King James Bible
with Catholic Commentary by George Leo Haydock

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Deuteronomy 4

Earnest exhortations to obedience, and dissuasives from idolatry. (1-23) Warnings against disobedience, and promises of mercy. (24-40) Cities of refuge appointed. (41-49)

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Earnest exhortations to obedience, and dissuasives from idolatry

1 Now therefore hearken, O Israel, unto the statutes and unto the judgments, which I teach you, for to do them, that ye may live, and go in and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers giveth you.

2 Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.

3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did because of Baalpeor: for all the men that followed Baalpeor, the LORD thy God hath destroyed them from among you.

4 But ye that did cleave unto the LORD your God are alive every one of you this day.

5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it.

6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

7 For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call upon him for?

8 And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?

9 Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons;

10 Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.

11 And ye came near and stood under the mountain; and the mountain burned with fire unto the midst of heaven, with darkness, clouds, and thick darkness.

12 And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.

13 And he declared unto you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, even ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone.

14 And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go over to possess it.

15 Take ye therefore good heed unto yourselves; for ye saw no manner of similitude on the day that the LORD spake unto you in Horeb out of the midst of the fire:

16 Lest ye corrupt yourselves, and make you a graven image, the similitude of any figure, the likeness of male or female,

17 The likeness of any beast that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged fowl that flieth in the air,

18 The likeness of any thing that creepeth on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the waters beneath the earth:

19 And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, shouldest be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD thy God hath divided unto all nations under the whole heaven.

20 But the LORD hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace, even out of Egypt, to be unto him a people of inheritance, as ye are this day.

21 Furthermore the LORD was angry with me for your sakes, and sware that I should not go over Jordan, and that I should not go in unto that good land, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance:

22 But I must die in this land, I must not go over Jordan: but ye shall go over, and possess that good land.

23 Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you, and make you a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, which the LORD thy God hath forbidden thee.

Warnings against disobedience, and promises of mercy

24 For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.

25 When thou shalt beget children, and children’s children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the LORD thy God, to provoke him to anger:

26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

27 And the LORD shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the LORD shall lead you.

28 And there ye shall serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see, nor hear, nor eat, nor smell.

29 But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.

30 When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice;

31 (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.

32 For ask now of the days that are past, which were before thee, since the day that God created man upon the earth, and ask from the one side of heaven unto the other, whether there hath been any such thing as this great thing is, or hath been heard like it?

33 Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?

34 Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation from the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by war, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched out arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?

35 Unto thee it was shewed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.

36 Out of heaven he made thee to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee: and upon earth he shewed thee his great fire; and thou heardest his words out of the midst of the fire.

37 And because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in his sight with his mighty power out of Egypt;

38 To drive out nations from before thee greater and mightier than thou art, to bring thee in, to give thee their land for an inheritance, as it is this day.

39 Know therefore this day, and consider it in thine heart, that the LORD he is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath: there is none else.

40 Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.

Cities of refuge appointed

41 Then Moses severed three cities on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;

42 That the slayer might flee thither, which should kill his neighbour unawares, and hated him not in times past; and that fleeing unto one of these cities he might live:

43 Namely, Bezer in the wilderness, in the plain country, of the Reubenites; and Ramoth in Gilead, of the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan, of the Manassites.

44 And this is the law which Moses set before the children of Israel:

45 These are the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which Moses spake unto the children of Israel, after they came forth out of Egypt.

46 On this side Jordan, in the valley over against Bethpeor, in the land of Sihon king of the Amorites, who dwelt at Heshbon, whom Moses and the children of Israel smote, after they were come forth out of Egypt:

47 And they possessed his land, and the land of Og king of Bashan, two kings of the Amorites, which were on this side Jordan toward the sunrising;

48 From Aroer, which is by the bank of the river Arnon, even unto mount Sion, which is Hermon,

49 And all the plain on this side Jordan eastward, even unto the sea of the plain, under the springs of Pisgah.

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G Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Ver. 1. And judgments, regarding religion and civil affairs. C. — Live a happy life. M.

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. C. — 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 (W.) 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. H. — To these the Scriptures frequently refer. He that heareth you, heareth me, Luke x. Hold the traditions which you have learnt. 2 Thes. ii. The rest I will set in order, when I come. 1 Cor. xi. 34. Hence S. Augustine (c. 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. S. Chrysostom in 1 Thess. iv. S. Iren. iii. 4. W. — 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 K. xxx. 25. Est. ix. 1 Mac. iv. God does not leave to the discretion of the Jews, the appointing of different victims, &c. in his worship, (C. xii. 30,) as they might very easily give way to the superstitious observances of their neighbours, and these things that had been sufficiently determined. But he enjoins all to obey the declarations of the priests and judges. C. xvii. 10. Bellarm. T. — Thus when the Apocalypse records a prohibition similar to this, (C. xxii. 18, 19,) it is not intended to seal up the divine volume, so that nothing more shall be admitted into it, for S. 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; (Apoc. v. 5;) and this aid he will never grant to those who obstinately refuse to hear the Church. Mat. xviii. 17. 2 Pet. i. 20. H.

Ver. 3. Among you, when the guilty Israelites and the Madianites were slain. Num. 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. H.

Ver. 6. This is a proof of your wisdom, &c. if you observe these commands. Your conduct will excite the admiration of all. M. — Solomon often inculcates the same truths. Prov. i. 7. Eccli. i. 34. Even profane writers applauded the laws and fidelity of the Jews. See Jos. Bel. i. 5. Strabo xvi. C.

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. C. — 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. H. — 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, (C.) and to dwell among us. Jo. i. The providence of God pervades all things; and, though all live in Him, (Act. xvii. 28,) yet he shews the marks of the most paternal tenderness to his elect. H.

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! H.

Ver. 9. Words. Heb. also, “things.” H. — Both sacred and profane authors use the term of seeing, to denote any of the senses, v. 12. Eschylus (in Prometh.) says, “you shall neither see the form nor the voice of mortals.”

Ver. 12. At all. Heb. “but saw no similitude, only a voice.” See Ex. xx. 18.

Ver. 13. Stone. Josephus (Ant. 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. C. — It hence appears, that there are just ten precepts. W. — But the manner of dividing them is rather uncertain. S. Aug. and Catholics in general place the three commandments, which regard God, by themselves. See Ex. 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. H.

Ver. 15. Carefully. Heb. “Be therefore particularly attentive, as much as you love your own soul.” Vatab. By keeping my commandments you can alone obtain salvation, v. 9. M. — 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. H. — 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. C. — 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; (H.) 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. C. — 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, Sess. 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 Heb., &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, (Ps. cxxxiv.) but because the honour given to them is referred to the originals, which they represent,” &c. C. of Trent, Ses. 25. H.

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? Gen. i. 14. Heb. and Sept. “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 C. xxix. 26. Drusius. C.

Ver. 20. Furnace. This expression gives us some idea of the cruelties to which the Hebrews had been exposed, 3 K. viii. 41. Iron and other metals were melted in furnaces: Heb. cur. Ezec. 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. C.

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. C. — Even venial faults must be punished. W.

Ver. 23. Made. Heb. “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. D.

Ver. 24. Fire. God often appeared in the midst of fire. All the land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy. Sophon. i. 18. and iii. 8. C. — 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. H. — The pagans thought that fire was the fittest symbol of the divinity. Porphyr. de Abstin.

Ver. 26. And earth, or all their rational inhabitants. S. Jer. and S. Bas. in Isai. 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, C. xxxii. 1. C. — He makes use of a sort of oath, by the creatures, in which God shines forth. M. — Destroy you. He will take from you that delightful country, though he will save a remnant of you out of the captivity at Babylon, and in the latter days, v. 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, Dan. iii. 1 Mac. 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. H.

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. No one of their numerous masters embraces their religion. They are so few, as to hardly possess a single town. C.

Ver. 29. There. Heb. “thence” from the place of captivity, or returning from the love of idols to the services of the true God. — Soul. Heb. “with all thy soul. (30) In thy tribulation after,” &c. C. — 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 follow 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 PhÅ“nicians 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. C. — Yet these sages gave way to the folly of the people, and, against their better knowledge, adored the stupid and senseless idols. H.

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. Rom. xi. 25. C. — S. 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! H.

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. Mat. 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. C.

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 Gen. xvi. 13. H. C. v. 24.

Ver. 34. Temptations. The Chal. and Arab. 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. C. — Visions, during the three days’ darkness mentioned, Wisd. xvii. 9. 18, &c. (M.) or those terrible appearances on Sinai, v. 33. 6. C. v. 22. C. Heb. 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. H.

Ver. 38. Day. They had already conquered the mighty kingdoms of Sehon and of Og. M.

Ver. 39. Other. The power of the true and only God is not confined to the sea, or to the land, &c. (C.) as the pagans believed that of their various idols was. H.

Ver. 41. Then, &c. This piece of history seems to be placed out of its natural order, by another hand. C. — 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 already been specified. He had received and order from God to appoint these three cities of refuge, (Num. xxxv. 14,) after he had given the land to the tribes of Ruben, &c. Num. xxxii. This he executes at the conclusion of this discourse; and hence takes occasion to mention how they had taken possession of this country. H.

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. Seld. 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, (Isai. 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, (Euseb.) where Achab, king of Israel, received a mortal wound, 3 K. 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. C.

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, (H.) in the tribe of Juda. C. iii. 8. C.

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. C.