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A Warning Not to Forget God in Prosperity


This entire commandment that I command you today you must diligently observe, so that you may live and increase, and go in and occupy the land that the L ord promised on oath to your ancestors. 2Remember the long way that the L ord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. 3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the L ord. 4The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these forty years. 5Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the L ord your God disciplines you. 6Therefore keep the commandments of the L ord your God, by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7For the L ord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, 8a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron and from whose hills you may mine copper. 10You shall eat your fill and bless the L ord your God for the good land that he has given you.

11 Take care that you do not forget the L ord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. 12When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, 13and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the L ord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonous snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. 17Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” 18But remember the L ord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. 19If you do forget the L ord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20Like the nations that the L ord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the L ord your God.

1. All the commandments. Although the first verse might have been included among the promises, whereby, as we shall hereafter see, the Law was ratified by Moses, because he here exhorts and incites the Israelites to obedience by proposing to them the hope of reward; still it appeared to me that I might conveniently insert it here, since the design of Moses was simply this, to attract them by the sweetness of the promised inheritance to receive the doctrines of the Law. This sentence, then, may be justly counted among those whereby their minds were prepared to submit themselves to God with the gentleness and docility that became them; as though he had said, because the land of Canaan is now not far from you, its very nearness ought to encourage you to take upon you God’s yoke more cheerfully; for the same God, who this day declares to you His law, invites you to the enjoyment of that land, which He promised with an oath to your fathers. And certainly it is evident from this latter clause of the verse, that Moses did not simply promise them a reward if they should keep the law; but rather set before them the previous favor, wherewith God had gratuitously prevented them, in order that they might, on their part, shew themselves grateful for it Moses calls the commandments his, not (as we have already seen) because he had invented them himself, but because he faithfully handed them down from the dictation of God’s own mouth. And this we may also more fully gather from the following verse, wherein he recounts the mercies of the time past, and at the same time calls to their recollection by how many proofs God had instructed them, to form and accustom them to obedience. In the first place, he bids them remember generally the dealings of God, which they had seen for forty years, and then descends to particulars, viz., that God had proved them by afflictions, “to know what was in their heart;” for thus may the expressions be paraphrased, “to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart;” in which words he admonishes them, that they were painfully tried by many troubles and difficulties not without very good reason, viz., because they had need of such trial. Yet, at the same time, he indirectly reproves their obstinacy, which was then detected; since otherwise, if all things had gone prosperously with them, it would have been easy for them to pretend great fear of God, though, as was actually discovered, it did not really exist.

3. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger. Inasmuch as they were sometimes made to suffer hunger in the wilderness, he proves the advantage of this discipline, because they thus learnt that the human race does not live by bread and wine alone, but by the secret power of God. For though all confess that it is through God’s goodness that the earth is fruitful, still their senses are so tied to the meat and drink, that they rise no higher, and do not acknowledge God as their Father and nourisher, but rather bind Him down to the outward means to which they are attached, as if His hand, of itself, and without instruments, could not effect or supply anything. Their perception, therefore, that the fruits of the earth are produced by God, is but a cold notion, which speedily vanishes, and does not cling to their memory. The power of God, as well as His goodness, is indeed abundantly manifested in the use of His creatures, which we naturally enjoy; but the depravity of the human mind causes that the testimonies of it act like a veil to obscure that bright light. Besides, the majority of mankind think of God as if banished afar off, and dwelling in inactivity as if He had resigned His office in heaven and earth; and hence it arises, that trusting in their present abundance, they implore not His favor, nay, that they pass it by as needless; and, when deprived of their accustomed supplies, they altogether despair, as if God’s hand alone were insufficient for their succor. Since, then, men do not sufficiently profit by the guidance and instruction of nature, but rather are blinded in their view of God’s works, it was desirable that in this miracle (of the manna) a standing and manifest proof should be given, that men do not only live upon God’s bounty, when they eat bread and drink wine, but even when all supplies fail them. Although there be some harshness in the words, yet the sense is clear, that men’s life consists not in their food, but that God’s inspiration suffices for their nourishment. And we must remember, that the eternal life of the soul is not here referred to, but that we are simply and solely taught that although bread and wine fail, our bodies may be sustained and invigorated by God’s will alone. Let it then be regarded as settled, that this is improperly, however acutely, referred to the spiritual life, and a relation imagined in its doctrine to faith; as if the grace, which is offered in the promises, and received by faith, gave life to our souls; since it is simply stated, that the animating principle (vigor), which is diffused by the spirit of God for sustenance, proceeds out of His mouth. In Psalm 104:30, there is an exact repetition of what was before said here by Moses, “Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.” The word translated “not only,” seems to have been expressly added, lest, if Moses had altogether excluded the bread which is destined for our food, he should not do justice to God. Thus, then, does he guard his words, as much as to say, that although bread sustains man’s life, still this support would be too weak, unless the hidden power of God occupied the first place; and that this intrinsic virtue, as it is called, which He of Himself inspires, would suffice, even although all other aids should fail. And this doctrine, first of all, arouses us to gratitude, referring to God Himself whatever by His creatures He supplies to us for the nourishment and preservation of our lives, whilst it teaches us that although all the instruments of this world should fail, still we may hope for life from Himself alone. There is no ordinary wisdom in recollecting both these points. Christ admirably applied this passage to its true and genuine practical use; for when the devil would persuade him to command the stones to be made bread for the satisfaction of His hunger, He answered, “Man shall not live by bread alone,” etc., (Matthew 4:4,) as if he had said, There is in God’s hands another remedy, for even although He supply not food, He is still able to keep men in life by His will alone. But I touch upon this the more briefly, because I have more fully treated it in my Commentaries on “the Harmony of the Gospels.”257257     See Calvin Society Translation, in loco. With the same object he adds, that their raiment was not worn out in so long a time, and that their shoes remained whole; viz., that they might be fully convinced, that whatever concerns the preservation of human life and man’s daily wants is so entirely in God’s hands, that not only its enjoyment, but even its continuance and being, depend upon His blessing.

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