Sacred Texts  Christianity  Calvin  Index  Previous  Next 

Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at



Deuteronomy 5:22-31

22. These words the Lord spoke unto all your assembly in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and of the thick darkness, with a great voice; and he added no more: and he wrote them in two tables of stone, and delivered them unto me.

22. Verba haec loquutus est Jehova ad cunctam congregationem vestram in monte e medio ignis nubis et caliginis, voce magna, et non addidit: scripsitque illa in duabus tabulis lapideis, et dedit ills mihi.

23. And it came to pass, when ye heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, (for the mountain did burn with fire,) that ye came near unto me, even all the heads of your tribes, and your elders;

23. Fuit autem quum audivissetis vocem e medio tenebrarum, (mons enim ardebat igne,) accessistis ad me omnes duces tribuum vestrarum, et seniores vestri.

24. And ye said, Behold, the Lord our God hath showed us his glory, and his greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire: we have seen this day that God doth talk with man, and he liveth.

24. Et dixistis, En ostendit nobis Jehova Deus noster gloriam suam, et magnitudinem suam, et vocem ejus audivimus e medio ignis: hodie vidimus quod loquutus est Deus cum homine, et vixit.

25. Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die.

25. Nunc igitur quare moriemur? consumet enim nos ignis magnus iste: si iterum audierimus vocem Dei nostri, moriemur.

26. For who is there of all flesh, that hath heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?

26. Nam quae ulla fuit caro, ut audiat vocem Dei viventis, loquentis e medio ignis, sicut nos, et vivat?

27. Go thou near, and hear all that the Lord our God shall say; and speak thou unto us all that the Lord our God shall speak unto thee, and we will hear it, and do it.

27. Accede tu, et audi omnia quae dixerit Jehova Deus noster: tu autem loqueris ad nos quaecunque dixerit Jehova Deus noster tibi, et audiemus atque faciemus.

28. And the Lord heard the voice of your words, when ye spoke unto me; and the Lord said unto me, I have heard the voice of the words of this people, which they have spoken unto thee: they have well said all that they have spoken.

28. Audivitque Jehova vocem verborum vestrorum quum loqueremini ad me. Et dixit Jehova mihi, Audivi vocem verborum populi hujus quae dixerunt tibi: bene dixerunt quaecunque loquuti sunt.

29. Oh that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!

29. Quis det ut sit cor eorum istud illis, ut timeant me, et custodiant omnia praecepta mea omnibus diebus, ut bene sit illis et filiis eorum in saeculum?

30. Go say to them, Get you into your tents again.

30. Vade, dic eis, Revertimini in tabernacula vestra.

31. But as for thee, stand thou here by me, and I will speak unto thee all the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which thou shalt teach them, that they may do them in the land which I give them to possess it.

31. Tu vero hic sta apud me, et proferam tibi omnia praecepta et statuta et judicia quae illos docebis, ut faciant in terra quam ego do illis possidendam.

22. These words the Lord spoke. That there may be no doubt about the authority of the law, and that it may not be depreciated by the people, Moses recalls to their memory that the presence of God, as He spoke it, was manifested by sure tokens; for this was the object of the fire, the clouds, and the darkness, whereby God’s voice was signalized, lest its source might be obscure. He adds, that it was “a great voice,” i.e., a voice which had, in an unwonted manner, penetrated far and wide. Nor are the witnesses few, whom he cites, but all that vast multitude, which for the most part would have been more disposed to extinguish the glory of God, unless it had been there made known by manifest proofs. The sum is, that there is no question as to who was the Lawgiver, whose majesty was then proclaimed by tremendous prodigies, and presented before the eyes of an immense multitude. It will be more convenient to speak elsewhere of the two tables. When Moses states that God “added no more,” he signifies that a perfect rule of life is contained in the ten commandments, and that, when their instruction is fully received, the whole body of wisdom is attained to, so that the people need seek to know no more; when God, then, made an end of speaking, he Himself laid down the bounds of legitimate inquiry.

23. And it came to pass, when ye heard. Lest the Israelites should undervalue his teaching, because he had been put between them by God as their minister, Moses meets the objection, (by reminding them) that it was done at their petition and request. We know how proudly they were wont to reject him; as if they saw in him nothing but what was earthly and human; it was needful, then, that God Himself should speak to rescue His servant from the contempt of posterity. For the people themselves, being convicted of their foolish and preposterous request, could never afterwards have any pretext for rejecting Moses, as if he had not evidenced the truth of his calling. And here their astonishing perverseness betrayed itself, in not being ashamed to refuse credit to the holy Prophet, after he had been approved by so many miracles. Assuredly, if they had been just and honest judges, it would have been sufficiently notorious, and certain to them, that Moses did not speak of himself, or of his own impulse, but that he was the organ of the Spirit; yet the doctrine of God was scorned by these proud, and perverse, and fretful beings, because it was brought to them by the hands of a mortal man. They, therefore, by their importunate desires, draw down God from heaven, to speak Himself; but immediately terror seizes on their minds, so that they flee from His voice. Thus experience taught them that there was nothing better for them than to hear God speaking to them by the mouth of Moses; and they were instructed by the just reward of their temerity to choose and prefer that mode of teaching which they had spurned; for, if in future they refused to give credit to Moses, whom they had themselves chosen as their mediator with God, they brought themselves in guilty of gross and wicked contumacy; and this is what he now reproaches them with. It would have been worse than unseemly in them, when God had yielded to their prayers, to reject that blessing which they had besought of Him. On this account he reminds them, that, after they had been eye-witnesses of God’s fearful power, they had voluntarily asked that He should not speak to them any more; and, lest they should object that this was done only by a few, or inconsiderately, or in tumult, he expressly testifies that these requests were presented by the heads of their tribes, and their elders.

24. Behold, the Lord our God hath showed us. They are urged by their own confession no more to dare oppose themselves to the ministry of Moses. For, when they confess that they saw the glory and the greatness of God, they oblige themselves to the necessity of obedience, unless they choose avowedly to make war against God. At the end of the verse, where they say that “God doth talk with man,” etc., not only do they mean that there are men surviving on earth who have heard with their ears the voice of God come down from heaven, but they express their astonishment at what was scarcely to be believed. For, although it was sufficiently notorious to them that God had formerly spoken with their fathers; yet, because a long period had elapsed since these revelations had ceased, they are amazed as at a new thing. We see, too, a long time afterwards, that as often as God appeared to His servants, they were overwhelmed with the fear of death, and it was like a proverb with them, “We shall die, because we have seen God.” (Jud 13:22.) Good reason, then, is there why they should celebrate this extraordinary privilege, that they had not been swallowed up by the glory of God; for, if at the sight of Him the mountains melt, and all that is most durable is annihilated, and all that is strongest is broken to pieces, how should man stand than whom nothing is more frail or perishable? If by His secret will the troubled air causes not only animals but trees and rocks to tremble; how shall it be when God displays His might not in the elements alone, but when descending from heaven He speaks by the voice of His mouth? It is not unreasonable, then, that the Israelites should account it miraculous that they had heard God’s voice, and were not brought to annihilation. Herein they indirectly rebuke their own folly, because, by their inconsiderate desire, they would have drawn destruction upon themselves, if they had not been aided by God’s mercy. The two following verses appear to contradict each other; for, when they had experienced that those to whom God manifests Himself, are not always destroyed and perish, why do they say that they shall die if He continues to speak to them? They seem, indeed, in so saying to show some inconsistency; yet is there cause for them to fear for the future that danger from which they had escaped by the marvelous indulgence of God. It is, then, as if they had said, It is more than enough for us once to have provoked God against us; it is of His inestimable loving-kindness that He has thus far pardoned us; meanwhile, we must beware lest our perversity bring upon us heavier punishment, unless we speedily correct our folly. Hence may a useful admonition be drawn; for, although the voice of God has not sounded in our ears, yet the experience of His ancient people ought to be sufficient to persuade us assuredly that, when God sets teachers over us, He makes the best provision for our salvation; because, if He Himself should thunder from heaven, His majesty would be intolerable to us. And this should avail to repress their destructive itching, who desire God daily to descend from heaven, or at least to send His revelations by angels; and who thus despise the ministers of mortal race whom He employs. In a word, this history is an illustrious proof that God governs His Church by the external preaching of the word, because this is most expedient for us.

26. For who is there of all. flesh? The word “flesh” is used in contempt, as often elsewhere, for the human race; for, although we consist of body and soul, yet when the frailty of men, and their perishing and transitory condition is referred to, Scripture calls them “flesh.” In this sense Zechariah calls upon “all flesh to be silent before the Lord,” (Zec 2:13,) and Isaiah says that “all flesh is grass,” (Isa 40:6,) and elsewhere, that “the horses of the Egyptians are flesh, and not spirit,” (Isa 31:3.) In these words, then, the reason is given why the Israelites should wonder that they were not killed and consumed after hearing God’s voice. Still they were not ignorant that God had formerly spoken in the burning bush; but in their agony of fear they do not reflect on what had previously happened, but only express their own feeling that God’s voice is deadly to the flesh, unless it is softened by some interposing remedy. For the notion of the Rabbins, that the Prophets are not to be counted amongst men, is a foolish fancy, except in so far as God supports and strengthens them by His Spirit, that they may be equal to the reception of visions. The Israelites were fully aware that Moses also was himself a mere mortal; yet, because they knew that he was God’s chosen interpreter, they do not doubt but that he will be inspired with power from heaven, to endure the speaking of God. Nor is there any question that this confession was forced from them, that they may at length learn to fall back to their proper place, and to submit themselves to Moses, against whom they had been so often rebellious. Now, therefore, they willingly subscribe to that distinction, which before they would not bear. Their promise, that they would do all things which God should command, undoubtedly proceeded from the fervor of their zeal; and therefore, God soon afterwards praises their answer. Their words were to the same effect., as if they had said that they would value whatever Moses might set before them, as if God Himself should thunder from heaven. Meanwhile: as to themselves, their levity and inconsistency was soon discovered. Thus do men often hastily and rashly consent to promise what they are not able to perform, although they do not intentionally desire to deceive, from neglecting to examine their own powers. God, therefore, pronounces what they said to be right, viz., that they would be obedient to Moses, and content with his teaching. And this sentiment has reference to us also, who are commanded to hear Moses and the Prophets, but especially God’s only Son; lest our vague speculations should hurry us away further than becomes us.

29. O that there were such an heart in them. God signifies that they would not be so firm and faithful in keeping their promises, as they were ready and willing to make them; and thus that hypocrisy was not altogether banished, or purged from their minds. Moreover, He figuratively (improprie) assumes a human feeling, because it would be vain and absurd for Him to desire what it was in His power to confer. Certainly He has the power of bending and directing men’s hearts whithersoever He pleases. Why, then, does He wish that it were given to the people from some other quarter, that they should be always kept in the path of duty, except that, speaking in the character of a man, He shows that it was rather to be wished than hoped that the people would constantly persevere in their fidelity? Wherefore this and similar passages have been ignorantly abused by some, to establish man’s free will.  220 They understand this passage, as if man’s will were capable of bending either way, and that he possessed the power of doing right, whilst God without interfering looked on at the event; as if God’s secret counsel, and not rather the end and use of external teaching, were referred to here. But we, taught by innumerable testimonies of Scripture, maintain, that it is the attribute of God alone to give what He here requires. So also immediately afterwards He says, that he wishes it may be well with the Israelites and their children, viz., because it is certain that it depends on men whether they are happy or not, as often as God invites them, when they refuse the grace offered to them; yet does it not therefore follow, that it depends on every man’s free will to attain happiness for himself. But here we must consider God’s will as it is set before us in His word, not as it is hidden in Himself; for, while by His word He invites all promiscuously to (eternal  221 ) life, He only quickens by His secret inspiration those whom He has elected. In sum, although God approves of the people’s answer, he says that there will be too much difficulty in the performance of it, for the event to accord with it.

30. Go say to them. He more plainly subjoins God’s consent to the people’s prayer; as much as to say, that what they had asked was ratified by God’s decree; whence it follows that, if they refuse to obey Moses, they will not be only guilty of perverseness and levity, but will violate a divine decree. I have before shown why God honors the doctrines of the law by various titles, viz., that the Israelites may more willingly acquiesce in them. But, lest they should think that what was enjoined them was only to remain in force, and to be observed for a short time, He expressly refers to the perpetuity of the Law; for this is the import of the words, in which He declares Himself to teach them what they were to do in the land which He should give them.



Tels docteurs cornus. — Fr.


Added from the French.

Next: Preface to the Law