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


Deuteronomy 8:1-6

1. All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers.

1. Omne praeceptum quod ego praecipio tibi hodie, custodietis ut faciatis, ut vivatis, et multiplicemini, et ingrediamini ut possideatis terram de qua juravit Jehova patribus vestris.

2. And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.

2. Meminerisque totius vim per quam deduxit to Jehova Deus tuus jam quadraginta annis in deserto, ut affligeret to ac tentaret to, ut sciret quid haberes in corde tuo, utrum observaturus esses praecepta ejus, annon.

3. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live.

3. Et afflixit te, ac esurire te fecit, postea pavit te Man, quod non noveras, neque noverant patres tui: ut scire faceret te quod non in pane solo vivet homo, sed omni eo quod egreditur ex ore Jehovae vivet homo.

4. Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.

4. Vestimentum tuum ne quaquam veteravit super re, neque pes tuus intumuit jam quadraginta annis.

5. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart, that, as a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee.

5. Sciasque in corde tuo quod quemadmodum erudit homo filium suum, sic Jehova Deus tuus erudit re.

6. Therefore thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him.

6. Et custodies praecepta Jehovae Dei tui, ut ambules per vias ejus, et timeas eum.

Deuteronomy 11

Deut. 11:8, 9

8. Therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day, that ye may be strong, and go in and possess the land whither ye go to possess it;

8. Custodite ergo omne praeceptum quod ego praecipio vobis hodie, ut roboremini, et ingrediamini, possideatisque terram ad quam vos transitis ut possideatis cam.

9. And that ye may prolong your days in the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give unto them, and to their seed, a land that floweth with milk and honey.

9. Atque ut prolongetis dies super terram quam juravit Jehova patribus vestris se daturum illis et semini eorum, terram fluentem lacte et melle.

1. All the commandments. Although the first verse might have been included among the promises, whereby, as we shall hereafter see, the Law was ratified by Moses, because he here exhorts and incites the Israelites to obedience by proposing to them the hope of reward; still it appeared to me that I might conveniently insert it here, since the design of Moses was simply this, to attract them by the sweetness of the promised inheritance to receive the doctrines of the Law. This sentence, then, may be justly counted among those whereby their minds were prepared to submit themselves to God with the gentleness and docility that became them; as though he had said, because the land of Canaan is now not far from you, its very nearness ought to encourage you to take upon you God’s yoke more cheerfully; for the same God, who this day declares to you His law, invites you to the enjoyment of that land, which He promised with an oath to your fathers. And certainly it is evident from this latter clause of the verse, that Moses did not simply promise them a reward if they should keep the law; but rather set before them the previous favor, wherewith God had gratuitously prevented them, in order that they might, on their part, shew themselves grateful for it Moses calls the commandments his, not (as we have already seen) because he had invented them himself, but because he faithfully handed them down from the dictation of God’s own mouth. And this we may also more fully gather from the following verse, wherein he recounts the mercies of the time past, and at the same time calls to their recollection by how many proofs God had instructed them, to form and accustom them to obedience. In the first place, he bids them remember generally the dealings of God, which they had seen for forty years, and then descends to particulars, viz., that God had proved them by afflictions, “to know what was in their heart;” for thus may the expressions be paraphrased, “to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart;” in which words he admonishes them, that they were painfully tried by many troubles and difficulties not without very good reason, viz., because they had need of such trial. Yet, at the same time, he indirectly reproves their obstinacy, which was then detected; since otherwise, if all things had gone prosperously with them, it would have been easy for them to pretend great fear of God, though, as was actually discovered, it did not really exist.

3. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger. Inasmuch as they were sometimes made to suffer hunger in the wilderness, he proves the advantage of this discipline, because they thus learnt that the human race does not live by bread and wine alone, but by the secret power of God. For though all confess that it is through God’s goodness that the earth is fruitful, still their senses are so tied to the meat and drink, that they rise no higher, and do not acknowledge God as their Father and nourisher, but rather bind Him down to the outward means to which they are attached, as if His hand, of itself, and without instruments, could not effect or supply anything. Their perception, therefore, that the fruits of the earth are produced by God, is but a cold notion, which speedily vanishes, and does not cling to their memory. The power of God, as well as His goodness, is indeed abundantly manifested in the use of His creatures, which we naturally enjoy; but the depravity of the human mind causes that the testimonies of it act like a veil to obscure that bright light. Besides, the majority of mankind think of God as if banished afar off, and dwelling in inactivity as if He had resigned His office in heaven and earth; and hence it arises, that trusting in their present abundance, they implore not His favor, nay, that they pass it by as needless; and, when deprived of their accustomed supplies, they altogether despair, as if God’s hand alone were insufficient for their succor. Since, then, men do not sufficiently profit by the guidance and instruction of nature, but rather are blinded in their view of God’s works, it was desirable that in this miracle (of the manna) a standing and manifest proof should be given, that men do not only live upon God’s bounty, when they eat bread and drink wine, but even when all supplies fail them. Although there be some harshness in the words, yet the sense is clear, that men’s life consists not in their food, but that God’s inspiration suffices for their nourishment. And we must remember, that the eternal life of the soul is not here referred to, but that we are simply and solely taught that although bread and wine fail, our bodies may be sustained and invigorated by God’s will alone. Let it then be regarded as settled, that this is improperly, however acutely, referred to the spiritual life, and a relation imagined in its doctrine to faith; as if the grace, which is offered in the promises, and received by faith, gave life to our souls; since it is simply stated, that the animating principle (vigor), which is diffused by the spirit of God for sustenance, proceeds out of His mouth. In Ps 104:30, there is an exact repetition of what was before said here by Moses, “Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” The word translated “not only,” seems to have been expressly added, lest, if Moses had altogether excluded the bread which is destined for our food, he should not do justice to God. Thus, then, does he guard his words, as much as to say, that although bread sustains man’s life, still this support would be too weak, unless the hidden power of God occupied the first place; and that this intrinsic virtue, as it is called, which He of Himself inspires, would suffice, even although all other aids should fail. And this doctrine, first of all, arouses us to gratitude, referring to God Himself whatever by His creatures He supplies to us for the nourishment and preservation of our lives, whilst it teaches us that although all the instruments of this world should fail, still we may hope for life from Himself alone. There is no ordinary wisdom in recollecting both these points. Christ admirably applied this passage to its true and genuine practical use; for when the devil would persuade him to command the stones to be made bread for the satisfaction of His hunger, He answered, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” etc., (Mt 4:4,) as if he had said, There is in God’s hands another remedy, for even although He supply not food, He is still able to keep men in life by His will alone. But I touch upon this the more briefly, because I have more fully treated it in my Commentaries on “the Harmony of the Gospels.”  257 With the same object he adds, that their raiment was not worn out in so long a time, and that their shoes remained whole; viz., that they might be fully convinced, that whatever concerns the preservation of human life and man’s daily wants is so entirely in God’s hands, that not only its enjoyment, but even its continuance and being, depend upon His blessing.

5. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart. He concludes that in the constant tenor of God’s acts, from the time the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, His paternal care for their instruction might be recognised For the word יסר,  258 yasar, is taken by some in too restricted a sense for “to chastise,” whereas it comprehends the whole process of a proper education; as if he had said, that unless they were hereafter submissive, and disposed to be dutiful, they would be something more than intractable, since they had been duly taught and kept under the best discipline, and that God had omitted nothing which could be required from the father of a family. Hence it follows, that long ago, and by much instruction, they were accustomed to embrace the teaching of the Law, just as it becomes children to be obedient to their father’s voice. And this he explains more clearly in the next verse; again concluding, that therefore they were to observe the Law, and to walk in the commandments of God. Whereon also we may shortly observe, that the fear of God, as I have already stated elsewhere, is the foundation of due obedience to the Law. The passage which I have interwoven from Deuteronomy 11 may also be counted among the promises, for God allures in it His people to obedience by the hope of His blessing; and since the possession of the land, which was then in sight, is set before them, the words appeared to me to fit in not badly here; because God had no other intention in this eulogium of it, but to prepare the minds of the people for keeping the Law.



See Calvin Society Translation, in loco.


See note on Deuteronomy 11:2, ante, p. 383.

Next: Deuteronomy 29:2-9