Observe that which I command thee. Although these
supplements belong alike to the First and Second Commandment, still it was fit to postpone them to this place; because in them God applied a remedy to all external and manifest superstitions, which might easily have insinuated themselves had they not been anticipated in good time. All will run eagerly into idolatry, even though there be none to impel us from without; but where the ungodly act upon us also like fans, and this must needs be the case, when the people of God entangle themselves in their society, this disease is increasingly inflamed. And truly the closer our familiarity is with them, it is like a yoke, whereby they draw others with them. In order then that the people, when they entered the land, might preserve themselves pure and thoroughly devoted to God, care must be taken lest they should contract pollution from other nations; and therefore God would have all the inhabitants of Canaan utterly destroyed, lest they should entice His elect people to their errors and the worship of false gods. He here interdicts two kinds of covenant with them, lest there should be any public or private alliance between them; and then commands that all should be slain without mercy. As regards the public covenant, it was forbidden for a special cause, that the sons of Abraham should mix themselves with the reprobate; because they would have thus deprived themselves of the lawful inheritance which God had destined for them; nor would the face of the land have been renewed by the removal of all defilements. Since then in His just judgment God had long ago determined to destroy these nations, it was not lawful for the children of Abraham to rescind the divine decree, or to make any alteration in it.
If therefore any one should insist too literally on this passage to prove the unlawfulness of making any contract with the ungodly, because God forbade it of old, he will not reason soundly, since God does not now command us to execute vengeance by putting all the wicked to death; nor is a certain country assigned to the Church in which it may dwell apart and have dominion. Still I do not deny that what was enjoined upon the ancient people, in some degree has reference to us; nay, we must carefully remark what I lately adverted to, that those, who voluntarily unite themselves with the ungodly, impose as it were a yoke on themselves to draw them to destruction. And in fact Paul embraced in this comparison all the grounds upon which unbelievers insinuate themselves into familiarity with us, to ensnare us by their corrupting influence. (2 Corinthians 6:14) As much as possible, therefore, must all ties of connection be rather broken, than that by union with God's enemies we should allow ourselves to be drawn away from Him by their allurements; for they will always be attempting, by all the artifices they can, to make a divorce between us and God. Besides, if we desire faithfully to serve God, there ought to be a perpetual quarrel between us and them. God then would have us not only separate ourselves from open communion with them, but since we are too much given to depravity, He also commands us to fly from all the snares which might gradually induce us to participate in their sins. But inasmuch as Paul justly reminds us, that if we are not permitted to have any dealings with unbelievers, we must |needs go out of the world,| (1 Corinthians 5:10,) it is proper for us to distinguish between the contracts which associate us with them and those which do not at all diminish our liberty.
As long as we live among unbelievers, we cannot escape those dealings with them which relate to the ordinary affairs of life; but if we approach nearer, so that a greater intimacy should arise, we open the door as it were to Satan. Such are alliances between kings and nations, and marriages amongst private persons; and therefore Moses laid down rules respecting them both for the ancient people. And although our condition now-a-days is more free, still we are warned that all temptations are to be avoided which might give occasion to this evil. It is notorious that men are too apt to be led away by the blandishments of their wives; and also, that men in their power compel their wives to obedience. Those, therefore, who mix with idolaters, knowingly and wilfully devote themselves to idols. The same thing happens as to alliances; for men are ashamed in them to betray any marks of disrespect. Thus, to please the king of Syria, Ahaz raised an altar in the temple like that at Damascus. (2 Kings 16:10.) Thus while the Jews desired to gratify the Assyrians, they imitated their superstitions. In a word, it, is a most uncommon case that the religion of those should remain unaffected who seek to curry favor with the ungodly. But that they may cleave more earnestly to their duty, the danger I have spoken of is declared; otherwise such rejoinders as these would have been straightway in their mouths: |Although my wife is altogether averse from true piety, still I will stand firm; although my husband is not subject to God, yet I will never decline from the true course; although religion is not dear to our allies, still it shall not cease to be sacredly held in honor amongst ourselves.| God therefore interferes betimes, and declares that they will not be so magnanimous in resistance, when once they have opened the window to the evil. He adds, too, another evil, i.e., that the sacred land would be thus profaned; for, although the Israelites should be separated from the impieties of the Gentiles, still it was not excusable to allow them to have altars in that land in which God had chosen a sanctuary for Himself. Yet at the same time Moses warns them that it could scarcely be but that this association would involve the Israelites also. When he says, then, |lest they go a whoring after their gods, and one call thee,| he means that the Israelites would be like panders, if under cover of their covenant, and for the sake of preserving their good-will, they gave the Gentiles permission to exercise their superstitions; and also that this would be a snare to grosser sin; since whilst they feared to give offense, they would not refuse to go to their feasts, and thus would be partakers of their guilt. Literally, it is, |Lest perhaps thou strike a covenant, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and call thee,| which words may be thus paraphrased, so as to depend on the foregoing prohibition: |Lest it should happen, after you shall have made a covenant, that they should go a whoring,| etc.; or thus, |By no means make a covenant, because they will go a whoring after their idols, and when they shall offer sacrifices will call thee.| The meaning, however, will amount to the same; for he mentions the two worst results of their unlawful covenant, i.e., that these unbelieving nations will pollute the land, and under pretext of kindness will corrupt God's people. But in order that they may be more earnest and courageous in their duty, the promise is added, that they shall be victorious over these nations. This was almost incredible, that wanderers and exiles as they were, they should easily and quickly be enabled to gain possession of so many lands; therefore God takes away all doubt, and thus commands the Israelites to obey His dominion at the end of this war, which they shall feel that they have waged successfully under His auspices. Wherefore he convicts them of ingratitude if they shall dare to relax any of that severity which He requires; as if He had said, Since these nations far excel you in numbers, and strength, and warlike equipments, it will plainly appear that you have not conquered them by your own power; it will therefore be more than iniquitous that the war, which shall be concluded under my guidance alone, and by my hand, should be finished in opposition to my will, and that you should be the disposers of that victory which I have gratuitously conferred upon you. The discrepancy is easily reconciled, that Moses should only enumerate six nations in Exodus, and add a seventh in Deuteronomy; for often he only names the Canaanites or Amorites, yet comprising by synecdoche all the rest.