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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Deuteronomy 6

 

 

Verse 1

1.Now these are the commandments. In these three verses he repeats what we have already seen in many previous passages; since God deals so liberally with the Israelites, they would be too perverse, unless such great kindness should allure them to love the law. We must remember too what I have already touched on, that, although I have postponed to another place the promises, whereby Moses urged the people to endeavor to keep the Law, still I have designedly put before my exposition of the Law those passages, in which, by setting the promised land as it were before the people’s eyes, he prepares their minds for submission, and renders the rule of so bountiful a Father pleasant and delightful. Since, then, they were appointed to inherit the land, Moses, when he invites them to its enjoyment, commands them gladly to embrace the doctrine, for the sake of which they were adopted; and to devote themselves, on their side, to obedience to God, by whose gratuitous goodness they had been prevented. As in chapters 8 and 11 he praised the richness of the land, so does he now confirm the same statement; or rather afterwards more fully explains what he slightly touches upon here. They all agree in this, that the happy state of life which was before their eyes ought to awaken the people’s gratitude, lest such notable beneficence should be expended on them in vain. Moses therefore declares, that he had presented to them laws and statutes, by which they might be instructed in the fear of God; at the same time, he reminds them how base in them it would be not to be ravished to the love of God and of His law by the delightfulness and abundance of the land. I pass over what I have already explained, viz., that he taught nothing of himself, but was the faithful interpreter of God; and also that he commands the doctrine to be handed down to their posterity, so that it may never be lost. Whence it appears how difficult it is for men to be duly prepared for keeping the law, since God does not in vain so often stimulate their indolence; for there is a silent reproof conveyed either of their indolence or instability, when God does not cease to insist on what it would have been sufficient to have pointed out in a single word. We must also remark the definition of righteousness, that they should do what is right in the sight of the Lord; in opposition to the reason and judgment of the flesh.


Verse 4

4.Hear, O Israel. When Moses proclaims that God is One, the statement is not confined to His sole essence, which is incomprehensible, but must be also understood of His power and glory, which had been manifested to the people; as though he had said, that they would be guilty of rebellion unless they abode in the One God, who had laid them under such obligations to Himself. Therefore he not only calls him Jehovah, but at the same time infers that He is the God of that people whom he addresses, “Thy God.” Thus all other deities are brought to nought, and the people are commanded to fly and detest whatever withdraws their minds from the pure knowledge of Him; for although His name may be left to Him, still He is stripped of His majesty, as soon as He is mixed up with a multitude of others. Thus He says by Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 20:39,) “Go ye, serve ye every one his idols;” in which words He not only repudiates all mixed worship, but testifies that He would rather be accounted nothing than not be worshipped undividedly. The orthodox Fathers aptly used this passage against the Arians; (280) because, since Christ is everywhere called God, He is undoubtedly the same Jehovah who declares Himself to be the One God; and this is asserted with the same force respecting the Holy Spirit.


Verse 6

6.And these words. In these four next verses God again commands (as before) the study of His Law. And first, indeed, He would have it implanted in their hearts, lest forgetfulness of it should ever steal over them; and by the word “heart” He designates the memory and other faculties of the mind; as though He had said that this was so great a treasure, that there was good cause why they should hide it in their hearts, or so fix this doctrine deeply in their minds that it should never escape. Afterwards He enjoins that constant conversation should be held about it with their children, in order that fathers should diligently attend and apply themselves to the duty of instruction. The word שנן (234) shanan, which Moses uses, means properly “to whet.” Commentators think that it is employed metaphorically for “to reiterate,” or “to repeat constantly,” because, when the heavenly doctrine is inculcated, it will scarcely even thus be duly impressed on their hearts; but, since it is here used in the conjugation Piel, its signification may be transitive, viz., that they should cause it to penetrate their minds, as if they should prick them with the point of a sword; for the other translation does not seem consistent. But it is sufficient for me to state my opinion, lest any should be offended by its novelty. Lastly, he exhorts them to exercise themselves in its meditation both publicly and privately, in order to stimulate their want of energy. But, although he may seem to speak hyperbolically, yet if any one will carefully consider how slow and careless men are in learning, and how forgetful they are when they seem to have made some progress, he will readily acknowledge that Moses does not urge them so strongly on insufficient grounds, but that it was highly necessary for him to be thus rigid in exacting their attention. For this reason the Prophet in Psalms 1:2, pronounces them to be blessed who meditate in God’s law “day and night.” He leaves, then, no portion of time unoccupied with meditation on the Law; whether they are at home, or abroad, or when they retire to rest, or when they rise in the morning. To this precept David appears to allude in Psalms 119:62, where he says, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments;” and again, Psalms 119:148, “Mine eyes prevent the night-watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” But still, by the expression “talk of them,” Moses does not urge the people to empty talkativeness, to which many are too much inclined, but he would have them severally thus establish themselves and be teachers of each other. He enumerates these various engagements, lest that change of occupation by which the mind is wont to be distracted should withdraw the godly from the right path, as though he commanded them to make this their chief aim in whatever business they might be engaged. For the same reason he desires bracelets and frontlets to be made of the precepts of the Law, contrasting doubtless this spiritual ornament with chains (235) of gold, as much as to say that they would more properly take delight in the pious recollection of the Law, than in those trifling ornaments which attract men’s senses. The Jews understanding this literally, accounted this external ostentation a mark of holiness, so as to think that they had almost done all they needed, when they wore the Law on their arms and foreheads. Thence their mistaken zeal proceeded still further, so that, as each desired to be thought better than others, they widened their phylacteries in proportion, for so they denominated the borders of their garments, on which were written certain sentences of the Law, as safeguards. This error our Lord severely reproves in the Scribes and Pharisees, ( Matthew 23:5,) because it was a mere mockery of this admonition, and a profanation of its doctrine. The intention of God sufficiently appears in the passage from Exodus, which I have subjoined, and in which they are simply commanded to be diligent in keeping the Law. But there is good reason why diligence should be required, not only on account of the matter being highly important, but because, through our vanity, we are apt to relax our exertions, unless our slowness of heart is stimulated.


Verse 10

10.And it shall be, when the Lord thy God. Since wealth and prosperity for the most part blind men’s minds, so that they do not sufficiently attend to modesty and moderation, but rather grow wanton in their lusts, and intoxicate themselves with pleasures, God prescribes against this error by anticipation. For not without cause does he admonish them to beware lest they forget God, when they shall have been liberally and luxuriously treated by Him, but because he knew this to be a common vice, for abundance to beget arrogance; as afterwards he will say in his song,

“Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked: thou art waxen fat, etc., then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:15.)

First of all, he shews how base and unworthy would be their ingratitude, if, when loaded with so many excellent benefits by God, they should cast away the recollection of Him; for, as His goodness was inestimable, in giving them cities built by the hands of others, and in transferring to them whatever others had prepared by their great labor and industry, so would their impiety be the more detestable in neglecting Him, when He daily set Himself before them in this abundant store of blessing. Let us learn, therefore, from this passage, that we are invited by God’s liberality to honor Him, and that whenever He deals kindly by us, He places His glory before our eyes; but, on the other hand, we should remember, that what ought to be as it were vehicles, to lift up our minds on high, are, by our own fault, converted into obstacles and clogs, and that therefore we ought to be the more upon our guard. At the end of verse 12, he reproves their folly by another argument, if being thus suddenly enriched, they should give way to intemperance; as if he had said, that their absurdity would be insupportable, if, when uplifted by God’s bounty, they should not remember their origin; for nothing should have served more to incline them to humility than that wretched state of servitude from whence they had been rescued. Therefore he contrasts with that ample dominion to which God had exalted them, the house of bondmen,” (245) in order that the recollection of their former lot may restrain all frowardness.


Verse 13

13.Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God. Hence it is more evident why He has just declared that there is One God, viz., that He alone may be undividedly worshipped; for unless our minds are fixed on Him alone, religion is torn, as it were, into divers parts, and this is soon followed by a labyrinth of errors. But, first, he calls for reverence, and then for the worship which may testify and demonstrate it. “Fear” contains in it the idea of subjection, when men devote themselves to God, because His terrible majesty keeps them in their proper place. Hence results worship, which is the proof of piety. But we must observe that the fear enjoined in this passage is voluntary, so that men influenced by it desire nothing more than to obey God. When I stated, therefore, that God brings us under the yoke by a sense of His power and greatness, I did not understand that a violent and servile obedience is extorted from us; I only wished to affirm that men cannot be induced to obey God, before they have been subdued by fear; because their innate corruption always carries with it a contempt for religion, and a spirit of licentiousness. Therefore, in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 5:22), in order to exhort men to fear, He sets forth His terrible power in restraining the strength of the sea; but this fear leads on His true worshippers further. In the other passage which we have subjoined from Deuteronomy 10:0, the word cleave again confirms the truth, that as soon as men decline from God in the least degree, His worship is corrupted. For this is the meaning of that union with Himself to which He calls His worshippers, that they should be, as it were, glued to Him, and should not look elsewhere.


Verse 14

14.Ye shall not go after. In this passage Moses commands the people not to turn away from the simple service of God, although examples of superstition may present themselves to their sight on every side. For this was a very destructive temptation, that none could be anywhere found who subscribed to the doctrine of the Law, although the respective nations had some religion, or at any rate the name of it existing among them. Since, therefore, these various forms of worship were so many temptations to forsake the right way, it was needful to provide against the danger betimes, and so to establish the authority of the One God, that the Jews might have courage to despise the common belief of all the Gentiles. A threat is added, that vengeance would not be far off if they should fall away into these superstitions, since God is a jealous God, and dwelling among them. As to the former epithet, I am about to say more under the Second Commandment. Meanwhile, let my readers observe that God is called jealous, because He permits no rivalry which may detract from His glory, nor does He suffer the service which is due to Him alone to be transferred elsewhere. When He reminds the people that he dwells among them, it is partly to inspire terror by reason of His presence, and partly to reprove indirectly their ingratitude, if they should forsake Him, and seek for themselves gods who are afar of.


Verse 16

16.Ye shall not tempt the Lord. Since the doctrine here should undoubtedly be referred to the First Commandment, we gather from it that this is the main foundation of piety, to give to Him what is His own, and to diminish nothing from the prerogative which He claims. As we have already seen, unbelief was the fountain and cause of the tempting in Massah, for when the people neither relied on God’s providence nor rested on His paternal love, they burst forth into impatience, and at length advanced so far as to think that God was not with them, unless He complied with their wicked lusts. We perceive, then, that God cannot be rightly worshipped unless when He has His peculiar attributes acknowledged. Whence, also, it appears that true piety cannot be dissevered from faith, because, if we confess that every desirable good dwells in Him, we shall expect and seek for all things from Him; we shall also patiently and contentedly allow ourselves to be governed by His will, and, in a word, give up ourselves and our lives into His hands.


Verse 20

20.And when thy son asketh thee. The sole point which Moses urges in these verses is, that the people should testify their gratitude by obeying the Law, and that the same religion, (232) which he commands the fathers to teach, should descend to their posterity. The sum is, that there was good reason why all the precepts of the Law should be observed, since by them it was that God desired His people, after their deliverance, to shew forth their sense of His loving-kindness. Again, therefore, in this passage, he commends the Law by reminding them of their redemption, that the people might more willingly and more earnestly reverence it; for its authority has stronger claims upon them, because it was not imposed before God had laid them under obligation to Himself; and it would have been too base and absurd in them to refuse God as their Lawgiver, when they knew that by Him they had been purchased to Himself. In the next place He reminds them that for the same object they had been constituted the heirs of the land of Canaan, that they should honor God as the author of this special favor; thus he concludes that they are bound by a two-fold tie, for God had devoted them to Himself not once only, but had confirmed His dominion over them by their continued possession of the land. But there is nothing inconsistent in his saying that the land was promised by oath to their fathers before the Law was given; for, although God bestowed this gift gratuitously, yet did He justly claim the testimony of their gratitude; just as now-a-days, although He invites us to the hope of an eternal inheritance of His own free bounty, yet the end of our calling is, that we on our part should celebrate His glory all our life long. When in verse 24 he uses the words “to fear the Lord our God,” he briefly defines the sum of the Law; for it would not suffice for us to perform whatever is there commanded, unless our obedience had reference to the fear and worship of God. Integrity and uprightness, indeed, give God delight; but none will say that men’s life is duly ordered, if, whilst they exercise equity one towards another, they defraud God of His right. But it is well known that legitimate honor and worship are comprehended under the name of fear. Just afterwards, he commends the Law on account of its profitableness; for God provided for their own good, in delivering to them the rule of a just and pious life. In these words he intimates that they would be doubly ungrateful if they rejected what God meant for their own advantage. For this expression, “for our good,” is equivalent to saying that God not only had respect and care for His own rights in enacting the Law, but at the same time regarded what would be useful to them; and this he more clearly states in the next verse, where he says that “this shall be their righteousness if they observe” the Law; otherwise, that the rule of a righteous life, which would please God, was prescribed to them, than which nothing better could be desired. But it will be elsewhere shewn at greater length how the keeping of the Law is in itself righteousness, and yet that no man is justified by the Law; for, that the Law brings only wrath and condemnation, does not arise from any defect or faultiness in its doctrine, but must be imputed to our own guilt, as being far removed, nay, aliens from the righteousness (233) which it contains.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 6:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/deuteronomy-6.html. 1840-57.

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