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The Greatest Commandment
1“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the rules11Or just decrees; also verse 20 that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, 2that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long. 3Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey.
4“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.22Or The Lord our God is one Lord; or The Lord is our God, the Lord is one; or The Lord is our God, the Lord alone 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear. 14You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you— 15for the Lord your God in your midst is a jealous God—lest the anger of the Lord your God be kindled against you, and he destroy you from off the face of the earth.
16“You shall not put the Lord your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. 17You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and his testimonies and his statutes, which he has commanded you. 18And you shall do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers 19by thrusting out all your enemies from before you, as the Lord has promised.
20“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ 21then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’
1. Now these are the commandments. In these three verses he repeats what we have already seen in many previous passages; since God deals so liberally with the Israelites, they would be too perverse, unless such great kindness should allure them to love the law. We must remember too what I have already touched on, that, although I have postponed to another place the promises, whereby Moses urged the people to endeavor to keep the Law, still I have designedly put before my exposition of the Law those passages, in which, by setting the promised land as it were before the people’s eyes, he prepares their minds for submission, and renders the rule of so bountiful a Father pleasant and delightful. Since, then, they were appointed to inherit the land, Moses, when he invites them to its enjoyment, commands them gladly to embrace the doctrine, for the sake of which they were adopted; and to devote themselves, on their side, to obedience to God, by whose gratuitous goodness they had been prevented. As in chapters 8 and 11 he praised the richness of the land, so does he now confirm the same statement; or rather afterwards more fully explains what he slightly touches upon here. They all agree in this, that the happy state of life which was before their eyes ought to awaken the people’s gratitude, lest such notable beneficence should be expended on them in vain. Moses therefore declares, that he had presented to them laws and statutes, by which they might be instructed in the fear of God; at the same time, he reminds them how base in them it would be not to be ravished to the love of God and of His law by the delightfulness and abundance of the land. I pass over what I have already explained, viz., that he taught nothing of himself, but was the faithful interpreter of God; and also that he commands the doctrine to be handed down to their posterity, so that it may never be lost. Whence it appears how difficult it is for men to be duly prepared for keeping the law, since God does not in vain so often stimulate their indolence; for there is a silent reproof conveyed either of their indolence or instability, when God does not cease to insist on what it would have been sufficient to have pointed out in a single word. We must also remark the definition of righteousness, that they should do what is right in the sight of the Lord; in opposition to the reason and judgment of the flesh.
6. And these words. In these four next verses God again commands (as before) the study of His Law. And first, indeed, He would have it implanted in their hearts, lest forgetfulness of it should ever steal over them; and by the word “heart” He designates the memory and other faculties of the mind; as though He had said that this was so great a treasure, that there was good cause why they should hide it in their hearts, or so fix this doctrine deeply in their minds that it should never escape. Afterwards He enjoins that constant conversation should be held about it with their children, in order that fathers should diligently attend and apply themselves to the duty of instruction. The word שנן234234 Margin of A.V., to whet, or sharpen. — W. shanan, which Moses uses, means properly “to whet.” Commentators think that it is employed metaphorically for “to reiterate,” or “to repeat constantly,” because, when the heavenly doctrine is inculcated, it will scarcely even thus be duly impressed on their hearts; but, since it is here used in the conjugation Piel, its signification may be transitive, viz., that they should cause it to penetrate their minds, as if they should prick them with the point of a sword; for the other translation does not seem consistent. But it is sufficient for me to state my opinion, lest any should be offended by its novelty. Lastly, he exhorts them to exercise themselves in its meditation both publicly and privately, in order to stimulate their want of energy. But, although he may seem to speak hyperbolically, yet if any one will carefully consider how slow and careless men are in learning, and how forgetful they are when they seem to have made some progress, he will readily acknowledge that Moses does not urge them so strongly on insufficient grounds, but that it was highly necessary for him to be thus rigid in exacting their attention. For this reason the Prophet in Psalm 1:2, pronounces them to be blessed who meditate in God’s law “day and night.” He leaves, then, no portion of time unoccupied with meditation on the Law; whether they are at home, or abroad, or when they retire to rest, or when they rise in the morning. To this precept David appears to allude in Psalm 119:62, where he says, “At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee because of thy righteous judgments;” and again, Psalm 119:148, “Mine eyes prevent the night-watches, that I might meditate in thy word.” But still, by the expression “talk of them,” Moses does not urge the people to empty talkativeness, to which many are too much inclined, but he would have them severally thus establish themselves and be teachers of each other. He enumerates these various engagements, lest that change of occupation by which the mind is wont to be distracted should withdraw the godly from the right path, as though he commanded them to make this their chief aim in whatever business they might be engaged. For the same reason he desires bracelets and frontlets to be made of the precepts of the Law, contrasting doubtless this spiritual ornament with chains235235 A tous joyaux, affiquets, et parures. — Fr. of gold, as much as to say that they would more properly take delight in the pious recollection of the Law, than in those trifling ornaments which attract men’s senses. The Jews understanding this literally, accounted this external ostentation a mark of holiness, so as to think that they had almost done all they needed, when they wore the Law on their arms and foreheads. Thence their mistaken zeal proceeded still further, so that, as each desired to be thought better than others, they widened their phylacteries in proportion, for so they denominated the borders of their garments, on which were written certain sentences of the Law, as safeguards. This error our Lord severely reproves in the Scribes and Pharisees, (Matthew 23:5,) because it was a mere mockery of this admonition, and a profanation of its doctrine. The intention of God sufficiently appears in the passage from Exodus, which I have subjoined, and in which they are simply commanded to be diligent in keeping the Law. But there is good reason why diligence should be required, not only on account of the matter being highly important, but because, through our vanity, we are apt to relax our exertions, unless our slowness of heart is stimulated.
10. And it shall be, when the Lord thy God. Since wealth and prosperity for the most part blind men’s minds, so that they do not sufficiently attend to modesty and moderation, but rather grow wanton in their lusts, and intoxicate themselves with pleasures, God prescribes against this error by anticipation. For not without cause does he admonish them to beware lest they forget God, when they shall have been liberally and luxuriously treated by Him, but because he knew this to be a common vice, for abundance to beget arrogance; as afterwards he will say in his song,
“Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked: thou art waxen fat, etc., then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation.” (Deuteronomy 32:15.)
First of all, he shews how base and unworthy would be their ingratitude, if, when loaded with so many excellent benefits by God, they should cast away the recollection of Him; for, as His goodness was inestimable, in giving them cities built by the hands of others, and in transferring to them whatever others had prepared by their great labor and industry, so would their impiety be the more detestable in neglecting Him, when He daily set Himself before them in this abundant store of blessing. Let us learn, therefore, from this passage, that we are invited by God’s liberality to honor Him, and that whenever He deals kindly by us, He places His glory before our eyes; but, on the other hand, we should remember, that what ought to be as it were vehicles, to lift up our minds on high, are, by our own fault, converted into obstacles and clogs, and that therefore we ought to be the more upon our guard. At the end of verse 12, he reproves their folly by another argument, if being thus suddenly enriched, they should give way to intemperance; as if he had said, that their absurdity would be insupportable, if, when uplifted by God’s bounty, they should not remember their origin; for nothing should have served more to incline them to humility than that wretched state of servitude from whence they had been rescued. Therefore he contrasts with that ample dominion to which God had exalted them, the house of bondmen,”245245 Margin of A. V. in order that the recollection of their former lot may restrain all frowardness.
13. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God. Hence it is more evident why He has just declared that there is One God, viz., that He alone may be undividedly worshipped; for unless our minds are fixed on Him alone, religion is torn, as it were, into divers parts, and this is soon followed by a labyrinth of errors. But, first, he calls for reverence, and then for the worship which may testify and demonstrate it. “Fear” contains in it the idea of subjection, when men devote themselves to God, because His terrible majesty keeps them in their proper place. Hence results worship, which is the proof of piety. But we must observe that the fear enjoined in this passage is voluntary, so that men influenced by it desire nothing more than to obey God. When I stated, therefore, that God brings us under the yoke by a sense of His power and greatness, I did not understand that a violent and servile obedience is extorted from us; I only wished to affirm that men cannot be induced to obey God, before they have been subdued by fear; because their innate corruption always carries with it a contempt for religion, and a spirit of licentiousness. Therefore, in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 5:22), in order to exhort men to fear, He sets forth His terrible power in restraining the strength of the sea; but this fear leads on His true worshippers further. In the other passage which we have subjoined from Deuteronomy 10, the word cleave again confirms the truth, that as soon as men decline from God in the least degree, His worship is corrupted. For this is the meaning of that union with Himself to which He calls His worshippers, that they should be, as it were, glued to Him, and should not look elsewhere.
14. Ye shall not go after. In this passage Moses commands the people not to turn away from the simple service of God, although examples of superstition may present themselves to their sight on every side. For this was a very destructive temptation, that none could be anywhere found who subscribed to the doctrine of the Law, although the respective nations had some religion, or at any rate the name of it existing among them. Since, therefore, these various forms of worship were so many temptations to forsake the right way, it was needful to provide against the danger betimes, and so to establish the authority of the One God, that the Jews might have courage to despise the common belief of all the Gentiles. A threat is added, that vengeance would not be far off if they should fall away into these superstitions, since God is a jealous God, and dwelling among them. As to the former epithet, I am about to say more under the Second Commandment. Meanwhile, let my readers observe that God is called jealous, because He permits no rivalry which may detract from His glory, nor does He suffer the service which is due to Him alone to be transferred elsewhere. When He reminds the people that he dwells among them, it is partly to inspire terror by reason of His presence, and partly to reprove indirectly their ingratitude, if they should forsake Him, and seek for themselves gods who are afar of.
16. Ye shall not tempt the Lord. Since the doctrine here should undoubtedly be referred to the First Commandment, we gather from it that this is the main foundation of piety, to give to Him what is His own, and to diminish nothing from the prerogative which He claims. As we have already seen, unbelief was the fountain and cause of the tempting in Massah, for when the people neither relied on God’s providence nor rested on His paternal love, they burst forth into impatience, and at length advanced so far as to think that God was not with them, unless He complied with their wicked lusts. We perceive, then, that God cannot be rightly worshipped unless when He has His peculiar attributes acknowledged. Whence, also, it appears that true piety cannot be dissevered from faith, because, if we confess that every desirable good dwells in Him, we shall expect and seek for all things from Him; we shall also patiently and contentedly allow ourselves to be governed by His will, and, in a word, give up ourselves and our lives into His hands.
20. And when thy son asketh thee. The sole point which Moses urges in these verses is, that the people should testify their gratitude by obeying the Law, and that the same religion,232232 Addition in Fr., “qu’il a apprinse de Dieu;” which they have learnt of God. which he commands the fathers to teach, should descend to their posterity. The sum is, that there was good reason why all the precepts of the Law should be observed, since by them it was that God desired His people, after their deliverance, to shew forth their sense of His loving-kindness. Again, therefore, in this passage, he commends the Law by reminding them of their redemption, that the people might more willingly and more earnestly reverence it; for its authority has stronger claims upon them, because it was not imposed before God had laid them under obligation to Himself; and it would have been too base and absurd in them to refuse God as their Lawgiver, when they knew that by Him they had been purchased to Himself. In the next place He reminds them that for the same object they had been constituted the heirs of the land of Canaan, that they should honor God as the author of this special favor; thus he concludes that they are bound by a two-fold tie, for God had devoted them to Himself not once only, but had confirmed His dominion over them by their continued possession of the land. But there is nothing inconsistent in his saying that the land was promised by oath to their fathers before the Law was given; for, although God bestowed this gift gratuitously, yet did He justly claim the testimony of their gratitude; just as now-a-days, although He invites us to the hope of an eternal inheritance of His own free bounty, yet the end of our calling is, that we on our part should celebrate His glory all our life long. When in verse 24 he uses the words “to fear the Lord our God,” he briefly defines the sum of the Law; for it would not suffice for us to perform whatever is there commanded, unless our obedience had reference to the fear and worship of God. Integrity and uprightness, indeed, give God delight; but none will say that men’s life is duly ordered, if, whilst they exercise equity one towards another, they defraud God of His right. But it is well known that legitimate honor and worship are comprehended under the name of fear. Just afterwards, he commends the Law on account of its profitableness; for God provided for their own good, in delivering to them the rule of a just and pious life. In these words he intimates that they would be doubly ungrateful if they rejected what God meant for their own advantage. For this expression, “for our good,” is equivalent to saying that God not only had respect and care for His own rights in enacting the Law, but at the same time regarded what would be useful to them; and this he more clearly states in the next verse, where he says that “this shall be their righteousness if they observe” the Law; otherwise, that the rule of a righteous life, which would please God, was prescribed to them, than which nothing better could be desired. But it will be elsewhere shewn at greater length how the keeping of the Law is in itself righteousness, and yet that no man is justified by the Law; for, that the Law brings only wrath and condemnation, does not arise from any defect or faultiness in its doctrine, but must be imputed to our own guilt, as being far removed, nay, aliens from the righteousness233233 La doctrine. — Fr. which it contains.