Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 5: Harmony of the Law, Part III, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Deuteronomy 30:1-10, 15-20
1. And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee,
1. Erit autem, quum evenerint tibi omnia verba haec, benedictio et maledictio quas proposui tibi, et reduxeris ad cor tuum in cunctis gentibus ad quas expulerit te Jehova Deus tuus:
2. And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice, according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart, and with all thy soul;
2. Et conversus fueris ad Jehovam Deum tuum, obedierisque voci ejus per omnia ut ego praecipio tibi hodie, tu et filii tui toto corde tuo, et tota anima tua:
3. That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return, and gather thee from all the nations whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.
3. Tunc reducet Jehova Deus tuus captivitatem tuam, et miserebitur tui: et conversus congregabit to de cunctis populis ad quos disperserit te Jehova Deus tuus.
4. If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee.
4. Si fuerit expulsus tuus in extremo coeli, illinc congregabit te Jehova Deus tuus, et illinc accipiet te:
5. And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
5. Reducetque te Jehova Deus tuus ad terram quam possederant patres tui, ac possidebis eam: benefacietque tibi, et multiplicabit te magis quam patres tuos.
6. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.
6. Et circuncidet Jehova Deus tuus cor tuum, et cor seminis tui, ut diligas Jehovam Deum tuum toto corde tuo, et tota anima tua, propter vitam tuam.
7. And the Lord thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which persecuted thee.
7. Dabit autem Jehova Deus tuus omnes maledictiones istas super inimicos tuos, et super odio habentes te, et qui persequuti sunt te.
8. And thou shalt return, and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments, which I command thee this day.
8. Tu ergo revertaris, et obedias voci Jehovae, et fadas omnia praecepta ejus quae ego praecipio tibi hodie.
9. And the Lord thy God will make time plenteous in every work of thine hand, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy land, for good: for the Lord will again rejoice over thee for good, as he rejoiced over thy fathers;
9. Et abundare te faciat Jehova Deus tuus in omni opere manuum tuarum, in fructu ventris tui, et in fructu jumenti tui, et in fructu terrae tuae, in bonum: quoniam convertetur Jehova ut laetetur super te in bonum quemadmodum laetatus est super patres tuos:
10. If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes, which are written in this book of the law, and if thou turn unto the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul.
10. Si tamen obedieris voci Jehovae Dei tui, custodiendo praecepta ejus, et statuta ejus scripta in hoc libro Legis: quum conversus fueris ad Jehovam Deum tuum toto corde tuo, et tota anima tua.
15. See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil;
15. Vide, proposui tibi hodie vitam, et bonum, mortem et malum.
16. In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments, and his statutes, and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it.
16. Quando ego praecipio tibi hodie ut diligas Jehovam Deum tuum, ut ambules in viis ejus, et custodias praecepta ejus et statuta ejus, et judicia ejus: ut vivas, et multipliceris, benedicatque tibi Jehova Deus tuus in terra ad quam ingrederis ut possideas eam.
17. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them;
17. Qued si averterit se cor tuum, et non audieris, et impulsus adoraveris Deos alienos, coluerisque eos:
18. I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it.
18. Denuntio vobis hodie, pereundo peribitis, non prorogabitis dies super terram ad quam transmisso Jordane pergis, ut possideas eam.
19. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live;
19. Testor contra vos hodie coelum et terram, quod vitam et mortem proposui, benedictionem et maledictionem: deligas ergo vitam, ut vivas tu, et semen tuum.
20. That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him; (for he is thy life, and the length of thy days;) that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.
20. Diligendo Jehovam Deum tuum, obediendo voci ejus, adhaerendo ei: ipse enim est vita tua, et longitudo dierum tuorum, ut habites super terram quam juravit Jehova patribus tuis, Abrahm, Isaac et Jacob se daturum illis.
1. And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come. He again confirms what we have elsewhere seen, that God never so severely afflicts His Church as not to be ready to return to mercy; nay, that by their punishments, however cruel in appearance, the afflicted, who were destroying themselves as if their hearts were bent upon it, are invited to repentance, so as to obtain pardon. Although, therefore, cause for despair is everywhere besetting them from the burning wrath of God, still he bids them take heart and be of good hope. Still, we must bear in mind what I have already shewn from the words of Moses, that reconciliation is not offered to all indiscriminately, but that this blessing exists by peculiar privilege in the Church alone; and this we gather also from the special promise, 278 I will visit their iniquities with the rod; nevertheless I will not take away my loving-kindness from them. Now, however, it must also be added, that this is not common to all who profess to be members of the Church, but only belongs 279 to the residue of the seed, and those whom Paul calls the remnant of grace, (Ro 11:5;) for it is no more profitable for the hypocrites, though they are mixed with believers, to be smitten with the scourges of God unto salvation, than it is for strangers. Wherefore this promise is only addressed to a certain number, because it was always necessary that some people should remain as a residue, in order that God’s covenant should stand firm and sure.
Still, Moses does not only enjoin the Israelites to profit by the corrections of God, but also to reflect upon His blessings whereby they might be led to serve Him with pleasure. For this comparison was of no slight avail in illustration of the judgments of God. 280 If the punishments alone had occupied their minds, their knowledge would have been but partial or more obscure; whereas, when on the one hand they considered that they had not served God in vain, and on the ether, that in forsaking Him they had fallen from the height of felicity into the deepest misery, it was easy for them to infer that whatever misfortunes they suffered were the fruit and reward of their ungodliness. Nor is it to be doubted but that, under the Law, God so adapted Himself to a tender and ignorant people, that the course of his blessings and curses was perfectly manifest; so that it was plainly shewn that they neither threw away their labor in keeping the Law, nor violated it with impunity. Often does He declare by the Prophets, that, as long as His children were obedient, He on His part would be their Father; that thence it might be more clearly perceived that the deterioration of their circumstances arose from His just indignation. Under this pretext, indeed, the wicked formerly endeavored to defend their superstitions; as, for instance, when in order to refute Jeremiah, they proudly boasted that it was well with them when they “burnt incense unto the frame of heaven;” 281 but such wanton depravity is admirably reproved by the Prophet, who shews that God had most manifestly avenged such pollutions by the destruction of their city and the fall of the Temple. (Jer. 44:17, 22.) The distinction, therefore, of which Moses now speaks, could not escape them, unless they willfully shut out the light. Moreover, because it rarely happens that men are wise in prosperity, he advises the Israelites to return to their senses, at any rate when sorely afflicted; for He addresses the exiles, who, disinherited by God, had no hope left; and promises them, that if, when banished to distant lands, they at length repented, God would be propitiated towards them. For “to 282 bring back to their heart” is equivalent to considering what before had been despised through contempt, or neglect, or stupidity, and buried as it were in voluntary oblivion. Still, lest they should presume on God’s kindness, and only seek for pardon in a perfunctory manner, serious conversion is required, the results of which should appear in their life, since newness of life accompanies (genuine 283 ) repentance. Nor does Moses speak only of the outward correction of the life, but demands sincere desires to obey, for we have elsewhere seen 284 that “all the heart” means with integrity of heart.
4. If any of thine be driven out. Since their dispersion into unknown countries might have altogether annihilated their hope of restoration, Moses anticipates this doubt, and teaches them that, although they might be driven out into the utmost regions of the earth, the infinite power of God sufficed to gather them from thence; as also it is said in Ps 147:2,
“The Lord doth build up Jerusalem; he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.”
With this intent, the adverb “from thence” is twice repeated, lest they should imagine that the distance of place would be any impediment to the fulfillment of what God had promised.
We have seen elsewhere that it was not without reason that their dwelling in the land of Canaan was magnified as a peculiar blessing, because it behooved that, until the time of Christ’s coming, the hope of an eternal inheritance should be cherished in their minds by an earthly and visible symbol.
6. And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart. This promise far surpasses all the others, and properly refers to the new Covenant, for thus it is interpreted by Jeremiah, who introduces God thus speaking, —
“Behold, the days come that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and the house of Judah, not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, which covenant they brake, but I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” (Jer 31:31-33.)
Moses now declares the same thing in different words, that, lest the Israelites, according to their wonted instability, should fall back from time to time into new rebellions, a divine remedy was needed, i.e., that God should renew and mould their hearts. In short, he reminds them that this would be the chief advantage of their reconciliation, that God should endow them with the Spirit of regeneration. There is a metaphor in this word circumcise; for Moses alludes to the legal sign of consecration, whereby they were initiated into the service of God. The expression, therefore, is equivalent to his saying, God will create you spiritually to be new men, so that, cleansed from the filth of the flesh and the world, and separated from the unclean nations, you should serve Him in purity. Meanwhile, he shews that, whatever God offers us in the Sacraments, depends on the secret operation of His Spirit. Circumcision was then the Sacrament of repentance and renewal, as Baptism is now to us; but “the letter,” as Paul calls it, (Ro 2:27,) was useless in itself, as also now many are baptized to no profit. So far, then, is God from resigning the grace of His Spirit to the Sacraments, that all their efficacy and utility is lodged in the Spirit alone.
Although Moses seems to make a division of the matter between men and God, so as to ascribe to them the beginning of repentance, and to make Him the author of perseverance (only, 285 ) nevertheless this difficulty is easily solved; for according to the ordinary manner of Scripture, when he exhorts them to repentance, he is not teaching them that it is a gift of the Spirit, but simply reminding them of their duty. Meanwhile, the defenders of free-will foolishly conclude, that more is not required of men than they are able to perform; for in other places they are taught to ask of God whatever He enjoins. Thus, in this passage, Moses treats of the means of propitiating God, viz., by returning into the right way with an unfeigned heart; but, after he has testified that God will be gracious to them, he adds, that there is need of a better remedy, so that, being once restored by Him, they may be perpetual recipients of His grace. Still, it is not his intention to restrict the circumcision of the heart to the subsequent course of their lives, as if it depended on their own will and choice to circumcise themselves before God should work in them. And surely it is not at all more easy to rise when you have fallen, than to stand upright after God has set you up. I confess that perseverance is an excellent grace; but how shall the sinner, who is enthralled to Satan, free himself from those chains, unless God shall deliver him? Therefore, what Moses lays down as to the gift, of perseverance, applies no less to the commencement of conversion; but he only wishes to teach us that, although God should pardon our sins, that blessing would be but transient, unless He should keep us in subjection to His Law. And, in fact, He regenerates by His Spirit unto righteousness all those whose sins He pardons.
8. And thou shalt return 286 and obey the voice of the Lord. The copula which Moses here employs is equivalent to the illative particle; for he argues from their certainty of obtaining pardon, that they should not hesitate to return to God, nay, rather that they should set about it with a cheerful and ready mind; and then that they should constantly proceed in the course of obedience. But, when he now requires of the people the perseverance which he had just before declared to be given by God alone, we may at once infer that they deal foolishly who estimate the powers of man by the commands of God. Meanwhile, let us bear in mind this main point, that true conversion is proved by the constant tenor of the life; because we are redeemed, as Zecharias testifies, to this end that we should serve God, our Deliverer, “in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.” (Luke 1:74, 75.)
15. See, I have set before thee this day. A solemn injunction, similar to the foregoing ones, that the Israelites should consider how inestimable a blessing it was that God should have condescended to deposit His Law with them; and that if they did not receive it with reverence, the punishments for such foul ingratitude would be by no means light. For, in order to deprive them of the pretext of error, He separates them from the heathen nations, which through ignorance of the right way vacillated, as in uncertainty, between life and death. He says, therefore, that He has set before their eyes life, and that indeed connected with true and complete happiness; and likewise death with its consequences. Now, there is no one who, under the guidance of nature, would not seek for life and recoil from death; and thence Moses reproaches them with being more than senseless if they should plunge voluntarily into all miseries. Meanwhile, he signifies that he is not addressing to them mere idle menaces, but that his doctrine is armed with the power of God, so that whosoever should embrace it would find salvation in it, whilst none would despise it with impunity. The distribution of the two clauses then follows, viz., that the love of God and the keeping of His Law is prescribed that they may live; but if they turn away from it, their destruction is denounced. It is not, then, without reason that I have called the promises and threats the Sanctions of the Law, because, in order that its authority may be assured to us, it is necessary that both the recompence of obedience, and also the punishment of transgression, should be set before us. By the worship of other gods, he means every revolt from God, as I have observed already. He does not speak of their being “drawn away” to superstition as an excuse for their instability, but rather as an aggravation of their crime, inasmuch as they are carried away by their depraved desires, 287 and thus desert the truth of God when well acquainted with it.
19. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you. Though the verb is in the past tense, it indicates a present act. It is in order to deal with them with greater urgency that he calls heaven and earth to witness the vengeance of God. In these words he does not address men and angels, as some tamely expound it, but in amplification attributes sense to things inanimate. I pass this over briefly, because I have 288 treated it more fully before; as also what soon afterwards follows about life and death. For the Law, as respects its doctrine, contains in it life and death; for the reward of eternal life is not promised in it in vain; but since no one is found worthy of the promised reward, Paul justly teaches that the Law ministers death. Still this is accidental, and proceeds not from any fault in the doctrine, but from the corruption of men. Nevertheless, it is asked how, if the corruption of our nature causes that the Law should engender nothing but death, Moses commands us to “choose life,” which the sinner cannot attain to by it? Thence the Papists uplift their crests, both to extol free-will and to boast of merits; as if Moses did not also testify and proclaim the gratuitous mercy of God, and direct his disciples to Christ in order to seek salvation from Him. When, therefore, he speaks of keeping the Commandments, he does not exclude the two-fold grace of Christ, that believers, being regenerated by the Spirit, 289 should aspire to the obedience of righteousness, and at the same time should be reconciled freely to God through the forgiveness of their sins. And assuredly, since the same covenant is common to us and to the ancient people, it is not to be doubted but that they “chose life” who of old embraced the doctrine of Moses. At the same time, in so far as his legation was different from the Gospel, he rather insists on the office peculiarly entrusted to him, so that the distinction between Christ and himself might more clearly appear. This is the reason why he more sparingly touches upon justification by faith, whilst he enlarges fully on loving and serving God and fulfilling His Commandments.
2 Sam. 12:14, 15; Ps. 89:32, 33.
“Residuum semen.” — Lat. “La semence, que Dieu se reserve;” the seed which God reserves to Himself. — Fr.
“A donner lustre a la gloire de Dieu;” to give lustre to the glory of God. — Fr.
See margin, A.V., Jer 44:17.
“Call them to mind.” — A.V. “And thou shalt cause them to return to thine heart, or reduce, bring again to thine heart, i.e., call to mind, consider seriously; so in De 4:39.” — Ainsworth.
Added from Fr.
See ante on Deuteronomy 4:29, p. 271.
Added from Fr.
“Return thou therefore,” etc. — Lat.
Addition in Fr., “comme d’un tourbillon;” as by a whirlpool.
See ante on Deuteronomy 4:26, p. 270.
“S’adonnent a observer la Loy, et pource qu’ils n’en peuvent venir a bout, qu’ils ne soyent toujours redevables, que leur fautes leurs soyent gratuitement pardonnees;” should devote themselves to the keeping of the Law; and because they could never attain its end, so as not to be always indebted to it, that their faults should be gratuitously pardoned. — Fr.