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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 32



Verse 1

1.Give ear, O ye heavens. Moses commences in a strain of magnificence, lest the people should disdain this song with their usual pride, or even reject it altogether, being exasperated by its severe censures and reproaches. For we well know how the world naturally longs to be flattered, and that no strain can be gratifying to it unless it tickles and soothes the ear with praise. But Moses here not only inveighs bitterly against the vices of the people, but with the utmost possible vehemence stigmatizes their perverse nature, their utterly corrupt morals, their obstinate ingratitude, and incorrigible contumacy. Moreover, he desired that these accusations, whereby he rendered their name detestable, should daily echo from their tongues; and thus they became still more offensive. It was, therefore, requisite that their impatience should be bridled, as it were, in order that they might patiently and humbly receive these just reproofs, however severe they might be. If, therefore, they should repudiate this song, or should turn a deaf ear to it, he declares at the outset that heaven and earth would be witnesses of their prodigious obtuseness; nay, he turns and addresses himself to heaven and earth, and thus signifies that it was worthy of the attention of all creatures, even although they were without intelligence or feeling. For it is a hyperbolical mode of expression, when he assigns the faculty of hearing, and being instructed, to the senseless elements; just as Isaiah, when he would intimate that he found none to give heed to him amongst the whole people, in like manner appeals to the heavens and the earth, and even summons them to bear witness to the prodigious iniquity, that there should be less of intelligence amongst the whole people than in oxen and asses. (Isaiah 1:2.) For it is but a meager exposition, which some give of these words, that they are used, by metonymy, for angels and men. (247)

Verse 2

2My doctrine shall drop as the rain. Some, as I think improperly, here resolve the future tense into the optative mood, (248) for in this splendid eulogium he rather celebrates, in order to commend his doctrine, the fruitfulness (249) which is actually imparted to it by the Holy Spirit, than asks for it to be given to him; and my readers must at once perceive that such a request would have been by no means seasonable. He therefore compares his speech to rain or dew, as if he had said that, if only the people were like the soil in a state of softness and preparation, he would deliver doctrine to them which would irrigate them unto abundant fruitfulness.

Although this expression refers especially, and κατ ᾿ ἐξοχὴν to the Song, still its force and propriety extends to all divine teaching; for God never speaks except to render men fruitful in good works, just as, by instilling succulency and vigor into the earth by means of rain, He makes it fertile for the production of fruit. But, like the rocks and stones, which imbibe no moisture from the most abundant rains, so many are hindered by their own perversity from being fertilized by spiritual irrigation. Wherefore Moses indirectly throws the blame upon the Israelites, if the doctrine of this Song should drop upon them in vain.

Verse 3

3Because I will publish the name of the Lord. He signifies by these words that, if there were any spark of piety in the Israelites, it must be manifested by their welcoming this address, wherein the majesty of God shines forth. The first clause of the verse, therefore, stands last in order, since it is an assignment of a reason for the other. For when he exhorts them that they should ascribe to God the glory He deserves, he inculcates upon them obedience and attention, as if he had said that, unless they reverently submit themselves to his teaching, God would be defrauded of this due honor; and this he confirms by adding as a reason that he will sincerely and faithfully publish the name of God. For the word invoke (250) is not used here as in many other passages, but is equivalent to making a profession of God. Moses, then, declares himself to be His proclaimer, in order that, under cover of His most Holy name, he may awaken attention to his words.

Verse 4

4.His work is perfect. Those who take these expressions generally, and without particular reference to this passage, not only obscure their meaning, but also lessen the force of the doctrine they contain. Let us, then, understand that the perfection of God’s works, the rectitude of His ways, etc., are contrasted with the rebellion of the people; for if there were anything (251) in God’s works imperfect and in arranged, if His mode of dealing were deficient in rectitude, if His truth were doubtful; if, in a word, there were anything wanting, then there would have been a natural excuse why the people should have sought for something better than they found in Him, since the desire of obtaining that which is best is deserving of no reprehension. Lest, then, the Israelites should offer any such pretext, Moses anticipates them. Before he begins to treat of the wicked ingratitude of the people, he lays down this principle, that they were not induced to transfer their affections elsewhere by any deficiency in God. The general statement is indeed true in itself, and may be applied to various purposes; but we must consider what the object of Moses here is, namely, to remove from the people every pretext for their impious and perfidious rebellion, and this in order that their amazing folly may be more apparent, when they forsake the fountain of living waters, and hew them out cisterns with holes in them, as God himself complains in Jeremiah 2:13. We perceive therefore, that every honorable distinction which is here attributed to God, brands the people with a corresponding mark of ignominy, in that they had knowingly and voluntarily deprived themselves of the plenitude of all good things, which might have been enjoyed by them had they not alienated themselves from God.

God’s work is spoken of, not only with reference to the creation of the world, but to the whole course of His providence; as if it were said that nothing could be discovered in God’s works which could be found fault with.

Now this perfection is not perceptible in every individual thing, for even vermin are God’s creatures; and amongst men some are blind, some lame, some deaf, and others mutilated in one of their members; and many fruits also never arrive at maturity. Yet we plainly see that it is foolish and misplaced to bring forward such questions as these as objections to the perfection of God, here celebrated by Moses, inasmuch as the very defects and blemishes of our bodies tend to this object, that God’s glory may be made manifest. (John 9:3.)

The next statement, that all his ways are right, (252) conveys a similar truth; for it is well known that the word משפט, mishphat, is used for rectitude, and works and ways are synonymous.

The latter part of the verse is a confirmation of the former part, since Moses signifies in both that all who censure God may be clearly convicted of petulant impiety, since supreme justice shines forth in all His acts.

The words I have rendered, “God is truth,” others construe with the genitive case, “a God of truth.” Either is true, and agreeable to the usage of Scripture; but the apposition is more emphatic, which declares that God is not only true, but the Truth itself. At any rate, this applies to the persons who pay entire allegiance to the word of God, for their expectations shall never be frustrated. Thus the people are indirectly reproved for their unbelief, in that they deserted God, whose faithfulness was not only tried and proved, but who is the very fountain of truth.

Although what follows, that there is no iniquity in God, seems to some to have but little force, it is nevertheless of great importance; for we well know how often men are so absurd in their subterfuges, as in a manner to arraign God instead of themselves; and although they do not dare to accuse Him openly, still they do not hesitate to acquit themselves, and thus to cast direct obloquy upon Him. Elsewhere, therefore, God inquires by His Prophet, “what iniquity the people had found in Him?” (Jeremiah 2:5,) and in another place expostulates with them, because He was loaded with their hatred and abuse, as if He dealt unjustly with such sinners. (Ezekiel 18:2.) When, therefore, He vindicates Himself from such calumnies, it follows that no blame attaches itself to Him, but that the wickedness of those who turn away from Him is abundantly condemned.

Verse 5

5.They have corrupted themselves. Moses now inveighs unhesitatingly against the perfidy of the people, and gives loose to the most unmeasured upbraidings; for if God be just and true, then it was plain enough that the Israelites were a depraved and perverse nation. This perverse nation, he says, has corrupted itself towards Him, namely Him, whom he has just lauded for His perfect justice and faithfulness; and he accuses them of having basely prostituted to every sort of sin the chastity which they had promised to God. There is no doubt but that they were sorely wounded by these epithets, and would have been transported with rage, had they not seen that God’s incomparable servant, when he had now been called upon to die by God’s command, spoke as it were from heaven. The voice, therefore, of the dying man restrained their pride, so that they did not now dare to oppose him as a mortal; and afterwards, when the condemnation had been assented to by public authority, and by general accord, they were less at liberty to vent their madness against it. He introduces, by way of anticipation, the statement that they were not His children; for else they might obviously have made the objection that the sacred race of Abraham, which God had adopted, should be dealt with less reproachfully. Moses, therefore, declares that they are not children, because they are a perverse nation. For although their adoption always stood firm, still its efficacy was restricted to the elect part of them, so that God, without breaking His covenant, might reject the general body. But to explain the matter more clearly, it must be borne in mind that the Spirit, on different grounds, at one time assigns the name of God’s children to hypocrites, at another takes it away; for sometimes it is an aggravation of their criminality, when they are called the children of Abraham and Jacob as well as of God, an instance of which will soon occur. Here, however, in order that they may cease to glory without cause, they are said not to be children, because they are degenerate, and therefore disinherited by God, so as no longer to retain their honorable position. In this sense Moses declares that they are not children, as having cast off God from being their Father. It is added this was done with their spot (or disgrace; (253)) unless it be thought preferable to take it that. they were corrupted by their spots, or by their sins, to which I willingly assent; although I do not reject the other sense, namely, that their alienation from God had rendered them ignominious, or that they had contracted the stain of disgrace by their faithlessness.

Verse 6

6.Do ye thus requite the Lord. In order to expose the ingratitude of the people to greater infamy, he now begins to commemorate the benefits whereby God had laid them under obligation to Himself: for the more liberally God deals with us, the more earnest ought to be the piety awakened in our hearts; nay, His goodness, as soon as we have tasted of it, ought to draw us at once to Him. Now God, although he has been always bountiful towards the whole human race, had, in a peculiar manner showered down an immense abundance of His bounty upon that people; this, then, Moses alleges, and shows how basely ungrateful they had been. He first expostulates with them interrogatively, asking them whether this was a fitting return for God’s especial blessings; and then proceeds to enumerate them. He inquires of them, then, whether God was not their father, from the time when He had honored them with the distinction of His adoption: and under this single head he comprehends many things, because from this source proceeded whatever blessings God had conferred upon them. Not, however, to examine every point with the accuracy it deserves, what more binding obligation could be imagined than that God should have chosen one nation for Himself out of the whole world, whose father He should be by special privilege? For, although all human beings, since they were created in the image of God, are sometimes called His children, still to be accounted His children was the special privilege of the sons of Abraham. And, in order to prove that this was not a natural, but an acquired dignity, Moses immediately afterwards explains in what way God was their Father: viz., that he purchased, made, and prepared them. The foundation and origin, then, was the gratuitous good pleasure of God, when He took them to be His own peculiar people. Elsewhere, indeed, His second purchase of them is mentioned, when He redeemed them from Egypt; here, however, Moses goes back farther, viz., to the covenant made with Abraham, whereby they were separated from other nations, as will presently more clearly appear. I reject, as not in harmony with the context, the translation which some give of the word, קנה, kanah, i.e., to possess. (254)

In the same sense it is added, that they were made by God: which does not. refer to the general creation, but only to the privilege of adoption, whereby they became God’s new work, and in which another form was imparted to them; in which sense also He is called their framer, or Maker. Elsewhere, also, when the Prophet says,

“Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves,” (Psalms 100:3,)

he undoubtedly magnifies that special prerogative, whereby God had distinguished the sons of Abraham above all other races. For, since the fall of Adam had brought disgrace upon all his posterity, God restores those, whom He separates as His own, so that their condition may be better than that of all other nations. At the same time it must be remarked, that this grace of renewal is effaced in many who have afterwards profaned it. Consequently the Church is called God’s work and creation, in two senses, i.e., generally with respect to its outward calling, and specially with respect to spiritual regeneration, as far as regards the elect; for the covenant of grace is common to hypocrites and true believers. On this ground all whom God gathers into His Church, are indiscriminately said to be renewed and regenerated: but the internal renovation belongs to believers only; whom Paul, therefore, calls God’s “workmanship, created unto good works, which God hath prepared,” etc. (Ephesians 2:10.) The same is the tendency of the third word, which may, however, be taken for to “establish;” (255) although I have preferred to follow the more received sense, viz, that God had prepared His people, as the artificer fashions and fits his work.

Verse 7

7Remember the days of old. This is an explanation of the preceding verse, for Moses again shows how God had acquired this people, viz., because he had chosen to separate them from other nations according to His own good pleasure. But, since the Israelites might be inflated by their present superiority, they are reminded of their origin, and Moses commands them not to consider what they now are, but also from whence they had been taken, and with this view he says, Remember the old times; ask the elders, etc. For we know how men, when they do not reflect that whatever they have, proceeded from God, and is held, as it were, at will, are blinded by their dignity, so as not only to despise others, but also to exalt themselves against, the Author of all good things. Moses, in order to subdue this arrogance, says that all peoples were alike under the hand and power of God, and thus that their diversity was not in their original nature, but derived from elsewhere, i.e., from God’s free choice. In the word בהנחל, behanchel, there is some ambiguity: for some translate it, When the Most High divided the earth to the nations; and, though I do not reject this, still I have preferred the meaning more in accordance with the context; (256) for Moses says the same thing twice over, and the second clause is the explanation of the first. He says, therefore, that God distributed the nations, as an inheritance is divided; and then this is more clearly repeated, when he mentions the separation of the sons of Adam. When, in the latter part of the verse, it is said, that He set bounds to the nations according to the number of the children of Israel, it is commonly explained that He set bounds to the nations in such sort, that the habitation of the sons of Abraham was secured to them. Some of the Hebrews take it in a more restricted sense, viz., that in the distribution of the world, so much was given to the seven nations of Canaan as should be sufficient for the children of Israel. In my opinion, however, his meaning is, that in the whole arrangement of the world, the object which God had in view was to provide for His elect people: for, although His bounty extended to all, still He had such regard for His own, that, chiefly on their account, His care also extended to others. The word number is expressly employed; as if Moses had said, that, however small a portion of the human race the posterity, of Abraham might be, nevertheless that number was before God’s eyes, when He ordered the state of the whole world; unless it be preferred to take the word מספר, misphar, (257) for a ratio; but it will not be unsuitable to the passage to understand it that this small body was so precious to God, that he arranged the whole distribution of the world with a view to their welfare. Some refer it to the calling of the Gentiles, as if Moses had said that the empire of the whole world was destined to the seed of Abraham, because it was to be propagated through all the regions of the world; but this is altogether erroneous, for nothing is here indicated but the distinction, formerly conferred upon one nation. (258)

Verse 9

9For the Lord’s portion is his people. This is the main point, that God was moved by nothing but His own good pleasure to make so much of this people, who had been derived from a common origin with all others: for when he says, that Jacob was the portion of Jehovah, and the lot of His inheritance, he does not mean that there was anything better in them than in others, but he assigns the reason why God preferred this one nation to the rest of mankind; viz., because He took it to Himself as His hereditary portion, which dignity depends upon His gratuitous election.

Verse 10

10.He found him in a desert land. If the intention of Moses had been to record all the instances of God’s paternal kindness towards the people, he must have commenced from the time of Abraham; like the prophet who, when presenting a complete narrative in the Psalm, begins from that original covenant, which God had made with the fathers, (Psalms 105:8;) and also introduces the benefits which He had conferred upon them, when they were but few in number, and strangers in the land, when they went from one nation to another, yet he suffered no man to do them wrong, and reproved kings for their sakes. (Psalms 105:14.) But Moses, studying brevity, deemed it sufficient to bring forward a more recent and more notorious blessing; nay, he omits the early part of their deliverance, and only makes mention of the desert, he says, then, that God found them in the desert; not because He then first began to take pity upon them, since they had been previously rescued from the tyranny of Pharaoh by His marvelous power, and had passed the Red Sea dry-shod, but because it was profitable for them to have set before their eyes how they had been extricated from the deep abyss of death, in order that they might more readily acknowledge this to have been, as it were, the beginning of their life. For what was that waste and barren desert, in which not a crumb of bread, nor a drop of water was to be found, but a grave to swallow up a thousand lives? and, therefore, it is further called “the devastation of horror.” (259) The suae is, that it was a kind of type of resurrection, not from one death only, but from innumerable deaths, that the people should have escaped from it in safety. That they should have done so, even had their march through it been straight and speedy, could not have been the case without a miracle; but, inasmuch as they wandered therein for forty years, our minds can hardly comprehend a hundredth part of the miracles (which followed one upon the other. (260)) Thus the word “led about,” is not superfluous, for God’s power was far more conspicuous than as if they had flown swiftly through the air. I apply the same meaning to what follows, “he instructed him;” for some, in my opinion improperly, refer it to the Law, (261) whereas it rather relates to the teaching of experience. For there was manifold, and no ordinary instruction in all these acts of bounty and punishment, wherein God, as it were, put forth His hand, and manifested His glory.

Two similitudes follow, to express God’s love, mingled with solicitude more than paternal. First, he says, that God no less anxiously protected them from all injury and annoyance than every one is wont to protect the pupil of his eye, which is the most tender part of the body, and against the injury of which the greatest precautions are taken. And David also, when requesting that he may be kept safe under the special guardianship of God, uses the same expression. (Psalms 17:8.) Secondly, God compares Himself to an eagle, which not only fosters her young ones under her outspread wings, but also indulgently, and with maternal tenderness tempts them to fly. It would be unseasonable to enter here into more subtle philosophical discussions respecting the nature of the eagle. The Jews, who are wont to trifle hazardously with things they do not understand, have invented fables respecting this passage, which have no relation to the meaning of Moses, who unquestionably spoke of the eagle as he might of any other bird. Nor can it be doubted but that Christ, when He compares Himself to a hen, desired to express the same sedulous care.

“How often (he says) would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37.)

If, however, any should choose to apply here, what Aristotle writes respecting the eagle, I would not stand in his way: although I do not think Moses had anything in his mind, beyond what the words naturally express. And, surely that which at once occurs to us ought to be sufficient for us, viz., that we ought to be ravished with just. admiration of God’s inestimable goodness and indulgence, when He condescends so to stoop to us as to protect us with His wings, like a bird, and, hovering before us, to instruct and accustom us to follow Him: in which latter words a more than maternal anxiety to teach us is represented.

Verse 12

12.So the Lord alone did lead hive. This is spoken by anticipation, in order to take away every pretext from the Israelites, provided they should seek, according to their custom, to mingle their superstitions with the pure service of God. For, when they were bringing in, from all quarters, gods of various nations, this was the excuse they commonly made, that God was not thus despoiled of His due honor: and hence it came to pass, that they permitted themselves to heap together a multitude of false gods, whom they worshipped as their patrons. But Moses anticipates them, and declares that God, as having no need of external aid, had not associated with Himself any strange gods in His preservation of the people. Hence it follows, that whatever gods the people introduced, they transferred to them the honor due to the one true God. Let us then learn from this passage, that, unless God be served without a rival, religion is altogether perverted by the impious admixture.

Verse 13

13.He made him ride on the high places. Theirs is but a frivolous imagination, who suppose that Judea was so called as being the navel or center of the earth; (262) it is more likely that it was called high in reference to Egypt; and, indeed, it is by no means an unusual expression, that those who go into Egypt, are said to go down, and those who come into Judea to come up. Still I am rather disposed Lo think that by height he denotes its excellency; inasmuch as that land, on account of its illustrious endowments, was, as it were, the most noble theater in the world.

Moses celebrates its fertility, when he says that the people sucked honey from the rock and oil from the stones: for he means to indicate, that no part of it was unproductive, since they gathered honey from the rocks, and upon them also the olive grew. The same is the intention of the other figures, that they ate “butter of kine, and milk of sheep;” by which he signifies that the land was full of rich pastures. By “fat of lambs,” he undoubtedly means the plumpness of their flesh, because it was not lawful to eat their actual fat; but it is not unusual to denote by this word any kind of richness, as soon afterwards he calls the best meal or flour, from which the more delicate kind of bread was made, “the fat of wheat.” With respect to the wine, he magnifies God’s liberality by the use of a poetic figure, when he says they drank of the blood of the grape. There is no doubt but that he alludes to its color; yet he takes occasion to extol more highly the beneficence of God, by intimating that, when the juice of the grapes is expressed, it is just as if their blood flowed forth for the nutriment of men. Since, then, the metaphor is taken from the redness of wine, I have not hesitated to translate the epithet חמר, chamer, at the end of the verse, red. (263) From many passages it appears to have been very delicious; and in Isaiah 27:2 the word חמר, chamer, is used for a vine of great preciousness and of exquisite flavor. Those who render it pure, have rather taken into consideration the fact, than the signification of the word.

Verse 15

15But Jeshurun (264) waxed fat. Moses here severely censures the ingratitude of the people, because when filled with delicacies, they began to wax wanton against God; for, according to the vulgar proverb, satiety breeds violence; but this arises from men’s detestable depravity, who ought rather to be inclined to humility and gentleness by the loving-kindness of God, since the more abundantly He supplies us with food, the more does He invite us to show forth the affection that becomes children, inasmuch as He thus more closely and familiarly declares Himself to be our Father. Intolerable, then, is the impiety of profane persons, who increase in insolence against Him, when they have gorged themselves with an abundance of all good things. They are here compared to restive horses, which, if they are well fed, without exercise, kick under their rider, and are rendered almost intractable. By using the word “upright” for Israel, he ironically taunts them with having departed from rectitude, and, reminding them of the high dignity conferred upon them, more severely reproves their sin of unfaithfulness. For elsewhere (265) Israel is honored with the same title without any evil imputation in respect to their calling; but here Moses reproachfully shows them how far they had departed from the pursuit of that piety, to the cultivation of which they had been called.

Verse 16

16They provoked him to jealousy. It is only figuratively that jealousy is attributed to God, who is free from all passions; but, since men never sufficiently reflect how great pollution they contract by their idolatries, it is necessary that the grossness of the sin should be expressed in such terms as this, implying that men do no less injury to God, when they transfer to others the honor due to Him, and that the offense is no lighter than as if a licentious woman should provoke her husband’s mind to jealousy, and inflict a wound upon him by running after adulterers. This jealousy has reference to the sacred and spiritual marriage, whereby God had bound His people to Himself. The suae is, that the Israelites were as insulting to God by their superstitions as if they had designedly provoked Him.

In the next verse an amplification follows, viz., that they had transferred to devils the worship due to God alone. By the general consent of all nations God ought to be worshipped by sacrifices; for, although the Gentiles invented for themselves divers gods, still the persuasion continued to prevail, that this service was the peculiar prerogative of Deity. Nothing, then, could be more disgraceful or detestable than to rob God of His honor, and to offer it to demons. This, indeed, would never have been admitted by the Israelites, inasmuch as they pretended that their minor gods were their advocates with the supreme and only Creator of the world, and did not hesitate to account as rendered to Him whatever they shared among their idols. Here, however, He first of all repudiates all such mixtures whereby His holy name is unworthily profaned, and suffers Himself not to be associated with idols; and, secondly, by whatever titles they may dignify their idols, He declares all false gods to be demons. Hence it follows that the sacrifices made to them are infected with sacrilege. Both of these points are worthy of careful remark, viz., that God abominates all corruptions of His service; and also, that whatever names the world may invent for its gods, they are so many masks, under which the devil hides himself for the deception of the simple.

Furthermore, Moses reproves the folly of the Israelites in having promiscuously devoted themselves to unknown gods; just as an adulterous woman might prostitute herself indiscriminately to all comers. When he says that they came from near, (266) it has reference to time, and is equivalent to saying that they had lately sprung up. Thirdly, it is said, that these gods were not honored by their fathers; for thus their perverse love of novelty is proved against them, inasmuch as they had not been even led by imitation of their fathers, but in their restless innovation had procured for themselves new and unwonted gods. Not that the law of piety is founded on antiquity alone, as if it were sufficient to follow the customs handed down by our ancestors; for thus any of the religions of the Gentiles might be proved true, but because the genuine and faithful tradition of their fathers would be the sure and approved rule for the worship of God. For Moses assumes a higher principle, viz., that their fathers were truly and most unmistakably instructed who was the one and only God, in whom alone they ought to trust. Yet a distinction is here to be drawn between these holy fathers and the reprobate; for the imitation of their fathers, which here seems to be deemed praiseworthy, is elsewhere severely condemned, because the Jews were carried away, without discrimination, after the bad examples of their fathers. Moses, therefore, here refers to no other fathers than those who were in a position to hand down what they had learned from God Himself. The word fear often comprises, by synecdoche, the whole service of God, and sometimes is applied to outward ceremonies: the word שער , sagnar however, is here used, which means properly to stand in awe of, or to dread; (267) but still in the same sense.

Verse 18

18.Of the Rock (268) that begat thee. He again aggravates the criminality of the people by referring to their ingratitude, inasmuch as they did not fall through ignorance, but willfully stifled that knowledge of God, which ought to have shone brightly in all their hearts: for this is the effect of the reproach, that they were unmindful of their Rock: as much as to say, that they would never have given themselves up to their impious superstitions, unless they had cast into voluntary oblivion that God whom, by the most conspicuous proofs, they had experimentally found to be the foundation and support of their salvation.

Verse 19

19.And when the Lord saw it. The seeing of God, which is mentioned here, has reference to His forbearance in judgment: as if it were said, that He does not act hastily, and is not alienated from His children, without having duly weighed their case; in the same way as it is said elsewhere: “Because the cry of Sodom is great, I will go down now and see whether” it is so, and “I will know.” (Genesis 18:20) Assuredly God has no need to make any examination, since nothing escapes His eyes, however hidden it may be; but this going down and inquiring is contrasted with preposterous haste. Thus in this passage Moses shows that God was wroth, when he saw His sons and His daughters drawn away so faithlessly after their idols. Again, when he calls them God’s children, he does not judge them to be so on account of their merits, but in reference to God’s adoption, which, although it was canceled as regarded themselves, still had the effect of aggravating the guilt of their ingratitude. And for the same reason that he had just. said that God saw them, Moses introduces Him deliberating, as it were, that the time for punishing them might be perceived to be fully come. But we must notice the degrees; for God does not at once break forth into extreme severity, but is said to hide His face, that He might secretly consider what they would do: since this is a middle course between the manifest exhibition of His grace and favor, and the tokens of His wrath. God is, indeed, elsewhere said, in many passages, to hide His face, when He rejects men’s prayers, and withdraws His aid; but here He assumes the character of a man who, when he sees that he produces no effect by acting, (269) goes aside to some place, from whence he may quietly contemplate the result, And thus God’s weariness of them is expressed; for when He at length saw that His efforts to control them were thrown away, He abandoned the care of them. It is a false inference, which some draw from hence, that men, when forsaken by God, recover themselves by the exercise of their own free-will; as if God sat calmly and inactively in a watch-tower expecting what they may do; inasmuch as this hiding of Himself has reference only to the outward manifestation of His grace. In a word, it is a similitude taken from the conduct of men, whereby God signifies that He is overcome with weariness, and will no more be the leader and guardian of the people, until it shall effectually appear that they are altogether intractable. And this is gathered from the reason, which is presently added, wherein He censures their forward nature and want of faith, as much as to say, that, after long trial, nothing remained for Him but to abandon them.

Verse 21

21.They have moved me to jealousy. He now proceeds further, viz., that God, after having withdrawn Himself for a time, would, at length be the open enemy of the people, so as to repay them in kind. And he points out the mode of this retaliation, that as they had insultingly brought into antagonism with God empty phantoms and vanities, so on His part, He would exalt against them barbarous and worthless nations. This similitude is also taken from jealous husbands, who, when they perceive themselves to be despised by their adulterous wives, avenge themselves by their own amours. Why God should attribute to Himself the feeling of jealousy has been explained under the Second Commandment; Moses now only shows that it would be a most equitable mode of revenge, that God should insult, by means of despised and ignoble nations, those apostates, who had made to themselves idols in disparagement of Him.

The fulfillment of this sentence was manifested from time to time, when they were tyrannically oppressed by the neighboring nations. It is true, indeed, that the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans were included among those people of nought and foolish nations, although they were preeminent in power and wealth, and famous for other splendid endowments; but it is no matter of surprise that, in comparison with that dignity which God had conferred upon the Israelites, all other nations should be accounted but refuse. The suae is, that God’s vengeance was ready whereby He would punish the vanities of His people, inasmuch as He could create out of nothing the enemies by whom they should be reduced to nothing. There is much elegance in the allusion of Paul, in which he extends this sentence further, inasmuch as, when God introduced the Gentiles into His Church, He stirred up the Jews to jealousy, in order that they might be led to repentance by a sense of their ignominy. Surely the calling of the Gentiles was exactly as if He created shadows, whom he might prefer to His reprobate people. (Romans 10:19.)

Verse 22

22.For a fire is kindled in mine anger. He confirms what went before, but more generally; for He compares His anger to a burning fire, which should penetrate to the deepest abysses, and should utterly consume their land, so as not to spare the very roots of the mountains. This metaphor is, indeed, of frequent occurrence; but here more is expressed by it than in other passages. In the same sense also it is presently added, that God would spend all his scourges and arrows upon them; since, when His implacable anger is once aroused, there are no bounds to His severity. The verb אספה aspheh, may, however, also be taken for to heap, or to superadd; (270) but I willingly follow the more received interpretation, viz., that God will not omit anything to destroy them, as if He would apply to this purpose all weapons which were at hand.

Verse 24

24.They shall be burnt with hunger. He now descends to some particular modes of punishment, not, indeed, to enumerate them all, but only to adduce such specimens of them as to inspire the people with greater terror, inasmuch as mere generalities would not have sufficiently affected them. He mentions three especial scourges, pestilence, famine, and the sword, on which the prophets constantly dilate, when their object was to apply the Law to the actual use of the people, from whence it arose that they familiarly employ many of the expressions used by Moses. He introduces indeed other punishments, which the prophets also mention; but the sum of what he says is this, that the Israelites should feel that God was armed with all the punishments which were only too well known by experience, and by them would utterly destroy them.

First., he says, that they should be dried up, or rather roasted with hunger. (271) Instead of pestilence he uses the words burning (uredinem,) and bitter destruction: and before he speaks of the sword, declares that He would send forth beasts and serpents, so that on the one hand, open violence should assail them, and, on the other, secret wiles. Amos has also imitated this figure:

“The day of the Lord (he says) is darkness and not light: as if a man did flee from a lion and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.”
Amos 5:18.)

To war, and the cruelty of enemies he adds another evil, viz., terror: and this is, indeed, an aggravation worse than death itself, when we tremble within with terror, for it would be better to be slain ten times over bravely fighting in battle, than to be consumed with constant fear, as by a lingering death. (272)

Let us learn, then, from this passage, that, whatever perils surround us, and whatever adversities, they are God’s weapons, and that they do not occur by chance to this or that person, but are directed by His hand. Thus it is the case that He not; only stirs up enemies against us, but fierce and noisome beasts also; that He shuts up the heaven and the earth; that He infects the atmosphere with deadly disease; that, in a word, he draws forth from all the elements manifold means of destruction.

But if it be the fact, that the godly are involved in similar punishments, since they suffer from hunger and want, and are not exempt from any evil; for even Paul acknowledges that he had himself experienced what God here denounces against those that wickedly despise Him, for he says that he was troubled without with fightings, and within withfears, (2 Corinthians 7:5;) we must bear in mind that all adversities are in themselves signs of God’s wrath, since they derive their origin from sin; but that through God’s marvelous provision it comes to pass, that to believers they are exercises of their faith and proofs of their patience. Hence we often see God’s children afflicted in common with the ungodly, but to a different end; though nevertheless all adversities are proofs of God’s wrath against the reprobate. On this point I have spoken at greater length in treating of the curses of the Law.

Verse 26

26.I said, I would scatter them. God again represents Himself in the character of a man, as if He were meditating opposite determinations, and restrained His vehemence in consideration of the impediments He encountered. What it amounts to, however, is this, that God suspended His final judgment upon them for no other reason but because He had regard to His own glory, which would else have been subjected to the taunts of the Gentiles. Hence the Jews were reminded that, whereas they had deserved certain destruction, they were preserved on no other grounds but because God was unwilling to give the reins to the insolence of the Gentiles. The expression wrath, is here used for arrogant boasting, because in their prosperity ungodly and profane men burst forth into cruelty; unless it be preferred to render it simply irritation, (273) in which sense it is used in 2 Kings 23:0 Immediately afterwards it is explained, “lest the adversaries should behave themselves strangely.” נכר, nacar, signifies sometimes to be strange, sometimes to put on a different face, sometimes to acknowledge. Thus I do not doubt but that Moses meant to express the arrogance of those who in a manner transform themselves that they may dazzle the eyes of the simple by their pomp and empty exaltation. If any approve of a different sense, i.e., lest they should separate themselves from God, and arrogate to themselves what belongs to Him alone, I make no objection: and this, indeed, seems to agree with what follows, (274) “Our high hand, and not the Lord, has done this:” for when men indulge in such unbridled license, they go so far astray as to have nothing in common with God. Thus the judgment of God, which should have been conspicuous in these punishments, would have been put out of sight, when the enemies appropriated to themselves the glory of the people’s destruction. Nevertheless the ungodly did not cease to pride themselves on their victories, (as God complains by Isaiah, and Habakkuk confirms;) (275) although their insolence was in some measure repressed, as long as there were some remnants of the elect people preserved. (276)

It is only figuratively that God says, he feared this insolence, which He might have easily remedied and restrained: but I have already stated, that He speaks after the manner of men, to show the Israelites that they escaped rather on account of their enemies, than by their own merits. The question, however, arises, how such a consultation as this could have taken place after God had determined to consume them with the fire of His wrath; (277) I reply, that the consump tion there indicated was not such as totally to annihilate the nation, so that no ruins should remain as witnesses of their former state; whereas He now speaks of the destruction, which should altogether blot out the name of the nation, as if it had never been chosen by God.

Verse 28

28.For they are a nation void of counsel. The cause is assigned why God had almost blotted out altogether the memory of the people, viz., because their faculty was incurable: for He does not merely indicate that their conduct was rash and inconsiderate, because they lacked reason mid discretion: but that they could be by no means brought to their senses, and, in fact, that not one drop of sagacity existed in them. The proof of this immediately follows, viz., that the tokens of God’s wrath were too clearly set before their eyes to escape their notice, unless they were utterly blind and stupid. The word לו, lu, which they render, “Would that” (278) (utinam,) denotes commiseration rather than desire; and therefore it may be properly translated, “Oh, if they understood,” etc.

By the expression, “latter, ” their exceeding stupidity is censured: since not even by many and long experiences were they aroused to reflect on the causes of their calamities; whereas length of time extorts some sense at last from the very dullest, and almost idiotic persons. It was, therefore, a sign of desperate stupidity that they were still without understanding after so many years; as if by experience itself they had grown callous, when they ought to have shaken off their lethargy, and to have bestirred themselves to earnest inquiry. Justly, then, does Moses reproach them with not having considered even at the latter end; for not once only, nor in a single year, but by constant inflictions of punishment during a long series of years, had they been instructed without profit.

Verse 30

30.How should one chase a thousand. Of all the many tokens of God’s wrath, he selects one which was peculiarly striking; for as long as God was on their side, they had put to flight mighty armies, nor had they been supported by any multitude of forces. Now, when, though in great numbers, they are conquered by a few, this change plainly shows that they are deprived of God’s aid, especially when a thousand, who were wont before, with a little band, to rout the greatest armies, gave way before ten men. Moses, therefore, condemns the stupidity of the people, in that it does not occur to their minds that they are rejected by God, when they are so easily overcome by a few enemies, whom they far exceed in numbers. Moses, however, goes still further, and says, that they were sold and betrayed; (279) inasmuch as God, having so often found them to be unworthy of His aid, not only deserted them, but made them subject to heathen nations, and, as it were, sold them to be their slaves. This threat is often repeated by the prophets: and Isaiah, desiring to awake in them a hope of deliverance, tells them that God would redeem the people whom He had sold. (280) But, in case any should object that it was no matter of wonder, if the uncertain chance of war should confer on others the victory which often, as a profane poet says,

“Hovers between the two on doubtful wings,” (281)

Moses anticipates the objection by declaring that, unless the people should be deprived of God’s aid, they could not be otherwise than successful. A comparison is therefore instituted between the true God and false gods: as though Moses had said that, where the God of hosts presides, the issue of war can never be doubtful. Hence it follows, that God’s elect and peculiar people are exempted from the ordinary condition of nations, except in so far as it deserves to be rejected on the score of its ingratitude. He calls the unbelievers themselves to be the arbiters and witnesses of this, inasmuch as they had often experienced the formidable power of God, and knew assuredly that the God of Israel was unlike their idols. It is, then, just as if he had said, that this was conspicuous even to the blind, or were to cite as witnesses those who are blessed with no light from on high. In thus inviting unbelievers to be judges, it is not as if he supposed that they would pronounce what was true, and thoroughly understood by them, but because they must needs be convinced by experience: for, if any one had asked the heathen whether the supreme government and power of heaven and earth were in the hands of the One God of Israel, they never would have confessed that their idols were mere vanity. Still, however malignantly they might detract from God’s glory, Moses does not hesitate to boast, even themselves being judges, that God had magnificently exerted His unconquered might; although he refers rather to the experience of facts themselves, than to their feelings. Other commentators extract a different meaning, viz., that although unbelievers might be victorious, still God remained unaffected by it: neither was his arm broken, because he permitted them to afflict the apostate Israelites: (282) the former exposition, however, is the more appropriate one.

Inter utrumque volat dubiis Victoria pennis.
Ovid, Metam. viii. 11, 12.

Verse 32

32.For their vine is of the vine of Sodom. I think it was far from the intention of Moses, as some make it to be, to refer to the punishment which the Israelites deserved; but that he rather inveighs against their corrupted morals, and obstinate disposition. But metaphorically he calls them an offshoot from the vine of Sodom and Gomorrah, inasmuch as they resemble in their nature both those nations, as much as if they had sprung from them, just as grafts of the vine produce fruits similar to the stocks from which they are taken. God complains by Isaiah that, when he looked for good and sweet grapes from His vineyard, it brought forth wild grapes. (Isaiah 5:2.) And also by Jeremiah that, when He had planted a trustworthy and genuine seed, it was turned into the branches of a strange vine, (Jeremiah 2:22;) but Moses goes further here, that the people was not merely a degenerate vine, bun poisonous, and producing nothing but what was deadly; and therefore he adds, not only that their clusters were bitter, but that their wine was the poison of dragons and asps; whereby he signifies that nothing worse or more abominable than that nation could be imagined.

Verse 34

34.Is not this laid up in store with me? Although some explain this verse as relating to their punishments, as if God asserted that various kinds of them were laid up with Him, which He could produce whenever He pleased, it is more correct to understand it of their crimes. We are well aware that the ungodly, when God stays His severity, promise themselves impunity, as if His forbearance were a kind of connivance. Unless, therefore, He straightway lifts up His hand to chastise them, they imagine that all recollection of their crimes has vanished from before Him; and consequently the prophets often remind hypocrites of the day of visitation, in order that they may not suppose that they have gained anything by the delay. For this reason Jeremiah says that

“the sin of Judah is written with an iron pen
and with the point of a diamond,” (
Jeremiah 17:1.)

Moses employs a different figure, that, although God may not appear as an immediate avenger, still their sins are stored up in his treasures, and will be brought to light by Him at the fitting season. Hence we gather the profitable lesson, that although God may make as though He saw not (dissimulet) for a time, still He does not forget the iniquities, the memory of which wretched men foolishly imagine to be blotted out, unless they are pursued by God’s immediate vengeance.

Verse 35

35To me belongeth vengeance. This passage is quoted to different purposes by Paul, and by the author (283) of the Epistle to the Hebrews, (Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30;) for Paul, with a view of persuading believers to bear injuries patiently, admonishes them to “give place unto wrath,” inasmuch as God declares vengeance to be His; but the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, proclaiming that God will be the avenger of impiety, confirms his declaration by this testimony. Hence it is that part of the commentators suppose that punishment is here denounced against heathen nations because they have cruelly afflicted God’s elect people. And, indeed, this appears to be the meaning of Paul’s words, that injuries should be patiently endured, since God claims for Himself the office of Avenger; but there is nothing to prevent the same statement from being accommodated to different uses, and therefore Paul did not irrelevantly confirm his exhortation by this saying of Moses, although it literally refers to the internal chastisements of the Church. Besides, the apostles are not in the habit of quoting every word from the testimonies which they adduce, but briefly remind their readers to examine more closely the passages quoted. But, since God here joins the two things together, that He will punish the sins of His people, and at the same time be the avenger of their oppressions, there will be nothing absurd in saying that Paul, as it were, points his finger at this passage; (284) still, the simple explanation will be, that the general declaration is accommodated to a special case, in order that believers should bear their injuries patiently, and leave to God the office which He pronounces to appertain to Himself. In my judgment, indeed, these words are connected with the preceding verse; for God pertinently confirms His statement, that he takes account of the number of men’s sins, and has them stored among His treasures, by adding that the power and office of judging rests with Himself; inasmuch as these two things are contrary to each other, that He should be cognizant of whatever is done unrighteously and amiss, and still leave it unpunished. Not that it is opposed to God’s justice to pardon sinners when they repent, but because this principle always continues firm, that God is the judge of the world, for the punishment of all iniquities. Thus the confidence of hypocrites is destroyed, who flatter themselves with the hope of impunity, unless they are overtaken by immediate punishment.

The clause which follows some interpreters pervert by supplying the relative, “in the time in which their foot shall slide;” whereas Moses simply concludes that they will fall in their due time, or that, although they may think they stand, their ruin or fall was not far off; and this is further confirmed by what he adds, viz., that their day of calamity was at hand. This statement, as I have before said, often occurs in the Prophets, that there is with God a fit time, (285) in which to punish the sins which He has appeared to overlook, and therefore His long-suffering detracts nothing from the judgment which He delays. In this doctrine there is a twofold moral; first, that those whom God spares for a time, should not give way to self-indulgence; and, secondly, that the prosperity of the wicked should not disturb the minds of believers, but that they should allow God to decide the time and the place of executing vengeance. Inasmuch, however, as God’s delay renders hypocrites secure, so that they lull themselves to sleep in their vices, and, although they hear that they will have to render account of them, thoughtlessly indulge themselves during (286) their period of enjoyment, Moses declares that the day is near, and makes haste; for, if God does not openly alarm them, and reduce them to straits, they exult in their immunity. Hence those blasphemous sayings recorded by Isaiah, (Isaiah 5:19,) “Let him make speed, and hasten his work that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One draw nigh and come, that we may know it! “Meanwhile we must bear in mind the words of Habakkuk, (Habakkuk 2:3,) “Though the prophecy tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.”

Verse 36

36.For the Lord shall judge his people. Some connect this sentence with what precedes it, and thus take the word judge for to punish, and the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews, seems to support their opinion, inasmuch as he proves by this testimony how fearful a thing it is “to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews10:30, 31.) But there is no reason why the Apostle should not have accommodated to a different purpose what was set forth by Moses for the consolation of the godly, in order that believers might be the more heedful, the nearer they saw God to show Himself as the Judge of His Church; unless it be perhaps preferred to construe the words of Moses thus: Although God should judge His people, yet at length He will be propitiated, or touched with repentance, so as to temper the vehemence of His anger. Whichever way we understand them will be of little difference in the main; for, after Moses has threatened the despisers of God, and the apostates, who desire to be accounted members of His household the Church, he now turns to the strangers and denounces against them that the cruelty which they have exercised towards the Israelites shall not be unpunished, because God will at length be mindful of His covenant, and will pardon His elect people. If you take the word judge for to govern, or to undertake their cause, the particle for must be rendered adversatively, as though it were said nevertheless or but; if we prefer the other sense, it will be equivalent to although, or even though. Doubtless the object of Moses is to encourage the hopes of the pious, who have profited by God’s chastisement, by showing that He will mitigate His severity towards His elect people, and in His wrath will remember mercy. (Habakkuk 3:2.) Thus, then, Moses here teaches the same thing which God afterwards more clearly unfolded to David:

“If thy children forsake my law,... I will visit their transgressions with the rod of man,... nevertheless my loving-kindness will I not take away from them,” etc. (287) (Psalms 89:30; 2 Samuel 7:14, 15.)

For nothing is more fitted to sustain us in afflictions than when God promises that there shall be some limit to them, so that He will not utterly destroy those whom He has chosen. Whenever, therefore, the ills which we suffer tempt us to despair, let this lesson recur to our minds, that the punishments, wherewith God chastises His children, are temporary, since His promise will never fail that “his anger endureth but a moment,” (Psalms 30:5,) whilst the flow of His mercy is continual. Hence, too, that lesson which is especially directed to the Church: (288)

“For a moment I afflicted thee, but I will pursue my mercies towards thee for ever.” (Isaiah 54:8.)

He here calls them His servants, not because they had deserved His pardon by their obedience, but because He condescends to acknowledge them as His own; for this honor has reference to His gratuitous election; as when David says, “I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid,” (Psalms 116:16,) he assuredly arrogates nothing peculiar to himself; but only boasts that he from the womb had been of God’s family, just as slaves are born in the house of their masters. At the same time we must observe that, whenever God declares that He will be merciful to His servants, he only refers to those who heartily seek for reconciliation, and not to the reprobate, who are carried away to destruction by their desperate obstinacy. In short, to the end that God should repent of His severity, repentance is required on the part of sinners; as he teaches elsewhere:

“Turn ye unto me,... and I will turn unto you.”
Zechariah 1:3.)

Instead of shall repent, some translate the word, shall console himself. (289) Jerome, regarding the drift of the passage rather than the meaning of the word, translates it shall have mercy.

We must, however, remark the time which God prefixes for the exertion of His grace, viz., when all their power (virtus) shall have departed from them, and all shall be reduced to almost entire destruction; for the word hand is used for vigor; (290) as though it were said that God would be by no means content with a light chastisement, and consequently would not be appeased until they should have come to extremities. This circumstance is well worthy of notice, so flint our hopes may not fail us even in the most severe afflictions of the Church; but that we may be assured that although all may be in the worst state possible, still the due season of reparation will come even yet.

That none should remain behind, or shut up or left, is almost a proverbial phrase in Hebrew; as when it is said, (1 Kings 14:10,) “I will cut off from Jeroboam,... him that is shut up and left in Israel,” i.e., as well in the city as in the country, or at home as abroad. And this is again repeated respecting the posterity of Ahab. (Ibid. 21:21.) And hence it is plain that they are mistaken (291) who explain this as referring to riches shut up in treasure-houses, and cattle dispersed through the fields. And this will be still more apparent from another passage in which the Prophet unquestionably referred to this, “The Lord saw the affliction of Israel, that it was very bitter; for there was not any shut up, nor any left,” and inasmuch as He had not determined to blot out His people,” he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam;” as much as to say, that God, as He had promised, had pity upon His people in their extreme destitution. (2 Kings 14:26.)

Verse 37

37.And he shall say, Where are their gods? Commentators are here at issue, for some continue the paragraph, as if Moses were reporting the boastings and insults of their enemies in the afflicted state of the Church; whilst others consider it to be a pious exultation, wherein the faithful will celebrate the deliverance of the Church. If we suppose the enemies to be here speaking, it will be inconsistent that the word “gods” should be used in the plural number: besides, what follows will proceed from their mistake and ignorance, that the Israelites “did eat the fat,” which was not lawful for them even in their common food, and much less in the sacrifices wherein the fat was burnt. The other exposition, however, is that which I rather approve of, viz., that when the tables were turned, and God should have shown Himself as the avenger of the unbelievers cruel injustice, — God’s children would be at liberty to upbraid them. The word “he shall say,” (292) is used indefinitely for “It shall be said by any or all of God’s children.” Just, then, as unbelievers, when they see the saints afflicted, impudently ridicule their faith, so on the other side Moses, when God comes to the help of His Church, introduces the saints derisively inquiring, where are the gods of the Gentiles, and where are all their patrons? since all of them, as is well known, had their tutelary gods. Thus their impure and spurious sacrifices are satirized in which they ate the fat, and drank the libations of wine. In short, Moses intimates that, when God succors His people, their mouth is opened to sing the song of triumph to the glory of the true God, and to upbraid unbelievers with the false confidence whereby they are deceived.

Verse 39

39See now that 1, even I, am he. Those who attribute the preceding verses to the unbelievers, now introduce God speaking, as it were, abruptly, and asserting His glory, in rebuke of their blasphemies. But it is rather a confirmation of that holy boasting which He has just dictated to the believers, when God not only bids His people lift up their voices against the idols, but Himself comes forward to condemn the senselessness of the Gentiles; although the context clearly shows that He addresses Himself to the faithful, After, therefore, He has exhorted His people to despise the idols, He now adds that He supplies them with ample grounds of confidence in Himself. For when He bids them “look,” He signifies that no obscure manifestation of His power is before their eyes, if they will only pay attention to it. The repetition of the pronoun I is emphatic, both to arouse the people from their sluggishness, and to keep their minds steadfast, lest they should waver as if in doubt. For we know that men’s minds can hardly be drawn to the true knowledge of God, because they wind about by circuitous courses, so as not to direct themselves straight to Him. And again, when they do apprehend God, we are aware how easily they are drawn away from Him; since the vicissitudes of things becloud them, so that they wander hither and thither in uncertainly. For this reason, when God has overthrown all fictitious deities, He declares that He always remains the same, whether he kills or makes alive, so that in the thick darkness of affliction believers may not cease to look to Him. Let us learn from this passage that God is defrauded of His right, unless He alone is preeminent, all idols being reduced to nothing; and also that our faith is then truly fixed in Him, and has firm roots, if, amidst the various changes which occur, it does not stagger or waver, but surmounts such obstacles, so as not to cease to hope in Him even when He seems to “slay” us, as Job says, (Job 13:15.) And surely nothing is more unreasonable than that our faith should look round upon all events so as to depend upon them; since God would have His promises to quicken us in death itself. The close of the verse may fitly be referred to their enemies, inasmuch as God declares that none can deliver them out of His hand.

Verse 40

40.For (293) I lift up my, hand to heaven. Others render it, “When I shall have lifted up my hand,” and read it connectedly with the foregoing verse, that God’s power in destroying and preserving will be manifest, if He raises up His hand to heaven. I do not doubt, however, but that it is the beginning of a new sentence, and that God thus commences, in order to affirm more strongly what He immediately adds respecting the future destruction of their enemies. If, however, any prefer the adverb of time “when,” I have no great objection to offer, provided these clauses are connected, “As soon as I shall have lifted up my hand to heaven, I will put to confusion the enemies of my Church.”

To lift up the hand is explained in two ways; for some suppose it to be a manifestation of power, as men are wont, by the uplifting of their hand, to glow, when they are confident in their strength, and despise their enemies. Others, however, more correctly state it to be a form of adjuration God, who is exalted above all heavens, cannot, indeed, be literally said to lift His hand; but it is no new thing for Him to borrow modes of expression taken from men’s common habits and customs, especially when He suddenly rises again to sublimity, after having appeared for a while to sink below the level of His greatness. Certainly the words which follow contain in them an oath, “I live for ever;” and hence it is probable (294) that the elevation of His hand was expressive of His taking the oath.

God swears by His life in a very different sense from men. Sometimes, indeed, He adopts our common modes of speaking, as when He is said to swear by His soul; but here, “I live,” is tantamount to His swearing by Himself, or by His eternal essence.

Verse 41

41If I whet my glittering sword. The conditional particle does not leave the matter doubtful, or in suspense, but must be resolved into an adverb of time; as though He had said, As soon as He should take up arms, the destruction of the enemies would be certain; not indeed that God wants arms for the overthrow of His enemies; just as when He adds directly afterwards, “When my hand shall have taken hold of judgment,” He does not mean that it ever is taken away from Him, or escapes Him, but He thus designates its present and manifest operation. (295) Since, therefore, God, when He spares His enemies, seems, as it were, to have thrown aside His weapons, and to be at rest, having ceased to execute the office of judge, He declares that His arms shall be ready wherewith to destroy His enemies; and again, that then He will once more take upon Him the judgment which He had seemed to lay aside; in which words He indirectly animadverts upon the foolish security of those who conceive that His power is annihilated, unless He openly exerts it, and that the judgment which He postpones is altogether extinct.

Verse 42

42I will make my arrows drunk with blood. In these words He describes a horrible massacre, as though He had said, There shall be no end to my vengeance, until the earth shall be full of blood and corpses. Elsewhere (296) also, God’s sword is said to be “drunk with blood,” as here His arrows, when His wrath proceeds to inflict great acts of carnage; and in the same sense it is here said to “devour flesh.”

The second מדם, midam, some render, “on account of the blood;” and I admit that מ, mem, is sometimes the causalparticle. They understand it, then, that this would be the just recompense of their cruelty, when the wicked, who had slain the Israelites, or led them away captive, should be cut off by God. But I do not see why the same word should be expounded in two different senses; and I have no doubt but that it is a repetition of the same thing, that God will make His “arrows drunk with blood;” (297) but He says, “the blood both of the slain and of the captives,” since, when an army is put to the sword, some fall in the battle itself, whilst others, maimed and wounded, make an effort to escape.

The conclusion of the verse is twisted into various senses; some expound the word “head” by change of number, “heads,” as though it were said, “I will cut off the heads of the enemies;” it would, however, be more plausible to apply it metaphorically to the leaders. But others translate it more correctly, “the beginning,” not, indeed, with reference to time, but as though it were said, the flower, or best of the multitude, according to the common phrase, “from the first to the last.” My interpretation of “the revenges of the enemy” is, not those which God will inflict upon His enemies, but such as are capital, or deadly, as though He had said that He would deal as an enemy with the wicked, so that there should be no place for mercy. (298)

Verse 43

43.Rejoice, O ye nations, with his people. The appositive reading, which some prefer, “Praise him, O nations, His people,” supplying the word “God,” is constrained. For there is no incongruity in the notion that the Gentiles should celebrate the benefits which God has conferred upon His people; at any rate, it is more simple to take it thus, that so conspicuous was the favor of God towards the Israelites, that the knowledge and favor of it should diffuse itself far and wide, and be renowned even among the Gentiles. For Scripture thus magnifies some of the more memorable exertions of God’s power, especially when reference is made to the redemption of the elect people, and commands His praise to be proclaimed among the nations, since it would be by no means fitting that it should be confined within the narrow limits of Judea. A question, however, occurs, because Paul seems to quote this passage differently; for he says, “Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people,” (Romans 15:10;) and undoubtedly the word נקם , nakam, which Moses uses, also signifies to rejoice. (299) If we admit that Paul took this sentence from Moses, the same Spirit, who spoke both by Moses and Paul, is the best interpreter of His own words; nor will it be inconsistent that the Gentiles should rejoice at the felicity of God’s people. But it may have been the case that Paul did not take this testimony from any particular place, but from the general teaching of Scripture. At any rate, the dignity of the people is celebrated on the ground that God esteems their blood precious, and will deem their persecutors His own adversaries.

The word כפר , capbar, at the end of the verse, some render to expiate, others, to be propitious, which is the rendering I have preferred, although I do not reject the former meaning. The verb כפר , caphar, signifies that an expiation is made with sacrifice to appease God; and it is probable that Moses alludes to the legal mode of reconciliation; nevertheless, in my judgment, he means that God will restore His land and people to His favor.

Verse 44

Deuteronomy 32:44.And Moses came and spake. It is not without reason that Moses again records that he repeated this Song before the people; because it thence appears how far from all ambition he was, in that he did not fear, at the very close of his life, to irritate all their minds, so as to render the memory of his name hateful; and besides, his authority was sanctioned by the silence and submissiveness of the people, when they suffered themselves to be thus severely dealt with. For, such was their general refractoriness, that they never would have listened to him, had not the secret inspiration of the Spirit interposed to subdue them.

He associates with himself Joshua, whom he undoubtedly desired to furnish with equal authority, and, what is worthy of observation, he bids them be attentive to the threatenings and reprehensions, in order to obtain reverence for the law. For we often see that bare doctrine is cold and nerveless, unless the sluggishness, which as it were stifles men’s minds, is sharply stimulated; lest, then, the teaching of the Law should be despised or forgotten, or, from being but languidly received, should gradually be obliterated from their minds, he as it were spurs them up by the vehemence of this Song, and commands that their posterity should be instructed in it, in order that their attention may be aroused by its menaces. In the next verse (47) he recommends to them zeal in the observance of the Law on the score of its profitableness; for translators render it improperly, as it seems to me, “Lest it should be an empty word to you,” or, “It is not an empty word, such as you should despise.” Jerome’s translation is better — “The precepts are not given you in vain;” for Moses simply intimates that the Law was not given in vain, so as to end in fruitlessness; and consequently they were to beware lest they should frustrate God’s purpose, who desired to do them good. רק, rek, therefore, is used as the converse of “fruitful,” as more clearly appears from the confirmation immediately added, that they “might prolong their days in the promised land.” The Law, then, is said not to be vain, because it is fruitful unto salvation. In what way it is also deadly, and has no inherent efficacy, I have already shown. (300) It is indeed true that the Law, as being the sure rule of righteousness, does not deceptively promise salvation to men; but, since there is no one who actually performs what God requires, through the accidental guilt of men, life is turned into death; but, when all are plunged beneath the curse, a new remedy supervenes, and by God’s gratuitous pardon they are so reconciled to Him, as that their obedience, such as it is, becomes acceptable.

Verse 48

48.And the Lord spake unto Moses. We infer that this is not recorded in its regular order, because it is certain that Moses was warned of his approaching death before the Song was composed; and this the second passage, which I have here appended, expressly confirms; for he says that, before he substituted Joshua for himself, the place was pointed out to him in which he was to die. It is, however, by no means unusual for the order of narration to be inverted.

We may here perceive a singular specimen of faith and obedience. All naturally fly from death, so that no one hastens towards it of his own accord. He would never, therefore, have voluntarily entered the tomb, unless relying on the hope of a better life. We have already seen a similar instance in the case of Aaron: although the resurrection was not then so clearly revealed as it now is by the Gospel, nor had Christ appeared, who is the first-fruits of them that rise again. Wherefore, though our carnal sense may be averse from death, let our faith prevail to overcome all its terrors: even as Paul teaches that God’s children, although they desire not “to be unclothed,” still long to be “clothed upon, that mortality may be swallowed up of life.” (2 Corinthians 5:4.) This, however, was remarkable obedience, to prepare himself no less willingly for death than as if he had been invited to some joyful banquet. Thus it is plain that these holy men had so consecrated themselves to God, that they were ready to live or to die, according to His pleasure.

Mount Abarim seems to have obtained its name from its angles or sides, because it was divided (301) into many hills; as it is called also Nebo in this place, and elsewhere by divers other names. Others think it is named from a passage; but the other opinion is more probable, since it is called in the plural number Abarim, that is, heights, or summits, or interstices, which were situated on opposite heights.

Although we shall presently see that there was another reason why God desired to withdraw His servant from the sight of men, still we must take notice of the consolation, which is here referred to, that the pain of his death was alleviated by the permission to behold the land of Canaan. For this reason he is commanded to get up into the top of the mountain; for, although he would have been satisfied with the mere promise of God, even had he been deprived of this blessing, still it had no slight additional effect in enabling him more cheerfully to leave the people on the threshold of their inheritance. For faith does not altogether deprive God’s children of human feelings; but our heavenly Father in His indulgence has compassion on their infirmity. Thus, as it was a cause of sorrow to Moses to be withheld from entering the land, he was supported by a seasonable remedy, that he might not be hindered in his course by this impediment.

Abarim, from עבר gnabar, to pass over; translated by Taylor vada, transitus, latera.

Verse 51

51.Because ye trespassed against me. We perceive from his punishment how necessary to Moses was such a token of favor. (302) For death in itself would not have been so bitter, but the cause, which is again alleged, grievously wounded the mind of the holy man, in that he saw himself to be excluded in God’s just vengeance from the common inheritance on account of his own guilt, which is more afflictive to the pious than a hundred, nay, innumerable deaths. Hence those mournful complaints of David and Hezekiah, and others elsewhere, when their life is taken from them by all angry God:

“the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” (Isaiah 38:18; Psalms 6:5; Psalms 115:17.)

Surely it was not so formidable a thing for them to die, but that they would have calmly and cheerfully departed from the world when their time came; but what they deprecated was the awful judgment of God, at the thoughts of which they were alarmed. The same grief might have overwhelmed the mind of Moses, had it not been alleviated.

But since none, however eminent, have been altogether exempt from temporal punishments, let us learn to bear them patiently. God did not spare Moses; what wonder if our condition is no better than his? Moreover, in the opinion of men it was a trifling offense, for the sake of which he was so severely chastised; for, carried away by indignation, he had been so irritated against the people that he had attributed less power to God that was due to Him. Now, those errors, into which we fall through thoughtless impetuosity, are more easily pardoned; but hence it is manifest; how precious to God is His glory, when He does not suffer it to be obscured with impunity even by inadvertence. At the same time, also, we are taught that nothing is more irrational than to assume to ourselves the judgment respecting sins, and to weigh them in our own balance, when God is their only legitimate assessor.

But, although He declares that Moses and Aaron revolted, and were rebellious “to His mouth,” (303) still, lest it should be thought that they studiously refused credence to God’s word, a kind of qualification is added, viz., that they did not sanctify God in the midst, or before the eyes, of the children of Israel. Hence it. is plain that they were only condemned for the excessive violence of their passion, whereby they did not uphold God’s glory before the people with sufficient energy.

As to the rest, it may be looked for under Numbers 20:0.


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

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