Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 4: Harmony of the Law, Part II, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
Deut. 17:12, 13
12. And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel.
12. Vir autem qui egerit in superbia ut non audiat sacerdotem qui stat ut illic ministret Jehovae Deo, tuo, aut judicem, morietur vir ille, et exterminabis malum ex Israele
13. And all the people shall hear, and fear, and do no more presumptuously.
13. Atque omnes e populo audi ant, ut timeant, neque in posterurn superbiant.
He pronounces a similar punishment on those who shall have contumaciously rejected the judgment of the priests. We have already seen that the prophetical office was united with the priesthood; since, according to Mal 2:4, the covenant of God was with Levi, that his descendants might be the guardians of His knowledge, and the interpreters of His law: yet God often punished the laxity of the priests, by setting other teachers over his people. At any rate, both were ambassadors for Him. Since, therefore, the authority of the prophets had been sanctioned above, the same rights are now conferred upon the priests; nor is this surprising, for it was no trifling crime to despise God, the appointer of this order. Yet we must remember what I have elsewhere stated, that the priests were not armed with tyrannical authority, so that it was sinful to reject whatever they might have decreed according to their own fancy. For neither did God dethrone Himself when He appointed them, nor did He bind men’s consciences to obey their ordinances without distinction, but only would put reins on the audacity of those who have no scruple in undervaluing the government of the Church. For this must be considered, that foul and horrible would be the disorder, if men were promiscuously permitted to reject whatever the rulers of the Church may have appointed; and it would be ridiculous that persons should be called to govern, to whom no dignity should be accorded; and, therefore, natural reason itself shews and dictates, that the reverence, which is here demanded, is due to all lawful commands. God was the author of the priesthood: He, too, ordained judges. What could be more absurd than that they should be despised and laughed at with impunity, who presided in the name and by the command of God? But He has never exalted a mortal man so high as to abdicate His own rights; nay, it was often necessary boldly to reject what the priests had commanded. Urijah the priest built a profane altar in the fashion of that at Damascus, which Ahaz had sent, and offered a sacrifice thereon, 55 (2Ki 16:12,) was it necessary that Isaiah should acquiesce in this? Nay, detestable was the adulation of all who assented to the decree of a wicked and perfidious priest. Moreover, we see that the prophets were very often so far from agreeing with the priests, that they waged open war with them. But the whole of this matter is decided by the words of Moses, for he does not unreservedly condemn all who should not obey, but restricts his law by the addition of a special mark, viz., if the contempt should arise from presumption or arrogance. Therefore it was not else a capital crime to disobey the priest or the judge, unless any one should insolently and proudly oppose himself to the ordinance established by God. Otherwise this exception would have been interposed without reason. In fine, the priests of old were to be obeyed, as far as it concerned the public peace that the pastors ordained by God should be reverently honored; yet so as that there should be no departure from God Himself, the one Head and Prince of all pastors. We have elsewhere seen how foolishly the Papists take this to themselves 56
13. And all the people. He shews from the object of the enactment why the proud despisers (of the priests) were not to be spared; for punishments have reference to common example, whilst, on the other hand, impunity is a bait to sin, and the nurse of unbridled licentiousness. And, assuredly, when He commands that the whole people should be inspired with terror, it is a hint that, unless presumption should be corrected, and the bold and wicked should be restrained by severe discipline, the door would be opened to them to destroy the Church.
“Ce vilein traistre Urie y offroit;” that vile traitor Urijah offered on it. — Fr.
“Combien les Papistes sont sots et badins, voulant faire leur profit de ce passage;” how silly and trifling the Papists are, in seeking to make their profit of this passage. — Fr.