Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
12. If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the Lord thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying,
12. Si audieris de una urbium tuarum quas Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi ut habites ibi, aliquem dicen-tem:
13. Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known;
13. Egressi sunt quidam homines filii impietatis e medio tui, qui impulerunt habitatores urbis suae, dicendo, Eamus et colamus deos alienos quos non nostis.
14. Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you;
14. Tunc inquires, et investigabis diligenter: et siquidem veritas sit et rumor verus, quod facta sit abominatio ista in medio tui:
15. Thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein, and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword.
15. Percutiendo percuties habitatores urbis illius acie gladii, perdendo eam, et quicquid in ea fuerit, et jumenta ejus acie gladii.
16. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it into the midst of the street thereof, and shalt burn with fire the city, and all the spoil thereof every whit, for the LORD thy God: and it shall be an heap for ever; it shall not be built again.
16. Atque omnia spolia ejus congregabis in medio plateae ejus, et combures igni urbem ipsam et omnia spolia ejus prorsus Jehovae Deo tuo, eritque tumulus perpetuus, non aedificabitur.
17. And there shall cleave nought of the cursed thing to thine hand: that the LORD may turn from the fierceness of his anger, and shew thee mercy, and have compassion upon thee, and multiply thee, as he hath sworn unto thy fathers;
17. Neque adhaerebit manui tuae quicquam de anathemate, ut avertatur Jehova ab ira furoris sui, et det tibi misericordias, misereaturque tui, ac te multiplicet quemadmodum juravit patribus tuis.
12. If thou shalt hear say. If impiety and rebellion should more widely prevail, Moses declares that whole cities, together with their inhabitants, should rather be destroyed, than that so great a crime should remain unpunished. Hence we may better infer how unholy is the tenderness of those who would have no punishment inflicted for the violation of the religion of God. If any sedition may have arisen in an army or nation, and the contagion may have spread through the whole multitude, the severity of a just and moderate ruler does not usually proceed further than to punish the ringleaders; when, therefore, God commands all without exception to be destroyed, the great atrocity of the crime is made apparent. Hence, too, we are admonished, that zeal for God’s glory is but cold among us, unless true religion is held to be of more value than the preservation of a single city or people. But if so many together are to be dragged to death in crowds, their impudence is more than detestable, and their pity cruelty itself, who would take no account of God’s injured majesty, so that one man may be spared. And since we are created to no other end, and live for no other cause than that God may be glorified in us, it is better that the whole world should perish, than that men should enjoy the fruits of the earth in order that they may contaminate it with their blasphemies. If those who first professed Christ’s name had been inspired with such zeal as this, true religion would never have been overwhelmed, and almost extinguished by so many corruptions. But we must always bear in mind what I have already said, that this severity must not be resorted to except when the religion is suffering, which is not only received by public authority and general opinion, but which is proved on solid grounds to be true; so that it may clearly appear that we are the avengers of God against the wicked.
13. Certain men, the children of Belial. Moses puts a case, which very often is wont to occur. For all do not break forth into impiety together at the same moment, but Satan stirs up some who are like fans to excite others; and by their instigations the multitude is led to imitate them. Moses calls such as these “children of Belial;” 61 by which word some think that rebellious (proefractos) men are pointed out, and expound it “without yoke.” Their opinion, however, seems to be more correct, who interpret it “men of nothing,” men in whom nothing good or praiseworthy is found; and literally translate it “those who are worthless.” 62 This expression is invariably applied to the wicked (sceleratis, improbis, et nequam;) and therefore Paul, contrasting Christ with Belial, designates by it Satan the chief of all the wicked. (2Co 6:15.) He uses the words “gone out,” as if they had dared to come forward, and openly to parade their impiety. But, though the evil may have originated with a few authors, he does not mean that punishment should stop with them; as if the instigation of others availed as an excuse for the multitude. And he enjoins diligent inquiry to be made, for two reasons: viz., lest they should connive at the iniquity, and be lax, and careless about it, or lest they should be too hasty and precipitate in their judgment; because, on the one hand, whilst we are never equitable, nor decide rightly in precipitation and anger, so on the other it betrays base indifference, and something like disloyalty, to overlook so great a crime. Thus both activity and moderation are commended, so that the judge may neither be lax, nor make any decision until the matter shall be carefully inquired into.
15 Thou shalt surely smite. Lest the severity of the punishment should occasion surprise, let us first observe that the error was unpardonable, because its authors, being educated in the doctrines of the Law, could not be deceived involuntarily, nor unless they had grown weary of religion, and set their hearts on the impostures of the devil. On this account God, in the Book of Jeremiah, in order to inveigh more heavily against the inconstancy of the Jews, refers them to distant isles and nations: “Passover (He says) and consider,” etc., “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this,” etc. (Jer 2:10-12.) For justly must their instability be accounted monstrous, that they should have voluntarily forsaken the fountain of life, and have been carried away to vanity by their preposterous love of novelty. If any should object that the little children at least were innocent, I reply that, since all are condemned by the judgment of God from the least to the greatest, we contend against Him in vain, even though He should destroy the very infants as yet in their mothers’ womb. When Sodom and the neighboring cities were swallowed up, we doubt not but that in the mighty multitude many infants and pregnant women also perished; and whilst our reason struggles against this, it is better rather to look up reverently to the Divine tribunal, than to subject it to our own laws. The same may be said of the destruction of Babylon; for when the Prophet exclaims: “Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones,” he assuredly eulogizes the just vengeance of God. (Ps 137:9.) So also in this passage, if it does not appear to us agreeable to reason that the whole race of evil-doers should be exterminated, let us understand that God is defrauded of His rights, whensoever we measure His infinite greatness, which the angels themselves admiringly adore, by our own feelings. Although we must recollect that God would never have suffered any infants to be destroyed, except those which He had already reprobated and condemned to eternal death. But if we admit God’s right to deprive of the hope of salvation whomsoever He sees fit, why should the temporal punishment, which is much lighter, be found fault with? Rather let us learn from the severity of this Law, how detestable is the crime of setting up false and spurious modes of worship, since it contaminates not only the infants, whose age prevents them from being conscious of it, 63 but even the cattle and flocks, and the very houses and walls. For he proceeds immediately afterwards to say,
16. And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it. They are commanded to burn all the furniture, and whatever is found in the city; and the reason is subjoined, because it is accursed (anathema) If any city was taken in war, all that God here commands to be burnt was to be counted as spoil, for the Jews would pollute themselves by its very touch. It might be indeed that God’s intention was to obviate covetousness, lest the Jews should mix up their zeal with rapine; but the principal reason was that which Moses expresses, that the people might be more accustomed to detest the crime, which they saw to be so cruelly punished by God. The word חרם, cherem, which the Greeks have translated anathema, 64 properly means destruction, or abolition; but that which God would have annihilated, because He cannot bear the sight of it, is called חרם, before Him. Therefore it is said, “Thou shalt burn it to the Lord thy God;” for the translation which some give, “for (propter) the Lord,” is not quite literal. The sum is to this effect, that if they fear God’s vengeance for themselves, and desire to propitiate His favor, they must hold in execration the houses and property of those who have rebelled against the Law. Moreover, it is implied by the words “mercy” and “compassion,” that if God should deal with absolute justice, the wickedness of one city would suffice to destroy a whole country. Whence we gather, that a kind of expiation is demanded to propitiate God, when they are commanded utterly to destroy the city, and to cast every remnant of it into the fire.
בליעל, Belial. If the authority of the points be conceded, this word must be considered as composed of בלי, without, and יעל, use, or profit, so as to correspond with our expression good-for-nothing; but, if the points be disregarded, it might be considered as made up of בלי, and על, without yoke; insubmissive, rebellious. S.M.’s note says, “Without the yoke of the Divine Law.” — W.
“Ausquels il ne se trouve pas une seule goutte de bien.” — Fr. The Lat., “Eos, qui non ascendunt,” appears to be a misprint; possibly for qui non assis sunt?
“Lesquels n’en sont point coulpables.” — Fr.
“Execration.” — Fr.