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After having restrained the Israelites from the strange delusions of the Gentiles, Moses now forbids them from being too credulous if false teachers should arise from among themselves, and warns them diligently to beware of all novel inventions, and not to turn aside in the very least degree from the Law, at the instigation of any one. For there is peril to be apprehended, not only from professed and manifest enemies, or from foreign superstitions, but Satan plots also by means of intestine deceits, and abuses the holy name of God in order to betray us. Therefore it behoves that the faith of the godly should not only be externally fortified and protected by the ramparts of the word, lest corruption should creep in from without, but also that it should be garrisoned within by the same word, lest novel imaginations should secretly insinuate themselves and destroy the purity of doctrine. Moreover, we gather from this prohibition that there is such certainty in the divine doctrines as to prevent our faith from being undermined or shaken, provided it has put forth into them living roots, and is firmly grounded upon them. For it would be vain for God to warn us against giving admission to false teachers, unless He, at the same time, shewed the means by which they were to be guarded against. And assuredly nothing can be more improbable than that religion should be ambiguous; and since the rule and definition of it is faithfully prescribed and set forth in the Law, justly does God require of His people that they should not waver, but constantly persist in the truth delivered to them. For truly does Isaiah declare respecting the Law, that in it it has not been said in vain to the seed of Jacob, that they should seek God’s face. (297) (Isaiah 45:19.) But, in seeking God, it would not be sufficient to teach what is right, unless men’s minds are established in it; it is requisite, therefore, that religion should be sure and firm, or it will not be duly ordered. Nor is there any doubt that what Paul witnesses of the Gospel was true also of the Law, viz., that it armed its disciples against all the storms of temptation, that they “should be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men,” etc. (Ephesians 4:14.) But the words before us, when examined more closely and regularly, will shew, with greater clearness, the aim of the matter.
1.If there arise among you. We already perceive that the question is not respecting the falsities and errors which Satan had spread throughout the world, but respecting those which were to appear in the very bosom of the Church, as if it had been said that the Law was not only given in order to separate the Israelites from heathen nations, but to keep themselves in the purity and integrity of the faith; for just as now-a-days Christ betroths the Church to Himself by the preachers of the Gospel, (2 Corinthians 11:2,) that she may devote herself as a chaste virgin to His obedience, and not allow herself to be withdrawn from the simplicity of the faith by any seductions; so of old God espoused His ancient people to Himself, and bade them close their ears against impostors, who are, as it were, the seducers of Satan tempting them to violate that sacred and special bond of marriage whereby God would be united with His people. We shall speedily see wherefore God would have His Church exposed to this evil. Meanwhile it is useful to admonish believers of their danger, that they may be constantly watching against the snares of Satan; for this abomination did not only prevail in that particular age, but it will have its evil influence even to the end of the world. We must remember what Peter says, that “as there were false prophets among” the Jews of old, so also in the kingdom of Christ
“there shall be false teachers who privily shall bring in damnable heresies.” (2 Peter 2:1.)
Moses, however, does not merely speak of domestic enemies, but, of such as shall assume the title of Prophets in order that they may deceive with greater license and impunity. From hence we infer that it is not enough to have an honorable position, or a plausible name, whether pastor, or prophet, or priest, unless it be allied to sincerity in accordance with our calling; for who are the persons whom God here commands to be avoided and held in abomination? Just those who boasted themselves to be Prophets, but who, when carefully inquired into, were obliged to drop their mask, and driven to confusion. A particular appellation is subjoined to their general one, since the same individual is spoken of as “a dreamer of dreams,” because God of old time manifested Himself to the Prophets sometimes in visions and sometimes in dreams. Either of these, then, was an honorable pretext for conciliating favor. But the temptation which follows was still more dangerous, viz., if such an one should have commended himself by a successful prediction; for who would despise a prophecy authenticated by events, especially when Isaiah declares this to be the attribute of God alone? (Isaiah 45:21.) And the difficulty here is still increased, because in chap. 18, God appears to distinguish false Prophets from true ones by this very test. (298) Thus I resolve the difficulty, God’s claiming to Himself the glory of foretelling events does not prevent Him from occasionally conferring even on the ministers of Satan the power of prophecy respecting some particular point. Balaam was worse than any hireling crier, wishing as he did to frustrate the eternal decrees of God, and yet we know that his tongue was directed by the divine inspiration of the Spirit so as to be the proclaimer of that grace which he had been hired to quench. There is, therefore, no inconsistency in this, that a man should be a perfidious impostor, and still endowed at the same time with a particular gift of prophecy, not so as always to deliver true revelations, (as, for instance, Caiaphas, who prophesied correctly once, was not always veracious,) but in so far as by God’s permission it shall be given him to foreknow this or that, so that one example of truth-telling may be the cloak for many falsehoods. Fitly, then, and properly, in the other passage, does God, by Moses, reprove the vanity of those rash spirits who promise what is not fulfilled. For we must take into consideration His intention. Many are there who bring themselves into notice by clandestine acts, and at length boldly burst forth and boast themselves to be prophets, whilst the people are in doubt whether they ought so to consider them. But since it most frequently happens that the folly of such men is betrayed by marks of infamy and disgrace inflicted upon them from above, so that the world may see that they have spoken falsely, justly does God declare that the event of their predictions is to be regarded, lest the Israelites should promiscuously and unreflectingly receive whatever they may hear. The principle, therefore, is established, that those speak in God’s name who predict what really comes to pass; for they could not declare the truth respecting things unknown to man unless God Himself should dictate it to them. This is the tendency of the answer of Jeremiah to Hananiah, —
“The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old, prophesied both against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him.” (Jeremiah 28:8.)
Hananiah promised that the war should end prosperously; but Jeremiah, knowing that he lied, brings him to an experimental proof of his falsehood, in case the facts should not correspond with what he had said. Thus far there is no inconsistency in our statement, that all true prophesies must proceed from God, and yet that the same Prophet who has predicted the truth may, in other points, be a deceiver And especiallylet us remark the admonition of Paul, that
“because they (the reprobate) receive not the love of the truth, that they may be saved; for this cause God sends them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
(2 Thessalonians 2:10,)
Hence we are taught that not only are the reins of Satan loosed in order that he may do injury, but that he is armed with power effectively to drag on the reprobate to final tied struction. Moses here teaches the same thing, for there are no reasonable grounds for the differences between Hebrew commentators as to the word sign. (299) It is unquestionable that signs were sometimes used in order to obtain credit for prophesies, as when Isaiah walked naked, ( Isaiah 20:2,) and Jeremiah wore a yoke on his neck, ( Jeremiah 18:10;) it is also unquestionable that Satan often deceives by magical incantations; but I have no doubt that by the words signifying the sign and the wonder, Moses here means anything incredible and unexpected, for the purpose of vaticination. The Hebrews use the word
(297) See note on Deuteronomy 30:11, ante.
(298) Addition in Fr. , “disant, Que si le cas n’advient, le Prophete s’est ingere par presomption;” saying, that if the thing does not come to pass, the Prophet has meddled with it presumptuously.
(299) C. found in S. M.’s note on this verse that some of them understood the word signs to refer to such a sign as Jeremiah was to exhibit, (Jeremiah 27:2,) the like to which was done by the false Prophet Zedekiah, (1 Kings 22:12;) whilst others thought that the text spoke of what magicians might do by their art, as Moses had witnessed in Pharaoh’s presence. — W.
3.For the Lord your God proveth you. (Latin, tentat vos.) Whenever this word, which means to tempt, is applied to God, it is not used in a bad sense, for “to take by guile,” or, “to lay snares of deceit to entrap the unwary,” but only for “to prove or examine.” Now, God proves men’s hearts, not that He may learn what was before unknown, but to lay open what was before concealed. The expression, “to know,” therefore, refers to experimental knowledge only. The explanation of Augustine is tame and involved, (300) “That He may know, i.e., that He may cause you to know.” But, since it is so very common for human feelings to be attributed to God, where is the use of twisting words, which signify no more than that God makes trial, so that what might have been otherwise doubtful, should be actually displayed? Thus God tempted Abraham, when in an important matter He made trial of his faith or obedience. (Genesis 22:1.) Nor is what I have lately touched upon, and which we often read of, at all contradictory to this, viz., that God uses the instrumentality of Satan and of wicked men, in order to tempt men; because we must take into consideration the object to which He directs these trials, whereby it will be manifest that His design is very different from the malice and wiles of Satan. The reason here given is worthy of remark, because it removes the difficulty by which weak minds might have been easily disturbed. For nothing is less probable than that Satan should insult God and involve heaven and hell in war, or that he should assume to himself with impunity an attribute of God. Lest, then, such a discussion should trouble and weary the good, or keep them in perplexity, Moses thus anticipates it, by reminding them, that God does not meanwhile lie idle or asleep, having abandoned the care of His Church; (301) but that He designedly brings the truly pious to the proof, in order to distinguish them from the hypocrites; and this takes place, when they constantly persevere in the true faith against the assaults of their temptations, and do not fall from their standing. The Apostle declares the same thing also with regard to heresies, that they must needs arise in the Church, “that they which are approved may be made manifest.” (1 Corinthians 11:19.) Wherefore we must not be impatient, nor murmur against God, if He chooses that the firmness of our faith, which is more precious than silver or gold, should be tried in the fiery furnace; but it behoves us humbly to acquiesce in His justice and wisdom. If any should still object, that, since the weakness of mankind is only too notorious, God deals with them somewhat unkindly, when He subjects them to these dangerous temptations, an answer may be readily given. I acknowledge indeed that, since our carnal sense is tender, this may seem hard, and inconsistent with the fatherly kindness of God; for, surely, when a miracle presents itself before our eyes, it is difficult not to submit to it. But, since the temptation injures none but those whose impiety, which it lays bare, was already convicted and condemned, whilst the sincere worshippers of God are preserved free from injury, how unjust would it be to take away from God this liberty of plucking the mask from treachery and deceit? Whosoever loves God with a pure heart is armed with the invincible power of the Divine Spirit, that he should not be ensnared by falsehoods; God thus rewards true and not fictitious piety, so that whosoever are of a true heart, should be protected by his faithful guardianship, and never feel the deadly wound. Meanwhile, why should He not devote to just destruction those who wilfully desire to perish? Nor need we be surprised at what He elsewhere declares, that it is He who deceives false prophets, (302) that by them he may inflict just vengeance on the reprobate, who eagerly go in search of their destructive deceits. Since, then, all the good are sure to overcome, so that the wiles of Satan are to them nothing but the exercises of their virtue; why should God be blamed, because the malice of Satan and of the wicked prepares for them the grounds of their victory and triumph? Only let us cleave to this axiom, that all, who heartily love and reverence God, will always be sure and safe under the protection of God. It is true, I confess, that integrity of heart is a peculiar gift of God and the fruit of His secret election; but, since their own consciences reproach the reprobate with their contempt of God, their hypocrisy, pride, or depravity, the blame of the iniquity that dwells in them is unjustly laid upon God. This, then, is sufficient to refute all carnal and perverse reasonings and blasphemies, viz., that whosoever are right in heart are guarded by the aid of the Spirit from the poisonous influence of Satan, and that no one perishes against his will. And thus we come to the conclusion, that all who, having once seemed to embrace the doctrines of salvation, afterwards reject and deny them, had never possessed anything more than the disguise of a false profession, because, if they sincerely loved God, they would remain firm in heart in the midst of all things tending to disturb them. It will indeed sometimes happen that the pious also will fall into errors, and will be seduced by the wicked; but it will only be in some respects and for a time; so that they never fall from the foundation, and presently recover themselves, (resipiscant.) And then, it must also be observed, they pay the penalty of their negligence, or instability, because they have not been sufficiently attentive to God’s Word, or have not sufficiently devoted themselves to religious pursuits. Hence we further gather, that whilst many turn away professedly from the doctrines of religion, on the ground of their seeing so many contentions and disputes to distract them, it is a mere vain excuse to cover their profane neglect or hatred of God. It is true that there are great discrepancies of opinion, and very warm contentions; but whosoever in a teachable and gentle spirit shall seek after truth, and shall give himself over and submit himself as the disciple of God, he will never be without the spirit of judgment and discretion. But, since some listen disdainfully, some supremely despise it, some wish that God’s Word were altogether destroyed, others think lightly of it, the saying of the Prophet holds good, “that that dieth, let it die;” (Zechariah 11:9;) and what Paul after him declares, “But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant.” (l Corinthians 14:38.) Since it has always been the case that God’s truth was never hidden from anybody, except him whose mind the God of this world has blinded. (2 Corinthians 4:4.) And this especially takes place (303) when light has shone from heaven, which suffers none to go astray but those who shut their eyes. The remedy, therefore, is immediately subjoined, “Ye shall walk after the Lord your God;” as if Moses had said, it was sufficient for their preservation, that they had God to guide them in the right way, who had already prevented them by His gratuitous bounty. But, since numbers respond not to God’s call, and regard Him not when He points out the way to them, the words “and fear him” are added; because “the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalms 111:10.) Finally, Moses again inculcates that, if men are only resolved to obey God, they will be sufficiently taught by His voice what they ought to do. By the word “cleave,” perseverance is denoted, and titus he indirectly reproves the instability of those who forsake and forget God, and go astray after empty imaginations.
(300) Aug. de Genesi, lib. 1:34. “Sic dicetur etiam illud, ‘Tentat vos Dominus Deus vester, ut sciat si diligitis eum;’ non enim ut sciat ipse, quem nihil latet, sed ut scire nos faciat, quantum in ejus dilectione profecerimus, tentari nos permittit.” See also Tractatus 43, in Johannem, 5, 6.
(301) Addition in French, “quand les seducteurs brouillent tout;” when seducers confuse everything.
(302) I presume that there is an allusion here to Ezekiel 14:9.
(303) “Cela se verifie et demonstre principalement;” and this verifies and demonstrates itself principally. — Fr.
5.And that prophet. Since the ministers of Satan deceive men by their plausible exterior, when they vaunt themselves to be the prophets of God, Moses had already admonished them, that all. teachers were not to be listened to indifferently, but that the true were to be distinguished from the false, and that, after judgment had, those should obtain credit who deserved it. He now subjoins the punishment of such as should creep in under the name of a prophet to draw away the people into rebellion. For he does not condemn to capital punishment those who may have spread false doctrine, only on account of some particular or trifling error, but those who are the authors of apostasy, and so who pluck up religion by the roots. Observe, again, that the season of this severity would not be until a positive religion should be established; and, therefore, the grossness of the impiety is expressly named, “if they should have tried to turn the people away from the worship of the true God.” Moreover, that all excuse might be obviated, Moses says that it is sufficiently manifested who God is, and how He is to be worshipped, both by the wonderful blessing of their redemption, as well as by the doctrine of the Law. Therefore, in order that God may shew that so heavy a punishment is justly inflicted upon apostates, He declares the certainty of that religion which should exist among the Israelites; as much as to say, that no pardon could be granted to such impious contempt, since God had abundantly proved the glory of His Godhead by the miracle of their redemption, and had manifested His will in the Law.
It must then be remembered, that the crime of impiety would not otherwise merit punishment, unless the religion had not only been received by public consent and the suffrages of the people, but, being supported also by sure and indisputable proofs, should place its truth above the reach of doubt. Thus, whilst their severity is preposterous who defend superstitions with the sword, so also in a well constituted polity, profane men are by no means to be tolerated, by whom religion is subverted. (53) Thus they are unable to endure, who desire to be at liberty to make disturbances with impunity; and therefore they call those sanguinary who teach that the errors by which religion is undermined and thence destroyed, should be restrained by public authority. But what will they gain by openly raving against God? God commands the false prophets to be put to death, who pluck up the foundations of religion, and are the authors and leaders of rebellion. Some scoundrel or other gainsays this, and sets himself against the author of life and death. What insolence is this! (54) As to their denial that the truth of God stands in need of such support, it is very true; but what is the meaning of this madness, in imposing a law upon God, that He should not make use of the obedience of magistrates in this respect? And what avails it to question about the necessity of this, since so it pleases God? God might, indeed, do without the assistance of the sword in defending religion; but such is not His will. And what wonder if God should command magistrates to be the avengers of His glory, when He neither wills nor suffers that thefts, fornications, and drunkenness should be exempt from punishment. In minor offenses it shall not be lawful for the judge to hesitate; and when the worship of God and the whole of religion is violated, shall so great a crime be fostered by his dissimulation? Capital punishment shall be decreed against adulterers; but shall the despisers of God be permitted with impunity to adulterate the doctrines of salvation, and to draw away wretched souls from the faith? Pardon shall never be extended to poisoners, by whom the body alone is injured; and shall it be sport to deliver souls to eternal destruction? Finally, the magistracy, if its own authority be assailed, shall take severe vengeance upon that contempt; and shall it suffer the profanation of God’s holy name to be unavenged? What can be more monstrous! But it is superfluous to contend by argument, when God has once pronounced what is His will, for we must needs abide by His inviolable decree
But it is questioned whether the law pertains to the kingdom of Christ, which is spiritual and distinct from all earthly dominion; and there are some men, not otherwise ill-disposed, to whom it appears that our condition under the Gospel is different from that of the ancient people under the law; not only because the kingdom of Christ is not of this world, but because Christ was unwilling that the beginnings of His kingdom should be aided by the sword. But, when human judges consecrate their work to the promotion of Christ’s kingdom, I deny that on that account its nature is changed. For, although it was Christ’s will that His Gospel should be proclaimed by His disciples in opposition to the power of the whole world, and He exposed them armed with the Word alone like sheep amongst wolves, He did not impose on Himself an eternal law that He should never bring kings under His subjection, nor tame their violence, nor change them from being cruel persecutors into the patrons and guardians of His Church. Magistrates at first exercised tyranny against the Church, because the time had not yet come when they should “kiss the Son” of God, and, laying aside their violence, should become the nursing fathers of the Church, which they had assailed according to Isaiah’s prophecy, that undoubtedly refers to the coming of Christ. (Isaiah 49:6.) Nor was it causelessly that Paul, when he enjoins prayers to be made for kings and other worldly rulers, added the reason that under them
"we may lead a quiet and peaceable life
in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:2.)
Christ, indeed as He is meek, would also, I confess, have us to be imitators of His gentleness, but that does not prevent pious magistrates from providing for the tranquillity and safety of the Church by their defense of godliness; since to neglect this part of their duty, would be the greatest perfidy and cruelty. And assuredly nothing can be more base than, when we see wretched souls drawn away to eternal destruction by reason of the impunity conceded to impious, wicked, and perverse impostors, to count the salvation of those souls for nothing. But, if under this pretext the superstitious have dared to shed innocent blood, I reply that what God has once commanded must not be brought to nought on account of any abuse or corruption of men. For, if the cause alone abundantly distinguishes the martyrs of Christ from malefactors, though their punishment may be identical, so the Papal executioners will not bring it to pass by their unjust cruelty that the zeal of pious magistrates in punishing false and noxious teachers should be otherwise than pleasing to God. And this is admirably expressed in the words of Moses, when he reminds them that judgment must be passed according to the law of God. I have already said that. this severity must not be extended to particular errors, but where impiety breaks forth even into rebellion. When it is added, “to thrust thee out of the way, which the Lord thy God commanded thee,” we gather from it that none are to be given over to punishment, but those who shall have been convicted by the plain word of God, lest men should judge them arbitrarily. Whence it also appears that zeal will err in hastily drawing the sword, unless a lawful examination shall have been previously instituted.
(53) It is impossible not to be here reminded of Calvin’s acquiescence in the punishment of Servetus. In the principle he lays down, we have, as it were, his final apology for the part he took in that matter. Any discussion of the much-vexed question would here be out of place, but it may not be altogether amiss to introduce the few following calm reflections from the pen of a very able modern historian, M. de Felice — “1. Servetus was not an ordinary heretic; he was audaciously Pantheistic, and outraged the doctrine of all the great Christian communions, by saying that God in three persons was a Cerberus — a monster with three heads. 2. He had already been condemned to death by the (Roman) Catholic Doctors at Vienna in Dauphine. 3. The matter was adjudicated, not by Calvin, but by the magistrates of Geneva; and, if it be objected that his opinion must have influenced their decision, it must be remembered that the Councils of the other Reformed Cantons of Switzerland unanimously approved of the sentence. 4. It was of supreme importance that the Reformation should clearly separate its cause from that of an Infidel like Servetus. The (Roman) Catholic Church, which now-a-days accuses Calvin of having participated in his condemnation, would, in the sixteenth century, have much more harshly accused him, if he had sought for his acquittal.” — Hist, des Protestants de France. Liv. 1., Section 5.
6If thy brother, the son of thy mother. The punishment which he had commanded to be inflicted on false teachers, is now extended to each one of the people. For although it is a lighter offense in a private individual to draw others with him into error, both because his ignorance is excusable, and the profession of a teacher does not increase his responsibility, yet a falling away from religion, from whencesoever it arises, is intolerable to God. Only, those two points, to which we have already adverted, are to be kept in remembrance, viz., that this judgment can have no place except where religion is duly constituted; and, also, that all are not to be put to death indifferently, who may have erred in some particular, but that this severity is only to be exercised against apostates, who pluck up religion by the roots, so that the worship of God is adulterated, or pure doctrine abolished. Nor indeed does God enjoin that the slipperiness of the tongue is to be capitally punished, if it shall have inconsiderately let fall something amiss, but rather (57) the wicked design of altering the true religion, as the words clearly express the matter. It is worth while remarking with what particularity God enforces upon us the duty of fostering and upholding religion: for, because general laws are usually eluded by various exceptions, He expressly says that neither brother, nor son, nor wife, nor intimate friend is to be spared. (58) The eye is said to pity, because the very look is of great power in awakening the affections on both sides; therefore it is not without reason that God requires (59) such courage as may be moved to pity neither by tears, nor blandishments, nor the sadness of the spectacle. The phrases, too, are emphatic, “thy brother, who proceeded from the same womb;” “the wife who sleeps in thy bosom or embrace;” “the friend whom you love as yourself;” in order that pure zeal, when it sees God’s sacred name profaned, may not give way to any human affection. Christ says that no one is worthy to be acknowledged as His disciple, but he who shall neglect his father, and mother, and children, when necessary. So now God declares that all our tenderest affections, which are implanted in us by nature, and in which all the best persons sometimes indulge, are sinful, if they hinder us from vindicating His glory.
It is pious and praiseworthy to love our wives and children as our own bowels; nor is there any reason which forbids us from regarding our brother and our friend with similar love; only let God be preferred to all, for it is too preposterous to betray His glory for the sake of man. For to plead the love due to our wives, or anything of the same kind, what is this but to set our affections against God and His precepts? Wherefore the desire to mitigate that severity to which He would harden us, betrays an effeminacy which He will not endure. Now, there are two most just grounds for the heaviness of the punishment; first, because we are almost all of us slack when we ought to be very zealous in avenging the insults which God may receive; and, secondly, because more severe remedies are applied to perilous diseases, so it is right that so noxious, and altogether deadly pestilence as this should be met with extraordinary means. And to this refers the expression “secretly. ” For although it might seem cruel to betray such as have not publicly transgressed, yet, inasmuch as sectaries fly from the light, and creep in by clandestine and deceitful arts, it is necessary to prevent them from fraudulently infecting individual houses with their poison, as always is the case with them. Therefore God would have their insidious endeavors checked betimes, lest the contagion should spread.
(58) Addition in Fr, “
(59) Addition in Fr. , “
7Namely, of the gods of the people. The sum of the matter is to this effect, that we should so acquiesce in the known truth, as that our ears may be closed to all the falsehoods by which it is opposed. Men’s neighborhood to each other commonly produces, by their intercommunication, a conformity of habits. Thus errors pass from one to the other; (60) and since we are generally prone to evil, the worse pervert the better. Since, then, the people of Israel were everywhere surrounded by idolaters, they might have easily been enticed to imitate them, unless measures were taken to prevent it. But the expression “round about” is used, because a pretext for yielding might have been taken from the fact, that the Israelites differed in religion not from a single nation only, but from all who surrounded them on every side. For to whatever quarter they looked, examples presented themselves to their eyes, whereby they were attracted to a new and strange form of religion. He afterwards amplifies this, by adding, even if those nations “be far off from thee;” for the Israelites were not divided from their neighbors only, but severed also from the whole human race. But this was no slight temptation, that they found no companions in the whole world, nor any nation, which agreed with them. Besides, distance itself sometimes causes us to have respect for those who are unknown to us; since the curiosity of men is volatile, and traverses in its levity sea and land, in order to procure for itself pestiferous monsters for the sake of their novelty. Meanwhile, God exalts the faith which is founded on His Word, in comparison with the manners, institutions, rites, and customs of all nations; for none has made any true proficiency in religion unless he abominates whatever is opposed to it.
9But thou shalt surely kill him. He would not that every one should privately execute vengeance without a public trial; but he referred to the ordinary custom, that the witnesses should throw the first stone at condemned criminals, as we shall see elsewhere. For it was an admirable provision, that God would have those who had denounced the crime, to be the executors of its punishment, in order that they should be more cautious and moderate in giving their testimony. The reason, which is added at the end, “because he hath sought to thrust thee away from the Lord thy God, who brought thee out, ” etc., again exaggerates the crime on the score of its ingratitude; which was detestable in proportion to the inestimable blessing of their deliverance. It was an act of gross wickedness to rebel against God after they had known Him; but it was still more gross to undervalue their Deliverer. Finally, the advantage and fruit of this severity is subjoined; for, whilst punishment was inflicted on one man’s crime, all others were inspired with terror; and thus the death of one is a wholesome discipline for all, in the way of example.
12.If thou shalt hear say. If impiety and rebellion should more widely prevail, Moses declares that whole cities, together with their inhabitants, should rather be destroyed, than that so great a crime should remain unpunished. Hence we may better infer how unholy is the tenderness of those who would have no punishment inflicted for the violation of the religion of God. If any sedition may have arisen in an army or nation, and the contagion may have spread through the whole multitude, the severity of a just and moderate ruler does not usually proceed further than to punish the ringleaders; when, therefore, God commands all without exception to be destroyed, the great atrocity of the crime is made apparent. Hence, too, we are admonished, that zeal for God’s glory is but cold among us, unless true religion is held to be of more value than the preservation of a single city or people. But if so many together are to be dragged to death in crowds, their impudence is more than detestable, and their pity cruelty itself, who would take no account of God’s injured majesty, so that one man may be spared. And since we are created to no other end, and live for no other cause than that God may be glorified in us, it is better that the whole world should perish, than that men should enjoy the fruits of the earth in order that they may contaminate it with their blasphemies. If those who first professed Christ’s name had been inspired with such zeal as this, true religion would never have been overwhelmed, and almost extinguished by so many corruptions. But we must always bear in mind what I have already said, that this severity must not be resorted to except when the religion is suffering, which is not only received by public authority and general opinion, but which is proved on solid grounds to be true; so that it may clearly appear that we are the avengers of God against the wicked.
13.Certain men, the children of Belial. Moses puts a case, which very often is wont to occur. For all do not break forth into impiety together at the same moment, but Satan stirs up some who are like fans to excite others; and by their instigations the multitude is led to imitate them. Moses calls such as these “children of Belial;” (61) by which word some think that rebellious (
15Thou shalt surely smite. Lest the severity of the punishment should occasion surprise, let us first observe that the error was unpardonable, because its authors, being educated in the doctrines of the Law, could not be deceived involuntarily, nor unless they had grown weary of religion, and set their hearts on the impostures of the devil. On this account God, in the Book of Jeremiah, in order to inveigh more heavily against the inconstancy of the Jews, refers them to distant isles and nations: “Passover (He says) and consider,” etc., “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, ” etc. (Jeremiah 2:10.) For justly must their instability be accounted monstrous, that they should have voluntarily forsaken the fountain of life, and have been carried away to vanity by their preposterous love of novelty. If any should object that the little children at least were innocent, I reply that, since all are condemned by the judgment of God from the least to the greatest, we contend against Him in vain, even though He should destroy the very infants as yet in their mothers’ womb. When Sodom and the neighboring cities were swallowed up, we doubt not but that in the mighty multitude many infants and pregnant women also perished; and whilst our reason struggles against this, it is better rather to look up reverently to the Divine tribunal, than to subject it to our own laws. The same may be said of the destruction of Babylon; for when the Prophet exclaims: “Happy shall he be that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones,” he assuredly eulogizes the just vengeance of God. (Psalms 137:9.) So also in this passage, if it does not appear to us agreeable to reason that the whole race of evil-doers should be exterminated, let us understand that God is defrauded of His rights, whensoever we measure His infinite greatness, which the angels themselves admiringly adore, by our own feelings. Although we must recollect that God would never have suffered any infants to be destroyed, except those which He had already reprobated and condemned to eternal death. But if we admit God’s right to deprive of the hope of salvation whomsoever He sees fit, why should the temporal punishment, which is much lighter, be found fault with? Rather let us learn from the severity of this Law, how detestable is the crime of setting up false and spurious modes of worship, since it contaminates not only the infants, whose age prevents them from being conscious of it, (63) but even the cattle and flocks, and the very houses and walls. For he proceeds immediately afterwards to say,
16.And thou shalt gather all the spoil of it. They are commanded to burn all the furniture, and whatever is found in the city; and the reason is subjoined, because it is accursed (anathema) If any city was taken in war, all that God here commands to be burnt was to be counted as spoil, for the Jews would pollute themselves by its very touch. It might be indeed that God’s intention was to obviate covetousness, lest the Jews should mix up their zeal with rapine; but the principal reason was that which Moses expresses, that the people might be more accustomed to detest the crime, which they saw to be so cruelly punished by God. The word
18.When thou shalt hearken. Although this sentence depends on something else, (as may be seen by referring to it,) yet is it general, and extends to the commendation of the whole Law. Moses teaches first, that the rule of a holy life must be sought from the mouth of God; and then adds that He must be obeyed not partially, but universally. He confirms also what I have said respecting obedience, for men only please God when they listen to His voice. Moreover, the expression is worth our notice, wherein Moses only assumes for himself the character of a minister, and claims power for God alone; for he says that he commands, but expressly explains that the commandments which he sets before them are God’s.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 13". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26