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)