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


Deuteronomy 9:1-6

1. Hear, O Israel: Thou art to pass over Jordan this day, to go in to possess nations greater and mightier than thyself, cities great, and fenced up to heaven;

1. Audi Israel, Tu transis bodie Jordanem, ut ingrediaris ad possidendum gentes magnas et robustas praeter to, urbes magnas et munitas usque ad coelum;

2. A people great and tall, the children of the Anakims, whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard say, Who can stand before the children of Anak?

2. Populum magnum et procerum, filios Enacim quos tu nosti, et de quibus tu audisti, Quis consister coram filiis Enac?

3. Understand therefore this day, that the Lord thy God is he which goeth over before thee; as a consuming fire he shall destroy them, and he shall bring them down before thy face: so shalt thou drive them out, and destroy them quickly, as the Lord hath said unto thee.

3. Scito itaque hodie quod Jehova Deus tuus ipse est qui transit ante to, ignis consumens: ipse delebit eos ac humiliabit eos coram re, ut expellas eos perdasque eos cito, quemadmodum dixit Jehova tibi.

4. Speak not thou in thine heart, after that the Lord thy God hath cast them out from before thee, saying, For my righteousness the Lord hath brought me in to possess this land; but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord doth drive them out from before thee.

4. Ne dicas in corde tuo, quum expulerit Jehova Deus tuus illos a facie tua, dicendo, Propter justitiam meam introduxit me Jehova ut possideam terram hanc: quum propter iniquitatem gentium istarum Jehova expellat eas a facie tua.

5. Not for thy righteousness, or for the uprightness of thine heart, dost thou go to possess their land; but for the wickedness of these nations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee, and that he may perform the word which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

5. Non propter justitiam tuam et rectitudinem cordis tui tu ingredieris ad possidendam terram eorum, sed propter impietatem gentium istarum Jehova Deus tuus expellit eas a facie tua, ut confirmet verbum quod juravit ipse Jehova patribus tuis, Abrahae, Isaac, et Jacob.

6. Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.

6. Scito itaque quod non propter justitiam tuam Jehova Deus tuus dat tibi terram istam optimam, ut possideas eam: siquidem populus durae cervicis es.

1. Thou art to pass over Jordan this day. The whole of this passage contains an eulogy on the gratuitous liberality of God, whereby He had bound the people to Himself unto the obedience of the Law. But this (as we have already seen) ought to have been a most pressing stimulus to incite the people, and altogether to ravish them to the worship and love of God, to whom they were under so great obligation. The design of Moses, then, was to shew that the Israelites, for no merit of their own, but by the signal bounty of God, would be heirs of the land of Canaan; and that this entirely flowed from the covenant and their gratuitous adoption; in order that, on their part, they should persevere in the faithful observation of the covenant, and so should be the more disposed to honor Him. For it would be too disgraceful that they, whom God had prevented by His grace, should not meet Him, as it were, by voluntarily submitting to His dominion. Moreover, lest they should arrogate anything to themselves, he commends the greatness of God’s power, in that they could not be victorious over so many nations, unless by the miraculous aid of heaven. With this view, he states that these nations excelled not only in greatness and multitude, but also in military valor. He adds that their cities were great and impregnable; and, finally, that in them were the children of the giants, formidable from their enormous stature. For Anak (as is related in Jos 15  246 ) was a celebrated giant, whose descendants were called Anakim. And, to take away all doubt about this, he cites themselves as witnesses, that they were so terrified by their appearance as to wish to turn back again. We now understand the object of all these details, viz., that God’s glory may shine forth in the victories and success of the people. The words “whom thou knowest, and of whom thou hast heard,” have reference to the spies;  247 for these giants had not yet become openly known to the people; but he transfers the case of a few to them all, because, by the account the spies had given, terror had invaded the whole camp, as though they had actually come into conflict with them. Since, then, they had been persuaded of their inferiority to their enemies, and utterly disheartened by the report they received, Moses convicts them on their own evidence, lest, perchance, they might hereafter assume to themselves the praise which was due to God alone. But we are taught in these words, that such is the ingratitude of mankind, that they obscure, as much as they can, God’s bounties, and never yield, except when driven to conviction.

3. Understand therefore this day. He concludes from what has preceded that the Israelites would be too perverse, unless they acknowledge that their enemies were overcome by the hand of God; and, still more to heighten the miracle, he uses a similitude, comparing God to a fire, which consumes so many nations in an unwonted and incredible manner. It is as if he had said, that it could not be effected by human or ordinary means that so many and such warlike peoples could thus quickly perish. Elsewhere God is called “a consuming fire” in a different sense, that we may fear his wrath and power; but here Moses only means that the destruction of the Canaanitish nations was His wonderful work.

4. Speak not thou in thine heart. He now more plainly warns the people not to exalt themselves in proud and foolish boasting. If they had not been naturally so depraved and malignant, it would have been sufficient to point out God’s grace in a single word; but he could not induce them to gratitude except by correcting and destroying their pride. He therefore takes away this stumblingblock, in order that God’s generosity might be conspicuous among them. “To speak in the heart” is equivalent to reflecting or conceiving an opinion. Wherefore Moses not only reproves the boasting of the lips, but that hidden arrogance, wherewith men are puffed up, when they take to themselves the praise which is due to God. Moreover, he not only prohibits them from ascribing it to their own valor, that they had routed their enemies, and gained possession of the land, but also from imagining that this was the just recompense of their merits. For God is not less defrauded of His glory when men oppose their righteousness to His liberality, than when they boast that whatever blessings they have are obtained by their own industry. To make this more ‘clear, I will repeat it. Moses does not forbid the people from thinking that they had themselves acquired the land without God’s aid; nay, he takes it for granted that they themselves will acknowledge that it was by God’s help that they were victorious; but he is not contented with this limited gratitude unless they at the same time acknowledge that they had deserved nothing of the kind, and therefore that it was a mere and gratuitous act of His bounty. The reason given in the second clause does not appear sufficiently  248 conclusive, viz., that the nations were driven out on account of their own wickedness; for it might have been that what God took away from these wicked reprobates He transferred to those who were more worthy; but. it appears to be an indirect admonition, that the Israelites should compare themselves with these nations; because it was evidently to be gathered by them from thence,  249 that they had not acquired this foreign land, from which the former inhabitants had been ejected, by their own righteousness. And this is still more clearly expressed in the two next verses.

5. Not for thy righteousness. First of all, he would have the punishment inflicted upon these nations awaken the Israelites to fear, and thus that they should attribute nothing to themselves; because it was God’s design not to reward their merits, but to shew the severity of His judgment. Secondly, he confirms this by two arguments; viz., because God thus had performed what He promised Abraham; (which promise, as has been already seen, was founded on mere grace;) and, again, because the people itself was naturally perverse and rebellious. Hence, it sufficiently appears that there was no room for merits, since by them God’s covenant would have been nullified, nor, if there were, could any such be found in so depraved and contumacious a nation. And besides, God had made His covenant with Abraham almost four centuries before they were born. Hence it follows that this benefit proceeded from some other source. But he still further represses their pride, by reproaching them with being “stiff-necked;” for it would have been too absurd to imagine that God, whom they had not ceased to provoke with their sins, was under obligation to them, as if they had duly discharged their duty. This metaphor is taken from oxen, which are useless until they are accustomed to bend their necks; it is then the same as saying that they were not only unsubmissive, but that in their obstinacy they shook off the yoke. By his impressing on them, for the third time, that the Israelites had not deserved the land by their righteousness, we learn that nothing is more difficult than for men to strip themselves of their blind arrogance, whereby they detract some portion of the praise from God’s mercies. Now, if in regard to an earthly inheritance God so greatly exalts His mercy, what must we think of the heavenly inheritance?  250 He would have it attributed to Himself alone, that the children of Israel possess the land of Canaan; how much less, then, will He tolerate the obtrusion of men’s merits in order to the acquisition of heaven? Nor is there anything in the pretense of the Papists that they attribute the first place to God’s bounty; because He claims altogether for Himself what they would share with Him. But if any object that this was only said to His ancient people, I reply, that we are no better than they. Let each retire into himself,  251 and he will not excuse the hardness of his neck. But they who are regenerated by God’s Spirit, know that they are not naturally formed unto obedience; and thus that it is only mercy which makes them to differ from the worst of men.



Or, more fully in Nu 13:33.


“Qui avoyent este envoyez pour descouvrir la terre;” who had been sent to descry the land. — Fr.


De prime face. — Fr.


“Pour ce que, se cognoissans povres et miserables, ils devoyent aisement conclurre,” etc.; because, knowing themselves to be poor and miserable, they might easily conclude, etc. — Fr.


L’heritage celeste, et permanent. — Fr.


Pour se bien examiner. — Fr.

Next: Deuteronomy 10:21,22