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Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 6: Harmony of the Law, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at

Deuteronomy 31

Deuteronomy 31:1-8

1. And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel.

1. Abiit itaque Moses, et loquutus est verba ista ad universum Israelem.

2. And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day; I can no more go out and come in: also the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan.

2. Dixitque eis, Centurn et viginti annerum suae hodie, non possum ultra egredi et ingredi: praeterea Jehova dixit ad me, Non transibis Jordanera istum.

3. The Lord thy God, he will go over before thee, and he will destroy these nations from before thee, and thou shalt possess them: and Joshua, he shall go over before thee, as the Lord hath said.

3. Jehova Deus tuus ipse transiturus est ante te, ipse disperdet gentes istas a facie tua, possidebisque eas: Josua ipse transiturus est ante te, quemadmodum dixit Jehova.

4. And the Lord shall do unto them as he did to Sihon and to Og, kings of the Amorites, and unto the land of them, whom he destroyed.

4. Facietque Jehova illis quemadmodum fecit Sihon et Og, regibus Emorrhaei, et terrae eorum quos disperdidit.

5. And the Lord shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you.

5. Quum ergo dederit eos Jehova ante faciem vestram, tunc facietis eis omnino juxta praeceptum quod praecepi vobis.

6. Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

6. Estote fortes, et roborate vos, ne timeatis, neque paveatis a facie eorum: Jehova enim Deus tuus est qui pergit tecum, non deseret te, neque te derelinquet.

7. And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong, and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.

7. Vocavit ergo Moses Josua, et dixit illi in oculis totius Israelis, Esto fortis, et robera te: tu enim ingredieris cum populo isto terram quam juravit Jehova patribus eorum se daturum illis, et ipse sorte divides eam illis.

8. And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

8. Jehova autem est qui praecessurus est te, ipse erit tecum: non te deseret, neque derelinquet te, ne timeas, neque paveas.


1 And Moses went and spake these words. By the word went he signifies that, having received the commands from God, he came to the people to report them. Hence we gather that they were warned in good time to beware, if they had been sensibly disposed. And it was necessary that the people should hear from his own mouth these addresses, which were by no means gratifying, as being full both of cruel threats and severe reproofs; for, if they had been delivered after his death, they would have straightway all exclaimed that they had been deceitfully devised by some one else, and thus that his name was falsely attached to them.

Moreover, the peculiar time of their delivery did not a little avail to enhance their weight, so that the people should not only submit themselves with meekness and teachableness to his instruction at the moment, but also that it might remain hereafter deeply impressed upon their hearts. We know with what attention the last words of the dying are usually received; and Moses,  230 now ready to meet death at God’s command, addressed the people as if bidding them finally farewell. To the credit and dignity belonging to his office as a Prophet, there was consequently added all the force and authority of a testamentary disposition.

As throughout his life he had been incredibly anxious for the people’s welfare, so he now carries his more than paternal care still further. And assuredly it becomes all pious teachers to provide, as far as in them lies, that the fruit of their labors should survive them. Of this solicitude Peter sets himself before us as an example:

“I think it meet (he says), as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; moreover, I will endeavor that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.” (2 Pet. 1:13, 15)

2 And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old. Although Moses had been often proudly and disdainfully rejected, it could not but be the case, nevertheless, that his departure would both awaken the deepest sorrow, and inspire them with much alarm. By setting before them his age, therefore, he consoles their anxiety, and mitigates their grief; and also, by another reason, he represses their lamentations, i.e., that God had fixed his term of life. He adduces it, then, as an alleviation, because both his death was more than mature, and he was no longer fitted in his extreme old age for enduring fatigue. Here, however, the question arises, why he should say that he was failing, and broken in strength, when we shall see a little further on that he retained his senses in their rigor even until his death? But the reply is obvious, that he would not have been useless in his old age, because his eyes were dim or his members tremulous, but because his age no longer allowed him to perform his usual duties. For he had been marvelously and preternaturally preserved up to that time; but, since he had now arrived at the end of his course, it was necessary that he should suddenly sink, and be deprived of his faculties.

“To go out, and come in,” is equivalent to performing the functions of life: thus it is said in the Psalm, “Thou has known my going out and coming in.”  231 (Ps 121:8.) And in this sense David is said to have gone out and come in, when he performed the duty intrusted to him by Saul. (1Sa 18:5.)

In the latter clause, where he refers to his exclusion from the land of Canaan, and his being prevented from entering it, he indirectly rebukes the people, for whose offense God had been wroth with himself and Aaron. Thus by this tacit reproof the Israelites were admonished to bear patiently the penalty of their ingratitude. At the same time., as he shows himself to be submissive to the divine decree, he bids them also acquiesce in it.

3 The Lord thy God, he will go over. By no ordinary consolation does he encourage their minds to renewed alacrity, because they should experience, even when he was dead, the unceasing favor of God. Hence we gather a lesson of especial usefulness, that whenever God raises up to us men endowed with excellent gifts, He is wont so to make use of their labors for a time, as still to retain others in His hand, and constantly to substitute others, unless our sins stand in the way. Hence it follows that the power of God is not to be tied to the illustrious qualities of men, as if their death was His destruction. It is true, indeed, that eminent men are rarely succeeded by their equals,  232 because our wickedness stifles the light of spiritual gifts, and, as far as it can, extinguishes them; still let this be deemed certain that, when God promotes our welfare by ministers of special eminence, He gives us a taste of His goodness, in order that we may expect its continuance; “because he forsakes not the work of his own hands.” (Ps 138:8.) Moses says, therefore, that although he may be taken away by death, still God will undertake the office of their leader, or rather that He will continue to be their leader, as the Israelites had before experienced Him to be.

But h sustains their infirmity by another consolation also, pointing out Joshua as his successor; otherwise the people might have been ready to object that, if God was willing to go before them, why did he not manifest it by the election of a representative, by whose hand He might continue what He had begun by Moses. In this respect, therefore, he also shows that God’s favor was by no means obscure, since Joshua was already chosen to sustain the care and burden of governing the people: for it is not by his own authority that he obtrudes Joshua and sets him over them, but he declares him to be called by God. Still, it is not a matter hitherto unknown which he puts before them, but only bids them remember what God had long ago revealed, as we have elsewhere seen.

4 And the Lord shall do unto them. He promises that, when they shall come into the land of Canaan, they shall be conquerors of all its nations: and this he confirms by experience; for, as God had delivered Sihon king of the Arnorites, and Og king of Bashan, into their hands, so also He would give them the same success in subduing their other enemies. The world is indeed subject to many revolutions, but God still remains like Himself, not only because His counsel is never changed, but because His power is never diminished. By a real proof, therefore, as it is called, he encourages the expectations of the people, and at the same time exhorts them resolutely to execute God’s command, viz., that they should purge the land of Canaan by the destruction of all its inhabitants. In appearance, indeed, this was fierce and cruel, to leave not even one alive; but, since God had justly devoted them to extinction, it was not lawful for the Israelites to inquire what was to be done, but to abandon all discussion, and to obey God’s command. In that they spared many, so much the worse was their remissness, since God had often prepared them to execute the vengeance which He had decreed.

6 Be strong and of good courage. After he had shown that God would be with them, for their help, he exhorts the people to firmness and magnanimity. And surely this is one means of confirming our courage, to be assured that the assistance which God promises will suffice for us: so far is it from being the case, that our zeal and energy in acting aright is impaired, by our ascribing to the grace of God what foolish men attribute to their own free will. For those who are aroused to strenuous action in reliance on their own strength, do no more than cast themselves headlong in their senseless temerity and pride. Let us understand, then, that all exhortations are fleeting and ineffective, which are founded on anything else but simple confidence in the grace of God. Thus Moses assumes, as his ground of exhortation, that God will fight for the Israelites. It must, however, be observed that the people were animated to the perseverance of hope, when God declares that He will be their helper even to the end, by which lesson that impious hallucination is refuted, whereby the Popish theologians have fascinated the world. They deny that believers  233 can be certain of God’s grace, except as to their present state. Thus do they hold faith in suspense, so that we may only believe for a day, and even from moment to moment, whilst we are in uncertainty as to what God will do with us on the morrow. Whereas, if faith corresponds with God’s promises, and is, as it were, in harmony with them, it must needs extend itself to our whole life, nay, even beyond death itself; for God removes all doubt as to the future by these words, “I will not leave thee nor forsake thee.”

7 And Moses called unto Joshua. It hence appears that those, upon whom a public charge is conferred, have need of a twofold confirmation: for, after having addressed a general instruction to the whole people, he directs his discourse peculiarly to Joshua himself, as to one whose business it was to set an example of bravery to others, and whom severe contests awaited. Since, then, it is more difficult to lead all the rest than to follow a leader, it is necessary that he, who is set over many, should far excel them. But, inasmuch as no one call do anything of himself, we must seek of God whatever we want. Wherefore that, which Moses had enjoined upon the whole people, he now repeats to a single individual, because upon him the burden of ruling them was thrown. And this must be more carefully observed, because, in proportion to the degree of honor, in which a man is placed, so does he disdainfully look down upon all admonitions; whence it is the case that those, who are eminent in the world, carelessly reject the exhortations of God’s servants. But Moses thoroughly overthrows all such fastidiousness, when he shows that all, who are in authority, should not only be instructed together with others, but even more urgently dealt with.

When Moses, in this place as well as above, forbids believers to give way to fear or dread, it must be observed that. he would not have them so deprived of all feeling, as to be hardened into indifference to every danger, or to suppose, as some madmen do, that there is no such thing as bravery without stupidity, but only possessed of such confidence as may overcome all fears, which impede the course of their calling. Appropriately does the Apostle extend this lesson further, where he wishes to correct avarice, which arises from over-anxiety, whilst wretched men do not sufficiently reflect what it is to have God for their perpetual helper. (Hebrews13:5.)



“Ayant desia un pied levd et s’estant appreste a aller & la mort ou Dieu l’appeloit;” having already one foot raised, and being ready to go to death whither God called him. — Fr.


C. here quotes from memory: the words of the Psalm are, “The Lord shall preserve thy going out and coming in; and so also in the other quotation, the actual words are, “And David went out whithersoever Saul sent him.”


“Pareils et de mesme calibre;” equal and of the sanc calibre. — Fr.


The dogmatical statement of this error is made in the decrees of the Council of Trent, Sessio vi. cap. Ix, “Contra inanem haereticorum fiduciam.” It is controverted by C., Instit. Book iii. ch. ii. Section 40; in his “Antidote to the Council of Trent;” C. Soc. Edit., p. 125, and elsewhere.

Next: Numbers 27:15-23