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Joshua Becomes Moses’ Successor
When Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, 2he said to them: “I am now one hundred twenty years old. I am no longer able to get about, and the Lord has told me, ‘You shall not cross over this Jordan.’ 3The Lord your God himself will cross over before you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua also will cross over before you, as the Lord promised. 4The Lord will do to them as he did to Sihon and Og, the kings of the Amorites, and to their land, when he destroyed them. 5The Lord will give them over to you and you shall deal with them in full accord with the command that I have given to you. 6Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the sight of all Israel: “Be strong and bold, for you are the one who will go with this people into the land that the Lord has sworn to their ancestors to give them; and you will put them in possession of it. 8It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.”
The Law to Be Read Every Seventh Year
9 Then Moses wrote down this law, and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. 10Moses commanded them: “Every seventh year, in the scheduled year of remission, during the festival of booths, 11when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. 12Assemble the people—men, women, and children, as well as the aliens residing in your towns—so that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God and to observe diligently all the words of this law, 13and so that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are crossing over the Jordan to possess.”
Moses and Joshua Receive God’s Charge
14 The Lord said to Moses, “Your time to die is near; call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, so that I may commission him.” So Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting, 15and the Lord appeared at the tent in a pillar of cloud; the pillar of cloud stood at the entrance to the tent.
16 The Lord said to Moses, “Soon you will lie down with your ancestors. Then this people will begin to prostitute themselves to the foreign gods in their midst, the gods of the land into which they are going; they will forsake me, breaking my covenant that I have made with them. 17My anger will be kindled against them in that day. I will forsake them and hide my face from them; they will become easy prey, and many terrible troubles will come upon them. In that day they will say, ‘Have not these troubles come upon us because our God is not in our midst?’ 18On that day I will surely hide my face on account of all the evil they have done by turning to other gods. 19Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the Israelites; put it in their mouths, in order that this song may be a witness for me against the Israelites. 20For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I promised on oath to their ancestors, and they have eaten their fill and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, despising me and breaking my covenant. 21And when many terrible troubles come upon them, this song will confront them as a witness, because it will not be lost from the mouths of their descendants. For I know what they are inclined to do even now, before I have brought them into the land that I promised them on oath.” 22That very day Moses wrote this song and taught it to the Israelites.
23 Then the Lord commissioned Joshua son of Nun and said, “Be strong and bold, for you shall bring the Israelites into the land that I promised them; I will be with you.”
24 When Moses had finished writing down in a book the words of this law to the very end, 25Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying, 26“Take this book of the law and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God; let it remain there as a witness against you. 27For I know well how rebellious and stubborn you are. If you already have been so rebellious toward the Lord while I am still alive among you, how much more after my death! 28Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officials, so that I may recite these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to witness against them. 29For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, turning aside from the way that I have commanded you. In time to come trouble will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands.”
The Song of Moses
30 Then Moses recited the words of this song, to the very end, in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel:
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, 230230 “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. 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 Peter 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.” 231231 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.” (Psalm 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. (1 Samuel 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, 232232 “Pareils et de mesme calibre;” equal and of the sanc calibre. — Fr. 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.” (Psalm 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 233233 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. 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.)
9. And Moses wrote this law. It is unquestionable that Moses deposited the Book of the Law in the custody of the Levites, to enjoin upon them the duty of teaching; for although it is only related that they were commanded to recite the book before the people every seventh year, yet it is easy to gather that they were appointed the constant proclaimers of its doctrine. For it would have been absurd that the Law should lie buried for seven whole years, and that not a word should be heard of its instruction; besides, the difficulty of hearing in so great a multitude would be great, and the recollection of it would soon have vanished. In a word, very little would have been the use of the ceremony, if at all other times the Levites had been dumb, and nothing should have been heard throughout the land regarding the worship of God. This then was the object of the solemn promulgation of the Law, (Deuteronomy 31:10, etc.), which was made in the year of release, that the people should daily inquire the right way of serving God of the Levites, who were chosen to be as it were νομοφύλακες (guardians of the Law), that they might bring forward in due season whatever it was profitable to know. Here, then, is represented to us as in a mirror what Paul says, that the Church of God is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” (1 Timothy 3:15;) because purity of doctrine is preserved unimpaired in the world, and propagated by the ministry of pastors, whilst piety would soon decay if the living preaching of doctrine should cease. Therefore Paul also elsewhere commands that the sound doctrine, of which he was a minister, should be committed by Timothy
"to faithful men, who should be able to teach others also.”
(2 Timothy 2:2.)
First, then, we must remember, that the Book of the Law was given in trust, as it were, to the Levites, that the people might learn from them what was right. The addition of “the elders” is not superfluous; for although the office of teaching was not committed to them, yet were they given as coadjutors to the Levites, in order that they might uphold the doctrine of the Law, and not suffer it to be scorned. We know how great is the insolence of the people in rejecting pious teachers, unless they are restrained by those in authority; nor do the latter indeed duly fulfill their duty, if they do not keep their subjects to the study of religion, who would be otherwise too much disposed to impiety.
Moses in this passage calls by the name of “the Law,” not the Ten Commandments engraved on the two tables, but the interpretation of it contained in the four books. The circumstances took place thirty-nine years after God had spoken on Mount Sinai. What follows, that it was to be read every seven years, I have commented on elsewhere; 187187 Vide vol. 1, p. 370. but there will be no harm in repeating what may serve for the understanding of this passage. The seventh year was chosen for this purpose, because all, both males and females, might then assemble at Jerusalem without detriment to their private interests, for there was a cessation from all labor; they neither sowed, nor reaped, and agriculture was altogether at a stand-still. There was therefore no business to prevent them from celebrating that festival, whereby God represented to them in a lively manner, how miraculously He had preserved their fathers in the desert. Lest the recollection of so great a benefit should ever perish, the Law indeed commanded them, wherever they might be, to go forth from their houses every year, and to pass seven days under the boughs of trees; but in the Sabbatical Year, when all was at rest at home, it was more convenient for them to go up to Jerusalem from all quarters, that by their very multitude they might the better testify their gratitude. Therefore it is added, “when all Israel is come,” etc. And it must be observed, that in that assembly they were more solemnly pledged, one and all, to keep the Law, because they were mutually witnesses against each other if they should break the covenant thus publicly renewed. On this account it is added, “Gather the people together, men, women, and children.” But that it might not be a mere empty spectacle, it is expressly commanded that the book should be read “in their hearing:” by which words a recitation is expressed, from whence the hearers might receive profit, else it would have been a sham and ludicrous parade; just as in the Papacy, when they loudly bellow out the Scriptures in an unknown tongue, they do but profane God’s name. To this end, therefore, did God desire the doctrine of His Law to be heard; viz., that He might obtain disciples for Himself; not that He might fill their ears with a senseless and unprofitable clamour. And indeed when the Popish priests were a little ashamed of altogether driving the people away from hearing God’s word, they devised this foolish plan of shouting to the deaf, as if this silly formality would satisfy God’s command, when He ordains that all should be taught from the least to the greatest: for it is afterwards again expressed, “that they may hear, and that they may learn.” Hence we lay it down, that the legitimate use of Scripture is perverted when it is enunciated in an obscure manner such as no one can understand. But whilst no other mode of reading Scripture is approved by God, except such as may instruct the people, so also the fruit of understanding, i.e., that they may learn to fear God, is required in the hearers. But it is undoubted, that “the fear of God” comprehends faith, nay, that properly speaking it springs from faith; and by this expression Moses indicates that the Law was given for the purpose of instructing men in piety and the pure service of God. At the same time we may learn from this passage, that all the services which are paid to God in ignorance, are extravagant, and illegitimate. The beginning of wisdom is to fear God; and on this point all agree; but then each one slips away to his own imaginations and erroneous devotions, as they choose to call them. God, however, in order to restrain such audacity as this, declares that he is not duly worshipped, except He shall first have been listened to. As to “the strangers,” when their participation in sacred things is in question, I have elsewhere observed that all foreigners are not so called, but only those who, being Gentiles by origin, had devoted themselves to God, and having received circumcision, had been incorporated into the Church; otherwise it would not have been lawful to admit them into the congregation of the faithful; and this is confirmed by the additional words, “that is within thy gates:” which is as much as if Moses had said, inhabitants of your cities, and dwelling together with the people. Finally, when their children are mentioned, reference is made to the propagation of sound doctrine, that the pure worship of God may continually be maintained. He therefore commands that the Law should be recited, not in one generation only, but as long as the status of the people may last; and surely all God’s servants ought to take care, that they may transmit to posterity what they have learnt themselves. Yet we must remark, that all doctrine which may have been handed down from their ancestors, is not here promiscuously commended; but God rather claims for Himself the entire authority, both towards the fathers and the children.
10. And Moses commanded them. The object of this precept is the same as that of the foregoing. He would have (the Law238238 Added from the French. ) 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,239239 En chartes authentiques. — Fr. 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, (Malachi 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. (2 Kings 22:3, etc.) Exactly the same thing did not occur under the Papacy; but when its scarecrow240240 Larvati. — Lat. Les Eveques comus et masquez. — Fr. 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.241241 “Congregando,” by congregating — Lat. There is much abridgment of the passage in the French. Literally, “to gather,”242242 הקהל. The form is strictly that of the imperative Hiphil, whilst the infinitive of the same voice is properly הקהיל, as seen in Numbers 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 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 those243243 L’audace du Pape et de son clerge. — Fr. 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 recitation244244 Added from the French. ) 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.
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;” 242242 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. 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; 243243 A. V., “Then my anger shall be kindled.” C., ”Itaque irascetur vultus meus.” 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 Psalm 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, (Isaiah 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,” (Isaiah 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, 244244 A. V., “Their imagination.” “The thing forged in their heart.” — Ainsworth. “Figmentum;” Taylor, from יצר, fingere, formare 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? (Romans 9:20, 21.) And,
“Who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed
unto him again?” (Romans 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.