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The Ten Commandments

 5

Moses convened all Israel, and said to them:

Hear, O Israel, the statutes and ordinances that I am addressing to you today; you shall learn them and observe them diligently. 2The Lord our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. 3Not with our ancestors did the Lord make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. 4The Lord spoke with you face to face at the mountain, out of the fire. 5(At that time I was standing between the Lord and you to declare to you the words of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire and did not go up the mountain.) And he said:

6 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 7you shall have no other gods before me.

8 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 9You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those who reject me, 10but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

11 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

12 Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 14But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. 15Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath day.

16 Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long and that it may go well with you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

17 You shall not murder.

18 Neither shall you commit adultery.

19 Neither shall you steal.

20 Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.

21 Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife.

Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Moses the Mediator of God’s Will

22 These words the Lord spoke with a loud voice to your whole assembly at the mountain, out of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, and he added no more. He wrote them on two stone tablets, and gave them to me. 23When you heard the voice out of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you approached me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders; 24and you said, “Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the fire. Today we have seen that God may speak to someone and the person may still live. 25So now why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer, we shall die. 26For who is there of all flesh that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of fire, as we have, and remained alive? 27Go near, you yourself, and hear all that the Lord our God will say. Then tell us everything that the Lord our God tells you, and we will listen and do it.”

28 The Lord heard your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: “I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you; they are right in all that they have spoken. 29If only they had such a mind as this, to fear me and to keep all my commandments always, so that it might go well with them and with their children forever! 30Go say to them, ‘Return to your tents.’ 31But you, stand here by me, and I will tell you all the commandments, the statutes and the ordinances, that you shall teach them, so that they may do them in the land that I am giving them to possess.” 32You must therefore be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn to the right or to the left. 33You must follow exactly the path that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you are to possess.


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44. And this is the Law. This last passage refers to the same thing, viz., that the Law was promulgated anew when the people had now reached the threshold of the promised land, in order that they might be more disposed to obedience, especially when the two tribes and a half had now, by the conquest of the Amorites, obtained a resting-place and a home; for this is the reason why their habitation is mentioned, because the taste of the favor already received ought to stir up their zeal to proceed more cheerfully. We shall elsewhere remark on the country and names of places. It is sufficient here to recollect, that the memory of the Law was renewed, after their inheritance without the promised land had been obtained by the sons of Reuben and Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh, and when their assured possession was before the eyes of the rest. But Moses shews that, although he might explain the Law at fuller length, still nothing had been added to that summary which was originally promulgated; but he rather indicates, that whatever he had taught them during the forty years, had had no other object than that they might more faithfully and exactly keep the Law of God.

2. The Lord our God. In these words he commends the Law; because it must be accounted a peculiar blessing, and a very high honor to be taken into covenant by God. Wherefore, that they may anxiously prepare themselves to embrace the Law, he says that what was above all things to be desired had been freely offered to them, viz., that they should be united in covenant with God. In the next verse he still further magnifies this advantage by comparison; because God had given more to them than to their fathers. Thence is all excuse taken from them, unless, for the sake of manifesting their gratitude, they give themselves up entirely to God, and in return worship with sincere affection Him whom they have experienced to be so bountiful a Father. Those who would paraphrase this sentence, “Not only with our fathers, but also with us,” pervert its proper meaning; the grounds of their mistake being, that God had formerly made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But this may be easily refuted; because the name of “fathers” does not refer to these, but he means by it such as had died in Egypt during the last 200 years; to whose case he justly prefers that of the surviving people, with whom the ancient covenant had been renewed. Now, this reference to time was in no slight degree calculated to stimulate and arouse them to obedience; for it would have been disgraceful in them not to acknowledge that they were honored more than their fathers by this especial privilege, in order that they should excel them in their earnest zeal for God’s service. Christ uses the same argument with His disciples, Blessed are the eyes which see the things that ye see: and the ears which hear the things that ye hear, etc.,223223     The quotation here appears to have been made from memory. (Matthew 13:16, and Luke 10:23,) “many Prophets and kings have desired,” etc. The sum is, that the more bountifully God deals with us, the more heinous and intolerable is the crime of ingratitude, unless we willingly come to Him when He calls us, and submit ourselves to His instruction.

4. Face to face. Again he commends the Law by mentioning their certainty about it; for, when God openly manifested Himself, there could be no doubt of the author from whom it proceeded. To speak “face to face,” is equivalent to discoursing openly and familiarly; and in point of fact God had spoken with them, as mortals and friends communicate with each other in their mutual dealings. Moreover, lest any doubt should still remain, God set before their eyes a visible manifestation of His glory, by appearing in the fire; for no other voice but that of God Himself could proceed out of fire. In the next verse a kind of explanation is added, when he says that he was the interpreter, who laid before them the commands he received from God. And thus he reconciles two things which seem at first sight to be contradictory, viz., that God spoke in person, and yet by a mediator; since they themselves having heard God’s voice petitioned in their fear that He should not continue to speak in the same way. Hence it follows that they were convinced, by a sense of the divine glory and majesty, that it was not allowable for them to doubt the authority of the law. But I only slightly glance at this, because it has been more fully treated of before.

Deuteronomy 4:20. But the Lord hath taken you. He argues that, from the period of their deliverance, they have been wholly devoted to God, since He has purchased them for His own peculiar possession. Hence it follows that they are under His jurisdiction and dominion; because it would be foul and wicked ingratitude in them to shake off the yoke of their redeemer. And, in order to strengthen the obligation, he extols the greatness of the favor, because nothing could be more wretched than they were, when God stretched forth His hand to deliver them. Their bondage is therefore called metaphorically, a “furnace,” nay, an “iron” one; and, then, their present far different condition is compared with it; for this was solid and most desirable happiness, that they should be translated into God’s peculiar inheritance.

22. These words the Lord spoke. That there may be no doubt about the authority of the law, and that it may not be depreciated by the people, Moses recalls to their memory that the presence of God, as He spoke it, was manifested by sure tokens; for this was the object of the fire, the clouds, and the darkness, whereby God’s voice was signalized, lest its source might be obscure. He adds, that it was “a great voice,” i.e., a voice which had, in an unwonted manner, penetrated far and wide. Nor are the witnesses few, whom he cites, but all that vast multitude, which for the most part would have been more disposed to extinguish the glory of God, unless it had been there made known by manifest proofs. The sum is, that there is no question as to who was the Lawgiver, whose majesty was then proclaimed by tremendous prodigies, and presented before the eyes of an immense multitude. It will be more convenient to speak elsewhere of the two tables. When Moses states that God “added no more,” he signifies that a perfect rule of life is contained in the ten commandments, and that, when their instruction is fully received, the whole body of wisdom is attained to, so that the people need seek to know no more; when God, then, made an end of speaking, he Himself laid down the bounds of legitimate inquiry.

23. And it came to pass, when ye heard. Lest the Israelites should undervalue his teaching, because he had been put between them by God as their minister, Moses meets the objection, (by reminding them) that it was done at their petition and request. We know how proudly they were wont to reject him; as if they saw in him nothing but what was earthly and human; it was needful, then, that God Himself should speak to rescue His servant from the contempt of posterity. For the people themselves, being convicted of their foolish and preposterous request, could never afterwards have any pretext for rejecting Moses, as if he had not evidenced the truth of his calling. And here their astonishing perverseness betrayed itself, in not being ashamed to refuse credit to the holy Prophet, after he had been approved by so many miracles. Assuredly, if they had been just and honest judges, it would have been sufficiently notorious, and certain to them, that Moses did not speak of himself, or of his own impulse, but that he was the organ of the Spirit; yet the doctrine of God was scorned by these proud, and perverse, and fretful beings, because it was brought to them by the hands of a mortal man. They, therefore, by their importunate desires, draw down God from heaven, to speak Himself; but immediately terror seizes on their minds, so that they flee from His voice. Thus experience taught them that there was nothing better for them than to hear God speaking to them by the mouth of Moses; and they were instructed by the just reward of their temerity to choose and prefer that mode of teaching which they had spurned; for, if in future they refused to give credit to Moses, whom they had themselves chosen as their mediator with God, they brought themselves in guilty of gross and wicked contumacy; and this is what he now reproaches them with. It would have been worse than unseemly in them, when God had yielded to their prayers, to reject that blessing which they had besought of Him. On this account he reminds them, that, after they had been eye-witnesses of God’s fearful power, they had voluntarily asked that He should not speak to them any more; and, lest they should object that this was done only by a few, or inconsiderately, or in tumult, he expressly testifies that these requests were presented by the heads of their tribes, and their elders.

24. Behold, the Lord our God hath showed us. They are urged by their own confession no more to dare oppose themselves to the ministry of Moses. For, when they confess that they saw the glory and the greatness of God, they oblige themselves to the necessity of obedience, unless they choose avowedly to make war against God. At the end of the verse, where they say that “God doth talk with man,” etc., not only do they mean that there are men surviving on earth who have heard with their ears the voice of God come down from heaven, but they express their astonishment at what was scarcely to be believed. For, although it was sufficiently notorious to them that God had formerly spoken with their fathers; yet, because a long period had elapsed since these revelations had ceased, they are amazed as at a new thing. We see, too, a long time afterwards, that as often as God appeared to His servants, they were overwhelmed with the fear of death, and it was like a proverb with them, “We shall die, because we have seen God.” (Judges 13:22.) Good reason, then, is there why they should celebrate this extraordinary privilege, that they had not been swallowed up by the glory of God; for, if at the sight of Him the mountains melt, and all that is most durable is annihilated, and all that is strongest is broken to pieces, how should man stand than whom nothing is more frail or perishable? If by His secret will the troubled air causes not only animals but trees and rocks to tremble; how shall it be when God displays His might not in the elements alone, but when descending from heaven He speaks by the voice of His mouth? It is not unreasonable, then, that the Israelites should account it miraculous that they had heard God’s voice, and were not brought to annihilation. Herein they indirectly rebuke their own folly, because, by their inconsiderate desire, they would have drawn destruction upon themselves, if they had not been aided by God’s mercy. The two following verses appear to contradict each other; for, when they had experienced that those to whom God manifests Himself, are not always destroyed and perish, why do they say that they shall die if He continues to speak to them? They seem, indeed, in so saying to show some inconsistency; yet is there cause for them to fear for the future that danger from which they had escaped by the marvelous indulgence of God. It is, then, as if they had said, It is more than enough for us once to have provoked God against us; it is of His inestimable loving-kindness that He has thus far pardoned us; meanwhile, we must beware lest our perversity bring upon us heavier punishment, unless we speedily correct our folly. Hence may a useful admonition be drawn; for, although the voice of God has not sounded in our ears, yet the experience of His ancient people ought to be sufficient to persuade us assuredly that, when God sets teachers over us, He makes the best provision for our salvation; because, if He Himself should thunder from heaven, His majesty would be intolerable to us. And this should avail to repress their destructive itching, who desire God daily to descend from heaven, or at least to send His revelations by angels; and who thus despise the ministers of mortal race whom He employs. In a word, this history is an illustrious proof that God governs His Church by the external preaching of the word, because this is most expedient for us.

26. For who is there of all. flesh? The word “flesh” is used in contempt, as often elsewhere, for the human race; for, although we consist of body and soul, yet when the frailty of men, and their perishing and transitory condition is referred to, Scripture calls them “flesh.” In this sense Zechariah calls upon “all flesh to be silent before the Lord,” (Zechariah 2:13,) and Isaiah says that “all flesh is grass,” (Isaiah 40:6,) and elsewhere, that “the horses of the Egyptians are flesh, and not spirit,” (Isaiah 31:3.) In these words, then, the reason is given why the Israelites should wonder that they were not killed and consumed after hearing God’s voice. Still they were not ignorant that God had formerly spoken in the burning bush; but in their agony of fear they do not reflect on what had previously happened, but only express their own feeling that God’s voice is deadly to the flesh, unless it is softened by some interposing remedy. For the notion of the Rabbins, that the Prophets are not to be counted amongst men, is a foolish fancy, except in so far as God supports and strengthens them by His Spirit, that they may be equal to the reception of visions. The Israelites were fully aware that Moses also was himself a mere mortal; yet, because they knew that he was God’s chosen interpreter, they do not doubt but that he will be inspired with power from heaven, to endure the speaking of God. Nor is there any question that this confession was forced from them, that they may at length learn to fall back to their proper place, and to submit themselves to Moses, against whom they had been so often rebellious. Now, therefore, they willingly subscribe to that distinction, which before they would not bear. Their promise, that they would do all things which God should command, undoubtedly proceeded from the fervor of their zeal; and therefore, God soon afterwards praises their answer. Their words were to the same effect., as if they had said that they would value whatever Moses might set before them, as if God Himself should thunder from heaven. Meanwhile: as to themselves, their levity and inconsistency was soon discovered. Thus do men often hastily and rashly consent to promise what they are not able to perform, although they do not intentionally desire to deceive, from neglecting to examine their own powers. God, therefore, pronounces what they said to be right, viz., that they would be obedient to Moses, and content with his teaching. And this sentiment has reference to us also, who are commanded to hear Moses and the Prophets, but especially God’s only Son; lest our vague speculations should hurry us away further than becomes us.

29. O that there were such an heart in them. God signifies that they would not be so firm and faithful in keeping their promises, as they were ready and willing to make them; and thus that hypocrisy was not altogether banished, or purged from their minds. Moreover, He figuratively (improprie) assumes a human feeling, because it would be vain and absurd for Him to desire what it was in His power to confer. Certainly He has the power of bending and directing men’s hearts whithersoever He pleases. Why, then, does He wish that it were given to the people from some other quarter, that they should be always kept in the path of duty, except that, speaking in the character of a man, He shows that it was rather to be wished than hoped that the people would constantly persevere in their fidelity? Wherefore this and similar passages have been ignorantly abused by some, to establish man’s free will.220220     Tels docteurs cornus. — Fr. They understand this passage, as if man’s will were capable of bending either way, and that he possessed the power of doing right, whilst God without interfering looked on at the event; as if God’s secret counsel, and not rather the end and use of external teaching, were referred to here. But we, taught by innumerable testimonies of Scripture, maintain, that it is the attribute of God alone to give what He here requires. So also immediately afterwards He says, that he wishes it may be well with the Israelites and their children, viz., because it is certain that it depends on men whether they are happy or not, as often as God invites them, when they refuse the grace offered to them; yet does it not therefore follow, that it depends on every man’s free will to attain happiness for himself. But here we must consider God’s will as it is set before us in His word, not as it is hidden in Himself; for, while by His word He invites all promiscuously to (eternal221221     Added from the French. ) life, He only quickens by His secret inspiration those whom He has elected. In sum, although God approves of the people’s answer, he says that there will be too much difficulty in the performance of it, for the event to accord with it.

30. Go say to them. He more plainly subjoins God’s consent to the people’s prayer; as much as to say, that what they had asked was ratified by God’s decree; whence it follows that, if they refuse to obey Moses, they will not be only guilty of perverseness and levity, but will violate a divine decree. I have before shown why God honors the doctrines of the law by various titles, viz., that the Israelites may more willingly acquiesce in them. But, lest they should think that what was enjoined them was only to remain in force, and to be observed for a short time, He expressly refers to the perpetuity of the Law; for this is the import of the words, in which He declares Himself to teach them what they were to do in the land which He should give them.

32. Ye shall observe to do therefore. Again, in this verse also, he does not merely exhort the people to embrace the Law, but at the same time enjoins them to be content with its unadulterated teaching; and, in fact, to receive as just and right whatever God has commanded, is only to be half obedient, unless men also put this restraint upon themselves, not to import anything else, (in addition to His Law.) So, also, in another passage, which I have subjoined, God no less severely forbids additions to it than taking away from it; and this is a declaration deserving our especial observation, because, in its preposterous wilfulness, the whole world almost is carried away into false religions; which, nevertheless, God has briefly condemned in a single word, when He commands His people so to acquiesce in His appointed Law that they may not seek to be more righteous than they are taught to be. There is a similar passage at the end of Deuteronomy 12:32,) but, because it is connected with a particular circumstance, and depends on the preceding passage, it will be more conveniently reserved for consideration in that place. He adds, in conclusion, that they will not satisfy the Law unless they keep themselves within its bounds; and in order that they may be more disposed to obedience, he gently attracts them by subjoining the promise.225225     “La promesse accoustumee;” the usual promise. — Fr.




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