World Wide Study Bible
a Bible passage
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.
2. Thou shalt smite them and utterly destroy them. Those who think that there was cruelty in this command, usurp too great authority in respect to Him who is the judge of all. The objection is specious that the people of God were unreasonably imbued with inhumanity, so that, advancing with murderous atrocity, they should spare neither sex nor age. But we must first remember what we shall see hereafter, i.e., that when God had destined the land for His people, He was at liberty utterly to destroy the former inhabitants, so that its possession might be free for them. We must then go further, and say that He desired the just demonstration of His vengeance to appear upon these nations. Four hundred years before He had justly punished their many sins, yet had He suspended His sentence and patiently borne with them, if haply they might repent. That sentence 303303 “On sait ce qui fur dit a Abraham,” etc. — Fr. is well known, “The iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.” (Genesis 15:16.) After God had shewn His mercy for four centuries, and this clemency had increased both their audacity and madness, so that they had not ceased to provoke His wrath, surely it was no act of cruelty to compensate for the delay by the grievousness of the punishment. And hence appears the foul and detestable perversity of the human intellect. We are indignant if He does not smile at once; if He delays punishment our zeal accuses Him of slackness and want of energy; yet, when He comes forth as the avenger of guilt, we either call Him cruel, or at least complain of His severity. Yet His justice will always absolve Him; and our calumnies and detractions will recoil upon our own heads. He commanded seven nations to be utterly destroyed; that is to say, after they had added sin to sin for 400 years, so that their accumulation was immense, and experience had taught that they were obstinate and incurable. It will therefore be said elsewhere, that the land “spewed them out,” (Leviticus 18:28,) as if it had eased itself, when burdened by their filthiness. If impiety is intolerable to the lifeless element, why should we wonder that God in His character of Judge exercised extreme severity? But if God’s wrath was just, He might surely choose whatever ministers and executioners of it He pleased; and when He had given this commission to His people, it was not unreasonable that He should forbid them to pity those whom He had appointed for destruction. For what can be more preposterous than for men to vie with God in clemency? and when it pleases the Master to be severe, for the servants to assume to themselves the right of shewing mercy? Therefore God often reproves the Israelites for being improperly merciful. And hence it came to pass that the people, whom they ought to have destroyed, became as thorns and briars to prick them. (Joshua 23:13, and throughout the book of Judges.) Away, then, with all temerity, whereby we would presumptuously restrict God’s power to the puny measure of our reason; and rather let us learn reverently to regard those works of His, whose cause is concealed from us, than wantonly criticise them. Especially when He declares to us the just grounds of His vengeance, let us learn to subscribe to His decrees with the humility and modesty that becomes us, rather than to oppose them in vain, and indeed to our own confusion.
6. For thou art a holy people. He explains more distinctly what we have lately seen respecting God’s gratuitous love; for the comparison of the fewness of the people with the whole world and all nations, illustrates in no trifling degree the greatness of God’s grace; and this subject is considerably enlarged upon. Almost the same expressions will very soon be repeated, and also in the Song of Moses; but there by way of reproof, whilst here it is directed to a different object, as is plain from the context, viz., that they might be, by so great a blessing, laid under obligation to devote themselves and their services to God. He begins by declaring the end of their election, viz., that God had deigned to bestow this peculiar honor upon them that He might acquire unto Himself a holy people, pure from all pollutions, and then, by adding the circumstance I have adverted to, he magnifies the excellence of the benefit. From his argument drawn from their dignity, that they ought therefore to labor after holiness, we gather, that in proportion to the abundance of grace with which any one is endued, he is solemnly bound to live piously and justly. For God does not wish the gifts he bestows upon us to lie idle, but to produce their appropriate fruits; and we must especially remember that when He adopts us, and gathers us into His Church, we are not “called to uncleanness,” but to purity of life, and to shew forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvellous light.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7, and 1 Peter 2:9.) The Hebrew word סגלה, segullah, which we translate “peculiaris,” special, some understand to mean a “treasure,” or a precious and desirable thing, as was stated on Exodus 19. Undoubtedly it appears from many passages that gold, silver, pearls, and the like, are designated by this word; but substantially it is agreed that this title is given to the elect people, because God delights Himself in them; and herein His incomparable goodness shines forth, that He so highly esteems such miserable and worthless creatures, (homunciones.) Hence, too, it appears that by His holy calling He, as it were, creates out of nothing “things which are not,” that they may excel every earthly being.
7. The Lord did not set his love upon you. He proves it to be of God’s gratuitous favor, that He has exalted them to such high honor, because He had passed over all other nations, and deigned to embrace them alone. For an equal distribution of God’s gifts generally casts obscurity upon them in our eyes; thus the light of the sun, our common food, and other things, which all equally enjoy, either lose their value, or, at any rate, do not obtain their due honor; whilst what is peculiar is more conspicuous. Moreover, Moses takes it for granted, that there was nothing naturally in the people to cause their condition to be better or more distinguished; and hence infers, that there was no other reason why God should choose them, except His mere choice of them. We have elsewhere observed, that by this His love, whatever men would bring of their own is excluded or annihilated. It follows, therefore, that the Israelites could never be sufficiently grateful to God, since they had been thus liberally dealt with by Him, without any desert of their own.
8. Because he would keep the oath. The love of God is here referred back from the children to the fathers; for he addressed the men of his own generation, when he said that they were therefore God’s treasure, because He loved them; now he adds that God had not just begun to love them for the first time, but that He had originally loved their fathers, when He chose to adopt Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But although he more clearly proves that the descendants of Abraham had deserved nothing of the kind, because they are God’s peculiar people only by right of inheritance, still it must be remarked that God was induced to be kind to Abraham by no other cause than mere generosity. A little further on, therefore, he will say that those who then survived were dear to God, because He had already loved their fathers. But now he still further commends the goodness of God, because He had handed down His covenant from the fathers to the children, to shew that He is faithful and true to His promises. At the end of the verse, he teaches that the deliverance of the people was both an effect and a testimony of that grace.
9. Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God. The verb 220220 “Heb. And thou shalt know.” — Ainsworth. “Et scies.” — V. might have been as properly translated in the future tense; and, if this be preferred, an experimental knowledge, as it is called, is referred to, as if he had said that God would practically manifest how faithful a rewarder He is of His servants. But if the other reading is rather approved, Moses exhorts the people to be assured that God sits in heaven as the Judge of men, so that they may be both alarmed by the fear of His vengeance, and also attracted by the hope of reward. This declaration, however, 221221 See on Deuteronomy 5:9, 10, vol. 2, p. 110, et seq. was appended to the Second Commandment, and there expounded; for since it is comprehended in the Decalogue, it was not right to separate it from thence; but since it is now repeated in confirmation of the whole Law, it is fitly inserted in this place. It will not be amiss, nevertheless, slightly to advert to what I there more fully explained. The promise stands first, because God chooses rather to invite His people by kindness than to compel them to obedience from terror. The word mercy is coupled with the covenant, that we may know that the reward which believers must expect, does not depend on the merit of their works, since they have need of God’s mercy. We may, however, thus resolve the phrase — keeping the covenant of mercy — or the covenant founded on mercy — or the mercy which He covenanted.
When it is required of believers that they should love God before they keep His Commandments, we are thus taught that the source and cause of obedience is the love wherewith we embrace God as our Father. With respect to the “thousand generations,” it is better that we should refer to the Second Commandment, because it is a point which cannot be hurried over in a few words.
10. And repayeth them that hate him. There is no mention here made of the vengeance “unto the third and fourth generation? 222222 Added in Fr., “Mais seulement que Dieu punira les delinquans;” but only that God will punish the transgressors.
Those who expound the passage that God confers kindnesses on the wicked, whilst they are living in this world, 223223 The question is as to the word פניו, literally his or their face. The first explanation noticed by C., in their lifetime, is that of the Chaldee and Syriac versions, and also of the Hebrew Commentators; the second, in his anger, is attributed in Poole’s Synopsis, amongst others, to S M. Dathe’s translation is, “praesentissima pernicie;” and his note “mihi quidem videtur פנים dictum esse pro nomine reciproco ille, ipse, ut Exodus 33:15; Deuteronomy 4:37; 2 Samuel 17:11. Vide Noldius sub hac voce, num. 2. Latine non commode iisdem verbis exprimi potest. Igitur notionem, quae vocabulo Hebraeo subisse videtur, cum sequenti להאבידו conjunetim indicavi.” that He may at length destroy them in final perdition, wrest the words too violently. Nor is the opinion of others probable, that God repays the wicked with the reward of hatred, in His face, or anger. I therefore interpret it to mean the face of those to whose disobedience God opposes Himself when He humbles their arrogance; for He alludes to their pride and audacity, because they do not hesitate to provoke God, as if He were without the courage or the power to contend with them. He declares, then, that their impudence and brazen front shall avail them nothing, but that He will cast down the impertinence of their countenance, and the insolence of their forehead; and signifies that they shall as certainly feel the judgment which they despise, as if He presented it before their eyes. He adds, moreover, that He will not deal towards the wicked with the clemency which he uses towards His children; for He so chastises them that His correction is always profitable for their salvation, whilst He denounces deadly punishment against the former; for although He seems to deal alike with both, when He inflicts temporal punishment, still, that which is but a medicine for believers, is to the reprobate a foretaste of their eternal destruction. What He says, however, as to taking vengeance without delay, does not seem to accord with other passages of Scripture, in which He declares Himself to be slow to anger, kind, and long-suffering. Besides, it seems also to be contradicted by experience, since He does not immediately hasten to inflict punishment, but proceeds slowly, so as to compensate by His severity for the slowness with which He acts. But we must remember what He says in Psalm 90:4, that a thousand years in His sight are but as a single day; and consequently, when we think that He delays, He is, in His infinite wisdom, hastening as much as is necessary. He seems, indeed, to take no notice for a time, that He may thus invite men to repent; but still He declares that He will not delay, but that He will come suddenly, like a whirlwind, to hasten His judgments, lest the ungodly should grow drowsy from their security. Let us, therefore, learn quietly and patiently to wait for the fit season of His vengeance.
12. Wherefore it shall come to pass. God appears so to act according to agreement, as to leave (His people) no hope of His favor, unless they perform their part of it; and undoubtedly this is the usual form of expression in the Law, in which the condition is inserted, that God will do good to His people if they have deserved it by their obedience. Still we must remember what we have elsewhere seen, that, after God has so covenanted with them, He Himself, in order that His promise may not be made of none effect, descends to the gratuitous promise of pardon, whereby He reconciles the unworthy to Himself. Thus the original covenant only avails to man’s condemnation. But when salvation is offered to them gratuitously, their works at the same time become pleasing to God. Inasmuch, however, as the cause of reward is unconnected with men and their works, all calculation of merit is out of the question: still it is profitable to believers that a reward should be promised them if they walk in the commandments of God; since, in His inestimable liberality, He deals with them as if they did something to deserve it.
In conclusion, Moses enumerates some of the proofs of God’s favor, such as fecundity, and an abundance of the fruits of the earth. It is questionable whether by what is added at the end respecting the diseases of Egypt, he means the boils which were generated by the scattered ashes, (Exodus 9:8,) or the lice which infested both man and beast, (Exodus 8:17,) or whether he extends them to those diseases which had prevailed long before the departure of the people. I am disposed to embrace the latter opinion; 224224 “Certain diseases, peculiar to Egypt, are meant; such as various diseases of the skin, as the scab, elephantiasis, plague, etc. Pliny, Nat. Hist., 26., calls Egypt the mother of such diseases. Even at the present day, there are in Egypt several peculiar diseases, especially ophthalmia, variolous diseases, and plague.” — Rosenmuller. Hengstenberg also, in his “Egypt and the Books of Moses,” has an article on this subject, p. 454, confirmative of the above. He quotes Wagner as calling Egypt, in his Natural History of Man, “a great focus of the diseases in universal history.” for in Deuteronomy 28:27, after mentioning “the botch of Egypt,” he adds “emerods, and the scab, and the itch:” it is, therefore, probable that the Egyptians were subject to various maladies, from which Moses declares that the people should be free by special privilege, if only they obeyed God’s Law.
16. And thou shalt consume all the people. It is plain from the second part of the verse wherefore He commands the people of Canaan to be destroyed, when He forbids their gods to be worshipped. This precept, therefore, corresponds with the others, where He dooms in like manner these nations to utter destruction. I now pass over what I have explained elsewhere, i.e., that the vengeance which God exercised against these obstinate and ten-times lost people cannot be ascribed to cruelty. For since 400 years ago it had been said to Abraham that their iniquity was not yet full, they could not be treated with severity equal to their deserts, when they had so licentiously and wickedly abused God’s long-suffering. But we must take notice of God’s design in so particularly enjoining on the Israelites utterly to destroy whatever should be found there; for besides that He had once doomed them all to the destruction they merited, He would have the land also, in which His name was to be invoked, purged from all pollutions. Now, if any of the old inhabitants had survived, they would soon have endeavored to revive their corruptions, and since the Israelites were otherwise more disposed than enough to superstition, they would easily have been attracted to the worship of idols. This, then, is the reason why God forbids them to shew these people any humanity or clemency, as I have reminded you to be clear from the context; for these things stand in connection, that they should not spare the nations nor worship their gods. The reason which is subjoined, “for it will be a snare or stumblingblock to you,” must be extended to the whole context, viz., that it would be fatal to the Jews if they should spare the nations which would allure them to impiety.
17 If thou shalt say in thine heart. Since it was a matter of great difficulty to destroy such a multitude of men, and despair itself would drive them to madness, so that it would be frivolous for the Israelites to cut off all hope of mercy, God anticipates their fear, and exhorts them to the strenuous execution of His sentence. From whence we gather some useful instruction; whenever God commands anything which exceeds our power, we must still obey and boldly break through whatever obstacles present themselves to impede us. In all arduous matters, therefore, let this doctrine come to our aid, that whatever is contrary to God’s will may easily be annihilated by His almighty power. But since terror, presented to our eyes, immediately so lays hold of all our senses that we lie as it were torpid, God recalls to the recollection of the Israelites what abundant grounds of confidence He had supplied them with. For all the miracles He had wrought were so many proofs of His invincible power; and hence they should conclude that nothing was to be dreaded, provided God should go before them, and that, therefore, being assured of victory, they should not descend to any treaties.
20. Moreover, the Lord thy God will send the hornet. Since the destruction of their enemies might seem long, if they were only to be slain by their hands and weapons, and again, because it was scarcely credible that, without defending themselves, they would voluntarily stretch forth their own throats, God promises that in another way also He would supply the means of their conquest. Therefore, lest the Israelites, imagining that their enemies would be prompt and vigorous in resistance, should be alarmed or affrighted, God declares that other forces should be at hand, for that hornets or other poisonous insects should destroy all the fugitives. The same declaration is found in Exodus 23; and what God had promised, Joshua relates that He performed. (Joshua 24:12.) But inasmuch as these nations were not to be destroyed in a moment, lest the people should therefore grow weary or become inactive, God anticipates this, and reminds them that this delay would be advantageous, for when all the inhabitants were exterminated, the wild beasts would occupy the empty land. The prolongation of the war, therefore, ought not to trouble them, for by it God provided for His people’s welfare, since, if the men were speedily destroyed, they should have to contend with wild beasts. But though the passage which I have quoted from Exodus is similar in terms, yet I have designedly placed it under another head; for God here refers to the extermination of the Gentile nations with another object, i.e., lest any of the ancient pollutions should remain in the land, and lest the Israelites should mingle with the ungodly, by whose arts they might at length be drawn away to spurious religions.
25. The graven images of their gods. He again impresses upon them the object of the destruction of the nations, but he goes further than before. He had before forbidden them to worship their gods. He now commands them to consume their graven images with fire, for since the people were prone to superstition, such snares might easily have alienated them from God’s pure worship. Nor does he command them merely to melt the gold and silver so as to alter its shape, but he altogether interdicts its use, since it would be a contagious plague; for he shews how greatly God abominates idols, inasmuch as whosoever should touch the materials of which they were molten, would contract pollution and become accursed. This great severity might indeed seem to condemn the metals which were created for man’s use, as if they were impure, and as if the perfectness of natural things was liable to be corrupted by man. But in this way idolaters would contaminate the sun and moon, when falsely regarding them as objects of corrupt worship; and it must be answered that the gold and silver itself was by no means polluted by this impious abuse; but that, although free from all stain in itself, it was polluted in respect to the people. Such was the uncleanness of animals, not that they had in themselves any pollution, but because God had interdicted their being eaten. The pollution therefore which is now mentioned arises from a similar prohibition; for otherwise the ignorant people could not be restrained, and hence God would have that to be abominable which in itself was pure. Still this was a political precept, and only given temporarily to the ancient people; yet we gather from it how detestable idolatry is, which even infects the works of God themselves with its own filthiness.