Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
29. The secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
29. Secreta sunt Jehovae Deo nostro: revelata autem nobis et filiis nostris usque in saeculum, ut faciamus omnia verba Legis hujus.
29. The secret things belong. The conciseness and brevity of this passage has rendered its meaning ambiguous; still there is no necessity for discussing the various expositions of it. I will only shortly touch upon those most generally accepted, lest they should lead to error. The meaning is forced which some of the Hebrews 273 give it, viz., that God is the sole avenger of hidden crimes, whilst those transgressions, which come to the knowledge of men, should be punished by earthly judges; for here the execution of punishment is not the subject in discussion, but Moses is simply commending the use of the doctrine of the Law. The opinion of those who conceive that the excellency of the Law is maintained, because God has manifested by it His secret things, would be more probable, if the rules of grammar did not oppose it; for the words are not to be read connectedly.” The secret things of God are revealed unto us,” since the ה, or demonstrative pronoun, 274 which is adjoined to both, does not permit this any more than the copula which stands between them. To me there appears no doubt that, by antithesis, there is a comparison here made between the doctrine openly set forth in the Law, and the hidden and incomprehensible counsel of God, concerning which it is not lawful to inquire. In my opinion, therefore, the copula is used for the adversative particle; as though it were said, “God indeed retains to Himself secret things, which it neither concerns nor profits us to know, and which surpass our comprehension; but these things, which He has declared to us, belong to us and to our children.” It is a remarkable passage, and especially deserving of our observation, for by it audacity and excessive curiosity are condemned, whilst pious minds are aroused to be zealous in seeking instruction. We know how anxious men are to understand things, the knowledge of which is altogether unprofitable, and even the investigation of them injurious. All of them would desire to be God’s counsellors, and to penetrate into the deepest recesses of heaven, nay, they would search into its very cabinets. Hence a heathen poet truly says, —
“Nil mortalibus arduum est:
Coelum ipsum petimus stultitia.” — Hor. Od. 1: 3-37.
“Nought for mortals is too high;
Our folly reaches to the sky.”
On the other hand, what God plainly sets before us, and would have familiarly known, is either neglected, or turned from in disgust, or put far away from us, as if it were too obscure. In the first clause, then, Moses briefly reproves and restrains that temerity which leaps beyond the bounds imposed by God; and in the latter, exhorts us to embrace the doctrine of the Law, in which God’s will is declared to us, as if He were openly speaking to us; and thus he encounters the folly of those who fly from the light presented to them, and wrongfully accuse of obscurity that doctrine, wherein God has let Himself down to the measure of our understanding. In sum, he declares that God is the best master to all who come to Him as disciples, because He faithfully and clearly explains to them all that it is useful for them to knew. The perpetuity of the doctrine is also asserted, and that it never is to be let go, or to become obsolete by the lapse of ages. How far the Law is perpetual I have more fully discussed in the Second Book of the Institutes, chap. 11. The rule of just and pious living even now retains its force, although we are delivered from the yoke of bondage and from the curse; but the coming of Christ has put an end to its ceremonies in such a way as to prove more certainly that they were not mere vain and empty shadows. Lastly, Moses requires obedience of the people, and reminds them that the Law was not only given that the Israelites might know what was right, but that they might do all that God taught. True is it indeed that all His precepts cannot be fully obeyed; but the perfection which is required, compels those to ask for pardon who otherwise feel themselves to be exposed to God’s judgment, as will be hereafter explained. Besides, we must observe that the doctrine that we must keep the whole Law has this object, that men should not separate one commandment from the others, and think that they have done their duty by performing only a part of it; since God admits no such divorce, having forbidden us to steal no less than to kill (Jas 2:11.)
S.M. quotes Aben-Ezra as saying, “The secret things done by men belong to God, that he may punish them. But the things which become manifest, or are publicly done, belong to us, and such things we are bound to punish.” Where the ה demonstrative is repeated with the conjunction, as noticed by C., our A. V. has properly but those. — W.
In C.’s Latin “ה agedia,” or as spelt in Buxtorf’s Thesaurus Gram. Ling. Sanctae, Lib. 2, c. 5, “ה hajediha, that is הידיעה, translatable which maketh known, is the name given to the prefix ה, when its effect is demonstrative” — W