Notes & Commentary:
Ver. 1. And judgments, regarding religion and civil affairs. (Calmet) — Live a happy life. (Menochius)
Ver. 2. Add any thing repugnant to the spirit of my law. No interpretation of this kind can be admitted. But this does not condemn well authorized traditions, and laws enacted by lawful superiors. The Jews always boast of their close adherence to the letter of the law, but they often forget the spirit of it, and by their traditions render it deformed, like a carcass. Demosthenes takes notice, that the Locrians had such a regard for their laws, that if any one chose to propose any fresh ones, he came with a rope about his neck, that if they did not meet with the approbation of the people, he might be strangled immediately. (Calmet) — Moses cannot mean to forbid any more divine or civil commandments being written by Josue and the subsequent prophets. He only enjoins that nothing shall be altered by human authority. The other books of the Old Testament serve to explain the law; and so do the apostolical traditions (Worthington) afford great assistance to understand the true meaning of all the Scriptures, and hence we learn whatever we have to perform, without danger of being led astray. (Haydock) — To these the Scriptures frequently refer. He that heareth you, heareth me, Luke x. Hold the traditions which you have learnt, 2 Thessalonians ii. The rest I will set in order, when I come, 1 Corinthians xi. 34. Hence St. Augustine (contra Cresc. i. 33) observes, “Though no evident example can be produced from Scripture, yet we hold the truth of the same Scripture, when we do what meets with the approbation of that Church whose authority the Scripture establishes.” See ep. 80, St. Chrysostom in 1 Thess. iv.; St. Irenĉus, Against Heresies iii. 4. (Worthington) — The Jews themselves never had the folly to imagine with the modern innovators, that all laws both of a religous or civil nature were here proscribed. Under David, Mardocheus, and the Machabees, various laws and feasts were commanded, and observed in the true spirit of the law, 1 Kings xxx. 25., and Esther ix., and 1 Machabees iv. God does not leave to the discretion of the Jews, the appointing of different victims, &c., in his worship, (chap. xii. 30,) as they might very easily give way to the superstitious observances of their neighbours, and these things had been sufficiently determined. But he enjoins all to obey the declarations of the priests and judges, chap. xvii. 10. (Bellarmine) (Tirinus) — Thus when the Apocalypse records a prohibition similar to this, (Apocalypse xxii. 18, 19,) it is not intended to seal up the divine volume, so that nothing more shall be admitted into it, for St. John wrote his gospel afterwards. But it must be explained in the same sense as this passage, and condemns all those who, of their own authority, would set up fresh doctrine in opposition to the word of God. Let Protestants consider if they be not concerned in this caution, when they not only cut off whole books of Scripture, but deny the authority of the Church itself, without which the Scripture can be of little service. They are the book sealed with seven seals, impenetrable to man without the aid of the divine author; (Apocalypse v. 5,) and this aid he will never grant to those who obstinately refuse to hear the Church, Matthew xviii. 17., and 2 Peter i. 20. (Haydock)
Ver. 3. Among you, when the guilty Israelites and the Madianites were slain, Numbers xxv., and xxxi.
Ver. 4. Day. Not but that many of these had fallen into sin; but they had not abandoned the Lord to worship any idol. (Haydock)
Ver. 6. This is a proof of your wisdom, &c., if you observe these commands. Your conduct will excite the admiration of all. (Menochius) — Solomon often inculcates the same truths, Proverbs i. 7., and Ecclesiasticus i. 34. Even profane writers applauded the laws and fidelity of the Jews. See Josephus, Jewish Wars i. 5.; Strabo xvi. (Calmet)
Ver. 7. Gods. Supposing they deserved that title, which of them has the power to shew their votaries such favours as the true God hath shewn to us? The idols are nothing but devils, which seek to destroy. (Calmet) — But God had manifested his power and love to the Hebrews in the most astonishing manner. He seemed to choose his residence among them, in the tabernacle. (Haydock) — This Jesus does in a still more wonderful manner, with respect to Christians, remaining with them in the sacrament of love. The other sacraments which he has instituted, are more noble and efficacious than those of the old law. He was pleased to take our nature, (Calmet) and to dwell among us, John i. The providence of God pervades all things; and, though all live in Him, (Acts xvii. 28,) yet he shews the marks of the most paternal tenderness to his elect. (Haydock)
Ver. 8. Eyes. Most of these laws had been already promulgated, so that the people could set a just value upon them. But Moses undertakes to place the in a more beautiful point of view, as it were altogether, and accompanied with some fresh regulations. How imperfect are all the codes of the ancient lawgivers, when compared with this of Moses! (Haydock)
Ver. 9. Words. Hebrew also, “things.” (Haydock) — Both sacred and profane authors use the term of seeing, to denote any of the senses, ver. 12. Eschylus (in Prometh.) says, “you shall neither see the form nor the voice of mortals.”
Ver. 12. At all. Hebrew, “but saw no similitude, only a voice.” See Exodus xx. 18.
Ver. 13. Stone. Josephus (Antiquities iii. 4, 6,) says, that each table contained five precepts, two and a half being inscribed on one side. The Jews now suppose that four appeared on one table, and six on the other. But each table probably contained an entire copy of the law. (Calmet) — It hence appears, that there are just ten precepts. (Worthington) — But the manner of dividing them is rather uncertain. St. Augustine and Catholics in general, place the three commandments, which regard God, by themselves. See Exodus xx. 1. Their greater importance and length would require as much space as the other seven, which ascertain the mutual duties of people to each other. (Haydock)
Ver. 15. Carefully. Hebrew, “Be therefore particularly attentive, as much as you love your own soul.” (Vatable) By keeping my commandments, you can alone obtain salvation, ver. 9. (Menochius) — Similitude of any living creature, such as were the objects of adoration among the pagans. Some represented their gods under the forms of men, women, beasts, birds, or reptiles; while others adored the sun, moon, and stars. (Haydock) — This last was indeed the most ancient species of idolatry, Job xxi. 26. Baal, Astarte, Moloc, Chamos, &c., were different names by which they denoted the heavenly bodies. But the Egyptians carried their superstition to the greatest excess. There was hardly any sort of animal which did not obtain sovereign worship among them. (Calmet) — Their great gods, Isis and Osiris, were sometimes depicted like a man and woman; at other times, like beasts, and frequently they appeared with parts of both. The head of Isis was generally adorned or disfigured with the horns of a bull; (Haydock) and that animal, either alive or in a picture, as well as dogs and cats, were adored throughout the country, while some places had their peculiar idols. The lion, the wolf, and the fish called latus, gave their names to the cities Leontopolis, &c., which had a particular veneration for them. Moses takes care to inform the Hebrews, that the true God is like none of these things; and that they cannot pretend to represent him under any such forms, without doing him an injury. (Calmet) — If Catholics endeavour to put the people in mind of the blessed Trinity, by representing a venerable old man, Jesus Christ in his human nature, and a dove, under which forms the Scripture has introduced the three divine persons, they do not pretend that their divine and most spiritual nature can be thus expressed. “If,” says the Council of Trent, Session 25, “the historical accounts of Scripture be sometimes set forth in paintings, for the benefit of the illiterate, let the people be informed that the Divinity is not thus represented, with a design to insinuate that it may be seen with the eyes of the body.” So neither can the figure of a triangle, with the ineffable name of God in Hebrew, &c., explain this adorable mystery. But such things may recall to our remembrance, the innumerable benefits which we have received from the three divine persons, after we have been once informed what we have to believe respecting them. This is the laudable motive which has induced the Church to encourage the keeping of such pictures, as well as those of the saints, with due respect. “Not as if we believed that any divinity or virtue resided in them for which they were to be worshipped, or that we should ask any thing of them, or place our confidence in images, as the Gentiles formerly did, who hoped in their idols, (Psalm cxxxiv.,) but because the honour given to them is referred to the originals, which they represent,” &c. (Council of Trent, Session 25.) (Haydock)
Ver. 19. Service. How then could the nations give way to such stupidity, but because they had forgotten the design of God in creating the heavenly bodies, which Moses therefore takes care to inculcate? (Genesis i. 14.) Hebrew and Septuagint, “which God has divided unto all,” &c.; whence some have falsely supposed, that God had tolerated the worship of the stars in other nations. See chap. xxix. 26. (Drusius) (Calmet)
Ver. 20. Furnace. This expression gives us some idea of the cruelties to which the Hebrews had been exposed, 3 Kings viii. 51. Iron and other metals were melted in furnaces: Hebrew cur, Ezechiel xxii. 20. In the countries of the East, workmen have them in the middle of their shops, and sit round them to work. (Bellon., iii. 45.) (Calmet)
Ver. 21. Words. The murmurs of the people occasioned the diffidence of Moses, and he often reminds them of it, that they may reflect how severely God will punish them, if they transgress, since he spares not his greatest favourites. (Calmet) — Even venial faults must be punished. (Worthington)
Ver. 23. Made. Hebrew, “and make to thyself a sculpture, the likeness of any thing which the Lord thy God commanded thee.” He ordered them to abstain from idolatry. (Du Hamel)
Ver. 24. Fire. God often appeared in the midst of fire. All the land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy, Sophonias i. 18., and iii. 8. (Calmet) — By these expressions, we are exhorted not to do any thing which would excite the indignation of our true lover, nor ever be unfaithful to him. (Haydock) — The pagans thought that fire was the fittest symbol of the divinity. (Porphyr. de Abstin.)
Ver. 26. And earth, or all their rational inhabitants. (St. Jerome and St. Basil in Isa. i. 2.) Moses conjures the Israelites, by all that is most sacred, to continue faithful. He speaks with the greatest earnestness, as he does again, chap. xxxii. 1. (Calmet) — He makes use of a sort of oath, by the creatures, in which God shines forth. (Menochius) — Destroy you. He will take from you that delightful country, though he will save a remnant of you out of the captivity of Babylon, and in the latter days, ver. 31. The Jews, in the promised land, were almost always prone to idolatry; till God severely chastised them by the hands of the Babylonians. Since that time, few of them have willingly yielded to the worship of idols, though some have fallen by compulsion, as we read, Daniel iii., and 1 Machabees i. 53., and ii. 16. Jeremias (v. 19) foretold that this would be the case. As you have forsaken me, and served a strange god in your own land, so shall you serve strangers in a land that is not your own. (Haydock)
Ver. 27. Nations. This prediction we see verified at the present day. They are despised by all. No one of their numerous masters embraces their religion. They are so few, as hardly to possess a single town. (Calmet)
Ver. 29. There. Hebrew, “thence” from the place of captivity, or returning from the love of idols to the services of the true God. — Soul. Hebrew, “with all thy soul. (Ver. 30) In thy tribulation after,” &c. (Calmet) — God often sends chastisements as the most effectual means of salvation, to make his children enter into themselves. In this state, the soul is more at liberty to consider the folly of adhering to any thing in opposition to the sovereign Lord. Then she is forced to confess that her idols cannot afford her any protection. How, in effect, could any one fall into such an abyss of corruption and stupidity, as to imagine those things to be gods which have not even the dignity and advantages which they themselves possess? Their soul must first have been strangely blinded, and their heart corrupt. Even the more enlightened pagans acknowledged the folly of pretending to represent the Divinity under sensible forms. “God, says Empedocles, has no human members….He is a pure and ineffable spirit, who governs the world by his profound wisdom.” Numa would not allow any picture of Him, conformably to the doctrine of Pythagoras; and, for the first 170 years of Rome, no representation of God was set up in the temples. (Plutarch) — The ancient Phœnicians seemed to have acted on the same principle, as the temple of Hercules, at the Straits, had no image. It is well known that the Persians rejected both the statues and temples erected in honour of the gods; and the Germans esteemed it beneath the majesty of the heavenly Beings, to represent them under any human form. (Tacitus, Hist. v.) (Calmet) — Yet these sages gave way to the folly of the people, and, against their better knowledge, adored the stupid and senseless idols. (Haydock)
Ver. 30. Voice, after the captivity of Babylon, or rather at the end of the world. The nation at large has not embraced the worship of idols since the former period. But it will not be perfectly converted, until the fulness of the Gentiles….come in.—And so all Israel….be saved, Romans xi. 25. (Calmet) — St. Paul terms their present state a blindness in part, because, though few have embraced the revelation of God, made to all by his only Son, the far greater part have obstinately shut their eyes, so that, even while they read the clearest prophecies, they seem to have a veil on then. But, after they shall have been the sport of their passions and errors till the latter time, when the man of sin shall be fully revealed, they will see how wretchedly they have been deluded, and, the grace of God touching their hearts, they will remember the covenant, and embrace Christ, the end of all the law. Happy those who do not defer their conversion till that awful period! (Haydock)
Ver. 32. Heaven. To our senses the sky seems to rest upon the horizon. So Jesus says, Then he….shall gather….his elect….from the uttermost part of earth, to the uttermost part of heaven, Matthew xxiv. 31. Vatable translates, “from the east to the west.” In no age or place did God ever declare his will, as he had done at Sinai. (Calmet)
Ver. 33. And lived. It was generally supposed, that those who had seen a vision of God, or of his angel, would instantly die. See Genesis xvi. 13. (Haydock) (Chap. v. 24.)
Ver. 34. Temptations. The Chaldean and Arabic understand this of the prodigies which God wrought in favour of his people; though they may also denote the trials to which the Patriarchs and the Hebrews had been exposed, that their virtue might shine more brightly. Many indeed lost courage under these trials, but they were of great service to form a perfect people; and those who continued to lead a virtuous life, received the reward of their labours. (Calmet) — Visions, during the three days’ darkness mentioned, Wisdom xvii. 9, 18, &c., (Menochius) or those terrible appearances on Sinai, ver. 33, 36., and chap. v. 22. (Calmet) Hebrew may be, “by great terrors.” — In Egypt. God himself fought for his people, when he brought them out of that country. He repeatedly made the king and his people feel the impressions of terror, but as they presently recovered their wonted insolence and pride, he at last miraculously divided the Red Sea, and buried vast multitudes in its waters. (Haydock)
Ver. 38. Day. They had already conquered the mighty kingdoms of Sehon and of Og. (Menochius)
Ver. 39. Other. The power of the true and only God is not confined to the sea, or to the land, &c., (Calmet) as the pagans believed that of their various idols was. (Haydock)
Ver. 41. Then, &c. This piece of history seems to be placed out of its natural order, by another hand. (Calmet) — Yet if we attend to the method of Moses, in his other works, we shall not hastily conclude that it is an interpolation. He frequently repeats what has been already specified. He had received an order from God to appoint these three cities of refuge, (Numbers xxxv. 14,) after he had given the land to the tribes of Ruben, &c., Numbers xxxii. This he executes at the conclusion of this discourse; and hence takes occasion to mention how they had taken possession of this country. (Haydock)
Ver. 42. Before. The Rabbins say, when two people had refused to speak to one another for three days, it was a sufficient indication of their enmity. (Selden, Jur. iv. 2.)
Ver. 43. Wilderness, or plains of Moab, at the mouth of the Jordan. It is sometimes called Besor, and is very different from Bozra of Idumea, (Isaias lxiii. 1,) a very famous city, known to profane authors by the name of Bostra. — Ramoth, one of the strongest towns of Galaad, 15 miles west of Philadelphia, (Eusebius) where Achab, king of Israel, received a mortal wound, 3 Kings xxii. 3. — Golon, or Gaulan, gave its name to Gaulanitis, a part of Batanea, lying on the southern parts of the division of Gad, though the city belonged to Manasses. The lower Gaulanitis lay towards the lake of Genezareth, and had Gamala for its capital. (Cellarius) (Calmet)
Ver. 48. Sion begins here with s, being the northern boundary of the tribe of Manasses, east of the Jordan; whereas the famous Sion, on which the temple was built, is written with ts, and lay on the west side of the Jordan, (Haydock) in the tribe of Juda, chap. iii. 8. (Calmet)
Ver. 49. Wilderness, which Moses commonly calls the salt sea, (on account of the asphalte with which it abounds,) or the sea of Araba, as it lies at the extremity of the plains of Moab, which are sometimes called Araboth, “deserts,” because they were more fit for pasturage than for ploughing. (Calmet)
Bible Text & Cross-references:
Moses exhorteth the people to keep God’s commandments: particularly to fly idolatry. Appointeth three cities of refuge, on that side of the Jordan.
1 And now, O Israel, hear the commandments and judgments, which I teach thee: that doing them, thou mayst live, and entering in mayst possess the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, will give you.
2 You shall not add to the word that I speak to you, neither shall you take away from it: keep the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you.
3 *Your eyes have seen all that the Lord hath done against Beelphegor, how he hath destroyed all his worshippers from among you.
4 But you that adhere to the Lord your God, are all alive until this present day.
5 You know that I have taught you statutes and justices, as the Lord my God hath commanded me: so shall you do them in the land, which you shall possess:
6 And you shall observe, and fulfil them in work. For this is your wisdom, and understanding in the sight of nations, that hearing all these precepts, they may say: Behold a wise and understanding people, a great nation.
7 Neither is there any other nation so great, that hath gods so nigh them, as our God is present to all our petitions.
8 For what other nation is there so renowned, that hath ceremonies, and just judgments, and all the law, which I will set forth this day before your eyes?
9 Keep thyself therefore, and thy soul carefully. Forget not the words, that thy eyes have seen, and let them not go out of thy heart all the days of thy life. Thou shalt teach them to thy sons and to thy grandsons,
10 From the day in which thou didst stand before the Lord thy God in Horeb, when the Lord spoke to me, saying: Call together the people unto me, that they may hear my words, and may learn to fear me all the time that they live on the earth, and may teach their children.
11 *And you came to the foot of the mount, which burned even unto heaven: and there was darkness, and a cloud, and obscurity in it.
12 And the Lord spoke to you from the midst of the fire. You heard the voice of his words, but you saw not any form at all.
13 And he shewed you his covenant, which he commanded you to do, and the *ten words, that he wrote in two tables of stone.
14 And he commanded me at that time that I should teach you the ceremonies and judgments, which you shall do in the land that you shall possess.
15 Keep therefore your souls carefully. *You saw not any similitude, in the day that the Lord God spoke to you in Horeb, from the midst of the fire:
16 Lest perhaps being deceived you might make you a graven similitude, or image of male or female,
17 The similitude of any beasts, that are upon the earth, or of birds, that fly under heaven,
18 Or of creeping things, that move on the earth, or of fishes, that abide in the waters under the earth:
19 Lest perhaps lifting up thy eyes to heaven, thou see the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error, thou adore and serve them, which the Lord thy God created for the service of all the nations, that are under heaven.
20 But the Lord hath taken you, and brought you out of the iron furnace of Egypt, to make you his people of inheritance, as it is this present day.
21 *And the Lord was angry with me for your words, and he swore that I should not pass over the Jordan, nor enter into the excellent land, which he will give you.
22 Behold I die in this land, I shall not pass over the Jordan: you shall pass, and possess the goodly land.
23 Beware lest thou ever forget the covenant of the Lord thy God, which he hath made with thee: and make to thyself a graven likeness of those things, which the Lord hath forbid to be made:
24 *Because the Lord thy God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
25 If you shall beget sons and grandsons, and abide in the land, and being deceived make to yourselves any similitude, committing evil before the Lord your God, to provoke him to wrath:
26 I call this day heaven and earth to witness, that you shall quickly perish out of the land, which, when you have passed over the Jordan, you shall possess. You shall not dwell therein long, but the Lord will destroy you,
27 And scatter you among all nations, and you shall remain a few among the nations, to which the Lord shall lead you.
28 And there you shall serve gods, that were framed with men’s hands; wood and stone, that neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.
29 And when thou shalt seek there the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him: yet so, if thou seek him with all thy heart, and all the affliction of thy soul.
30 After all the things aforesaid shall find thee, in the latter time thou shalt return to the Lord thy God, and shalt hear his voice:
31 Because the Lord thy God, is a merciful God: he will not leave thee, nor altogether destroy thee, nor forget the covenant, by which he swore to thy fathers.
32 Ask of the days of old, that have been before thy time, from the day that God created man upon the earth, from one end of heaven to the other end thereof, if ever there was done the like thing, or it hath been known at any time,
33 That a people should hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of fire, as thou hast heard, and lived:
34 If God ever did so as to go, and take to himself a nation out of the midst of nations, by temptations, signs, and wonders, by fight, and a strong hand, and stretched-out arm, and horrible visions, according to all the things that the Lord your God did for you in Egypt, before thy eyes:
35 That thou mightest know that the Lord he is God, and there is no other besides him.
36 From heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might teach thee. And upon earth he shewed thee his exceeding great fire, and thou didst hear his words out of the midst of the fire,
37 Because he loved thy fathers, and chose their seed after them. *And he brought thee out of Egypt, going before thee with his great power,
38 To destroy at thy coming very great nations, and stronger than thou art, and to bring thee in, and give thee their land in possession, as thou seest at this present day.
39 Know therefore this day, and think in thy heart, that the Lord he is God in heaven above, and in the earth beneath, and there is no other.
40 Keep his precepts and commandments, which I command thee: that it may be well with thee, and thy children after thee, and thou mayst remain a long time upon the land, which the Lord thy God will give thee.
41 *Then Moses set aside three cities beyond the Jordan, at the east side,
42 That any one might flee to them who should kill his neighbour unwillingly, and was not his enemy a day or two before, and that he might escape to some one of these cities:
43 *Bosor in the wilderness, which is situate in the plains of the tribe of Ruben: and Ramoth, in Galaad, which is in the tribe of Gad: and Golan, in Basan, which is in the tribe of Manasses.
44 This is the law, that Moses set before the children of Israel.
45 And these are the testimonies, and ceremonies, and judgments, which he spoke to the children of Israel, when they came out of Egypt,
46 Beyond the Jordan, in the valley over-against the temple of Phogor, in the land of Sehon, king of the Amorrhites, that dwelt in Hesebon, whom Moses slew. And the children of Israel coming out of Egypt,
47 Possessed his land, and the land of Og, king of Basan, of the two kings of the Amorrhites, who were beyond the Jordan, towards the rising of the sun:
48 From Aroer, which is situate upon the bank of the torrent Arnon, unto Mount Sion, which is also called Hermon,
49 All the plain beyond the Jordan, at the east side, unto the sea of the wilderness, and unto the foot of Mount Phasga.
3: Numbers xxv. 4.; Josue xxii. 17.
11: Exodus xix. 18.
13: Exodus. xx. and xxi. and xxii. and xxiii.
15: Exodus xxiv. 10.
21: Deuteronomy i. 37.
24: Hebrews xii. 29.
37: Exodus xiii. 21.
41: Numbers xxxv. 14.
43: Josue xx. 8.