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


deuteronomy 31:10-13

10. And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of every seven years, in the solemnity of the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles,

10. Et praecepit Levitis Moses, dicendo, Septimo quoque anno, tempore anni remissionis, in solennitate tabernaculorum,

11. When all Israel is come to appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose, thou shalt read this law before all Israel in their hearing.

11. Quum venerit universus Israel ut appareat coram Jehova Deo, in loco quem elegerit, leges Legem istam coram universo Israele in auribus eorum.

12. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law;

12. Congregando populum, viros, et mulieres, parvulos et peregrinos qui sunt intra portas tuas, ut audiant, et discant, timeantque Jehovam Deum vestrum, et custodiant faciendo omnia verba legis hujus.

13. And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.

13. Et filii eorum qui non noverunt audiant, et discant timere Jehovam Deum vestrum, omnibus diebus quibus victuri estis super terram, ad quam transmisso Jordane pergitis ut possideatis.

10. And Moses commanded them. The object of this precept is the same as that of the foregoing. He would have (the Law  238 ) represented, and constantly kept before their eyes; now He commands that it should also be recited every seventh year, lest the knowledge of it should ever depart. But let us follow the order of the words. First of all, Moses says that “he wrote” the Law. Before this, the doctrines of religion had only been expressed by word of mouth, for their fathers had handed down traditionally to their children whatever had been declared to them from heaven. Thus the religion and faith of the people in Egypt was only founded on ancient revelations (oraculis) and the traditions of their fathers. But, forasmuch as nothing is more easy than for men’s minds, in their vanity, speedily to forget true doctrine, and to involve themselves in manifold errors, God, willing to provide against this evil, consigned the rule of piety to public records,  239 so that there might be no pretense of ignorance if their posterity should decline from it. Behold, then, the reason why the Law was written down, that God’s truth might be witnessed in the continued lapse of ages. He does not mean that the Law was so “delivered” to the Levites, that they should suppress it, or should be its only keepers; but if he had exhorted them all indifferently to read it, scarcely any would have applied themselves to its study; for so it is wont to happen, that individuals neglect what is enjoined generally upon all. Wherefore the Levites are appointed to be the guardians of the Law (nomophylaces), to watch diligently, amidst the neglect and contempt of others, lest the knowledge of God should fail. Nor is there any question that the Law was therefore entrusted to their hands, that they might be its interpreters. And to this that passage of Malachi refers, (Mal 2:7,) “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the Law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” For what is added immediately afterwards, that they should read over the Law every seventh year, cannot properly be taken, as if, during the rest of the time, it should remain hidden among themselves; for God would have them to teach daily, and constantly to remind the people of their duty. But lest this practice should become obsolete, either by the aversion of the people or the laziness of the priests, this solemn rite was added, that every seventh year when the most numerous assembly of the people took place, the promulgation of the Law should be renewed. Whence it appears that nothing is too sacred nor too abundantly fortified by precautions to escape violation and infraction from man’s wickedness; for when the recitation of the Law was thus precisely enjoined upon the Levites, it was surely astonishing and detestable that it should be, as it were, discovered in the time of Josiah, and that all were aroused by its novelty, as if they had never heard of it before. (2Ki 22:3, etc.) Exactly the same thing did not occur under the Papacy; but when its scarecrow  240 bishops desired to domineer and tyrannize, they used the artifice of declaring it unlawful to inquire into the mysteries of Scripture. Hence it was brought about that they might securely addict themselves to their ridiculous follies, and that the monks, their emissaries, might vent with impunity whatever fables came into their heads. But, in fine, the intention of God was that every seventh year the people should be reminded to meditate diligently on the law.

12. Gather the people together.  241 Literally, “to gather,”  242 etc., in the infinitive mood; and although this is sometimes taken for the imperative, yet, in this passage some improperly translate it “Gather,” etc., as if Moses commanded them to give these injunctions once only to the people of their own generation, whereas he is rather continuing with the foregoing sentence. This verse, then, is connected with what went before, viz., that the Law should be promulgated anew, in the years in which they were to hold their greatest assembly; because the people was then called to the Jubilee by the sound of the trumpet. The word “gather,” therefore, extends to all these septennial assemblies, of which mention will be elsewhere made. Nor certainly would what he says of the people that are “within their gates,” accord with the times of Moses, since in those days there were none. Consequently he more fully explains why he pointed out the seventh year, viz., because the whole people then came “to appear before God.” He specially mentions the “women and children,” lest their age or sex might be an excuse; and this heightens the villany and dishonesty of those  243 who would debar not children only, but women also, from religious learning; since God invites all from the least to the greatest to His school, and would have them to be His disciples. With respect to “the strangers,” we must understand not those who had come into the land of Canaan on business, and were soon to return home, but those who had chosen to take up their abode there, and from their long residence had coalesced into the same body with the Israelites. The fruit and utility (of this recitation  244 ) is added, that by hearing they might learn to fear God. Whence we infer, that true religion has its origin in knowledge, and that whatever piety men not instructed by God’s word may appear to have, is mere pretense. “To observe to do,” is equivalent to applying themselves diligently and zealously to obey the precepts of the Law.

13. And that their children, which have not known anything. Again, we see that their present assembly is not referred to, but that which was to be repeated every seven years, in order that their posterity might be retained in the path of duty. Another use, then, of this recitation is adduced; that many who, from their age, could not be witnesses of the first promulgation, might thence learn how God was to be served. The possession of the land is again set before them, that God’s bounty may attract them to obedience.



Added from the French.


En chartes authentiques. — Fr.


Larvati. — Lat. Les Eveques comus et masquez. — Fr.


“Congregando,” by congregating — Lat. There is much abridgment of the passage in the French.


הקהל. The form is strictly that of the imperative Hiphil, whilst the infinitive of the same voice is properly הקהיל, as seen in Nu 10:7, though its yod might be changed into a tzere, in which case the form of these two different tenses would be identical. — W


L’audace du Pape et de son clerge. — Fr.


Added from the French.

Next: Deuteronomy 6:10-12