, how great was His power and how remarkable His mercy toward themselves. Two meanings may be given to the words; for some connect them thus, “Know ye this day the chastisement of the Lord,” and include in a parenthesis the clause, “for I speak not with your children, which have not known, and have not seen;” but others read the word of exhortation “know ye” separately, and (255) without any connection. The latter view pleases me best; although it little affects the substance of the matter which exposition we follow. For Moses admonishes them, that, if they only pay attention to the works of God, His glory, which may instruct them to fear Him, may be clearly beheld in them. In order, however, to urge them more vehemently, he adds, that he does not speak to posterity, to which the fame of these miracles would reach, but that he addresses eye-witnesses, who need no proof of them, having been assured of them by certain experience. He celebrates in many expressions of eulogy these miracles, whereby God had testified to them His power and goodness, lest they should lightly pass by what was worthy of their most earnest attention, and constant meditation. I forbear now to speak of other points, which I have elsewhere commented on. The word מוסר (256) musar, which stands first, is general, and extends to all the specific terms that follow; some, therefore, improperly render it “chastisement.” Where it is said at the end of verse 4, that the Egyptians were “destroyed unto that day,” we must understand that the effects of the slaughter, wherewith God destroyed them, were felt as if still present.


Verse 5

5.And what he did unto you. These things will be spoken of in their proper place in the regular course of the history, from which my method of teaching has compelled me to wander a little. For Moses, to heighten the authority of the Law, sets before them compendiously the circumstances which had occurred in the desert, partly in order that God’s judgments might alarm them by their severity, and partly that His mercies might draw their minds towards Him by their graciousness. Finally, he concludes by saying that he does not speak of unknown things, but that he merely recalled to their recollection the works of God whereof they had been themselves spectators.


Verse 16

16Take heed to yourselves. By often inculcating the same thing, viz., that they should diligently take heed, he indirectly arraigns man’s proneness to superstition; and this too is again expressed in the words, “that your heart be not deceived;” for by them he signifies, that unless they take diligent heed to themselves, nothing will be more easy than for them to fall into the snares of Satan. Wherefore the impudence of the Papists is the less excusable, who intoxicate their own and others’ minds with security, when God constantly exhorts them to solicitude. Let us learn, then, that since many impostures and deceits besiege us on every side, we shall in the vanity of our nature be liable immediately to fall into them, unless we carefully guard ourselves. By the expression “turn aside,” he implies what has been before said, that whosoever declines to corrupted worship, impiously falls away from the true God. Unbelievers but little think so, for with them it is a light transgression to exceed in this respect; and they would wilfully blind the eyes of God with their inventions (commentis), nay, there is nothing too silly for them to desire to be approved of, and sanctioned by God. But if it be objected that obedience is better than sacrifice, they shield themselves under the cover of their good intention, as if God were not at liberty to repudiate what they foolishly obtrude upon Him. At any rate, they so pertinaciously indulge themselves in their inconsiderate zeal, that they will hardly acknowledge the slightest fault in it. But, on the other side, God declares that all are apostates who do not confine themselves to the simplicity of the Law. A threat is again added, that God will avenge the violation of His worship, and will curse their land, until He shall destroy them by dearth and famine; and, finally, He pronounces that they shall perish off that land which God had promised them to the end that He might be there purely worshipped.


Verse 18

18.Therefore shall ye lay up these my words. He again demands their serious attention, lest if the doctrine he propounds should be only lightly and carelessly received, it should speedily be let slip; for to lay up in, or on, the heart, is the same as to hide deeply in it; although, where the word “soul” is added, the “heart” refers to the mind, or the intellectual faculties. In fine, he commands them to have the Law not only impressed on the mind, but embraced with sincere affection. In the next place, he commands that aid to the memory which we have just considered, viz., that they should wear the precepts on the arms and foreheads; as if God should constantly meet them, to arouse their senses. For (as has been said) God had no regard to the bands themselves, but would have them seen on their arms and foreheads for another object, viz., (236) to suggest and renew their care for religion. Again, He appointed them to occupy the place of ornaments, in order to accustom the people to take their chief delight in meditating on the Law. Thus that foolish ambition is sufficiently refuted, when hypocrites sought after a reputation for holiness by their fringes and other fopperies, as well as that gross error of the whole people, in thinking that they discharged their duty to God by their outward dress. What follows afterwards, that the precepts should be written on the gates of their cities, and on their private houses, tends to the same thing; for we have said, that since men’s minds are prone to vanity, and are easily distracted by innumerable allurements, they have need of such stays to hold them back. And this object is plainly expressed, when He commands them severally to speak of the precepts of the Law, whether they are sitting at home, or going abroad, or lying down, or rising up; because without diligent exercise, it usually happens that whatever men have once learnt is soon lost. He adds, also, another effect of this diligence, viz., that not only should each of them consult their own individual advantage, but also teach their children, whereby God’s Law would ever be maintained in rigor by perpetual succession.


Verse 26

26.Behold, I set before you this day. He now embraces the two points at once, viz., that they would be blessed if they earnestly apply themselves to the keeping of the Law, and cursed, if they shake off its yoke and revel in their lusts. But, when he says that he here sets before them a blessing and a curse, it is as much as to declare, that he does not merely tell them what is right, but that the reward is prepared if they obey; and if not, that the punishment is also at hand. Thus we see, that the doctrine which he had hitherto delivered is sealed by hope and fear, since they would not lose their labor if they obeyed it, nor be unpunished if they rejected it. But, that they may learn surely to embrace the promises and to fear the threatenings, he repeats what we have met with before, (203) that God, who is both a faithful rewarder, and a severe judge, is the Author of the Law; yet at the same time he magnifies his own ministry, (204) since it behooved them to depend upon God, and to acquiesce in His commandments, in such a manner as still to submit themselves to His Prophet. For such is men’s pride, that they desire to fly above the clouds to listen to God; whilst He would be heard in His servants, by whose mouth He speaks. Moses, therefore, would again enforce upon them this humility, when he states that he enjoins what God has commanded, as if to call himself the organ of the Holy Spirit.


Verse 29

29.And it shall come to pass, when the Lord. I have lately expounded a similar passage, which, although it is subsequent in the order observed by Moses, yet, inasmuch as it sets out the matter more clearly, I have not hesitated for perspicuity’s sake to put first. I said that God’s intention was, whilst appointing the Israelites to proclaim their own condemnation, to lay them under more solemn obligation to keep the Law. If He had Himself declared His will through the Levites only, they ought indeed to have been seriously affected, and to have listened with reverence both to the blessings and the curses; but when each of them testifies with his own mouth what the Levites dictated by God’s command, the introduction of this assent, as a solemn ratification, (205) was more efficacious in awakening their zeal and attention. A more fitting season, however, for this protest was after they had entered the promised land than as if it had been made in the plain of Moab; for the sight of the land tended to its confirmation, as if they had been brought into court to make a covenant with God.

These (206) two mountains are situated opposite to each other, in such a manner that the two divisions of the people might easily stand to bless and to curse, so that they might in concert approve of the promises and threats of God.


Verse 30

30.Are they not on the other side of Jordan. Although the form of interrogation is common in Hebrew, yet in this place Moses affirms more vehemently than as if he had only stated directly that these mountains were in the land of Canaan; for he wishes to encourage them in the confidence of entering the promised inheritance; just as he adds immediately afterwards, “Ye shall pass over Jordan.” For, although they had already experienced the miraculous power of God in the conquest of the Amorites, and in heir occupation of the land of Bashan, yet such was their incredulity, that it was necessary constantly to dissipate their fears, so that they might lay aside all hesitation, and boldly prepare to advance. Finally, he founds an exhortation upon this great goodness of God; for the actual enjoyment of the land ought to have stimulated them the more in the service of God, because they were made to inherit it for the purpose of keeping the Law.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 11:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/deuteronomy-11.html. 1840-57.

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