Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. Covenant renewed, and confirmed with an oath, ver. 12. (Menochius) — Horeb. Thus the speech of Moses is concluded, (Calmet) and consequently this verse should be at the end of the last chapter, as it is placed in the celebrated editions of Michaelis and Houbigant. The latter observes that, beside that covenant, &c., shews, that the curses there recorded, are not by way of explication of those mentioned in the preceding 27th chapter, “but of a quite different kind. The former are denounced against those who violate the law of the decalogue, which was given at Horeb; neither do they threaten that the chastisements shall be inflicted in this life: the latter maledictions threaten present punishments, and those of a public nature.” See chap. xxvii. 26. (Haydock) — Josue put in execution in a more solemn manner, what Moses here describes, (Josue viii. 30,) to intimate that Jesus would give the last finishing to the outlines of the old covenant.
Ver. 3. Seen. Many who were present had seen the plagues of Egypt, and what the Israelites themselves had suffered in the wilderness. (Calmet)
Ver. 4. Hath not given you, &c. Through your own fault, and because you resisted his grace. (Challoner) — If they had not been guilty, Moses would never have made them this reproach. “But he shews that they could not understand or obey, without God’s assistance,….and yet if….it be wanting, si adjutorium Dei desit, the vice of man is not on that account, deserving of excuse, since the judgments of God are just, though they be hidden.” (St. Augustine, q. 50.) — Others explain it thus: Hitherto you have not been able to discern the designs of God in your regard: but now, being on the point of crossing the Jordan, to take possession of the land which God had promised to your fathers, you ought to place an unbounded confidence in him. Others read with an interrogation, which entirely removes the evil interpretation of the wicked, who pretend that God requires impossibilities. “Hath not the Lord?” &c. (Calmet) — God sometimes delivers people over to a reprobate sense, and to their own will. (Theodoret, q. 37.) (Worthington)
Ver. 6. Bread, &c., as your ordinary food, (Menochius) though they might have both bread and wine on some occasions; as when they adored the calf, &c. (St. Augustine, q. 51.) See chap. viii. 4. (Calmet) — Your God, by providing a miraculous food for you. (Menochius)
Ver. 9. Understand. Hebrew, “succeed in all your undertakings.” (Calmet)
Ver. 10. Doctors. Hebrew Shoterim. Septuagint Grammateisagógeis, (Calmet) “officers, heralds,” &c. Chap. i. 15., and xix. 18., they are translated magistros, “masters or magistrates.” (Haydock)
Ver. 11. Besides, (exceptis,) which may signify all were present; or rather that the strangers of Egypt, &c., who were employed in servile offices, were alone excluded, as having no part in the covenant made with the Israelites. (Calmet) — St. Jerome seems to have rendered min, præter, in the latter sense; but the Chaldean, Septuagint, &c., take it in the former, as if none at all were absent, from the highest to the lowest. (Menochius)
Ver. 12. Pass; alluding to the custom of people who pass between the victims, when they engage in a solemn covenant, as Abraham did, Genesis xv. 10. — Oath. Septuagint, “imprecations,” specified in the preceding chapters, ver. 14. (Calmet)
Ver. 15. Absent. Hebrew, “with him that standeth here this day before the Lord, and with him that is not here with us this day.” If all were present, (ver. 11,) the absent must here denote the posterity of the Israelites yet unborn. (Haydock) — God made the covenant with Abraham and with his seed, before he had any children in the world.
Ver. 17. Idols. Hebrew, “you have seen their abominations and their filth, (or idols,) wood,” &c. Septuagint, “their abominations and their idols.”
Ver. 18. Bitterness; an Israelite, who cherishes now in his heart any idol, (Haydock) and who may draw God’s judgments upon the people, (Calmet) or induce them to follow his wicked example. (Haydock) — Let all watch over their children, lest they fall off. Chaldean, “Let there be none among you now, whose heart may be filled with the sin of pride.” See Acts viii. 13., and Hebrew xii. 15., where this text is cited. The Hebrew seems to allude to some very bitter herbs. Rass is mentioned as growing in the ground, and the juice of it is often alluded to, Osee x. 4., Jeremias viii. 13., and Psalm lxviii. 22. Lâne is generally joined with the former term, and God threatens to make the faithless Israelites eat of it, Jeremias ix. 15., and Proverbs v. 4. It may denote a poisonous bitter herb, as well as rass, which signifies “the head, gall, wormwood, aconite,” &c. (Calmet) — The root designates a mind secretly infected with idolatry, and the appetite, being once drunken with pleasures, thirsteth still more. (Worthington)
Ver. 19. The drunken, &c.: absumat ebria sitientem. It is a proverbial expression, which may either be understood as spoken by the sinner, blessing, that is, flattering himself in his sins with the imagination of peace, and so great an abundance as may satisfy, and as it were, consume all thirst and want; or it may be referred to the root of bitterness, spoken of before, which being drunken with sin may attract, and by that means consume such as thirst after the like evils. (Challoner) — St. Jerome seems to have translated sephoth by assumat, as the manuscripts and interpreters read, before the correction of Sixtus V, who adopted the other signification of the Hebrew absumat. (Calmet) — The sense however seems to be the same, as evil communications corrupt good manners, the wicked draw on those who before were dry, or thirsty, and superior to the allurements of pleasure, but not quite so sincere and constant as to shut out from their hearts the desire of tasting, what the man of the world so highly extols, and thus the just give way to the temptation, and become the companion of the libertine and of the idolater, and of course share in his destruction. The feasts of the idols were generally celebrated with the most dissolute mirth, which seemed more congenial to the depraved heart of man, than the sober feasts, which the Lord allowed his people. The drunken revellings in honour of Bacchus, who was worshipped in Arabia, &c., were a disgrace to human nature. Yet it is well known with what eagerness the deluded pagans joined in these religious sports. How prone to such excesses the Israelites also were, sacred history too plainly shews, so that they might well be described as thirsty, and willing to imitate those who were already drunk with dissolute pleasures; and this proverbial warning was not unnecessary to remind them what they had to expect from such conduct, at least if the people should become generally addicted to the service of idols. The most terrible chastisements mentioned below, (ver. 20, &c., and in the preceding chapters, and still greater, chap. xxviii. 61,) hung over their guilty heads. But the man who should give occasion to such a defection from the Lord, and, like Jeroboam, cause Israel to sin, must remember that he will have to suffer for the sins of all those whom he has perverted. Hence this cutting remark almost always accompanies the mention of Jeroboam’s name, He made Israel to sin. Such a one walked in the way, or imitated the sins of the house of Jeroboam, &c. A similar infamy and destruction attend arch-heretics and impostors. (Haydock) — Chaldean translates, “Let him not say…..lest he should add sins of ignorance to sins of pride.” (Calmet) — Septuagint, “lest the innocent be involved in the destruction of the sinner.” Cornelius a Lapide would leave out the negation, and translate, “that the innocent may be,” &c. (Menochius) — Bonfrere believes that the earth is to be understood; “and the earth drunken or deluged with rain, may take away its former dryness, yet so as to be rendered unfit for cultivation.” The proverb affects those who wish for things which will prove destructive to them: so the man who expects to derive great pleasure and advantage from the practice of idolatry, will be miserably deceived, and will only bring on his own ruin; or, if his passions be gratified for a moment, he must, if he die in that state, endure eternal torments in destruction from the face of the Lord. Homer (Odyssey) says, “Crimes prosper not; the low outstrips the quick.” Festina lentè. Hasten slowly, is an old and useful admonition. Ebria, a drunken woman, is a very indifferent partner for one that is sober at a dance. (Haydock) — The flesh being indulged, presently perverts the understanding. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 20. Enkindled, (fumet.) Literally, “smoke.” (Haydock) — Hebrew, “the anger (literally, nose)….smoke.” The Greeks and Romans adopt similar expressions, to denote the wrath and eagerness with which a person is actuated. “Fierce anger always sits upon his nose.” (Theocrit.) So Persius says, Disce, sed ira cadat naso, rugosaque sanna.
Ver. 23. Of salt. This salt was of a bituminous or sulphureous nature, which would burn like oil, and was sometimes used in lamps. (Herodotus, ii. 62; Pliny, [Natural History?] ii. 104.) It dried up the moisture of the earth, and rendered it barren. For which reason, it was scattered upon such places as were no longer to be cultivated, or inhabited. Abimelech sowed some on the ruins of Sichem, Judges ix. 45. It seems that Palestine now feels the effects of this curse; as, for the most part, it is uncultivated, and a desert, though once so flourishing. (Calmet)
Ver. 26. Knew not, as their gods. (Menochius) — Indeed the gods of the heathens, were for the most part more recent than the days of Abraham, or of Moses, and only newly come up; (chap. xxxii. 17,) which was a sufficient proof that they were not gods. (Haydock) — Assigned. It seems, as if God had in a manner abandoned other nations to the dominion of idols, while he chose Israel for his peculiar people. Hence, if they followed another god, they were to be treated as rebels. Hebrew may have another sense, “and from whom they have received nothing,” Chaldean and Syriac. (Calmet) — Septuagint, “gods to whom they were not faithful, (or whom they did not believe) and whom I did not appoint for them.” Even while the people pretended to follow the worship of idols, they could surely place no confidence in them, knowing that they were either mere creatures, or even the work of their own hands. (Haydock)
Ver. 29. Secret things, &c. As much as to say, secret things belong to, and are known to God alone: our business must be to observe what he has revealed and manifested to us, and to direct our lives accordingly. (Challoner) — The nations full of surprise, at the miseries, which were inflicted upon the Jews, and upon their country, could not comprehend what might have brought on so severe a chastisement, as they little suspected that it was their worshipping those gods, which they themselves adored, ver. 2. But those who had been converted, and had been able to penetrate the secrets of God, by means of his gracious revelation, answered, (ver. 25, &c.,) that idolatry had been the chief cause of such inconceivable distress, and a crime of no less enormity, the refusing to acknowledge the true God, in the person of the Messias, and the putting him even to a disgraceful death, when he came unto his own, (John i.,) had served to complete their misery. (Haydock) — Moses resumes his discourse, and says that these chastisements had been reserved in the treasury of God’s wrath, and he had not denounced them to their father; but now, since he had told them so plainly, what they had to expect, they would be inexcusable if they ran into the danger. Hebrew may signify, “The secrets of the Lord….are manifest to us.” He has shewn us this favour, in preference to other nations, Psalm cxlvi. 20. (Vatable) — Secret things are known to God, while those only which are manifest can be discerned by men. (Theodoret, q. 38.) (Worthington) — Amama wonders at the negligence of B. Luther’s version; and observes, that his commentators illustrate “the word of Luther, not of God,” in this place, p. 378. (Haydock)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
The covenant is solemnly confirmed between God and his people. Threats against those that shall break it.
1 These *are the words of the covenant, which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel, in the land of Moab: beside that covenant which he made with them in Horeb.
2 And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: *You have seen all the things that the Lord did before you in the land of Egypt to Pharao, and to all his servants, and to his whole land.
3 The great temptations, which thy eyes have seen, those mighty signs, and wonders.
4 And the Lord hath not given you a heart to understand, and eyes to see, and ears that may hear, unto this present day.
5 *He hath brought you forty years through the desert: your garments are not worn out, neither are the shoes of your feet consumed with age.
6 You have not eaten bread, nor have you drunk wine or strong drink: that you might know that I am the Lord your God.
7 And you came to this place: *and Sehon, king of Hesebon, and Og, king of Basan, came out against us to fight. And we slew them,
8 And took their land and delivered it for a possession to *Ruben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasses.
9 Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and fulfil them: that you may understand all that you do.
10 You all stand this day before the Lord your God, your princes, and tribes, and ancients, and doctors, all the people of Israel,
11 Your children and your wives, and the stranger that abideth with thee in the camp, besides the hewers of wood, and them that bring water:
12 That thou mayst pass in the covenant of the Lord thy God, and in the oath which this day the Lord thy God maketh with thee:
13 That he may raise thee up a people to himself, and he may be thy God, as he hath spoken to thee, and as he swore to thy fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
14 Neither with you only do I make this covenant, and confirm these oaths,
15 But with all that are present and that are absent.
16 For you know how we dwelt in the land of Egypt, and how we have passed through the midst of nations; and passing through them,
17 You have seen their abominations and filth, that is to say, their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which they worshipped.
18 Lest perhaps there should be among you a man or a woman, a family or a tribe, whose heart is turned away this day from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations: and there should be among you a root bringing forth gall and bitterness.
19 And when he shall hear the words of this oath, he should bless himself in his heart, saying: I shall have peace, and will walk on in the naughtiness of my heart: and the drunken may consume the thirsty.
20 And the Lord should not forgive him: but his wrath and jealousy against that man should be exceedingly enkindled at that time, and all the curses that are written in this volume should light upon him: and the Lord should blot out his name from under heaven,
21 And utterly destroy him out of all the tribes of Israel, according to the curses that are contained in the book of this law and covenant:
22 And the following generation shall say, and the children that shall be born hereafter, and the strangers that shall come from afar, seeing the plagues of that land, and the evils wherewith the Lord hath afflicted it,
23 Burning it with brimstone, and the heat of salt, so that it cannot be sown any more, nor any green thing grow therein, *after the example of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha, Adama and Seboim, which the Lord destroyed in his wrath and indignation:
24 And all the nations shall say: *Why hath the Lord done thus to this land? what meaneth this exceeding great heat of his wrath?
25 And they shall answer: Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, which he made with their fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt:
26 And they have served strange gods, and adored them, whom they knew not, and for whom they had not been assigned:
27 Therefore the wrath of the Lord was kindled against this land, to bring upon it all the curses that are written in this volume:
28 And he hath cast them out of their land, in anger and in wrath, and in very great indignation, and hath thrown them into a strange land, as it is seen this day.
29 Secret things to the Lord our God: things that are manifest, to us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
1: Year of the World 2553.
2: Exodus xix. 4.
5: Deuteronomy viii. 2.
7: Deuteronomy iii. 1.
8: Deuteronomy iii. 15.; Num. xxxii.; Josue xiii. 8. and xxii. 4.
23: Genesis xix. 24.
24: 3 Kings ix. 8.; Jeremias xxii. 8.