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A Warning Not to Forget God in Prosperity
This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. 6Therefore keep the commandments of the Lord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the Lord your God for the good land that he has given you.
11 Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. 19If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God.
1. All the commandments. Although the first verse might have been included among the promises, whereby, as we shall hereafter see, the Law was ratified by Moses, because he here exhorts and incites the Israelites to obedience by proposing to them the hope of reward; still it appeared to me that I might conveniently insert it here, since the design of Moses was simply this, to attract them by the sweetness of the promised inheritance to receive the doctrines of the Law. This sentence, then, may be justly counted among those whereby their minds were prepared to submit themselves to God with the gentleness and docility that became them; as though he had said, because the land of Canaan is now not far from you, its very nearness ought to encourage you to take upon you God’s yoke more cheerfully; for the same God, who this day declares to you His law, invites you to the enjoyment of that land, which He promised with an oath to your fathers. And certainly it is evident from this latter clause of the verse, that Moses did not simply promise them a reward if they should keep the law; but rather set before them the previous favor, wherewith God had gratuitously prevented them, in order that they might, on their part, shew themselves grateful for it Moses calls the commandments his, not (as we have already seen) because he had invented them himself, but because he faithfully handed them down from the dictation of God’s own mouth. And this we may also more fully gather from the following verse, wherein he recounts the mercies of the time past, and at the same time calls to their recollection by how many proofs God had instructed them, to form and accustom them to obedience. In the first place, he bids them remember generally the dealings of God, which they had seen for forty years, and then descends to particulars, viz., that God had proved them by afflictions, “to know what was in their heart;” for thus may the expressions be paraphrased, “to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart;” in which words he admonishes them, that they were painfully tried by many troubles and difficulties not without very good reason, viz., because they had need of such trial. Yet, at the same time, he indirectly reproves their obstinacy, which was then detected; since otherwise, if all things had gone prosperously with them, it would have been easy for them to pretend great fear of God, though, as was actually discovered, it did not really exist.
3. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger. Inasmuch as they were sometimes made to suffer hunger in the wilderness, he proves the advantage of this discipline, because they thus learnt that the human race does not live by bread and wine alone, but by the secret power of God. For though all confess that it is through God’s goodness that the earth is fruitful, still their senses are so tied to the meat and drink, that they rise no higher, and do not acknowledge God as their Father and nourisher, but rather bind Him down to the outward means to which they are attached, as if His hand, of itself, and without instruments, could not effect or supply anything. Their perception, therefore, that the fruits of the earth are produced by God, is but a cold notion, which speedily vanishes, and does not cling to their memory. The power of God, as well as His goodness, is indeed abundantly manifested in the use of His creatures, which we naturally enjoy; but the depravity of the human mind causes that the testimonies of it act like a veil to obscure that bright light. Besides, the majority of mankind think of God as if banished afar off, and dwelling in inactivity as if He had resigned His office in heaven and earth; and hence it arises, that trusting in their present abundance, they implore not His favor, nay, that they pass it by as needless; and, when deprived of their accustomed supplies, they altogether despair, as if God’s hand alone were insufficient for their succor. Since, then, men do not sufficiently profit by the guidance and instruction of nature, but rather are blinded in their view of God’s works, it was desirable that in this miracle (of the manna) a standing and manifest proof should be given, that men do not only live upon God’s bounty, when they eat bread and drink wine, but even when all supplies fail them. Although there be some harshness in the words, yet the sense is clear, that men’s life consists not in their food, but that God’s inspiration suffices for their nourishment. And we must remember, that the eternal life of the soul is not here referred to, but that we are simply and solely taught that although bread and wine fail, our bodies may be sustained and invigorated by God’s will alone. Let it then be regarded as settled, that this is improperly, however acutely, referred to the spiritual life, and a relation imagined in its doctrine to faith; as if the grace, which is offered in the promises, and received by faith, gave life to our souls; since it is simply stated, that the animating principle (vigor), which is diffused by the spirit of God for sustenance, proceeds out of His mouth. In Psalm 104:30, there is an exact repetition of what was before said here by Moses, “Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” The word translated “not only,” seems to have been expressly added, lest, if Moses had altogether excluded the bread which is destined for our food, he should not do justice to God. Thus, then, does he guard his words, as much as to say, that although bread sustains man’s life, still this support would be too weak, unless the hidden power of God occupied the first place; and that this intrinsic virtue, as it is called, which He of Himself inspires, would suffice, even although all other aids should fail. And this doctrine, first of all, arouses us to gratitude, referring to God Himself whatever by His creatures He supplies to us for the nourishment and preservation of our lives, whilst it teaches us that although all the instruments of this world should fail, still we may hope for life from Himself alone. There is no ordinary wisdom in recollecting both these points. Christ admirably applied this passage to its true and genuine practical use; for when the devil would persuade him to command the stones to be made bread for the satisfaction of His hunger, He answered, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” etc., (Matthew 4:4,) as if he had said, There is in God’s hands another remedy, for even although He supply not food, He is still able to keep men in life by His will alone. But I touch upon this the more briefly, because I have more fully treated it in my Commentaries on “the Harmony of the Gospels.”257257 See Calvin Society Translation, in loco. With the same object he adds, that their raiment was not worn out in so long a time, and that their shoes remained whole; viz., that they might be fully convinced, that whatever concerns the preservation of human life and man’s daily wants is so entirely in God’s hands, that not only its enjoyment, but even its continuance and being, depend upon His blessing.
5. Thou shalt also consider in thine heart. He concludes that in the constant tenor of God’s acts, from the time the Israelites were brought out of Egypt, His paternal care for their instruction might be recognised For the word יסר,258258 See note on Deuteronomy 11:2, ante, p. 383. yasar, is taken by some in too restricted a sense for “to chastise,” whereas it comprehends the whole process of a proper education; as if he had said, that unless they were hereafter submissive, and disposed to be dutiful, they would be something more than intractable, since they had been duly taught and kept under the best discipline, and that God had omitted nothing which could be required from the father of a family. Hence it follows, that long ago, and by much instruction, they were accustomed to embrace the teaching of the Law, just as it becomes children to be obedient to their father’s voice. And this he explains more clearly in the next verse; again concluding, that therefore they were to observe the Law, and to walk in the commandments of God. Whereon also we may shortly observe, that the fear of God, as I have already stated elsewhere, is the foundation of due obedience to the Law. The passage which I have interwoven from Deuteronomy 11 may also be counted among the promises, for God allures in it His people to obedience by the hope of His blessing; and since the possession of the land, which was then in sight, is set before them, the words appeared to me to fit in not badly here; because God had no other intention in this eulogium of it, but to prepare the minds of the people for keeping the Law.
7. For the Lord thy God. We may shortly sum up the words and the matter. He almost sets before their eyes a habitation full of wealth and various advantages, in order that they there may worship God more cheerfully, and study to repay by their gratitude so signal a benefit. In chapter 8 he commends the goodness of the land, because it is watered by the streams which flow through its valleys and mountains, and because it produces all kinds of fruits to supply them with nourishment; and not only so, but because it contains also mines of iron and brass. In chapter 11 he expresses the same thing more plainly and in greater detail, by the addition of a comparison with the land of Egypt; the fruitfulness of which, although it is marvellous from the yearly inundation of the Nile, and is renowned as an extraordinary miracle, yet requires much labor and cultivation, since it is irrigated by means of drains by the hand and industry of men. But the land of Canaan depends on God’s blessing, and waits for the rain from heaven. Moreover Moses extols in glowing words the peculiar privilege of the land, saying, that it is ever looked upon by God, in order that, on their part, the Israelites might attentively, and constantly also, look to Him. For this is the force of the words, “always, from the beginning of the year, even unto the end of the year;” as if he had said, that they would be ungrateful to God, unless they constantly and zealously directed their regards to Him, since He never ceased daily to look on them. It is true, indeed, that there is no corner of the earth which does not experience God’s blessing, witness the fact that the Nile fertilizes the whole of Egypt; but, because that only happens once a year, and since its waters are conducted hither and thither by drains artificially made by man, Moses, therefore, not improperly makes it the ground of his exhortation that they should constantly give themselves to meditation on the Law; for not only at a particular season of the year, but almost at every moment, their necessity would compel them to ask for God’s aid, when they saw that the land was ever requiring from Him the remedy of its dryness. The question however arises, how Moses could declare in such magnificent terms the richness of the land of Canaan, when now-a-days it is scarcely counted among those that are fertile; and thus262262 “Des esprits phrenetiques, and profanes.” — Fr. This ancient scoff, repeated by Voltaire and other modern infidels, is well met by Dr. Keith, “Evidences of Prophecy, (Art. Judaea,)” by quotations not only from Tacitus, Ammianus Marcellinus, Florus, and Pliny the Elder, but from Volney and Gibbon themselves, as well as more friendly witnesses. the ungodly wantonly deride him, since all whom business or any other cause have taken there contradict his encomiums. Yet I do not doubt that it was always distinguished by the abundance of its various fruits, as we shall presently see in its proper place, where its fertility was proved by the bunch of grapes; but, at the same time, it is to be observed that its abundance was increased in a new and unwonted manner by the arrival of the people, that God might shew that He had blessed that country above all others for the liberal supply of His children. As long, therefore, as that land was granted as the inheritance of the race of Abraham, it was remarkable for that fertility which God had promised by Moses. But now, so far from wondering that it is to a great extent desert and barren, we ought rather to be surprised that some small vestiges of its ancient fruitfulness exist; since what God Himself had so often threatened against it must needs be fulfilled. The barrenness, therefore, of the land as it now appears, instead of derogating from the testimony of Moses, rather gives ocular demonstration of the judgment of God, which, as we shall see elsewhere, was denounced against it. In sum, as God for His people’s sake still further enriched a land already fruitful, so, for the punishment of the sins of this same people, He sowed it with salt, that it might afford a sad spectacle of His curse.
10. When thou hast eaten and art full. In these words he admonishes them that they would be too senseless, unless God’s great bounty should attract them to obedience, since nothing is more unreasonable, than, when we have eaten and are full, not to acknowledge from whence our food has come. Fitly, then, does Moses require gratitude from the people, when they shall enjoy both the land promised to them and an abundance of all good things.
11. Beware that thou forget not263263 Take heed to thyself — Lat. We may easily estimable the necessity of this admonition from the common corruption of human nature, which is even yet only too general and too influential; for scarcely shall we find one person in a hundred in whom satiety does not generate headiness. Moses will hereafter speak in his Song of the rebelliousness of this people,264264 “LXX. autem pro eo (Jeshurun) substituerunt ὀ ἠγαπημένος, et V. imitatur per suum Dilectus. Unde autem sit illa versio, vix explicari video; fatente etiam Steucho, se nescire a quo verbo id nomen duct possit si Dilectum significat,” etc. — Marckius on Deuteronomy 32: C.’s own translation of the word is Rectus.
“The beloved, (Jeshurun,) waxen fat, and grown thick, kicked.” (Deuteronomy 32:15.)
It was needful, then, that a restraint should be put on such refractory beings, nay, that they should have their wantonness still more tightly repressed in their prosperity. But we may, and it is well to, extend this doctrine to ourselves also, since prosperity intoxicates almost all of us, so that we intemperately grow wanton against God, and forget ourselves and Him. Therefore Moses not only commands the Israelites not to be ungrateful to God, but warns them to guard themselves (for he uses this word for to beware) from that impious ingratitude. He immediately after uses this same word for the keeping of the Law. But this is the sum, that they needed the utmost care and attention to beware lest forgetfulness of God should steal over them in happy circumstances, and thus they should shake off His fear, and cast away His yoke, and indulge themselves in the lusts of their flesh. For he shews that contempt of the Law would be a token of ingratitude; because it could not be but that they would submit themselves to God, and keep His Law, if they only reflected that it was to nothing but His blessing that they owed their prosperity. We have already observed elsewhere that his designation of the Law by various terms amounts to a commendation of its perfect doctrine; as much as to say, that no part of right conduct is omitted in it. He also asserts here (as often elsewhere) the faithfulness of his ministry, lest they should shufflingly contend that, whilst they refuse the commands of a mortal man, they are not therefore rebellious against God. He says, then, that their piety will not be acceptable to God, unless they keep the Law propounded by Him.
12. Lest when thou hast eaten and art full. He more fully explains what we have already observed, viz., that it might happen, in the gradual course of time, that they should fail in their fear of God and honor for His Law, and therefore should take the greater care lest continual peace and joy should bring this callousness upon them. We should diligently remark the cause of departure which he points out, viz., the pride whereby riches and abundance ordinarily puff up men’s minds. The examples of moderation in prosperity are rare; rather, as soon as men perceive themselves to be in a flourishing estate, they begin to swell with arrogance, and so admire their exaltation that they despise even God Himself. On this ground Paul charges
“the rich in this world that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches.” (1 Timothy 6:17.)
We ought., indeed, the more kindly we are dealt with by God, to submit ourselves the more meekly to His rule; but, as I have said, the depravity of our nature hurries us quite the other way, so that we grow insolent under God’s indulgence, which should bend us to submission. And if this does not happen immediately, yet whenever prosperity flows on uninterruptedly, its delights gradually corrupt even the best of us, so that they at last degenerate from themselves. If, then, we desire to steer a straight course, we ought to strive after the healing of this most deadly disease of pride. Again, since by the wiles of Satan continued prosperity softens and ensnares us, let us learn to beware not only for a day, but to keep watch through the whole course of our lives. Moses wisely anticipates their pride by recalling to the Israelites’ recollection what was their original condition. For whence does it arise that those who seem to themselves and others to be happy in the world are puffed up with self-confidence and pride, except because they reflect not on their origin, but despise all but themselves, just as if they had come down from the clouds? For there are few like Codrus, who, after gaining a kingdom, always ingenuously confessed that his father had been a potter. God here presents a remedy to this vice, (which reigns too extensively,) by representing to the Israelites their former state, and commanding them to reflect that they were rescued from it by His especial blessing. Nothing but the recollection of their deliverance could tame their arrogance; for what could be more unreasonable than that they should be insolent who were formerly the slaves of a most haughty nation, and who had not acquired their liberty by their own efforts, but contrary to their hope and deserts had obtained it by God’s mere favor, who then had wandered in exile through the wilderness, and at length, under God’s guidance, had entered the land promised them? In a word, God deals with them just as if one should reproach a man (who, having become suddenly rich, bore himself intemperately) with his former beggary and want. Moreover, since they were too slow of heart to receive this admonition promptly and cheerfully, Moses enlarges on the Divine benefits which they had experienced in the wilderness. For this was incredible, that this mixed multitude of men, and women, and children, and slaves should have lived so many years, not only amongst wild beasts, but amongst scorpions and vipers, and all that is most venomous in the serpent tribe. God’s goodness shone forth, too, still more brightly in that sudden miracle whereby He supplied water to them in their thirst from what was before an and rock.265265 The following sentence is omitted in the French. But since he reminds them in the next verse how they had manna for their bread or food, I will join these two things together.
16. Who fed thee in the wilderness. He had said that water was brought forth from the rock of flint when the people were suffering from thirst; now, he adds that they had manna instead of bread; as if he had said that when meat and drink failed them they must have perished of want unless God had preternaturally given them both, causing the hard rock to flow down in water, and sending bread from heaven. Moreover he repeats what he had said before, that the people were afflicted with this need as a trial of their faith and patience; yet in this trial both their incredulity and intemperance were discovered, whilst God’s goodness and power were eventually more clearly displayed, since He pardoned their ingratitude, and, notwithstanding it, aided their necessity. For if they had not suffered from hunger, God’s bounty in supplying them with their daily food would have been neglectfully received. This is the meaning of the conclusion, “to do thee good at thy latter end.” From which words let us also learn that we are often deprived of our necessary supplies, in order that our senses may awaken to acknowledge God’s aid which appears in our extremity. For whilst abundance covers our eyes with a veil, or dims their sight, so, on the other hand, deprivation and want purge and remove this dimness that we may more clearly perceive the benefits afforded us by God.
17. And thou say in, thy heart. He describes that kind of pride of which we have lately spoken, viz., when men attribute to their own industry, or labor, or foresight, what they ought to refer to the blessing of God. It has indeed been said, that our hearts are uplifted in other ways also; but this is the principal ground of pride, to assume and assign to ourselves what belongs to God. For nothing so greatly confines us within the boundaries of humility and modesty as the acknowledgment of God’s grace; for it is madness and temerity to raise our crests against Him on whom we depend, and to whom we owe ourselves and all we possess. Rightly, then, does Moses reprove the pride of the human heart which arises from forgetfulness of God, if they think that they have gained by their own exertions (marte suo) what God has given them of His own pleasure, in order to lay them under obligation to Himself. “To say in the heart,” is a Hebraism for thinking in one’s self, or reflecting in one’s self. He does not, therefore, only require the outward expression of the lips, whereby men profess that they are grateful to God’s bounty, (for in this there is often nothing more than hypocrisy and vanity;) but he would have them seriously persuaded that whatever they possess is derived from His sheer beneficence. He has already said, that although when they entered the land they would be fed with bread and other foods, still the manna wherewith God had supported them in the wilderness would be a perpetual proof that man is not sustained by bread only, but by the secret virtue of God, which inspires the principle of life. Another lesson is now added, viz., that because God formerly fed and clothed them gratuitously, and without any act of their own, they thence are taught that, even whilst they strenuously labor and strive, whatever they acquire is not so much the reward of their own industry as the fruit of God’s blessing. For he not only affirms that at their first entrance into the land they were enriched, because God dealt with them liberally, but He extends this to the whole course of human life, that men obtain nothing by their own vigilance and diligence, except in so far as God blesses them from above. And this he more fully explains immediately afterwards, where he commands them to remember therefore that “it is God who giveth them power,” etc. For although God would not have us slumber in inactivity, yet what Paul says of the preaching of the Gospel,266266 A parenthesis is here added in the Fr., (“selon qu’il est prins de la similitude des laboureurs;”) as it. is taken from the similitude of laborers. holds good also in the most trifling matters, viz., that “neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth,” but all things are in the power of God, by whose only influence it is that the earth brings forth fruit. (1 Corinthians 3:7.) We must then recollect that although God reproves man’s slothfulness, and punishes it with want and hunger, still they who are active in labor do not get wealth by their own diligence, but by the blessing of God alone. On this doctrine the prayer which Christ dictated to us is founded, in which we ask to have our daily bread given us. But although this relates alike to all mankind, yet Moses appropriates it especially to God’s chosen people, in whom God’s blessing shines forth most brightly, and at the same time admonishes them that the fact of His supplying them with food depends on the covenant whereby He adopted the race of Abraham to Himself.