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The Israelites Reach Mount Sinai


On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. 2They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. 3Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

7 So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. 8The people all answered as one: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. 9Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.”

The People Consecrated

When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, 10the Lord said to Moses: “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes 11and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. 13No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.” 14So Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. 15And he said to the people, “Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to the Lord to look; otherwise many of them will perish. 22Even the priests who approach the Lord must consecrate themselves or the Lord will break out against them.” 23Moses said to the Lord, “The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.’ ” 24The Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to the Lord; otherwise he will break out against them.” 25So Moses went down to the people and told them.

The Ten Commandments


Then God spoke all these words:

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3you shall have no other gods before me.

4 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. 5You 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 the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 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.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” 21Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

The Law concerning the Altar

22 The Lord said to Moses: Thus you shall say to the Israelites: “You have seen for yourselves that I spoke with you from heaven. 23You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24You need make for me only an altar of earth and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your offerings of well-being, your sheep and your oxen; in every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25But if you make for me an altar of stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel upon it you profane it. 26You shall not go up by steps to my altar, so that your nakedness may not be exposed on it.”

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1. In the third month. This chapter informs us by what means God rendered the people attentive and teachable when He would promulgate His laws. He had, indeed, previously delivered the rule of a just and pious life, but by writing the Law on tables, and by then adding its exposition, He not only embraced the perfect doctrine of piety and righteousness, but ratified it by a solemn rite, so that the recognition of it might remain and flourish in future times. And this is the main and principal thing which the prophets celebrate in the redemption of the people; and in this, as in a mirror, propose for consideration the image of the renewed Church, that God made known His testimonies to His redeemed, and bound the people, whom He had purchased, to Himself by a new covenant. He had indeed made with Abraham an eternal, and inviolable covenant; but because it had grown into disregard from the lapse of time, and the carelessness of mankind, it became needful that it should be again renewed. To this end, then, it was engraved upon the tables of stone, and written in a book, that the marvelous grace, which God had conferred on the race of Abraham, should never sink into oblivion. But in the first place we must observe that, although the Law is a testimony of God’s gratuitous adoption, and teaches that salvation is based upon His mercy, and invites men to call upon God with sure confidence, yet it has this peculiar property, that it; covenants conditionally. Therefore it is worth while to distinguish between the general doctrine, which was delivered by Moses, and the special command which he received. Moses everywhere exhorts men, by holding forth the hope of pardon, to reconcile themselves to God; and, whenever he prescribes expiatory rites, he doubtless encourages miserable sinners to have a good hope, and bears witness that God will be merciful to them. Meanwhile this office was separately imposed upon him, to demand perfect; righteousness of the people, and to promise them a reward, as if by compact, upon no other condition than that they should fulfill whatever was enjoined them, but to threaten and to denounce vengeance against them if ever they wandered from the way. It is certain indeed that the same covenant, of which Abraham had been the minister and keeper, was repeated to his descendants by the instrumentality of Moses; and yet Paul declares, that the Law “was added because of transgressions,” (Galatians 3:19,) and opposes it to the promise given to Abraham; because, as he is treating of the peculiar office, power, and end of the Law, he separates it from the promises of grace. With the same import, he elsewhere calls it “the ministration of death,” and “the letter that killeth.” (2 Corinthians 3:6, 7.) Again, in another place, he states that it “worketh wrath,” (Romans 4:15;) as if by its arraignment it inflicted a deadly wound on the human race, and left them no hope of salvation. In this preparation, then, wherein God instructed the people to reverence and fear, a twofold object may be perceived; for, since men’s minds are partly swollen with pride and haughtiness, and partly stupified by indifference, they must needs be either humbled or awakened, in order to their reception of divine teaching with the attention it deserves; nor can any be prepared to obey God, except he be bowed down and subdued by fear. Moreover, they then begin to be afraid when God’s majesty is displayed to inspire them with terror. Thus, therefore, let the fact that the authority of the Law was ratified by many signs and wonders, teach us that this is the beginning of piety and faith in God’s children. To this end also did God shake the earth, to arouse men’s hearts from their slumber, or to correct them by taming their pride. This object is common to the Law, the Prophets, and the Gospel, and to the whole sum of divine teaching, to which due honor is never paid, unless God’s majesty first shines forth, whereby He casts down all the haughtiness of the world. But we must not pass over what I lately asserted to be peculiar to the Law, via, to fill men’s minds with fear, and by setting forth its terrible curse, to cut off the hope of salvation; for, whilst it consists of three parts, each of them tends to the same end, that all should acknowledge themselves deserving of the judgment of eternal death, because in it God sustains no other character than that of a Judge, who, after having rigidly exacted what is due to Him, promises only a just reward, and threatens the transgressors with vengeance. But who will be found to be a perfect keeper of the Law? Nay, it is certain that all, from the least to the greatest, are guilty of transgression, wherefore God’s wrath overhangs them all This is what Paul means, when he writes that believers

“have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but the spirit of adoption, whereby they cry, Abba, Father,”
(Romans 8:15;)

showing how much better is our condition than that of the old fathers, because the Law kept them enslaved in its bondage, whilst the Gospel delivers us from anxiety, and frees us from the stings of conscience; for all must necessarily tremble, and finally be overwhelmed by despair, who seek for salvation by works; but peace and rest only exist in the mercy of God. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews pursues this idea at greater length, where he says,

“Ye are not come unto the mount that must be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words: which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more, etc., (whence Moses said I exceedingly fear and quake:) but ye are come unto Mount Sion,” etc.
(Hebrews 12:18-22.)

The antithesis here proves, that what was entrusted to Moses is separate and distinct from the Gospel; because God, who appeared in the Law as an avenger, now with fatherly kindness gently invites us unto salvation, and soothes our troubled minds by offering us the forgiveness of our sins. Now, Paul shows us that there is no contradiction in this diversity, because the people were taught by the Law not to seek for salvation anywhere but in the grace of Christ, and being convinced of the horrible condemnation under which they lay, were driven by fear to implore God’s mercy; for, as men are apt to207207     Se pardonnent et dispensent aisement. — Fr. allow themselves in sin, “sin (as Paul says, Romans 5:13) is not imputed, where there is no law;” but those, who delight themselves in darkness, are by the teaching of the Law brought before God’s tribunal, that they may fully perceive their filthiness and be ashamed. Thus is Paul’s saying fulfilled, that the life of the Law is man’s death. (Romans 7:9.) Now we understand why the promulgation of the Law was ratified by so many miracles; viz., because, in general, the authority of the divine teaching was to be established among the dull and careless, or the proud and rebellious; and, secondly, because the Law was propounded to men, who sought the means of flattering themselves, as the mirror of the curse, so that, in themselves lost, they might fly to the refuge of pardon. I have thought it advisable to say thus much by way of preface, for the purpose of directing my readers to the proper object of the history, which is here related. But Moses first recounts that the people came, at a single march, from Rephidim into the region of Sinai; for so I interpret it, that there was no intervening station; for their interpretation is forced and unnatural, who take “the same day” for the beginning of the month.

3. And Moses went up. It is probable that Moses sought, as he was wont, retirement., in order to take counsel of God; for he speaks not as of some new or unusual circumstance, but of a custom previously observed; because he dared not stop anywhere, nor make any further advances, except as far as was prescribed him by the mouth of God. His going up to God signifies no more than that he went; out of the camp, that afar from the multitude, and from all distractions he might in secrecy and quiet inquire of God, what was His pleasure; for he did not, like the superstitious, choose a lofty position, that he might be nearer to God; but he withdrew himself from every disturbance, that he might engage all his senses in the occupation of learning. Afterwards, however, he adds, that he had obtained more than he had hoped for, because God, beyond what was customary with Him, addressed him respecting the renewal of His covenant. And to this the opening words have reference — “Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel;” wherein the repetition and diversity of expression is emphatic, as though He would speak of a very serious matter, and would thus awaken greater attention.

4. Ye have seen. With the view of gently inviting the people to obedience, He first recalls to their recollection the blessing of their deliverance, and then promises that the blessings of the future would be not inferior, if they on their part honored their deliverer with the piety and gratitude which belong to Him. He recounts the two parts of His loving-kindness, first that He had exerted His tremendous power against the Egyptians, and secondly, that He had marvelously brought His redeemed people through the sea, and the mighty wilderness, as through the clouds and the air; for this was an instance of His inestimable grace, that He had made war against a most powerful king, had afflicted a most flourishing nation, and had devastated a land remarkable for its extreme fertility, in order to succor a body of despised slaves. For there was no dignity in them, who first of all were strangers, and moreover abject herdsmen, and devoted to base and shameful slavery, whereby God might be incited for their sakes to destroy the Egyptians, who were illustrious in glory, in wealth, in the richness of their land, and in the splendor of their empire. Wherefore it would have been detestable ingratitude not to acknowledge their great obligations to God. What He adds in the second place, that He bare them as eagles are wont to carry their young, has reference to the constant course of His paternal care. Moses will hereafter use the same comparison in his song, and it often occurs in the prophets. But He mentions the eagle rather than other birds, in my opinion, that He may magnify their difficulties, and thus commend His grace; for eagles lift up their young ones upon high places, and accustom them to look at the sun; thus the people, as if carried above the clouds on the wings of God, had surmounted every obstacle, however great. For the notion which some have, that eagles are mentioned instead of other birds, because they alone bear up their young ones on their wings, is a foolish and truly Rabbinical gloss.208208     This Rabbinical comment is thus briefly stated in S. M., — I bare you as it were on my shoulders, as an eagle carries her young ones upon her wings, and not after the manner of other birds, who bear up their young ones with their feet wherever they wish to carry them. — W See Illustrated Commentary on Deuteronomy 32:11.

5. Now, therefore. God declares that He will ever be the same, and will constantly persevere209209     Added from Fr. (in blessing them), provided the Israelites do not degenerate, but remain devoted to their Deliverer; at the same time, He reminds them also, wherefore he has been so bountiful to them, viz., that they may continually aspire unto the end of their calling; for He had not willed to perform toward them a single act of liberality, but to purchase them as His peculiar, people. This privilege he sets before them in the word סגלה,210210     סגלה, S. M. says this is equivalent to אוצר חביב, a beloved treasure, The root סגל does not occur in Hebrew, but in Arabic it signifies to mark with the owner’s seal; so that the noun should mean, a possession on which the owner has stamped his mark. Comp. 2 Timothy 2:19, and Ezekiel 9:4-6. — W segullah, which means all things most precious, whatever, in fact, is deposited in a treasury; although the word “peculium,” a peculiar possession, by which the old interpreter211211     i.e., The Vulgate. Our A.V. combines both ideas. has rendered it, is not unsuitable to the passage; because it is plain from the immediate context, that it denotes the separation of this people from all others; since these words directly follow: “for,” or, although “all the earth is mine;” the particle כי, ki, being often taken adversatively, and there is no doubt but that God would more exalt His grace, by comparing this one nation with the whole world, as it is said in the song of Moses,

“When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel; for the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance.” (Deuteronomy 32:8.)

The sum then is, that whilst the whole earth is in God’s dominion, yet the race of Israel has been chosen by Him to excel all nations. Whence it is evident, that whereas the condition of all is alike, some are not distinguished from others by nature, but by gratuitous adoption; but, in order that they should abide in the possession of so great a blessing, fidelity towards God is required on their part. And, first, they are commanded to listen to his voice, (since no sacrifice is more pleasing to him than obedience, 1 Samuel 15:22;) and then a definition of obedience is added, viz., to keep His covenant.

6. And ye shall be unto me. He points out more clearly, and more at length, how the Israelites will be precious unto God; viz., because they will be for “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” By these words, he implies that they will be endowed with sacerdotal as well as royal honors; as much as to say, that they would not only be free, but also like kings, if they persevered in faith and obedience, since no kingdom is more desirable, or more happy, than to be the subjects of God. Moreover, he calls this “an holy kingdom,” because all the kingdoms of the world were then in heathenism; for the genitive, according to the usual idiom of the language, is put for an adjective, as if he had said, that they would enjoy not merely an earthly and transitory dominion, but also a sacred and heavenly one. Others understand it passively, that God would be their king; whilst mortals, and for the most part cruel tyrants, would rule over other nations. Though I do not altogether reject this sense, yet I rather prefer the other, to which also St. Peter leads us: for when the Jews, who by their refusal of Christ had departed from the covenant, still improperly gloried in this title, he claims this honor for the members of Christ only, saying, “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood,” etc. (1 Peter 2:9.) But the passive sense would not accord with these words, viz., that believers are subject to the priesthood of God, for the Apostle gracefully applies the words to take away the unacceptableness of novelty; as if he had said, God formerly promised to our fathers that they should be to Him for a royal priesthood. This privilege all, who separate themselves from Christ the Head, falsely lay claim to, since He alone makes us a royal priesthood. Meanwhile he teaches, by this apparent adaptation of the words, that what had been spoken by Moses is actually fulfilled. And, in fact, Christ appeared invested with the kingdom and the priesthood, that He might confer both of these privileges upon His members; whence it follows, that whosoever divorce themselves from Him, are unworthy of either honor, and are justly deprived of them. The nation is here called holy, not with reference to their piety or personal holiness, but as set apart from others by God by special privilege. Yet on this kind of sanctification the other depends, viz., that they who are exalted by God’s favor should cultivate holiness, and thus on their part sanctify God.

8. And all the people answered. We shall see in its proper place why God employed Moses as a messenger to carry backwards and forwards the commands and replies; now he merely relates what all the people answered, viz., that they would be obedient in all things. It was not a part, but the whole of the people who promised this, and the reply was unreserved, declaring that they would do whatsoever God required. Yet soon after they relapsed into their natural mind, and kept not their promise even in the smallest degree. Still we may believe that they spoke without dissembling; but that, although without any intention of deceiving God, they were carried away by a kind of headlong zeal, and deceived themselves. Nor was it the object of Moses to tell them in reproach that they had lied to God, or deceitfully boasted with their lips what they did not feel in their hearts; but, by stating how ready they were to obey, he deprives them hereafter of all pretense of ignorance. Nor is there any doubt that God inclined their minds to this docility, in order to establish the doctrine of His law. Meanwhile, let us learn from their example, that we must not merely obey God’s word by some earnest impulse; and that a hasty feeling is of no use, unless it be followed by constant perseverance; and, therefore, let us learn to sift; ourselves well, lest: we rashly promise, without serious self-examination, more, than we are able to perform. Yet we must not forget what. I have already said, that they were all made willing by the secret inspiration of God, in order that they might be witnesses both to themselves and others of the many signs, by which the truth and faithfulness of the212212     La Loy. — Fr. heavenly doctrine was then confirmed.

9. And the Lord said unto Moses. God here proclaims, that by a manifest symbol of His glory, He will make it evident that the Law proceeded not from Moses, but that he merely delivered faithfully what he received from heaven; for God was so covered with the cloud, as with a veil that He still upraised their minds as by a certain sign of His presence. On this was the authority of Moses founded, that the Israelites knew God to be the author of the doctrine, of which he was the minister. And this is especially worth remarking, because we gather from hence that there is no other mode of proving a doctrine, except by the assurance that it comes not from elsewhere, but from God alone; and thus is every mortal brought down to his level, lest any one, however excellent in wisdom, should dare to advance his own imaginations. For if the mightiest of prophets, Moses, obtained credit in the Church on no other grounds than because he bore the commands of God, and only taught what he had heard, how foolish and impudent will it be in teachers, who sink down far beneath him, to endeavor to attain a higher point! In fine, this passage shows that we must believe in God alone, but that at the same time we must listen to the prophets, who spoke out of His mouth. Besides this, it appears that God did not wish to obtain credit for His servant Moses during a short period of time, but that posterity should pay him the same reverence even after his death. The call of some is temporary; and it may happen that God takes away the spirit of prophecy from those to whom He has given it; but so did He appear to Moses, as to ratify, and, as it were, consecrate the truth of his doctrine in all ages. Thence it follows, that the brightness of God’s glory, which was shown to his ancient people in the thick cloud, is not yet extinct, but that it ought to illuminate the minds of all the godly, reverently to submit themselves to Moses. What follows at the end of the verse is a repetition from the last; for there was no intervening reply of the people which Moses could report. The meaning is, that although the Israelites had voluntarily promised to abide in the path of duty, yet that this confirmation was added, like a spur to those who are running, that they may proceed more nimbly.

10. And the Lord said unto Moses. Before propounding His law, it is not unreasonable that God should command the people to be sanctified, lest He should cast pearls before swine, or give that which is holy unto dogs; for although by right of adoption they were holy, yet, as regarded themselves, the filthiness of their nature unfitted them for participating in so great a blessing. It was by no means right or just that the inestimable treasure should be polluted by foul and stinking vessels. Therefore, in the injunction that they should be sanctified, two things were pointed out, — that the sacred doctrine of God was not to be handled by unwashen hands, and that the whole human race is impure and polluted, and, consequently, that none can duly enter God’s school save those who are cleansed from their filthiness. And, doubtless, it is the just reward of their unworthy profanation that so many readers or hearers profit not by heavenly doctrine, because they rush in without fear or reverence, as to some ridiculous stage play. This preparation, then, is seasonably commanded, to make ready God’s scholars and render them fit to be taught. But while the inward purity of the heart is chiefly demanded, this ceremony was not without its use to accustom an ignorant people to meditate upon true holiness. That they should wash their clothes and abstain from the nuptial bed were things of naught in themselves; but when external rites are referred to their proper end, viz., to be exercises unto spiritual worship, they are useful aids to piety; and we know that God, in consideration of the times, before Christ’s coming, employed such figures which now have no place under the brightness of the Gospel. But although the use of them be grown obsolete, yet the truth, which I spoke of, still remains, viz., that if we desire to be admitted to a participation in heavenly doctrine, we should

“cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit.”
(2 Corinthians 7:1.)

But here a question arises; for if, as Peter bears witness, faith purifies the heart, (Acts 15:9,) and understanding of the doctrine goes before faith, since Paul declares that it “cometh by hearing,” (Romans 10:17,) the consequence is, that the order of things is inverted if the people are to be sanctified before they hear the Law, because in this way the means of sanctification is wanting. My reply is, that albeit faith, in so far as it embraces the offer of reconciliation and the Spirit of regeneration, can alone truly purify us; yet this by no means prevents the fear of God from going before to prepare a place for the word in our minds. And, properly speaking, a pious desire of learning, humility, and reverence should be accounted the commencement of faith, since it is from these elements that God begins to perfect faith in us by certain progressive steps. On this account James exhorts us to “receive with meekness the engrafted word,” because the door of the entrance is shut against it by pride, and obstinacy, and profane contempt. As to the meaning of the passage, to be “sanctified,” and to “wash their clothes,” are not spoken of as different things, but the second is added as the symbol213213     Comme marque visible. — Fr. of the first; for under the Law the rite of ablution reminded the ancient people that no one can please God, except he both seek for expiation in the blood of Christ, and labor to purify himself from the pollution’s of the flesh. Abstinence from cohabitation had the same object; for although there is nothing polluting or contaminating in the marriage bed, yet the Israelites were to be reminded that all earthly cares were, as much as possible, to be renounced, and all carnal affections to be put away, that they might give their entire attention to the hearing of the Law. The sanctity of marriage veils and covers whatever of sin there is in the cohabitation of man and wife; yet it is certain that it in some degree distracts them from having their whole minds occupied by spiritual affections. Therefore Paul makes this exception in the mutual obligation of the marriage bed, that couples may be separated for “fasting and prayer.” (1 Corinthians 7:5.) Yet the moderation which God prescribed is to be observed; for God did not enjoin perpetual celibacy, but so arranged the time that the Israelites might be disengaged from all earthly preoccupations, and might more freely apply their whole minds to the reverent reception of the Law.

12. And thou shalt set bounds. By this symbol the Israelites were admonished to restrain their natural inquisitiveness, that they may be sober in their desires after knowledge, because God, by the teaching of His Law, only enlightens those who are as “little children.” We know how great is men’s natural curiosity, how forwardly they seek to penetrate the secrets of God, how daringly they indulge themselves, and how, by their irreverence, all religion and fear of God is extinguished in them; wherefore there was good cause why He should set these bounds, and restrain this perverse longing after unlawful knowledge. All would have wished to come, like Moses, to familiar converse with God; but they are commanded to stand within the boundaries, that they may obey God speaking to them by an interpreter. Thus are their modesty and docility proved, when they desire no more than is permitted them, and keep themselves within the bounds of revelation. What was then enjoined upon His ancient people is extended also to us, that in reading and hearing we should not overpass the limits which God assigns us, but, content with the form of doctrine which He delivers to us, should let alone what He would have concealed from us; and, although He speaks to us from afar, should not be offended by the distance. Yet does He not prohibit the people from ascending, as though he grudged them a nearer prospect of His glory; but because it is expedient that the proud and improperly arrogant should be kept within His narrow limit, that they may be reminded of their weakness. To alarm them yet more, He commands that the men themselves,214214     “Or, pour plus estonner les hommes, il commande que les bestes memes,” etc.; now, to alarm men more, He commands that even the beasts. etc. — Fr. and even beasts, though harmless, should be killed if they passed over the borders. We have just before explained what is meant by God’s descending, viz., the manifestation of His power; since His essence which fills heaven and earth moves not from its place.

13. There shall not a hand touch it.215215     There shall not a hand touch him, (eum.) — Lat.
   Curiously enough, the French translation contradicts the Commentary, — “Nulle main ne la touchera (i.e., la montagne) autrement il sera lapide, etc.” Our translation, too, seems to carry this meaning. Dathe’s Version is in accordance with Calvin’s view, — “Nec tamen ejusmodi transgressorem mann esse tangendum (sc. ut vi adhibita ejiceretur e cancellis) sed lapidibus obruendum, etc.” Hugo de S. Victor, in Willet, gives yet another conjecture, — “The hand of man shall not need to be upon him; sed intelligitur lapidum ictibus in eum divinitus volitantibus necandus.”
They ignorantly pervert the meaning who resolve the particle ב, be, into the adversative else; as if Moses forbade them to touch the mountain with the hand, under penalty of stoning.216216     Aben-Ezra sic exponit: Qui praescriptum terminum transierit in hunc nemo injiciat manus, nemo illum sequatur intra constitutos limites, sed projiciant ad eum lapides, aut feriant eum jaculis. S. M. W. Those also are far from the truth who think that what is ordained is, that one should not follow the other, or that none should stretch forth his hand to the transgressors for their help. Moses referred to something altogether different; for in order to render more detestable those who, by rash advances, should violate the limits placed by God, he commanded them to be killed afar off by stones or darts; as if whosoever should touch them, even with a finger, would contract pollution. It is, then, as if he commanded them to be avoided as being accursed, lest they should infect others by their contagion. Therefore there is an antithesis between different kinds of death, viz., to smite with the sword or to shoot through with darts, and to strike with the hand. But lest the people should consider themselves rejected, and thus being offended by the ignominy of their repulse, should abandon their love and desire for the Law, He permits their ascent conditionally, viz., when the sound of the trumpet shall have been protracted for a long time, or it shall have done sounding. Thus there was no ground for complaining of the limitation which God had appointed for their safety.

16. And it came to pass on the third day. We must bear in mind what I have already adverted to, that this terrible spectacle was partly to set the presence of God before their eyes, that His majesty might urge the beholders to obedience, and vindicate His doctrine from contempt, and partly to express the nature of the Law, which in itself produces nothing but mere terror. The air was disturbed by thunder and lightning’s, and the sound of the trumpet; the mountain was wrapped in smoke and darkness, that the people might humbly prostrate themselves before God, and solemnly embrace the covenant proposed to them; since religion never penetrates the mind so that it seriously receives God’s word until its vices are cleansed and corrected, and it is really subdued. And this fear is common also to the Gospel; for as in the promulgation of the Law God shook the earth, so when He speaks by the Prophet of the coming of Christ, and the restoration of His Church, He says, “Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth,” etc. (Haggai 2:6.) Thus, too, David, when he would point to God as the avenger of His Church, describes Him under this image; for no doubt when, in Psalm 18:7-9, he says, “Then the earth shook and trembled, the foundations also of the hills moved and were shaken, — there went up a smoke out of his nostrils, and fire out of his mouth devoured; he bowed the heavens also, and came down; and darkness was under his feet,” he alludes to the history which Moses here relates. Habakkuk 3:3 yet more plainly does so, — “God came from Teman, and the Holy One from Mount Paran.” Meanwhile the other point remains, that the awful prodigies, at which the people needs must tremble, were added as seals to the promulgation of the Law, because the Law was given to cite slumbering consciences to the judgment-seat, that, through fear of eternal death, they might flee for refuge to God’s mercy.

17. And Moses brought forth the people. We learn from these words that the prodigies were not intended to drive the people from God’s sight, and that they were not smitten with fear to exasperate and disgust them with the doctrine, but that God’s covenant was no less lovely than alarming; for they are commanded to go and “meet God,” presenting themselves with minds ready unto obedience. But this could not be unless they heard in the Law something besides precepts and threatenings. Yet in the smoke and fire, and other signs, some fear was added, in accordance with the office of the Law, because the sinner will never be capable of pardon until he learns to tremble from consciousness of his guilt, nay, until confounded with dread he lies like one dead before the tribunal of God. In the two following verses, Moses explains what he had briefly touched upon respecting the meeting with God; for he shows that God was near, since His majesty appeared upon the top of Sinai. He adds that he stood within the bounds, because he went up by himself alone, and that by invitation; for he clears himself from the accusation of temerity, by expressly stating that he passed over the limits assigned to the people, not voluntarily, but at the command and call of God.217217     This sentence is omitted in the Fr. I presume the allusion here is to verse 20, which the V. translates “descendit, and not as C., “descenderat.” Corn. a Lapide defends the V., with which our A.V. agrees, conceiving that a still closer descent “in a thicker cloud, and with greater glory,” upon the very top of the mountain, over which the fire had only hovered before, is here described. It may be so; but his reasoning, founded on the word “super,” which is used in both cases, does not prove it. It appears from the context itself that the order of the narration is inverted, which the old translator does not perceive, and perverts the sense. God’s answering him “by a voice,” means that He spoke aloud and clearly, viz., so that the people might hear, as we shall see hereafter in Deuteronomy 4.

18. And all the people saw the thunderings. Because in the parallel passage218218     Au passage de Deuteronome, que nous verrons tantost. — Fr. Moses more largely pursues what he here only touches upon briefly, I shall also defer my full exposition of it. If he had been the only spectator of God’s glory, the credit of his testimony would be lighter; after having, then, reported the ten commandments, which God Himself spoke with His own sacred lips in the hearing of the people, he adds, at the same time, that the lightning’s shone openly, the mountain smoked, the trumpets sounded, and the thunder rolled. It follows, therefore, that by these conspicuous and illustrious signs, the law was ratified before all the people, from the greatest even to the least. The confession of the whole people is added; when, overwhelmed with alarm, they supplicate God to go on speaking no more. For no longer could they now despise the voice of the man, whom they had of their own accord desired to be given them as their mediator, lest they should be consumed by the awful voice of God. He lays before them the object, for which those signs had appeared to terrify them, viz., that God might subdue them to obedience. They were terrified, then, not that they might be stupified with astonishment, but only that they might be humbled and submit themselves to God. And this is a peculiar privilege, that the majesty of God, before whom heaven and earth tremble, does not219219     There is a play on the words in the Latin here: “Non exanimet, sed tantum examinet.” destroy but only proves and searches His children.

21. And the Lord said unto Moses. By God’s command the same prohibition is repeated, that the people should not pass over the bounds, because, without doubt, it was not enough to have forbidden them once, as we may gather from the reply of Moses; for he thought that since they were all admonished, there was no necessity for a new prohibition. But God insists with greater vehemence, and again with threatenings, orders them to be charged that they take diligent heed to themselves. He knew, forsooth, that He had to do with the rebellious, for whose subjugation a sorer dread of punishment would be necessary. Now, since we are no better than they, let us not be surprised if God often spurs us on by the application of many exhortations, and redoubles His threats, for else forgetfulness of all which He has once enjoined would creep over us. This passage also confirms the fact, that the curiosity which influences men’s minds is greatly displeasing to God; for He expressly commands that they should not break through to gaze, — not because He would have anything concealed or hidden which it was profitable for them to know, but because their inquiries ought to be sober; and this is the legitimate limit of knowledge, humbly to learn at God’s mouth what He voluntarily teaches, — not to advance with too anxious longings, but to follow Him as He leads us.

23. And Moses said unto the Lord. Because Moses was persuaded that the people would be obedient, he rejoins that the decree which had already been pronounced would be sufficient, and that the repetition of it would be in some degree supererogatory; for when he says that “the people cannot come up,” he replies that he puts himself forward in the name of all as their surety. And this he does honestly, and in accordance with the rule of charity; yet it appears from God’s reply that he was deceived, whilst judging of others by his own feelings. Whilst, however, he unhesitatingly executes the task allotted to him, it is plain that he preferred the command of God to his own preconceived opinion; and thus taught us by his example, that whatever may be the imaginations which come into our minds, they must still be submitted to this yoke, that God’s authority alone may have the pre-eminence. A doubt may arise because He names “the priests;” since the priestly office was not yet committed to the Levites. Some, therefore, understand it to mean all the first-born, because, by ancient and common consent, it is allowed that they were always invested with the honor of the priesthood. But although I readily admit that they were chosen from the first-born, yet I do not think it probable that out of that immense multitude there were special priests for every house. In the meantime we may conjecture that since no heathen nations were then without priests, there was no less method amongst the chosen people; for what common sense dictated to the blind, assuredly a purer religion more clearly showed, viz., that God’s worship should not be separated from the priesthood.

1. And God spoke. I am aware that many agree in reading this verse and the next in connection with each other, and thus making them together the first of the ten commandments. Others taking them separately, consider the affirmation to stand in the place of one entire commandment; but since God neither forbids nor commands anything here, but only comes forth before them in His dignity, to devote the people to Himself, and to claim the authority He deserves, which also He would have extended to the whole Law, I make no doubt but that it is a general preface, whereby He prepares their minds for obedience. And surely it was necessary that, first of all, the right of the legislator should be established, lest what He chose to command should be despised, or contemptuously received. In these words, then, God seeks to procure reverence to Himself, before He prescribes the rule of a holy and righteous life. Moreover, He not merely declares Himself to be Jehovah, the only God to whom men are bound by the right of creation, who has given them their existence, and who preserves their life, nay, who is Himself the life of all; but He adds, that He is the peculiar God of the Israelites; for it was expedient, not only that the people should be alarmed by the majesty of God, but also that they should be gently attracted, so that the law might be more precious than gold and silver, and at the same time “sweeter than honey,” (Psalm 119:72, 103;) for it would not be enough for men to be compelled by servile fear to bear its yoke, unless they were also attracted by its sweetness, and willingly endured it. He afterwards recounts that special blessing, wherewith He had honored the people, and by which He had testified that they were not elected by Him in vain; for their redemption was the sure pledge of their adoption. But, in order to bind them the better to Himself, He reminds them also of their former condition; for Egypt was like a house of bondage, from whence the Israelites were delivered. Wherefore, they were no more their own masters, since God had purchased them unto Himself. This does not indeed literally apply to us; but He has bound us to Himself with a holier tie, by the hand of His only-be-gotten Son; whom Paul teaches to have died, and risen again, “that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9.) So that He is not now the God of one people only, but of all nations, whom He has called into His Church by general adoption.

Deuteronomy 5


Deuteronomy 5:1-6, 4:20

1. And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep and do them.

1. Vocavitque Moses universum Israelem, et dixit eis, Audi Israel statuta et judicia, quae ego hodie loquor in auribus vestris, ut discatis ea et custodiatis ad praestandum.

2. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.

2. Jehova Deus noster percussit nobiscum foedus in Horeb.

3. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.

3. Non cum patribus nostris percussit Deus foedus hoc, sed nobiscum, qui ipsi hodie omnes vivimus.

4. The Lord talked with you face to face in the mount, out of the midst of the fire,

4. Facie ad faciem loquutus est Jehova nobiscum in monte:

5. (I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to show you the word of the Lord; for ye were afraid by reason of the fire, and went not up into the mount,) saying,

5. (Ego stabam inter Jehovam et inter vos tempore illo ad annuntiandum vobis sermonem Jehovae: quia timuistis a facie ignis, et non ascendistis in montem:) dicendo,

6. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.

6. Ego Jehova Deus tuus qui eduxi te e terra Aegypti, e domo servorum.

20. But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as. ye are this day.

20. Vos autem tulit Jehova, et eduxit vos e fornace ferrea ex AEgypto, ut sitis ei in populum haereditatis, sicut die hac.

1. And Moses called all Israel. Since the plan and order of exposition which I have adopted required that this same preface, as it is repeated word. for word in Deuteronomy, should here also be read together, I have thought fit also to insert the five verses, which in this place precede it. In the first verse, Moses exhorts the people to hear the judgments and statutes of God, which he sets before them. He likewise states the object of this, that they should keep222222     So in margin A.V. to do them; as much as to say, that he was not offering them mere empty speculations, which it was enough to understand with the mind, and to talk about, but that the rule for the ordering of their lives was also contained in his teaching; and, therefore, that it demands imperatively their serious meditation.

Exodus 20:3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. In this commandment God enjoins that He alone should be worshipped, and requires a worship free from all superstition. For although it seems to be a simple prohibition, yet must we deduce an affirmation from the negative, as will be more apparent from the following words. Therefore does He set Himself before them, in order that the Israelites may look to Him alone; and claims His own just right, in order that it may not be transferred elsewhere. All do not agree in the exposition of the words, for some construe the word פנים,278278     פנים, signifying properly the face or countenance, is sometimes used by metonymy for those passions which shew themselves in the countenance. — W. panim, “anger,” as if it were said, “Thou shalt not make to thyself other gods to provoke my anger;” and I admit that the Hebrew word is often used in this sense. The other interpretation, however, seems to me the more correct, “Make not to thyself gods before my face.” Yet still there remains a difference of opinion, for people are not agreed as to the particle על, gnel. Some explain it, “Make not to thyself gods above me, or whom thou mayest prefer to me;” and they quote the passage in Deuteronomy 21:15-17, wherein God forbids a man, if he have two wives, and children by both, to transfer the rights of primogeniture to the second before the face of the first-born. But though we admit that a comparison is there made between the elder and the younger, still it would be too frigid an interpretation here to say that God demands nothing more than that other gods should not obtain the higher place; whereas He neither suffers them to be likened to Him, nor even to be joined with Him as companions;279279     Addition in Fr., “encore qu’on les estime inferieurs;” even though they be counted his inferiors. for religion is defiled and corrupted as soon as God’s glory is diminished in the very least degree. And we know that when the Israelites worshipped their Baalim, they did not so substitute them in the place of God as to put Him altogether aside, and assign to them the supreme power; nevertheless, this was an intolerable profanation of God’s worship, and moreover an impious transgression of this precept, to choose for themselves patrons in whom some part of the Deity should be lodged; because if God have not alone the pre-eminence, His majesty is so far obscured. I consider,therefore, the genuine sense to be, that the Israelites should not make to themselves any gods, whom they might oppose to the true and only God. For in Hebrew the expression, before the face, generally means over against; therefore God would not have companions obtruded upon Him, and placed as it were in His sight. Meanwhile, it seems probable to me that He alludes to that manifestation of Himself which ought to have retained His people in sincere piety; for true and pure religion was so revealed in the Law, that God’s face in a manner shone forth therein. The case was different with the Gentiles, who, although they might rashly make to themselves false gods, still would not do so before the face of God, which was unknown to them. Let us then understand, after all, that those alone are accounted the legitimate worshippers of God who bid adieu to all figments, and cleave to Him alone. Nor can it be doubted that these words comprehend the inward worship of God, since this commandment differs from the next, whereby external idolatry will be seen to be condemned. It is sufficiently notorious, that men may make to themselves gods in other ways besides in statues, and pictures, and in visible forms. If any should adore the angels instead of God, or should foolishly imagine any other secret divinity, none will deny that he would offend against this Law. God, therefore, calls for the affections of the heart, that He alone may be spiritually worshipped; and the expression “before my face,” may be not inaptly referred to this; because, although their impiety, who secretly turn aside to false worship, and cherish their errors within their own bosoms, may be able to evade the eyes of men, yet their hypocrisy and treachery will not escape the notice of God. Hence, again, it follows, that the one God is not rightly worshipped, unless He be separated from all figments. Wherefore it is not enough to make use of His name, unless all corruptions opposed to His word be laid aside; and thence we arrive at the distinction between true religion and false superstitions; for since God has prescribed to us how He would be worshipped by us, whenever we turn away in the very smallest degree from this rule, we make to ourselves other gods, and degrade Him from His right place.


Deuteronomy 6:4, 13, 16

4. Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.

4. Audi, Israel, Jehova Deus noster Deus unus est.

13. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him.

13. Jehovam Deum tuum timebis, et ipsum solum coles.

16. Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God, as ye tempted him in Massah.

16. Non tentabitis Jehovam Deum vestrum, sicut tentastis in Masa.

Deuteronomy 10:20

20. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave.

20. Jehovam Deum tuum timebis, eum coles, eique adhaerebis.

4. Hear, O Israel. When Moses proclaims that God is One, the statement is not confined to His sole essence, which is incomprehensible, but must be also understood of His power and glory, which had been manifested to the people; as though he had said, that they would be guilty of rebellion unless they abode in the One God, who had laid them under such obligations to Himself. Therefore he not only calls him Jehovah, but at the same time infers that He is the God of that people whom he addresses, “Thy God.” Thus all other deities are brought to nought, and the people are commanded to fly and detest whatever withdraws their minds from the pure knowledge of Him; for although His name may be left to Him, still He is stripped of His majesty, as soon as He is mixed up with a multitude of others. Thus He says by Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 20:39,) “Go ye, serve ye every one his idols;” in which words He not only repudiates all mixed worship, but testifies that He would rather be accounted nothing than not be worshipped undividedly. The orthodox Fathers aptly used this passage against the Arians;280280     Vide St. Ath. Or. 3, contra At. sec. 7, 8. Jones of Nayland’s “Cath. Doctrine of Trinity,” chap. 4:2, sums up the argument concisely and well. because, since Christ is everywhere called God, He is undoubtedly the same Jehovah who declares Himself to be the One God; and this is asserted with the same force respecting the Holy Spirit.

4. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. In the First Commandment, after He had taught who was the true God, He commanded that He alone should e worshipped; and now He defines what is His Legitimate Worship. Now, since these are two distinct things, we conclude that the commandments are also distinct, in which different things are treated of. The former indeed precedes in order, viz., that believers are to be contented with one God; but it would not be sufficient for us to be instructed to worship him alone, unless we also knew the manner in which He would be worshipped. The sum is, that the worship of God must be spiritual, in order that it may correspond with His nature. For although Moses only speaks of idolatry, yet there is no doubt but that by synecdoche, as in all the rest of the Law, he condemns all fictitious services which men in their ingenuity have invented. For hence have arisen the carnal mixtures whereby God’s worship has been profaned, that they estimate Him according to their own reason, and thus in a manner metamorphose Him. It is necessary, then, to remember what God is, lest we should form any gross or earthly ideas respecting Him. The words simply express that it is wrong 7979     “C’est une folie et perversite.” — Fr. for men to seek the presence of God in any visible image, because He cannot be represented to our eyes. The command that they should not make any likeness, either of any thing which is in heaven, or in the earth, or in the waters under the earth, is derived from the evil custom which had everywhere prevailed; for, since superstition is never uniform, but is drawn aside in various directions, some thought that God was represented under the form of fishes, others under that of birds, others in that of brutes; and history especially recounts by what shameless delusions Egypt was led astray. And hence too the vanity of men is declared, since, whithersoever they turn their eyes, they everywhere lay hold of the materials of error, notwithstanding that God’s glory shines on every side, and whatever is seen above or below, invites us to the true God.

Since, therefore, men are thus deluded, so as to frame for themselves the materials of error from all things they behold, Moses now elevates them above the whole fabric and elements of the world; for by the things that are “in heaven above,” he designates not only the birds, but the sun, and the moon, and all the stars also; as will soon be seen. He declares, then, that a true image of God is not to be found in all the world; and hence that His glory is defiled, and His truth corrupted by the lie, whenever He is set before our eyes in a visible form. Now we must remark, that there are two parts in the Commandment — the first forbids the erection of a graven image, or any likeness; the second prohibits the transferring of the worship which God claims for Himself alone, to any of these phantoms or delusive shows. Therefore, to devise any image of God, is in itself impious; because by this corruption His Majesty is adulterated, and He is figured to be other than He is. There is no need of refuting the foolish fancy of some, that all sculptures and pictures are here condemned by Moses, for he had no other object than to rescue God’s glory from all the imaginations which tend to corrupt it. And assuredly it is a most gross indecency to make God like a stock or a stone. Some expound the words, “Thou shalt not make to thyself a graven image, which thou mayest adore;” 8080     “All such images, or likenesses, are forbidden by this commandment, as are made to be adored and served; according to that which immediately follows, thou shalt not adore them nor serve them. That is, all such as are designed for idols or image-gods, or are worshipped with divine honor. But otherwise, images, pictures or representations, even in the house of God, and in the very sanctuary, so far from being forbidden, are expressly authorized by the Word of God. See Exodus 25:15, etc.; 38:7; Numbers 21:8-9; 1 Chronicles 28:18-19; 2 Chronicles 3:10.” — Note to Douay Version. Dublin, 1825; by authority. as if it were allowable to make a visible image of God, provided it be not adored; but the expositions which will follow will easily refute their error. Meanwhile, I do not deny that these things are to be taken connectedly, since superstitious worship is hardly ever separated from the preceding error; for as soon as any one has permitted himself to devise an image of God, he immediately falls into false worship. And surely whosoever reverently and soberly feels and thinks about God Himself, is far from this absurdity; nor does any desire or presumption to metamorphose God ever creep in, except when coarse and carnal imaginations occupy our minds. Hence it comes to pass, that those, who frame for themselves gods of corruptible materials, superstitiously adore the work of their own hands. I will then readily allow these two things, which are inseparable, to be joined together; only let us recollect that God is insulted, not only when His worship is transferred to idols, but when we try to represent Him by any outward similitude.


Deuteronomy 5

Deuteronomy 5:8-10

8. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth:

8. Non facies tibi sculptile, vel ullam imaginem eorum quae sunt in coelo sursum, nec eorum quae sunt in terra deorsum, nec eorum quae sunt in aquis sub terra.

9. Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,

9. Non adorabis ea, neque coles: ego enim Jehova Deus tuus, Deus zelotes, visitans iniquitatem patrum super filios, in tertiam et quartam generationem in his qui me oderunt.

10. And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

10. Faciens autem misericordiam in millia diligentibus me, et custodientibus praecepta mea.


9 Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them. Idolaters in vain endeavor to elude this second point by their foolish cavils; as amongst the Papists that trifling distinction is commonly advanced, that only λατρέια, 8181     The Fr. will sufficiently explain this distinction in: “Que l’honneur est bien defendu, mais non pas le serviceSee C.’s Institutes, book i. chap. xii. sec. 2 and 3; and C. on the Psalms: — (Calvin Society’s Translation) Vol. 2, pp. 272-273. and not δελέια is prohibited. For Moses, first of all, comprehends generally all the Forms And Ceremonies Of Worship; and then adds immediately afterwards the word עבד, gnabad, which means properly to serve. Hence we conclude that they make a childish endeavor at evasion, when they pay only the honor of service to pictures and statues. But if we grant them what they desire, not even so will they escape; because the prohibition is equivalent to God’s declaring that He will not be worshipped in wood and stone, or in any other likeness. For unbelievers have never been carried away to such an extent of folly as to adore mere statues or pictures; they have always alleged the same pretext which now-a-days is rife in the mouths of the Papists, viz., that not the image itself was actually worshipped, but that which it represented. But the Spirit everywhere reproves them for worshipping gods of wood and stone, since God rejects that carnal worship which unbelievers offer before stocks and stones. If any one should ask them, whom they have it in their mind to worship, they will immediately reply, that they offer to God that honor which they pay to pictures and statues. But this frivolous excuse comes to nothing; because to erect the idol before which they prostrate themselves, is really to deny the true God; and, therefore, no wonder that He should declare that unbelievers worship wood and stone, when they worship in that wood and stone phantoms of their own imagination. And we have already said, that all rites which do not accord with the spiritual worship of God, are here forbidden: and this is enough, and more than enough to put to flight all such misty notions, (nebulas.)

For I the Lord thy God. He partly terrifies them by threats, and partly attracts them by sweet promises, in order to keep them in the way of duty. In the earlier expressions He convicts them of ingratitude, if they prostitute themselves to idolatry, when they had been chosen to be a peculiar and holy people. He afterwards inspires them with terror, by the denunciation of punishment; and, finally, allures them with the hope of reward, if they obediently abide in the pure worship of God. Nor does He affirm that He will be severe or kind to individuals only, but extends both to their posterity, although, as we shall afterwards see, not equally. I have indeed assigned another place to the promises and threatenings, whereby the authority of the whole Law is sanctioned; but since this clause is annexed to a particular Commandment, it could not be conveniently separated from it. The word אל, el, some translate appellatively, mighty; but since God is so called from His might, I have preferred following this meaning, 8282     i.e., as the Fr. explains it, “De le prendre pour un nomme propre;” to take it as a proper name. which is more suitable here. Yet I do not think that Moses used various names without reason; for when he had first employed the name אלהים, elohim, he soon afterwards honors God by another title, and magnifies His power, that He may be feared. And for this reason he also calls Him the Rival, 8383     קנא AEmulator, says C. after S.M., who explains himself as meaning thereby, Qui aequo animo ferre non potest, ut ab eo divellamur, et alium quaeramus amatorem. The L.V. has Zelotes. The perplexity of the translation into the Latin tongue does not seem to have arisen from any ambiguity in the Hebrew, but from the want of an equivalent in classical Latin. — W or, as some not inaptly translate it, the jealous; for to give the name of “the envious” (obtrectatoris) to God, as somebody has done, is not only silly, but monstrous. This is the word by which Cicero renders ζηλοτυπίαν, 8484     “Obtrectatio autem est ea, quam intelligi zelotypiam volo, aegritudo ex eo, quod alter quoque potiatur eo, quod ipse concupiverit."— Tusc. Quaest. iv. expressing by it the sin of guilty rivalry, when one person envies the superiority of another. But God is here set before us in the character of a husband, who suffers no rival; or if it be preferred to extend the meaning of the word, He is called the assertor of His rights; since His rivalry is nothing more than retaining what is His own, and thus excluding all the rivals of His honor. Because mention has lately been made of His sacred covenant with the Jews, Moses seems to allude to the violation of this spiritual marriage. But although he begins with threatening, still, far preferring mercy to His severity, He rather gently allures them, than compels them by fear, to allegiance; for He declares that He will be merciful even to a thousand generations; whilst He only denounces punishment on the thirds and fourths, (for thus it is literally expressed,) i.e., on their grandsons and great-grandsons. In order, therefore, to encourage His worshippers to earnest piety, He declares that He will be kind, not only to themselves, but to their posterity, even for a thousand generations. But this is the proof of His inestimable kindness, and even indulgence, that He deigns to bind Himself to His servants, to whom He owes nothing, so far as to acknowledge, in His favor towards them, their seed also for His people. For hence it appears, that it is wrong to infer merit from the promised reward, because He does not say that He will be faithful or just towards the keepers of His Law, but merciful. Let then the most perfect come forward, and he can require nothing better of God than that He should be favorable to him on the grounds of His gratuitous liberality. For חסד, chesed, is equivalent to kindness, or beneficence; but when it is applied to God, it generally signifies mercy, or paternal favor, and the blessings which flow from it.

Since, then, He here promises that He will shew mercy, it is as much as to say that He will be beneficent, or will deal with clemency. Hence it follows, that the main source of reward is that. gratuitous beneficence wherewith He liberally blesses His people. Now, when it is said, “unto them that love me,” 8585     La source de toute vertu, et de toutes bonnes oeuvres. — Fr. the fountain and origin of true righteousness is expressed; for the external observation of the Law would be of no avail unless it flowed from hence. And praise is given to love rather than to fear, because God is delighted with none but voluntary obedience, but He rejects that which is forced and servile, as we shall again see elsewhere. But because hypocrites also boast that they love God, whilst their life corresponds not with the profession of their lips, the two things are here distinctly connected; viz., that the true servants of God love Him, and keep His commandments, i.e., make effectual proof of their piety. But here a difficult question arises, for the history of all ages shews that a great proportion of the progeny of the holy have been rejected and condemned; and that God has inflicted upon them weightier manifestations of His curse and vengeance, than upon strangers. We must, however, observe, that in these words grace is not promised severally to all the posterity of the saints, as if God were bound to each individual who may derive their race and original from them. There were many degenerate children of Abraham, to whom it profited nothing that they were called the offspring of the holy patriarch; nor indeed is the promise restricted to individuals, for many who are children after the flesh, are not counted for the seed — but God in His free election adopts whom He will, yet so governs His judgments, as that His paternal favor should always abide with the race of believers. Besides, the fruits of this promised grace are manifested in temporal blessings; and thus although God severely avenged the sins of the children of Abraham, and at length when their impiety shewed itself to be desperate, renounced them, yet did He not fail to be kind to them for a thousand generations. For again, God fulfills and performs what He here promised by the outward testimonies of His favor, although they turn to the destruction of the reprobate. Thus He was merciful to the race of Abraham, as long as he saw fit to leave them the Law, the Prophets, the Temple, and other exercises of religion. 8686     Addition in Fr.,Combien qu’ils n’en fissent point leur profit;” although they did not profit by them. Now, again, it will be well for us to consider how far even the holiest fall short of the perfect keeping of the Law, and perfect love of God; and therefore we need not wonder if they experience in many respects the failure of this grace, and only enjoy some slight taste of it. In any case, the goodness of God ever superabounds, so that His grace, if it does not shine with full splendor, still appears in bright sparks unto a thousand generations. As to the opposite clause, wherein God limits His vengeance to the third or fourth generation, we see how He prefers to attract men to duty by gentle invitations, than by terrifying threatenings to extort from them more than they are willing to do; inasmuch as He extends His mercy further than the severity of His judgment. We must also observe that the transgressors of the Law are called the enemies and haters of God. It is surely horrible, and almost monstrous impiety to hate God; and scarcely would any one be found so wicked as openly to declare Him to be his enemy; yet it is not without a cause that God pronounces thus harshly respecting their impiety; for since He cannot be separated from His justice, a contempt of the Law convicts men of this hatred; for it is impossible that they should not wish to deprive Him of His dominion, who endure Him not as a Lawgiver and a Judge.

"To visit iniquities,” is equivalent to inquiring into them, or taking cognizance of them, in order that punishment should be inflicted in proportion to the crime; for as long as God spares men and suspends His judgment, He seems to connive at them, or to pay no attention to them. Therefore, when men shall think that their sin is buried, He declares that He will bear it in memory. But it may be asked, how it is consistent for God to exact punishment from the children or grandchildren on account of the sins of their fathers? for nothing is more unreasonable than that the innocent and guilty should be involved in the same punishment; and the declaration of the Prophet is well known,

"The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son; but the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20.)

The difficulty, which arises from the words of the Prophet, is easily solved, for God therein refutes the wicked expostulation of the people, that their children, who were not in fault, were unjustly and cruelly exposed to punishment. The proverb was generally rife, that “the fathers had eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth were set on edge;” but God replies, that not one of those with whom He was angry and severe was free from crime; and, therefore, that their complaint was false, since each of them received the recompense of his own iniquity. And this is most true, that God’s severity never assails the innocent; and however the world may murmur against His judgments, that He will always be clear in condemning this person or that 8787     The Latin is “fore victorem quoties hunc vel illum damnaverit,” with evident allusion to Psalm 61:4, which the V. renders “et vincas cum judicaris;” to which passage there is a reference in the Fr.

But when God declares that He will cast back the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of the children, He does not mean that He will take vengeance on poor wretches who have never deserved anything of the sort; but that He is at liberty to punish the crimes of the fathers upon their children and descendants, with the proviso that they too may be justly punished, as being the imitators of their fathers. If any should object, that this is nothing more than to repay every one according to his works, we must remember that, — whenever God blinds the children of the ungodly, casts them into a state of reprobation, (conjicit in sesum reprobum), and smites them with a spirit of madness or folly, so that they give themselves up to foul desires, and hasten to their final destruction, — in this way the iniquity of the fathers is visited on their children. But suppose other punishments are added, all are under condemnation (convicti,) so that they have no ground for murmuring against God; and even then also God still proceeds to execute the vengeance which He here denounces; for, when He would direct one work to various objects, He uses wonderful and secret expedients. When He commanded the people of Canaan to be destroyed, it is certain that those, who then were living, were worthy of this punishment; yet, inasmuch as God foretold 8888     Vide Genesis 15:16. that their iniquities were not yet full, we infer that He then inflicted the punishment upon them which He had deferred for 400 years. On this ground, Christ declares that the Jews of His time were guilty of all the blood that had been shed from that of Abel to the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachias, (Matthew 23:35.) But if it be not agreeable to our judgment that God should repay every one according to his deserts, and yet that He at the same time requires the sins of their fathers of the children, we should remember that His judgments are a great depth; and, therefore, if anything in His dealings is incomprehensible to us, we must bow to it with sobriety and reverence. But since this doctrine will recur elsewhere, I have thought fit only to touch upon it lightly here. One question remains, how we can reconcile the statement of Paul, that the fifth commandment is the first with promise, (Ephesians 6:2,) whereas a promise is annexed to this second. The solution of this is easy; for if you duly consider, this promise, which we have now explained, is not peculiarly annexed to any single commandment, but is common to the whole first Table of the Law, and these refer to the whole service of God; but when it is said, “honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long,” the keeping of that commandment is particularly and specially sanctioned.

Exodus 20:7. Thou shalt not take the name. There is a manifest synecdoche in this Commandment; for in order that God may procure for His name its due reverence, He forbids its being taken in vain, especially in oaths. Whence we infer on the other hand an affirmative commandment, that every oath should be a testimony of true piety, whereby the majesty of God Himself should obtain its proper glory. Moreover, it is clear that not only when we swear by God, His name is to be reverently honored, but whenever mention of it is made. Thus in these words He maintains His holiness not only in His word, but also in His works, against all profane contempt of it. We shall soon see that to swear by God’s name is a species or part of religious worship, and this is manifest too from the words of Isaiah 45:23; for when he predicts that all nations shall devote themselves to pure religion, he thus speaks, “As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall swear by me.” 308308     The quotation more nearly accords with the Apostle’s citation in Romans 14:11, than with the original passage in Isaiah. See Owen’s note in C.’s Romans, (C. Society’s Edition, p. 503.) Now, if the bowing of the knees be a token of adoration, this swearing which is connected with it is equivalent to an acknowledgment that He is God. Since, then, reason dictates that the species is put for the genus, we must see what is to be understood by God’s name, and by the adverb לשוא, leshav. It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, 309309     “Au mot Hebrieu, qui nous translatons l’Eternel;” to the Hebrew word, which we translate the Eternal. Fr. as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables; but, whereas His essence is invisible, His name is set before us as an image, in so far as God manifests Himself to us, and is distinctly made known to us by His own marks, just as men are each by his own name. On this ground Christ teaches that God’s name is comprehended in the heavens, the earth, the temple, the altar, (Matthew 5:34,) because His glory is conspicuous in them. Consequently, God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, truth, clemency, and rectitude. If a shorter definition be preferred, let us say that His name is what Paul calls τὸ γνωστόν, “that which may be known” of Him. (Romans 1:19.)

God’s name, then, is taken in vain, not only when any one abuses it by perjury, but when it is lightly and disrespectfully adduced in proof of frivolous and trifling matters: I speak with respect to oaths. In this, however, man’s ingratitude is very gross, that when God grants them His name, as if at their entreaty, to put an end to their strifes and to be a pledge of their truth, still it flies promiscuously from their mouths not without manifest disrespect. God will again condemn perjury in the Fifth Commandment of the Second Table, viz., in so far as it offends against and violates charity by injuring our neighbors. The aim and object of this Commandment is different, i.e., that the honor due to God may be unsullied; that we should only speak of Him religiously; that becoming veneration of Him should be maintained among us. The word לשוא, leshau, might indeed be translated “for falsehood,” and in this sense we shall see it used elsewhere; but since it often is equivalent to חנם, chinam, which means gratuitously, or in vain, this exposition seems to be most appropriate. In this, too, fuller and richer instruction is contained, viz., that men should not drag in His name in light matters, as in sport or derision of Him, which cannot be done without insulting and profaning it. And thus the holiness of God’s name, which preserves us in His fear and in true piety, is contrasted with the particle לשוא, leshau. But since nothing is more difficult than to restrain men’s licentiousness in this respect, and to excuse or at least diminish the sin, the slipperiness of the tongue is pleaded, its punishment is here denounced: that if God’s name is rashly exposed to reproach or contempt, He will avenge it. The more hardened, therefore, in their licentiousness they may be, the less will be their impunity; so far is depraved habit from diminishing the guilt.

The Exposition of the Third Commandment

Leviticus 19

Leviticus 19:12

12. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.

12. Non jurabitis per nomen meum mendaciter, nec profanabis nomen Dei tui: ego Jehova.


Deuteronomy 6

Deuteronomy 6:13

13. ... shalt swear by his name.

13. Per nomen ejus jurabis.


Deuteronomy 10

Deuteronomy 10:20

20. ... swear by his name.

20. In nomine ejus jurabis.


Leviticus 19:12. And ye shall not swear by my name falsely. Although Moses is treating of the duties of the Second Table, and had previously forbidden men to deal fraudulently with their neighbors, he still adds this sentence by way of confirmation. It may, however, be inferred from the second clause of the verse that He directly had regard to the glory of God when he says, “Thou shalt not profane the name of thy God.” For raging greediness after gain causes the avaricious and rapacious man not only to defraud men, but to become insolent to God Himself. Moses, therefore, although he is professedly condemning the falsehood and deceit whereby our neighbors are injured, at the same time takes occasion to introduce the declaration that we must beware lest, whilst covetousness impels us to do wrong, injury should be done not only to men but to God Himself also. The word used here, however, is not שוא, shau, as before, but שקר, sheker, which properly signifies deceitfulness; and therefore I have said that it enjoins us to beware lest any one by his perjury should do any injury to his neighbor; nevertheless, that this prohibition has direct reference to the Third Commandment, since Moses especially insists on this point, that God’s name is profaned by perjury, and thus he not only inculcates integrity, but also has regard to religion, that God’s majesty may not be violated. The expression is worthy of notice, “Thou shalt not pollute the name of God,” because God, who is eternal and immutable truth, cannot be more grossly insulted than by being summoned as a witness to falsehood, which is assuredly a shameful and wicked pollution. This was not regarded by the heathen, who, although they pretended to reverence God’s name in their oaths, yet made no scruple of deceiving, if he whom they had promised deserved it. Thyestes in the poet says, “I never have pledged my faith, nor do I pledge it to any faithless person;” 310310     Cic. de Off. 3 28, 29. “Deinde illud etiam apud Actium Fregisti fidem. Neque dedi neque do infideli cuiquam, quanquam ab impio rege dicitur, luculente tamen dicitur. “Nam illud quidem, Neque dedi, neque do fidem in fideli cuiquam,idcirco recte a poeta; quia, cum tractaretur Atreus, personae serviendum fuit.” since his brother was a villain, he considered that he lay under no valid obligation to him. This is as if God’s majesty were dependent upon men’s deservings, so that it was allowable to call Him to witness whilst we deal deceitfully. Let this, then, be our firm conclusion, that in our oaths God is first to be regarded, whose holy name is more precious than a hundred worlds.

Exodus 20:8. Remember the Sabbath-day. The object of this Commandment is that believers should exercise themselves in the worship of God; for we know how prone men are to fall into indifference, unless they have some props to lean on or some stimulants to arouse them in maintaining their care and zeal for religion. Under the Second Commandment we have already indeed made some remarks on the outward profession of piety, and under the First also brief mention has been made of some festivals, inasmuch as in the passover and the offering of the first-fruits the people devoted themselves to God, as if by a solemn repetition of the covenant. Many also of the ceremonies which we have explained had an affinity to the Sabbath. Yet it is not without good cause that God has appointed a special place to the Sabbath as well as to the other festivals; and although there is a connection between the observance of the Sabbath and the tabernacle with its sacrifices, and the priesthood itself, still it was advisedly done that the festivals should be separately appointed, that by their aid the people might be the more encouraged to maintain the unity of the faith and to preserve the harmony of the Church. Meanwhile, the mutual connection between the sanctuary and the Sabbath is evident from what has been already said. God indeed would have it to be a notable symbol of distinction between the Jews and heathen nations. Whence, too, the devil, in order to asperse pure and holy religion with infamy, has often traduced the Jewish Sabbath through froward tongues. But the better to shew what there is peculiar in this Commandment, and what is its difference from the First, we must remember the spiritual substance of the type; for not only did God prescribe certain days for the holding of assemblies, in which the people might give attention to sacrifices, prayers, and the celebration of His praise; but He placed before their eyes as the perfection of sanctity that they should all cease from their works. Surely God has no delight in idleness and sloth, and therefore there was no importance in the simple cessation of the labors of their hands and feet; nay, it would have been a childish superstition to rest with no other view than to occupy their repose in the service of God. 329329     “Sans autre regard que servir a Dieu en se reposant.” — Fr. Wherefore, lest we should make any mistake in the meaning of this Commandment, it is well to remember its analogy and conformity with the thing it signifies; i.e., that the Jews might know that their lives could not be approved by God unless, by ceasing from their own works, they should divest themselves of their reason, counsels, and all the feelings and affections of the flesh. For they were not forbidden without exception from the performance of every work, since they were required both to circumcise their children, and to bring the victims into the court, and to offer them in sacrifice on that day; but they were only called away from their own works, that, as if dead to themselves and to the world, they might wholly devote themselves to God. Wherefore, since God declares elsewhere by Moses, and again by Ezekiel, that the Sabbath is a sign between Him and the Jews that He sanctifies them, (Ezekiel 31:13; Ezekiel 20:12,) we must see what is the sum of this sanctification, viz., the death of the flesh, when men deny themselves and renounce their earthly nature, so that they may be ruled and guided by the Spirit of God.

Although this is sufficiently plain, still it will be worth while to confirm it by further statements. And first of all, that this was a ceremonial precept, Paul clearly teaches, calling it a shadow of these things, the body of which is only Christ. (Colossians 2:17.) But if the outward rest was nothing but a ceremony, the substance of which must be sought in Christ, it now remains to be considered how Christ actually exhibited what was then prefigured; and this the same Apostle declares, when he states that “our old man is crucified with Christ,” and that we are buried with Him, that His resurrection may be to us newness of life. (Romans 6:4.) It is to be gathered without doubt from many passages, that the keeping of the Sabbath was a serious matter, since God inculcates no other commandment more frequently, nor more strictly requires obedience to any; and again, when He complains that He is despised, and that the Jews have fallen into extreme ungodliness, He simply says that His “Sabbaths are polluted,” as if religion principally consisted in their observance. (Jeremiah 17:24; Ezekiel 20:21; 22:8; 23:38.) Moreover, if there had not been some peculiar excellency in the Sabbath, 330330     “S’il n’y eust eu quelque mystere excellent, et singulier;” if there had not been some excellent and peculiar mystery, etc. Fr. it might have appeared to be an act of atrocious injustice to command a man to be put to death for cutting wood upon it. (Numbers 15:32.) Wherefore it must be concluded that the substance of the Sabbath, which Paul declares to be in Christ, must have been no ordinary good thing. Nor does its excellency require much eulogium, since spiritual rest is nothing else than the truly desirable and blessed death of man, which contains in it the life of God, even as Paul glories that he is as it were dead, because Christ liveth in him. (Galatians 2:20.) The Apostle in the epistle to the Hebrews argues more subtilely, that true rest is brought to us by the Gospel, and that it is rejected by unbelievers, (Hebrews 4:3;) for although he mixes up some allegorical matter with it, he still retains the genuine reason of the Commandment, viz., that we should rest from our works “even as God from His.” (Hebrews 4:10.) On this ground Isaiah, when he reproves the hypocrites for insisting only on the external ceremony of rest, accuses them of “finding their own pleasure” on the Sabbath, (Isaiah 58:13;) as much as to say, that the legitimate use of the Sabbath must be supposed to be self-renunciation, since he is in fact accounted to cease from his works who is not led by his own will nor indulges his own wishes, but who suffers himself to be directed by the Spirit of God. And this emptying out of self must proceed so far that the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own; for rightly does Augustin remark in the last chapter of the 22d book, De Civitate Dei, 331331     The heading of this 30th chapter is, — “Of the Eternal Felicity of the City of God, and the Perpetual Sabbath." For even our good works themselves, since they are understood to be rather His than ours, are thus imputed to us for the attaining of that Sabbath, when we are still and see that He is God; 332332     Psalm 46:10, “Vacate, et videte quoniam ego sum Deus.” — V. “Be still, and know that I am God.” — A. V. for, if we attribute them to ourselves, they will be servile, whereas we are told as to the Sabbath, Thou shalt not do any servile work in it."

Next it is asked, why God rather assigned every seventh day to the Sabbath rather than the sixth or tenth. Because the number seven often represents perfection in Scripture, some have thought that believers were thus reminded that they must strive after perfect holiness with all their might, and not devote themselves to God by halves only. Others elicit a different meaning from it, although not a contrary one, that believers were taught that although they might be sanctified and laboring in all sincerity to cease from their own life, still some remainders of the flesh would continue in them, and therefore that through the whole course of their life they must aspire to that holiness which no mortal attains. I do not, however, doubt but that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, that He might give a manifestation of the perfect excellency of His works, and thus, proposing Himself as the model for our imitation, He signifies that He calls His own people to the true goal of felicity. Although a promise is included in this Commandment, yet will we observe upon it separately, and as if by the way. He promises indeed that as He blessed the seventh day and set it apart, so He will bless believers to sanctify them. But the main point is the command, and the recital of the blessing is equivalent to an exhortation to obedience, since otherwise it would be inappropriately placed here amongst the Commandments of the Law. When I said that the ordinance of rest was a type of a spiritual and far higher mystery, and hence that this Commandment must be accounted ceremonial, I must not be supposed to mean that it had no other different objects also. And certainly God took the seventh day for His own and hallowed it, when the creation of the world was finished, that He might keep His servants altogether free from every care, for the consideration of the beauty, excellence, and fitness of His works. There is indeed no moment which should be allowed to pass in which we are not attentive to the consideration of the wisdom, power, goodness, and justice of God in His admirable creation and government of the world; but, since our minds are fickle, and apt therefore to be forgetful or distracted, God, in His indulgence providing against our infirmities, separates one day from the rest, and commands that it should be free from all earthly business and cares, so that nothing may stand in the way of that holy occupation. On this ground He did not merely wish that people should rest at home, but that they should meet in the sanctuary, there to engage themselves in prayer and sacrifices, and to make progress in religious knowledge through the interpretation of the Law. In this respect we have an equal necessity for the Sabbath with the ancient people, so that on one day we may be free, and thus the better prepared to learn and to testify our faith. A third object of the Sabbath is also stated by Moses, but an accidental one as it were, viz., that it may be a day of relaxation for servants. Since this pertains to the rule of charity, it has not properly any place in the First Table, and is therefore added by Moses as an extrinsic advantage, as will be seen a little further on.

8. Remember the Sabbath-day. The word keep is used in Deuteronomy with the same meaning. Hence we infer that it is no trifling matter here in question, since God enforces the sanctity of the Sabbath by these two words, and exhorts the Jews to its scrupulous observance, thus condemning carelessness about it as a transgression. Moreover, when He says, “Six days shalt thou labor,” He indirectly reproves their ingratitude, if it should be irksome and disagreeable to them, to devote one day out of the seven to God, when He in His generosity gives up six to themselves. For he does not, as some have foolishly thought, make a demand here for six days’ labor; but by His very kindness entices them to obedience, since He only claims a seventh part (of their time) for Himself — as if He had said, Since you cannot be instant in seeking me with all your affection and attention, at any rate give up to me some little undistracted time. Therefore, He says, “all thy work,” whereby He signifies that they have plenty of time, exclusive of the Sabbath, for all their business.

10. Thou shalt not do any work. That is, whatever could have been finished yesterday, or postponed till to-morrow. (For instance, 333333     Added from Fr. ) it was not lawful for judges to give a hearing to two litigants; but if any one had violently assaulted his neighbor, it was allowable to prevent the injury, and to give relief to the unoffending person; because the necessity of the case admitted of no delay. It was not lawful to cook food for your guests; but if an ox or an ass had fallen into a pit it was to be taken out, because aid would have been too late on the morrow. For this reason Christ. declares that “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” (Mark 2:27,) since God does not require more than was useful or necessary for keeping the people in the exercise of piety. Thus it would have been wicked to send out an ox to pasture; but if an ox that tossed had got out, it was right to bring it back to its stall, lest it should kill or injure those whom it met.

Thy man-servant and thy maid-servant. Although it is added in Deuteronomy that God had respect to equity, when He commands a relaxation from labor to be given to the men and maid-servants, and the Israelites are called upon to remember that they were once servants, that they may be more disposed to act humanely, still we must bear in mind what I have stated, that the direct object here was the honoring of the One God. We know that the whole race of Abraham were consecrated to God, and that their servants were a kind of adjunct to them, so that they were circumcised in common with themselves. And assuredly it is very absurd that a man should encourage a profane contempt of God in the family over which he presides, and in which he would be recognised as master. The case of “strangers” was different, who were obliged to rest on the Sabbath, although they remained uncircumcised; for he does not only refer to the foreigners, who had subscribed to the Law, but also to the uncircumcised. If any should object that they were improperly made partakers of the sacred sign whereby God had bound His elect people to Himself, the reply is easy, that this was not done for their sakes, but lest anything opposed to the Sabbath should happen beneath the eyes of the Israelites; as we may understand more clearly from the case of the oxen and asses. Surely God would never have required spiritual service of brute animals; yet He ordained their repose as a lesson, so that wherever the Israelites turned their eyes, they might be incited to the observation of the Sabbath. Nor can we wonder at this, when in the general mournings which were appointed for the deprecation of God’s wrath, a fast was imposed upon the brutes, that wretched men being admonished by the sight, might feel the burden of their guilt the more, and by their voluntary serf-accusation might prevent the judgment of God, and might be seriously dissatisfied with themselves on account of those sins, whose punishment they saw to be imposed to a certain degree upon innocent animals. Besides, if the very least liberty had been conceded to them, they would have done many things to evade the Law in their days of rest, by employing strangers and the cattle in their work.

11. For in six days the Lord made. From this passage it may be probably conjectured that the hallowing of the Sabbath was prior to the Law; and undoubtedly what Moses has before narrated, that they were forbidden to gather the manna on the seventh day, seems to have had its origin from a well-known and received custom; whilst it is not credible that the Observance of the Sabbath was omitted, when God revealed the rite of sacrifice to the holy (Fathers. 334334     Added from Fr. ) But what in the depravity of human nature was altogether extinct among heathen nations, and almost obsolete with the race of Abraham, God renewed in His Law: that the Sabbath should be honored by holy and inviolable observance; and this the impure dogs 335335     “Les payens, comme chiens mastins;” the heathen, like dogs. — Fr. accounted to be amongst the disgraces of the Jewish nation.

I am not ignorant that the Tables of the Law are usually divided in a different manner; 11     See Becon’s Catechism, part 3, (Parker Society’s edition,) p. 60, et seq. See also Bullinger’s Decades, (Parker Society,) vol. 1, p. 212; and Hooper’s Early Writings, (Parker Society,) pages 349-351; and Calvin’s Institutes, lib. 2. cap. 8, Section 12. It appears that this error may be traced to Augustine, (Quaest. in Exodus 71, and Ep. ad. Jan. 119,) who, without omitting the Second Commandment, divided the precepts of the First Table into three, on the supposition that their number was allusive to the Trinity. He, however, contradicts himself elsewhere, (Quaest. Vet. et Novi Test., lib. 1:7;) but Peter Lomb. adopts his erroneous division, and separates the Tenth Commandment into two parts. (Lib. 3, Distinct. 37 and 40.) for those, who make only one of the first two Commandments, are obliged finally to mangle the last. Thus the prohibition of God to covet either our neighbor’s wife or his house, is foolishly separated into two parts, whereas it is quite clear that only one thing is treated of, as we gather from the words of Paul, who quotes them as a single Commandment. (Romans 7:7.) There is, however, no need of a lengthened discussion here, since the fact itself explains how one error has grown out of another; for, when they had improperly hidden the Second Commandment under the First, and consequently did not find the right number, they were forced to divide into two parts what was one and indivisible. A frivolous reason is assigned by Augustine why they comprised the First Table in three commandments, viz., that believers might learn to worship God in the Trinity, and thus to adore one God in three persons. By inconsiderately trifling with such subtleties, they have exposed God’s law to the mockeries of the ungodly. Josephus 22     See Jewish Antiq., book 3. chap. 5. Section 5. In sect. 8 it is added: “When he had said this he showed them two tables, with the ten commandments engraven upon them, five upon each table; and the writing was by the hand of God.” indeed rightly enumerates the Commandments themselves in their proper order, but improperly attributes five Commandments to each Table; as if God had had regard to arithmetic rather than to instruct His people separately in the duties of charity, after having laid down for them the rules of piety. For up to this point the rule of rightly serving God has been delivered, i.e., the First Table embraces a summary of piety; and now the Law will begin to show how men ought to live with each other, otherwise one Table would have been enough, nor would God have divided his Law without a purpose. But whereas piety 33     “La piete que nous devons a Dieu, et l’equite que nous devons a nos prochains;” the piety which we owe to God, and the equity which we owe to our neighbors. — Fr. and justice comprise the perfect rule for the direction of our lives, it was necessary to distinguish these two parts, that the people might understand the object of the Law, of which we shall again speak hereafter.

Exodus 20:12. Honor thy father Although charity (as being “the bond of perfectness,” Colossians 3:14) contains the sum of the Second Table, still, mutual obligation does not prevent either parents or others, who are in authority, from retaining their proper position. Nay, human society cannot be maintained in its integrity, unless children modestly submit themselves to their parents, and unless those, who are set over others by God’s ordinance, are even reverently honored. But inasmuch as the reverence which children pay to their parents is accounted a sort of piety, some have therefore foolishly placed this precept in the First Table. Nor are they supported in this by Paul, though he does not enumerate this Commandment, where he collects the sum of the Second Table, (Romans 13:9;) for he does this designedly, because he is there expressly teaching that obedience is to be paid to the authority of kings and magistrates. Christ, however, puts an end to the whole controversy, where, among the precepts of the Second Table, He enumerates this, that children should honor their parents. (Matthew 19:19.)

The name of the mothers is expressly introduced, lest their sex should render them contemptible to their male children.

It will be now well to ascertain what is the force of the word “honor,” not as to its grammatical meaning, (for כבד, cabad, is nothing else but to pay due honor to God, and to men who are in authority,) but as to its essential signification. Surely, since God would not have His servants comply with external ceremonies only, it cannot be doubted but that all the duties of piety towards parents are here comprised, to which children are laid under obligation by natural reason itself; and these may be reduced to three heads, i e., that they should regard them with reverence; that they should obediently comply with their commands, and allow themselves to be governed by them; and that they should endeavor to repay what they owe to them, and thus heartily devote to them themselves and their services. Since, therefore, the name of Father is a sacred one, and is transferred to men by the peculiar goodness of God, the dishonoring of parents redounds to the dishonor of God Himself, nor can any one despise his father without being guilty of an offense against God, (sacrilegium.) If any should object that there are many ungodly and wicked fathers whom their children cannot regard with honor without destroying the distinction between good and evil, the reply is easy, that the perpetual law of nature is not subverted by the sins of men; and therefore, however unworthy of honor a father may be, that he still retains, inasmuch as he is a father, his right over his children, provided it does not in anywise derogate from the judgment of God; for it is too absurd to think of absolving under any pretext the sins which are condemned by His Law; nay, it would be a base profanation to misuse the name of father for the covering of sins. In condemning, therefore, the vices of a father, a truly pious son will subscribe to God’s Law; and still, whatsoever he may be, will acknowledge that he is to be honored, as being the father given him by God.

Obedience comes next, which is also circumscribed by certain limits. Paul is a faithful interpreter of this Commandment, where he bids “children obey their parents.” (Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20.) Honor, therefore, comprises subjection; so that he who shakes off the yoke of his father, and does not allow himself to be governed by his authority, is justly said to despise his father; and it will more clearly appear from other passages, that those who are not obedient to their parents are deemed to despise them. Still, the power of a father is so limited as that God, on whom all relationships depend, should have the rule over fathers as well as children; for parents govern their children only under the supreme authority of God. Paul, therefore, does not simply exhort children to obey their parents, but adds the restriction, “in the Lord;” whereby he indicates that, if a father enjoins anything unrighteous, obedience is freely to be denied him. Immoderate strictness, moroseness, and even cruelty must be born, so long as a mortal man, by wickedly demanding what is not lawful, does not endeavor to rob God of His right. In a word, the Law so subjects children to their parents, as that God’s right may remain uninfringed. An objection here arises in the shape of this question: It may sometimes happen that a son may hold the office of a magistrate, but that the father may be a private person, and that thus the son cannot discharge his private duty without violating public order. The point is easily solved: that all things may be so tempered by their mutual moderation as that, whilst the father submits himself to the government of his son, 44     There is a delightful illustration of this point, which will occur to many, related in Mores Life of Sir Thomas More, ch. 6. Section 5, — “Now it was a comfortable thing for ante man to behold how two great rooms of Westminster-hall were taken up, one with the son, the other with the father, which hath as yet never been heard of before or since, the son to be Lord Chancellor, and the father, Sir John More, to be one of the ancientest Judges of the King’s Bench, if not the eldest of all; for now he was near 90 year old. Yea, what a grateful spectacle was it, to see the son ask the father’s blessing every day upon his knees, before he sat in his own seat, a thing expressing rare humility, exemplar obedience, and submissive piety.” yet he may not be at all defrauded of his honor, and that the son, although his superior in power, may still modestly reverence his father.

The third head of honor is, that children should take care of their parents, and be ready and diligent in all their duties towards them. This kind of piety the Greeks call ἀντιπελαργία, 55     “Let us consider what is meant by the Gentiles’ ἀντιπελαργεῖν, which is to requite one good turn with another; and especially to nourish and cherish them, by whom thou thyself in thy youth was brought up and tendered. There is among the Gentiles a law extant, worthy to be called the mistress of piety, whereby it is enacted that the children should either nourish their parents or else lie fast lettered in prison. This law many men do carelessly neglect, which the stork alone, among all living creatures, doth keep most precisely. For other creatures do hard, and scarcely know or look upon their parents, if peradventure they need their aid to nourish them; whereas the stork doth mutually nourish them, being stricken in age, and bear them on her shoulders, when for feebleness they cannot fly.” — Bullinger’s Second Decade, Serm. 5, Parker Society’s edit., vol. 1, p. 272. See also Hooper’s Early Writings, Parker Society’s edit., p. 359. “Follow the nature of the cicone, that in her youth nourisheth the old days of her parents.” — Plin., lib. 10 cap. 23, Nat. Hist.
   The Fr. concludes the sentence thus: “et ainsi nous sont comme maistresses pour nous apprendre a recognoistre le bien que nous avons receu de ceux qui nous ont mis au monde et elevez;” and so are, as it were, our mistresses to teach us to repay the benefits of those who have brought us into the world and reared us.
because storks supply food to their parents when they are feeble and worn out with old age, and are thus our instructors in gratitude. Hence the barbarity of those is all the more base and detestable, who either grudge or neglect to relieve the poverty of their parents, and to aid their necessities.

Now, although the parental name ought, by its own sweetness, sufficiently to attract children to ready submission, still a promise is added as a stimulus, in order that they may more cheerfully bestir themselves to pay the honor which is enjoined upon them. Paul, therefore, that children may be more willing to obey their parents, reminds us that this “is the first commandment with promise,” (Ephesians 6:2;) for although a promise is annexed to the Second Commandment, yet it is not a special one, as we perceive this to be. The reward, that the days of children who have behaved themselves piously to their parents shall be prolonged, aptly corresponds with the observance of the commandment, since in this manner God gives us a proof of His favor in this life, when we have been grateful to those to whom we are indebted for it; whilst it is by no means just that they should greatly prolong their life who despise those progenitors by whom they have been brought into it. Here the question arises, since this earthly life is exposed to so many cares, and pains, and troubles, how can God account its prolongation to be a blessing? But whereas all cares spring from the curse of God, it is manifest that they are accidental; and thus, if life be regarded in itself, it does not cease to be a proof of God’s favor. Besides, all this multitude of miseries does not destroy the chief blessing of life, viz., that men are created and preserved unto the hope of a happy immortality; for God now manifests Himself to them as a Father, that hereafter they may enjoy His eternal inheritance. The knowledge of this, like a lighted lamp, causes God’s grace to shine forth in the midst of darkness. Whence it follows, that those had not tasted the main thing in life, 66     This famous sentiment of antiquity is found in the Elegies of Theognis, some 500 years B.C., —
   Pa>ntwn me<n mh< fu~nai ejpicqoni>oisin a]riston,
Mhd j ejsidei~n aujgav ojxe>ov hjeli>v.
Fu>nta d j o[pwv w]kiva pu>lav aji`>daw perh~sai
Kai< kei+sqai pollh<n gh~n ejpamhsa>menon.
— 425-428.

   It is also reported by Plutarch, in his Παραμυθητικὸς προς Απολλώνιον, by whom, as well as by Cicero, it is called the reply of Silenus to Midas, — “Affertur etiam de Sileno fabella quaedam: qui cum a Mida captus esset, hoc ei muneris pro sua missione dedisse scribitur: docuisse regem, non nasci homini longe optimum esse; proximum autem, quamprimum mori.” — Tusc Quaest. 1:48. “Ex quo intelligi licet, non nasci longe optimum esse, nec in hos scopulos incidere vitae; proximum autem, si natus sis, quamprimum mori, et tanquam ex incendio effugere fortunae. Sileni quae fertur fabula, etc.” — Consolatio. Lactantius refers to the latter passage, De falsa sapientia, Section 19. “Hinc nata est inepta illa sententia, etc.”
who have said that the best thing was not to be born, and the next best thing to be cut off as soon as possible; whereas God rather so exercises men by various afflictions, as that it should be good for them nevertheless to be created in His image, and to be accounted His children. A clearer explanation also is added in Deuteronomy, not only that they should live, but that it may go well with them; so that not only is length of life promised them, but other accessories also. And in fact, many who have been ungrateful and unkind to their parents only prolong their life as a punishment, whilst the reward of their inhuman conduct is repaid them by their children and descendants. But inasmuch as long life is not vouchsafed to all who have discharged the duties of piety towards their parents, it must be remembered that, with respect to temporal rewards, an infallible law is by no means laid down; and still, where God works variously and unequally, His promises are not made void, because a better compensation is secured in heaven for believers, who have been deprived on earth of transitory blessings. Truly experience in all ages has shown that God has not in vain promised long life to all who have faithfully discharged the duties of true piety towards their parents. Still, from the principle already stated, it is to be understood that this Commandment extends further than the words imply; and this we infer from the following sound argument, viz., that otherwise God’s Law would be imperfect, and would not instruct us in the perfect rule of a just and holy life.

The natural sense itself dictates to us that we should obey rulers. If servants obey not their masters, the society of the human race is subverted altogether. It is not, therefore, the least essential part of righteousness 77     “Pars justiciae non postrema.” — Lat. “Une partie de la justice, qui nous devons tous garder;” a part of righteousness which we ought all to observe. — Fr. that the people should willingly submit themselves to the command of magistrates, and that servants should obey their masters; and, consequently, it would be very absurd if it were omitted in the Law of God. In this commandment, then, as in the others, God by synecdoche embraces, under a specific rule, a general principle, viz., that lawful commands should obtain due reverence from us. But that all things should not be distinctly expressed, first of all brevity itself readily accounts for; and, besides, another reason is to be noticed, i.e. that God designedly used a homely style in addressing a rude people, because He saw its expediency. If He had said generally, that all superiors were to be obeyed, since, pride is natural to all, it would not have been easy to incline the greater part of men to pay submission to a few. Nay, since subjection is naturally disagreeable, many would have kicked against it. God, therefore, propounds a specific kind of subjection, which it would have been gross barbarism to refuse, that thus, their ferocity being gradually subdued, He might accustom men to bear the yoke. Hence the exhortations are derived, that people should “honor the king;” that “every soul should be subject unto the higher powers;” that “servants should obey their masters, even the froward and morose.” (Proverbs 24:21; 1 Peter 2:13; Romans 13:1; Ephesians 6:5; 1 Peter 2:14, 18.)

The Exposition of the Commandment

Leviticus 19

Leviticus 19:3

3. Ye shall fear every man his mother and his father.

3. Unusquisque patrem suum et matrem suam timeat.


Since this passage unquestionably relates to the explanation of the Fifth Commandment, it confirms what I have before shown, that the honor which God-commands to be paid to parents, does not consist in reverence only, but also embraces obedience. For the reverence which He now prescribes will render children submissive and compliant. Now, then, we more clearly understand how parents are to be honored, when God exhorts their children to beware of offending them; for this is, in a word, the true manifestation of filial piety, calmly to bear the yoke of subjection, and to prove by acts a sincere desire to obey.

The sum of this Commandment is, that we should not unjustly do violence to any one. In order, however, that God may the better restrain us from all injury of others, He propounds one particular form of it, from which men’s natural sense is abhorrent; for we all detest murder, so as to recoil from those whose hands are polluted with blood, as if they carried contagion with them. Undoubtedly God would have the remains of His image, which still shine forth in men, to continue in some estimation, so that all might feel that every homicide is an offense against Him, (sacrilegium.) He does not, indeed, here express the reason, whereby He elsewhere deters men from murder, i e., by asserting that thus His image is violated, (Genesis 9:6;) yet, however precisely and authoritatively He may speak as a Legislator, He would still have us consider, what might naturally occur to everybody’s mind, such as the statement of Isaiah 58:7, that man is our “own flesh.” In order, then, that believers may more diligently beware of inflicting injuries, He condemns a crime, which all spontaneously confess to be insufferable. It will, however, more clearly appear hereafter, that under the word kill is included by synecdoche all violence, smiting, and aggression. Besides, another principle is also to be remembered, that in negative precepts, as they are called, the opposite affirmation is also to be understood; else it would not be by any means consistent, that a person would satisfy God’s Law by merely abstaining from doing injury to others. Suppose, for example, that one of a cowardly disposition, and not daring to assail even a child, should not move a finger to injure his neighbors, would he therefore have discharged the duties of humanity as regards the Sixth Commandment? Nay, natural common sense demands more than that we should abstain from wrongdoing. And, not to say more on this point, it will plainly appear from the summary of the Second Table, that God not only forbids us to be murderers, but also prescribes that every one should study faithfully to defend the life of his neighbor, and practically to declare that it is dear to him; for in that summary no mere negative phrase is used, but the words expressly set forth that our neighbors are to be loved. It is unquestionable, then, that of those whom God there commands to be loved, He here commends the lives to our care. There are, consequently, two parts in the Commandment, — first, that we should not vex, or oppress, or be at enmity with any; and, secondly, that we should not only live at peace with men, without exciting quarrels, but also should aid, as far as we can, the miserable who are unjustly oppressed, and should endeavor to resist the wicked, lest they should injure men as they list. Christ, therefore, in expounding the genuine sense of the Law, not only pronounces those transgressors who have committed murder, but also that

“he shall be in danger of the judgment who is angry with his brother without a cause; and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.” (Matthew 5:22.)

For He does not there, as some have ignorantly supposed, frame t~ new law, as if to east blame upon His Father; but shows the folly and perversity of those interpreters of the Law who only insist on the external appearance, and husk of things, as is vulgarly said; since the doctrine of God must rather be estimated from a due consideration of. His nature. Before earthly judges, if a man have carried a weapon for the purpose of killing a man, he is found guilty of violence; and God, who is a spiritual Lawgiver, goes even further. With Him, therefore, anger is accounted murder; yea, inasmuch as He pierces even to the most secret feelings, He holds even concealed hatred to be murder; for so we must understand John’s words, “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer,” (1 John 3:15;) i.e., hatred conceived in the heart is sufficient for his condemnation, although it may not openly appear.

Although one kind of impurity is alone referred to, it is sufficiently plain, from the principle laid down, that believers are generally exhorted to chastity; for, if the Law be a perfect rule of holy living, it would be more than absurd to give a license for fornication, adultery alone being excepted. Furthermore, it is incontrovertible that God will by no means approve or excuse before this tribunal, what the common sense of mankind declares to be obscene; for, although lewdness has everywhere been rampant in every age, still the opinion could never be utterly extinguished, that fornication is a scandal and a sin. Unquestionably what Paul teaches has been prevalently received from the beginning, that a good life consists of three parts, soberness, righteousness, and godliness, (Titus 2:12;) and the soberness which he commands differs not from chastity. Besides, when Christ or the Apostles are treating of a perfect life, they always refer believers to the Law; for, as it had been said of old by Moses, “This is the way, walk ye in it;” 5959     The quotation is not from the writings of Moses, but an accommodation from Isaiah 30:21. Christ confirms this,

“If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments,” (Matthew 19:17;)

and Paul corroborates it, “He that loveth another hath fulfilled the Law,” (Romans 13:8,) whilst they constantly pronounce a curse against all fornicators. It is not worth while to quote the particular passages in which they do so. Now, if Christ and the Apostles, who are the best interpreters of the Law, declare that God’s Law is violated no less by fornication than by theft, we assuredly infer, that in this Commandment the whole genus is comprehended under a single species. Wherefore, those have done nothing but betray their disgraceful ignorance, who have sought to be praised for their acuteness on the score of their ridiculous subtlety, when they admitted that fornication is indeed condemned with sufficient clearness and frequency in the New Testament, but not in the Law. For, if they had reasoned justly, inasmuch as God is declared to have blessed marriage, it must at once be concluded, on the contrary, that the connection of male and female, except in marriage, is accursed. This is the argument of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he contrasts two opposite things;

“Marriage (he says) is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled; but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
(Hebrews 13:4.)

So also, when God forbids the priest to marry a harlot, (Leviticus 21:14,) the manifest impropriety of fornication is declared; and, if it was unlawful for the daughters of Israel to be harlots, (Deuteronomy 23:17,) the same reasoning applies necessarily to males. Nor has Hosea taken that reproof from anywhere else but the Law? “Whoredom and wine take away the heart.” (Hosea 4:11.) Thus, when the Prophets metaphorically condemn the corruptions of their nation, they do not always use the same; word as Moses here does, נפ, naaph, but compare them to fornications, whereas, if fornication were lawful in itself, this metaphor would be altogether inappropriate. Hosea was commanded to take a harlot for a wife, (Hosea 1:2;) no mention is made of adultery, and still the shame and baseness of the people is thus condemned. Who, then, would say that fornication is free from sin, since God brands it with no ordinary mark of ignominy? But if any should pertinaciously contest this, let him accuse Paul of error, who bears witness that an example is set before us in the Law, that we should. not “commit fornication as some of them committed, and fell in one day three-and-twenty thousand.” (Numbers 25:9; 1 Corinthians 10:8.) Surely, if they had not transgressed the Law, so horrible a vengeance would not have overwhelmed them. If any should object that the crime of idolatry was mixed up with it., still the declaration of Paul remains untouched, that God was the avenger of fornication in this infliction of punishment, which would not accord, unless it were a transgression of the Law. And in truth, where, as recorded by Luke, (Acts 15:20,) the Apostles in their decree prohibit fornication amongst the Gentiles, the reason is at the same time added, that “Moses is read in the synagogues.” Now, if it were not a vice opposed to the Law, no offense would have hence arisen.

We have already explained why, under this word adultery, every impure lust was condemned. We know how unbridled was the licentiousness of the Gentiles; for, although God never suffered all shame to be extinguished together with their purity, still respect for what was right was in a manner stifled, so that they evaded the grossness of the sin by ribaldry and scurrilous jests. At any rate, the doctrine of Paul was by no means understood, that those who indulge in whoredom “sin against their own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18.)

Since, then, the minds of all men were stupified by indulgence, it was needful to arouse them by declaring the atrocity of the sin, that they might learn to beware of all pollution. Nor are unbridled lusts only here condemned, but God instructs His people to cherish modesty and chastity. The sum is, that those who desire to approve themselves to God, should be pure “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit,” (2 Corinthians 7:1;) nor can we doubt but that Paul in these words would interpret the law, as he elsewhere exhorts,

“that everyone should possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:4, 5.)

Since charity is the end of the Law, we must seek the definition of theft from thence. This, then, is the rule of charity, that every one’s rights should be safely preserved, and that none should do to another what he would not have done to himself. It follows, therefore, that not only are those thieves who secretly steal the property of others, but those also who seek for gain from the loss of others, accumulate wealth by unlawful practices, and are more devoted to their private advantage than to equity. Thus, rapine is comprehended under the head of theft, since there is no difference between a man’s robbing his neighbor by fraud or force. But, in order that God may the better withhold His people from all fraudulent injustice, He uses the word theft, which all naturally abhor as disgraceful. For we know under how many coverings men bury their misdeeds; and not only so, but also how they convert them into praise by false pretexts. Craft and low cunning is called prudence; and he is spoken of as provident and circumspect who cleverly overreaches others, who takes in the simple, and insidiously oppresses the poor. Since, therefore, the world boasts of vices as if they were virtues, and thus all freely excuse themselves in sin, God wipes away all this gloss, when tie pronounces all unjust means of gain to be so many thefts. Nor let us be surprised that this decision should be given by the divine tribunal, when the philosophers deliver nearly the same doctrine.

We must bear in mind also, that an affirmative precept, as it is called, is connected with the prohibition; because, even if we abstain from all wrong-doing, we do not therefore satisfy God, who has laid mankind under mutual obligation to each other, that they may seek to benefit, care for, and succor their neighbors. Wherefore He undoubtedly inculcates liberality and kindness, and the other duties, whereby human society is maintained; and hence, in order that we may not be condemned as thieves by God, we must endeavor, as far as possible, that every one should safely keep what he possesses, and that our neighbor’s advantage should be promoted no less than our own.

God here makes a provision for every man’s character and good name, lest any should be undeservedly weighed down by calumnies and false accusations. The same synecdoche exists here, which I have pointed out in the previous Commandments, for God comprises many things under a single head. With reference to the words, inasmuch as עד, gned, properly means a witness, it may be literally translated, “Thou shalt not answer a false witness against thy neighbor,” but then the particle as must be supplied. The Hebrews poorly translate it in the vocative case, Thou shalt not speak, O false witness, etc.

165165     Addition in Fr., “Or revenons a la substance.” Although God seems only to prescribe that no one, for the purpose of injuring the innocent, should go into court, and publicly testify against him, yet it is plain that the faithful are prohibited from all false accusations, and not only such as are circulated in the streets, but those which are stirred in private houses and secret corners. For it would be absurd, when God has already shewn that men’s fortunes are cared for by Him, that He should neglect their reputation, which is much more precious. In whatever way, therefore, we injure our neighbors by unjustly defaming them, we are accounted false witnesses before God. We must now pass on from the prohibitive to the affirmative precept: for it will not be enough for us to restrain our tongues from speaking evil, unless we are also kind and equitable towards our neighbors, and candid interpreters of their acts and words, and do not suffer them, as far as in us lies, to be burdened with false reproaches. Besides, God does not only forbid us to invent accusations against the innocent, but also to give currency to reproaches and sinister reports in malevolence or hatred. Such a person may perhaps deserve his ill-name, and we may truly lay such or such an accusation to his charge; but if the reproach be the ebullition of our anger, or the accusation proceed from ill-will, it will be vain for us to allege in excuse that we have advanced nothing but, what is true. For when Solomon says that “love covereth many sins;” whereas “hatred brings reproaches to light,” 166166     “Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all sins.” — A.V. The latter clause, in C.’s quotation, is probably rather intended to be the necessary converse of the latter part of the proverb than a paraphrastic rendering of the first, which it does not appear that the words will bear. (Proverbs 10:12;) he signifies, as a faithful expositor of this precept, that we are only free from falsehood when the reputation of our neighbors suffers no damage from us; for, if the indulgence of evil-speaking violates charity, it is opposed to the Law of God. In short, we must conclude that by these words a restraint is laid on all virulence of language which tends to bring disgrace on our brethren; and on all petulance also, whereby their good name suffers injury; and on all detractions, which flow from malice, or envy, and rivalry, or any other improper feeling. We must also go further, and not be suspicious or too curious in observing the defects of others; for such eager inquisitiveness betrays malevolence, or at any rate an evil disposition. For, if love is not suspicious, he who condemns his neighbor either falsely, or upon trifling surmises, or who holds him in light esteem, is undoubtedly a transgressor of this Commandment. Consequently, we must close our ears against false and evil speaking; since he is just as injurious to his brother who eagerly listens to sinister reports respecting him, as he who exercises his tongue in maligning him. The necessity of this instruction let each man estimate by his own disposition; for scarcely one in a hundred will be found who will be as kind in sparing the character of others, as he himself desires to be pardoned for manifest vices; nay, slander is often praised under the pretext of zeal and conscientiousness. Hence it happens that this vice insinuates itself even among the saints, creeping in under the name of virtue. Moreover, the volubility of the tongue causes us to think it a light transgression to inflict a deadly and disgraceful wound on our brother, to whom, nevertheless, his good name is of more importance than his life. The sum is, that we should manifest our charity no less by candor, and by abstaining from slander, than by the performance of other duties.

Exodus 20:17. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife. There is no question but that this Commandment extends also to those that have preceded it. God had already sufficiently forbidden us to set our hearts on the property of others, to attempt the seduction of their wives, or to seek for gain at another’s loss and inconvenience. Now whilst He enumerates oxen and asses, and all other things as well as their wives and servants, it is very clear that His precept is directed to the same things, but in a different way, viz., in order to restrain all ungodly desires either of fornication or theft. The question, however, occurs, — since it has been said before that, agreeably to the nature of the Lawgiver, the inward purity of the heart is everywhere required, and therefore, that under the head of adultery, not only are all filthy acts prohibited, but secret unchastity also; and under the head of theft, all unlawful appetite for gain, — why does God now forbid in His people the lust for theft and fornication? For it seems to be a superfluous repetition which would be very absurd in ten short precepts, wherein God has embraced the whole rule of life, so that their very brevity might render it, easy, and the better attract their readers to learn them. Still, on the other hand, it must be remembered that, although it was God’s design, by the whole Law, to arouse men’s feelings to sincere obedience of it, yet such is their hypocrisy and indifference, that it was necessary to stimulate them more sharply, and to press them more closely, lest they should seek for subterfuges under pretense of the obscurity of the doctrine. For if they had only heard, Thou shalt not kill, nor commit fornication, nor steal, they might have supposed that their duty would have been fully performed by mere outward observance. It was not then in vain that God, after having treated of piety and justice, should give a separate admonition, that they were not only to abstain from evil doing, but also, that what He had previously commanded should be performed with the sincere affection of the heart. Hence Paul gathers from this Commandment, that the whole “Law is spiritual,” (Romans 7:7 and 14,) because God, by His condemnation of lust, sufficiently shewed that He not only imposed obedience on our hands and feet, but also put restraint upon our minds, lest they should desire to do what is unlawful. Paul confesses, too, that whereas he before slept in easy self-deceit, he was awakened by this single word; for since he was blameless in the eyes of men, he was persuaded that he was righteous before God: He says that he was once alive, as if the Law were absent or dead, because, being puffed up with confidence in his righteousness, he expected salvation by his works; but, when he perceived what the Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, meant, the dead Law was raised as it were to life, and he died, i e., he was convinced he was a transgressor, and saw the sure curse overhanging him. Nor did he perceive himself to be guilty of one or two sins, but then, at length, he was shaken out of his torpor, when he recognized that all the evil desires, of which he was conscious, must be accounted for before God, whereas he had before been satisfied with the mere outward appearance of virtue. We now perceive, therefore, that there is nothing inappropriate in the general condemnation of concupiscence by a distinct commandment; for after God has broadly and popularly laid down rules for moral integrity, at length He ascends to the fountain itself, and at the same time points out with His finger, as it were, the root from which all evil and corrupt fruits spring forth. It must here be added that something more is expressed by the words coveting and wishing for, or desiring, than a desiderium formatum, as it is commonly called; for the flesh often tempts us to wish for this or that, so that the evil concupiscence betrays itself, although consent may not yet be added. Since, therefore, the sin 171171     “Mala voluntas.” — Lat. “Toutes mauvaises affections.” — Fr. of the will had been already condemned, God now proceeds further, and puts a restraint upon evil desires before they prevail. 172172     “Derant qu’ils ayent gagne pour venir en propos delibere;” before they have gone so far as to arrive at a deliberate purpose. — Fr. James points out these progressive steps, where he says that lust conceives before it begets sin; and then “sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death,” (James 1:15,) for the begetting of which he speaks, is not only in the external act but in the will itself, before it has assented to the temptation. I admit, indeed, that the corrupt thoughts which arise spontaneously, and so also vanish before they affect the mind, do not come into account before God; yet, although we do not actually acquiesce in the evil desire, still, if it affects us pleasantly, it is sufficient to render us guilty. In order that this may be understood better, all temptations are, as it were, so many fans; if they hurry us on into consent, the fire is lighted; but, if they only awaken the heart to corrupt desires, concupiscence betrays itself in these sparks, although it neither acquires its full warmth nor breaks forth into a flame. Concupiscence, therefore, is never without desire (affectu,) although the will may not altogether yield. Hence it appears what entire perfection of righteousness we must bring in order to satisfy the Law, since not only are we commanded not to will anything, except what is right and pleasing to God, but also that no impure desire should affect our hearts. Nor would Paul have laid such great stress upon this precept if the Law condemned no concupiscence except that which takes such hold on the mind of man as to exercise dominion over it; for the sin of the will must ever be condemned even by heathen philosophers, nay, and by earthly legislators also; but he says that the Law, by resisting concupiscence, makes sin to “become exceeding sinful.” (Romans 7:13.) Now, it is not credible that, at the time in which he confesses that he knew not what concupiscence was, he was so senseless and stupid as to think no harm of wishing to kill a man, or of being inclined through lust to commit adultery with his brother’s wife; but, if he was not unaware that the will to sin was vicious, it follows that the concupiscence in which he saw no harm was some more hidden disease. Hence, too, it is manifest under what delusion Satan must have held all the Popish schools 173173     See the first decree of the Fifth Session of the Council of Trent, together with C.’s remarks amongst his Tracts. — Calvin Society edition, vol. 3, pp. 78-88. through which echoes this axiom, that concupiscence is no sin in the baptized, because it is a stimulus to the exercise of virtue; as if Paul did not openly condemn concupiscence, which entraps us in its snares, although we do not altogether assent to it.

24. An altar of earth thou shalt make. This precept differs from the other, which I have just explained; because although it refers to the choice of a place, 111111     “D’autant qu’il ne traitte pas expressement du lieu mais de la matiere, et forme de l’autel;” because it does not treat expressly of the place, but of the matter and form of the altar. — Fr. yet the mention of a place is omitted, and it only touches upon the material and form of the altar. God, therefore, commands that an altar should be built to Him, either of earth or of a heap of stones, which had not been artificially polished. But I understand this of the altars, which either in the desert or elsewhere should be built, before the choice of the perpetual place had been manifested to them. God would have them built of earth, that they might fall down of themselves, and that no trace of them might remain after the departure of the people; but if stones were used, He forbade their being fitted together in a permanent structure, but would have them thrown rough and unpolished into a heap, lest their appearance should entice posterity to superstition. I am surprised that commentators 112112     In the Gloss. Ord, there is an exposition from Gregory, that “to make an altar of earth is to found our hopes upon the Incarnation of Christ; for our offering is then accepted by God, when our humility bases our works upon faith in the incarnation of our Lord;” and from Isidore, that “hewn stones are those who break the unity of the Church, and sever themselves from the society of their brethren. These Christ does not receive into His body, which the construction of the altar represents," etc. should here put themselves to the pains of inventing allegories; since God had no other object than to remove stumbling-blocks, whereby the Israelites might be turned away from the sanctuary; for we know how antiquity, and the example of our forefathers, is apt to attract the minds of the vulgar. If anything in the shape of an altar had remained, immediately religious notions would have been associated with it, that, God could nowhere be more solemnly or better worshipped, than in the place already dedicated of old by their fathers. Thus degenerate modes of worship would have sprung up, and the dignity of the sanctuary would have been brought into contempt. Wherefore this evil is anticipated when He forbids altars to be built which might exist for any length of time; and only allows them to be adapted for present use, being made of earth, or of an unfashioned heap of stones. As to “the sacrifices of prosperities,". I have elsewhere stated why I so translate the word שלומים, shelumim, 113113     שלמיך A.V., peace-offerings. C. says rightly that the word שלומים comprehends every kind of prosperity and happy result; but the word in the text is the pl. of שלם. — W. See Note on Numbers 10:10, ante, p. 105. which signifies all prosperous and happy results; for the rendering of others, viz., peaceful things, (pacifica), is very unsuitable. The latter part of the verse, “in all places, where I record my name, I will come unto thee,” has been ignorantly perverted by commentators, and hence has afforded a ground of error; for they have read it in connection with the former part, as if God had forbidden such an altar to be made in Mount Sion also; whereas He rather anticipates a doubt, which might have otherwise perplexed the minds of the people; Will not God be favorable to us where He heard the prayers of our fathers? He replies, I say, to this by the promise, that they will pray to Him well and duly, if they only obey His command, and seek no other place except that which He shall choose. On this score it is said, that wheresoever it shall please God that sacrifices should be offered, there He will descend to you, to be favorable unto you.

26. Neither shalt thou go up. When God had prescribed modesty to the priests in their whole life, and in their private actions, no wonder that He should require especial care of decency and propriety in the performance of their sacred duties. He had indeed already desired that the priests should wear drawers or breeches when they went into the sanctuary; yet not content with this symbol of purity, He forbids them to ascend the altar by steps, lest haply the drawers themselves should be seen; since the dignity and sanctity of sacred things would thus be impaired. By all means, therefore, He would induce the Israelites to conduct themselves most purely and most chastely in the exercises of religion.

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