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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 14

 

 

Verse 21

Deuteronomy 14:21.Ye shall not eat of any thing that dieth of itself. The eating of any carcase, or of flesh torn by wild beasts, is reckoned among the causes of defilement; but we must understand it to be the carcase of an animal which has died of hunger or disease, for, from the nature of its death, it contracted impurity, although in itself it were otherwise pure. The end of the precept is gathered from the reason which is immediately subjoined, “for thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God,” and from the ablution which is prescribed in the passage from Leviticus. The same thing is, secondly, enjoined respecting flesh that has been torn, as before with regard to the carcase, for the deformity of its laceration is counted as uncleanness. The holiness of the people is again referred to, that they may more diligently beware of defilements. Hence it follows that those were contaminated who should eat of torn flesh. Therefore, in the third passage, he confirms it that the Jews were to abstain, and were prohibited from the eating of a carcase or the flesh of an animal torn by beasts, lest they should pollute themselves. Nor is it an objection that the eating of carrion and of blood are here prohibited in conjunction with each other; for we know that Moses does not always arrange his precepts in order, but promiscuously adduces such as appertain to different classes. Therefore, I have thought it well to separate these two prohibitions which have distinct objects, and whose dissimilarity manifestly appears from the difference of their punishment. He who shall have eaten blood shall be cut off from the people; whereas he who shall have eaten carrion, shall wash himself and be unclean till the evening. A question might again arise respecting torn or lacerated flesh; but it seems in my judgment to be plain enough from the context, that flesh torn by beasts is counted amongst unclean meats; for the reason of the law is expressed, viz., because those who were chosen to be a holy people should keep themselves pure and incorrupt. Nor would God command that meat intended for man should be thrown to dogs, unless it were infected with a contagion, which would pollute His holy ones. As to the command, in the first passage, to give it to a stranger, or to sell it to an alien, that he might eat it, it does not appear reasonable, since that would be to supply the materials for sin, as though one should offer a sword to a madman, or transfer illicit goods to others. But the solution of this difficulty is easy: for the Gentiles were permitted to eat indifferently of all sorts of food, since no distinctions were placed between them; but the prohibition of certain meats was a mark of separation between them and the elect people of God. A more difficult question arises from a kind of contradiction, because Moses in another passage binds both the stranger and the home-born by the same law, and declares them to be alike unclean if they shall have tasted of carrion. But we must bear in mind that he sometimes calls those strangers who, although born of heathen parents, had embraced the Law. Circumcision, therefore, connected them with God, just as if they had derived their origin from Abraham; whilst there were other strangers, whom uncircumcision separated from the children of Abraham as profane and excomnmnicate. The sum is, that whosoever allege God’s name, and boast themselves to be His people, are called to cultivate holiness, and to keep themselves pure from every stain.


Verse 22

22.Thou shalt truly tithe. He repeats in general terms the law before enacted, whereby he claims for God the tithe of all the fruit. He does not, however, immediately declare to whom they are to be paid, but inserts some provisions respecting other offerings, which I have elsewhere explained. But when, soon afterwards, in verse 27, he recommends the Levites to them, he shews what is the proper use to which they are to be applied. He signifies that it would be cruel to defraud the Levites of them, (217) and that they would be wicked and unjust if they were grudgingly to pay them the tithes, which were theirs by hereditary right, since their tribe possessed no inheritance in land.


Verse 23

23.And thou shalt eat before the Lord. He again commands the victims to be brought into the place of the sanctuary; although by the place which God shall choose, he designates Jerusalem, as has been said in the above commentary on chap. 12; for the Ark of the Covenant had no settled resting-place until the time of David, but was received as it were in temporary lodgings. Moses, therefore, now commands, that when God shall have so greatly honored a particular place, and shall have chosen a perpetual rest, in which His name shall dwell, thither are the offerings to be brought. But we know that this place was Jerusalem; and all the oblations were restricted to this one place, lest any corruption should creep in to destroy the unity of the faith. For all strange inventions, as has already been sufficiently seen, are so many profanations of God’s worship. But, whereas in chap. 12, Moses had promiscuously joined the tithes with the firstlings, and had made the same appointment with respect to both, he now relaxes the stringency of that law, by adding an exception, viz, that if the way should be too long, a commutation might be made, and money might be paid instead of corn. He does not, indeed, speak only of the tithes, but unites with them the vows and free-gifts; nay, he refers properly to these alone. But, since as to the latter there is no question, let us only consider whether it was consistent that the tithes should be paid in one place alone. They were given to the Levites for their maintenance, who, as is well known, were dispersed throughout the whole land; either then their residence must have been fixed at Jerusalem, or they must not be deprived of their subsistence, wherever they might dwell. The command, therefore, appears to be absurd, that all the tithes of the whole land should be brought to Jerusalem, for that would have amounted to nothing less than to destroy the poor Levites by famine. This absurdity has compelled the commentators to fabricate a doubtful conjecture; viz., that the people voluntarily set apart certain tithes, which they might carry to Jerusalem at the festivals; but it is not probable that so heavy a burden was imposed upon them, (110) as that they should only keep at home what remained of the fifth part. But a nearer approach to probability would be, that the tithes of the neighboring country, as convenience offered, were carried to Jerusalem; whilst those which were collected in more distant places were set aside there; but that they were accounted for at Jerusalem, so that upon a calculation of the number of their families, an equal distribution might be made to the Levites. Certainly it is by no means probable that the respective tillers of the soil carried up to Jerusalem what the Levites, having received there, were compelled to take back again for the maintenance of their families; for what would have been the advantage of all this expense and trouble of carrying them backwards and forwards? Besides, it would have been useless to command the Levites, and that too with the addition of severe threats, to pay the priests faithfully, if the tithes had been first deposited with the priests themselves, who might easily have provided against all deception, since they had the whole quantity of corn in their own hands. I have, therefore, no doubt but that the Levites collected the tithes each in their own neighborhood, but that another tithing, of which mention will be made presently, was carried up to the sanctuary as a sacred offering, and a profession of service to God. For we have lately seen, that after that part had been withdrawn, the nine parts which remained were assigned to the Levites, as if they had been grown on their own ground. But because it was a subject which might cause complaints, that the first-fruits and other tithes should be collected into one place, God would anticipate this by showing the advantage of it to the whole people, in that there might be food enough for all who should come to the celebration of the festivals; for this is the meaning of the words, “thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God;” as if it had been said, that the place should be sacred to God, to which the worshippers of God might come from the whole land. Yet He commands, in the meanwhile, the pure observation of His worship; lest a diversity of places might draw away the people in various directions to false superstitions.


Verse 24

24And if the way be too long. I am prevented from understanding this restriction as having reference to the tithes, by the ordinance which is elsewhere made, that whosoever would redeem them by a money-payment, (Leviticus 27:31,) should add a fifth part, and this is omitted here; and, again, by the explanation which is soon after added, that they should bring money with them instead of their offerings, and buy with it oxen and sheep, wine, and strong drink, as they pleased. The sum is, that if it were too burdensome for them to bring from their distant homes victims and other gifts, they were permitted to buy at Jerusalem whatever they chose to offer, provided they made no offerings elsewhere.


Verse 28

28.At the end of three years. Those are mistaken, in my opinion, who think that another kind of tithe is here referred to. It is rather a correction or interpretation of the Law, lest the priests and Levites alone should consume all the tithes, without applying a part to the relief of the poor, of strangers, and widows. In order to make this clearer, we must first observe, that not every third year is here prescribed, (218) but that the years are counted from the Sabbatical year; for we shall elsewhere see that on every seventh year the land was to rest, so that there was no sowing nor reaping. After two harvests, therefore, the tithes of the third year were not the entire property of the Levites, but were shared also by the poor, the orphans, and widows, and strangers. This may easily be seen by calculating the years; for otherwise the third year would have often fallen on the Sabbatical one, in which all agriculture was at a stand-still. Now, this was a most equitable arrangement, that the priests and Levites having been well provided for during two years, should admit their poor brethren and strangers to a share. Some part was thus withdrawn from their abundance, lest they should give themselves up to luxurious habits; and thus it was brought about that not more than a twelfth portion every year should remain to them. In sum, there was one peculiar year in every seven in which the Levites did not alone receive the tithes for their own proper use, but shared them with the orphans, and widows, and strangers, and the rest of the poor. “They shall eat (He says) and be satisfied,” who would otherwise have to suffer hunger, “that the Lord may bless thee,” (verse 29;) by which promise He encourages them to be liberal.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 14:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/deuteronomy-14.html. 1840-57.

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