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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 31:14-30

14. And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die: call Joshua, and present yourselves in the tabernacle of the congregation, that I may give him a charge. And Moses and Joshua went, and presented themselves in the tabernacle of the congregation.

14. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen, Ecce, appropinquaverunt dies tui, ut moriaris: voca Josua, et state in tabernaculo conventionis, et praecipiam ei. Perrexit ergo Moses et Josua, steteruntque in tabernaculo conventionis.

15. And the Lord appeared in the tabernacle in a pillar of a cloud: and the pillar of the cloud stood over the door of the tabernacle.

15. Et apparuit Jehova in tabernaculo, in columna nubis, stetitque columna nubis super ostium tabernaculi.

16. And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers; and this people will rise up, and go a whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land whither they go to be among them, and will forsake me, and break my covenant which I have made with them.

16. Et dixit Jehova, ad Mosen, Ecce, tu dormiturus es cum patribus tuis: postea surget populus iste, et fornicabitur post deos alienorum terrae ad quam pergit in medio ejus, et derelinquet me, irritumque faciet pactum meum quod pepigi cum eo.

17. Then my anger shall be kindled against them in that day, and I will them, and I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?

17. Itaque irascetur vultus meus contra eum ipse die, ac derelinquam eos, et abscondam faciem meam ab eis: et consumetur, et inverient eum mala multa, et angustiae: dicetque in die illa, Nonne propterea quod non est Deus meus in medio mei invenerunt me mala haec?

18. And I will surely hide my face in that day, for all the evils which they shall have wrought, in that they are turned unto other gods.

18. Ego vero abscondendo abscondam faciem meam in die illa, propter omne malum quod fecerit, quod converterit se ad deos alienos.

19. Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach it the children of Israel: put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the children of Israel.

19. Nunc itaque scribite vobis canticum istud, et doce illud filios Israelis: pone illud in ore eorum, ut sit mihi canticum istud in testem contra filios Israelis.

20. For when I shall have brought them into the land which I sware unto their fathers, that floweth with milk and honey, and they shall have eaten, and filled themselves, and waxen fat; then will they turn unto other gods, and serve them, and provoke me, and break my covenant.

20. Introducam enim eum in terram quam juravi patribus ejus, fluentem lacte et melle: comedet autem et saturabitur, impinguabitque se: tunc convertet se ad deos alienos, et colent eos, vilipendentque me, et irritum facient pactum meum.

21. And it shall come to pass, when many evils and troubles are befallen them, that this song shall testify against them as a witness; for it shall not be forgotten out of the mouths of their seed: for I know their imagination which they go about, even now, before I have brought them into the land which I sware.

21. Quum autem invenerint eum mala plurima, et angustiae, tunc respondebit canticum istud in conspectu ejus in testera: non enim oblivioni tradetur ab ore seminis ejus, novi enim ingenium ejus, et quid ipse faciat hodie antequam introduxerim eum in terram de qua juravi.

22. Moses therefore wrote this song the same day, and taught it the children of Israel.

22. Scripsit itaque Moses canticum istud eo die, et docuit illud filios Israelis.

23. And he gave Joshua the son of Nun a charge, and said, Be strong, and of a good courage: for thou shalt bring the children of Israel into the land which I sware unto them: and I will be with thee.

23. Dein praecepit Josuae filio Nun, ac dixit, Fortis esto, et roborare, quia tu introduces filios Israel in terram de qua juravi eis: et ego ero tecum.

24. And it came to pass when Moses had made an end of writing the words of this law in a book, until they were finished,

24. Quum autem fecisset finem Moses scribendi verba legis istius in libro, donec ea complerentur,

25. That Moses commanded the Levites, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying,

25. Praecepit Moses Levitis portantibus Arcata foederis Jehovae, dicendo:

26. Take this book of the law, and put it in the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against thee.

26. Capite librum istum legis, et ponite eum in latere arcae foederis Jehovae Dei vestri, sitque ibi contra te in testem.

27. For I know thy rebellion, and thy stiff neck: behold, while I am yet alive with you this day, ye have been rebellious against the Lord; and how much more after my death?

27. Ego enim novi rebellionem tuam, et cervicem tuam duram: ecce, adhuc me vivente vobiscum hodie rebelles estis Jehovae, et quanto magis posteaquam mortuus fuero?

28. Gather unto me all the elders of your tribes, and your officers. that I may speak these words in their ears, and call heaven and earth to record against them.

28. Congregate ad me omnes seniores tribuum vestrarum, et praefectos vestres, ut loquar in auribus eorum verba ista, et antester contra eos coelum et terram.

29. For I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days; because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger through the work of your hands.

29. Novi enim postquam mottuus lucre, corrumpendo corrumpetis yes et recedetis de via quam praecepi vobis, unde eveniet vobis malum in novissimis dierum, quum feceritis malum in oculis Jehovae, irritando eum opere mannuum vestrarum.

30. And Moses spake in the ears of all the congregation of Israel the words of this song, until they were ended.

30. Itaque loquutus est Moses in auribus totius congregationis verba cantici hujus, donec ea complerentur.


14. And the Lord said unto Moses. Joshua is now substituted in the place of Moses by a solemn ceremony, not only that he may be held in greater reverence by men, but also that he may be presented before God, and thus may acknowledge that he is dedicated to His service; for his being brought before the door of the tabernacle was a kind of consecration; and God also declares that He will give him a charge, which is equivalent to saying that He will instruct him in the performance of his duties. The appearance also of the glory of God in the cloud, was not less effectual for encouraging himself personally, than for giving public distinction to his high office. For he would never have been recognized as the successor of Moses, unless this visible approbation of God had fastened the yoke upon the people.

16. Behold, thou, shalt sleep with thy fathers. In order that Moses may labor more earnestly to retain the people in obedience to God, he is reminded of their indomitable perverseness. He had already sufficiently, and more than sufficiently, experienced how depraved and stubborn was the disposition of the Israelites, and how disobedient and contumacious they had been; God now declares that they will be no better after his death; nay, that they will indulge themselves in greater license in consequence of his absence from them. For it appears as if there was an antithesis implied between the words “lie down,” and “rise up;”  242 as if it were said, As soon as you have gone to rest, their insubordination shall break forth, as if they were released from all laws. Not, indeed, that this should take place immediately, for under Joshua they manifested some humility and submissiveness; at any rate, the outward form of pure religion was then maintained, but soon afterwards they relapsed into their old habits. And perhaps this admonition was useful as a preventative, so that they should not fall away so soon.

Since now we understand the general object which God had in view, it will be well briefly to consider the words He employs. When it is said to Moses, “Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers,” first of all the condition of the human race is stated, that Moses may not think it hard to depart from the world like all others, since he was born to this end. At the same time, the difference is indicated between the death of men and of the brute animals. Hence the best consolation is derived, for, if our death were total annihilation, we should not be said to sleep with our fathers.

Why the Spirit designates idolatry by the name of “whoring,” we have seen elsewhere, as also why he calls all false gods “strange,” or “of the strangers,” viz., because, as God chose to be served alone in Israel, so he had distinguished Himself by this title, that He was “the God of Israel.” It is stated in aggravation of their crime, that they would not only be led away into the superstitions which they had learnt in Egypt, but would also pollute themselves with the defilements of Canaan, from which God had willed that it should be purged by their hand. These words, then, are to be read emphatically, The people shall go a whoring after the gods of the land whither they go, and indeed in the midst of it; for it was far more disgraceful to embrace those false gods, of which they were the conquerors and judges, than to invent for themselves fresh idols.

Another aggravation of their crime is, also added, that they would desert the God by whom they had been adopted as children, and wickedly depart from His covenant. For they could not pretend ignorance, when they had been again and again so clearly and solemnly warned. Meanwhile let us learn from this passage, that whosoever turn away to superstitious worships are covenant breakers, and thus, that all their pretenses are vain, who profess that they worship the supreme God together with idols.

17. Then my anger shall be kindled against them. By this denunciation of punishment, God undoubtedly desired to put a restraint upon the senselessness of the people; but since this was done without their profiting by it, there was another advantage in this lesson, viz., that, after having been seriously chastised according to their deserts, they should at length repent though it might be late. Otherwise these punishments would have been inflicted in vain; and it would have never suggested itself to their minds that they received the just recompense of their ingratitude and perfidiousness. This is indeed the first step of prudence, voluntarily to choose that which is right; but the second is to beware, when we have listened to admonition, and to make a stand against evil. But, if our minds are so blinded, that reproofs and threats profit us nothing, there is still a third, i.e., that those who have been careless in prosperity should at length begin to perceive that they are smitten by God’s hand, and thus be driven to acknowledge their guilt. Although, therefore, the simple admonition, as long as it was not followed by its consequences, was despised by the Israelites; still, when they were further instructed by its result, and by experience, it produced its fruit; and the same is daily the case with ourselves. There is scarcely one in ten of the godly, who, as long as God postpones His punishments, anticipates His judgment, but those who are aroused from their torpor, seriously consider the threats which they had hitherto passed over with indifference, and, being brought under conviction, condemn themselves.

By the word אפי, ephi, I here rather understand His face than His wrath;  243 for the expression is more appropriate; and then he sets forth the effect of His wrath, viz., that, being deprived of His aid, they shall be overtaken by all sorts of evils, until they are consumed and perish. Moreover, He affirms that they should be brought into such straits as should extort from them the confession, that the miseries which they suffered were tokens of God’s alienation from them. But He adds, that He would not then listen to their prayers. Hence are we taught that, as our happiness depends on God’s paternal favor, so there is nothing worse for us than to be forsaken by Him, as if He regarded us with no further care; and the lesson we are to learn is, that there is nothing more desirable for us than that He should honor us with His countenance. We read respecting all His creatures, in Ps 104:29, that they are troubled when He hides His face; but here it is more clearly perceived that nothing can be imagined more miserable than we are, when “our iniquities have separated between us and our God, and our sins have hid his face from us, that he will not hear,” as Isaiah says, (Isa 59:2.)

I have already stated, that the greatness of their miseries is expressed, when the people shall confess that they are thus grievously afflicted, because God is departed from them; for it was by no light punishments that they would be brought to this state of feeling, especially considering their great hardness of heart and blind obstinacy. It follows then, that severe punishments are indicated, that should compel them, though unwillingly, to reflect on God’s anger, which they had previously taken no account of. Still, this confession is not referred to as the fruit or sign of sincere repentance; for, if the sinner sincerely flies to God, God will be sure to meet him, since he is inclined to mercy. But in this place He declares that He will not be favorable to them, but will suffer them to pine away in their wretchedness, for God says of Himself that He will “hide His face from them,” in the 18th verse, with a deeper meaning than just before, in that He will take no notice of their groans and lamentations, and by the very continuance of their punishments will show how greatly wroth with them He is.

19. Now, therefore, write ye this song. It seems absurd that a useless remedy should be applied to an incurable disease. Why does not God rather correct their wickedness, and by His Spirit mold their hearts to obedience, than pour forth words in vain into their deaf ears? Thus do proud and profane men mock at this mode of dealing with them, as if God, throwing away His labor, were deluding unhappy men. We must bear in mind, however, that the preaching of the word, although it is a savior of death to them that perish, is still a sacrifice of sweet savior to God; nor is it to be considered thrown away and ineffectual, when it convicts the ungodly more and more, and renders them altogether inexcusable. And God expressly declares that this would be the use of the song as “a witness” against those, from whose mouth it should proceed. To some, indeed, it was profitable unto salvation; for, when subdued by chastisement, they at length learnt from it that their iniquities were the source and cause of all their evils. For, however God may redouble the blows of His scourges, unbelievers, who are without instruction, reap no advantage from them. Thus, this song was the means of assisting the elect to seek after repentance, when they were smitten by the hand of God. Still, although the word of God should do nothing more than condemn its hearers to death, yet it would be enough that it was a sweet savor to Himself. It seems by no means accordant with our reason that God should have given this command to Isaiah;

“Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes, lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed,” (Isa. 6:9, 10)

but, with respect to the secret judgments of God, whereby all our senses must be overwhelmed, let sober-mindedness be our wisdom.

20. But when I shall have brought them. In other words, God again enlarges upon the atrociousness of their iniquity, in that, when He had dealt liberally with the Israelites, they would turn His benefits into occasions of perversity, since nothing can be more base than such ingratitude, he says, then, that He will perform to them, unworthy as they are, that which he has sworn, so that He might thus be faithful to His promises. He commends the fertility of the land, since this striking pledge of His indulgence should have attracted them by its sweetness to love so beneficent a Father in return. Hence, therefore, the perverseness of their nature is demonstrated, inasmuch as, when full, they would kick against Him, like horses which become intractable from high feeding. But, after having complained of their future rebellion, He again says, that when they shall have been brought into sore straits, and overwhelmed with miseries, this song would be “as a witness,” as if they should proclaim in it their own condemnation.

When He says that He knew their disposition,  244 or what they forged within them, (for the word employed is יצר, yetzer, which is equivalent to figment, or imagination, and includes all the thoughts and feelings,) it is apparent that He was by no means unaware how in He was bestowing His benefits upon such unworthy persons, but that He thus contended with their unworthiness, in order that His goodness might be the more conspicuous; and also that He desired this instruction to be set before them, ungodly and hopeless as they were, which He knew they would despise, so as to render them all the more inexcusable by this test. But it may be objected, Why then did He not turn their hearts to better things? for thus do ungodly railers allow themselves to dispute with Him; but let us rather reflect on the words of Paul, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Hath not the potter power over the clay, to make” of it vessels according to his own will? (Rom. 9:20, 21.) And,

“Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed
unto him again?” (Ro 11:35.)

So will it come to pass, that we shall exclaim with trembling, Oh, how deep are the judgments of God; how incomprehensible are His ways!

That God should judge from their former life what they would be hereafter, does not seem very logical; but these two clauses are to be taken connectedly, that God foresees that nothing else is to be expected from them, but that they would be carried away into sin by their unbridled lust; and secondly, that it had already been sufficiently manifested by their many iniquities how desperate was their obstinacy.

23. And he gave Joshua the son of Nul, a charge. The more difficult was the task of Joshua, the more needful was it that he should be encouraged to exert himself, and to beware of failure. For this reason his charge is repeated, although in his person all the others were at the same time confirmed. Moses grounds it on the promise of God, which has been so often mentioned; and says that Joshua had been chosen to complete the work of deliverance already begun; for it was hardly credible that the disciple should be not only superior to his master, but that a man of humble position should be elevated to the dignity from which the sovereign Prophet, and God’s chief minister, had been degraded, unless this was done by the decree and ordinance of God. At the same time, however, he makes him more confident of the result of his calling, by promising him that God, who was the mover of this expedition, would be with him; for He has the power to accomplish every work to which He has appointed any one of us.

24. And it came to pass, when Moses had made an end. By “the words of this law,” we must understand not only those which are embraced in this book, but in the other three also; and there is an implied antithesis between the two tables written by God’s hand, and the exposition which was afterwards added, lest there should be any obscurity respecting God’s will on account of the brevity with which it was delivered. At the very beginning, indeed, God had set forth whatever it was useful for them to know, but it was His will that what He had briefly comprehended in the Decalogue should be more fully unfolded, and not only so, but that it should be also committed to writing, lest it should be forgotten. We know how inclined to vanity is the mind of man, nay, how willfully it is led away into error by its levity; whilst it has other faults also, such as inquisitiveness, and audacity in invention, and the love of novelty. Thus religion would have been corrupted in a thousand ways, had not its rule been diligently written down for posterity. Moreover, since the books of Moses were for a long time buried through the carelessness of the people and the priests, what darkness of error would have overspread the minds of all, if nothing had been written down!

Since the two Tables were enclosed in the Ark of the Covenant, a place at the side was assigned to the interpretation, so that they might have no doubt but that it proceeded from the same Divine Author; and, since the Decalogue is repeated in these books, it was not at all necessary that the Ark should be opened; which was not lawful, because they might seek in the books of Moses the instruction which was hidden in the Tables. This, indeed, we must remember, that the volume was placed near the Ark in token of its dignity, so that, when it was taken from thence by the Levites, it might be listened to with greater reverence. When it is said, “That it may be there for a witness against thee,” this is not addressed to the Levites alone, but relates generally to the whole people, though the general statement is directed to them as one member of the whole body. But further, although the application of its doctrine is manifold, still one point only is adverted to; for the Law was not written with the single object of being a witness to condemn the people, but to be the rule of a pious and holy life, and a testimony of God’s favor. But, since he had to do with hard and proud minds, Moses declares that, whenever its doctrine shall be set forth, it will render their perverseness inexcusable.

27. For I know thy rebellion. The reason is given why he passed over the utility of his doctrine, and only cited it as a witness against the Israelites in terms of severity and reproach, viz., because he had found them by experience to be of a “stiff neck,” (of which expression I have spoken elsewhere,) and has no confidence that they will be more tractable hereafter. He argues from the less to the greater; for, if, while such a leader as theirs was alive, they were rebellious, they were likely to assume greater audacity when he was dead. For we know of what avail is the authority of a great and excellent person to restrain the licentiousness of a people. At the same time, Moses does not arrogate so much to himself as to say that the good condition of the people depended upon his presence, but, pointing out their danger, he seeks to render them more obedient after his death.

28. Gather to me all the elders of your tribes. Special reference is here made to the Song, which we gather from the last verse to have been alone recited. Moses, indeed, appears to contradict himself when he commands the elders and officers only to be called to listen, whereas he soon afterwards records that he read it to the whole people. But these two things are easily reconciled, when we remember the order which he was accustomed to observe in gathering the multitude together; for it is manifest from many passages that they were not called together promiscuously, but that the heads of tribes, and the princes of the people, each of them led their band; so that the assembling of the elders here mentioned, is so far from excluding the rest of the multitude, that it rather indicates that the whole people were gathered together by their tribes and classes. And this we may infer from the context, for assuredly he did not “call heaven and earth to record against” the officers only; and yet so he seems to signify. Under the leaders, therefore, the whole multitude is included.



See margin, A. V. “Il semble qu’il ait comparaison des choses opposees entre ces deux mots, que Moyse se couchera, et le peuple se levera;” it seems that there is a comparison of two opposite things in these two expressions, that “Moses shall lie down,” and “the people shall rise up.” — Fr.


A. V., “Then my anger shall be kindled.” C., ”Itaque irascetur vultus meus.”


A. V., “Their imagination.” “The thing forged in their heart.” — Ainsworth. “Figmentum;” Taylor, from יצר, fingere, formare

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