|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
34:8-22 A Jew should not be held in servitude above seven years. This law they and their fathers had broken. And when there was some hope that the siege was raised, they forced the servants they had released into their services again. Those who think to cheat God by dissembled repentance and partial reformation, put the greatest cheat upon their own souls. This shows that liberty to sin, is really only liberty to have the sorest judgments. It is just with God to disappoint expectations of mercy, when we disappoint the expectations of duty. And when reformation springs only from terror, it is seldom lasting. Solemn vows thus entered into, profane the ordinances of God; and the most forward to bind themselves by appeals to God, are commonly most ready to break them. Let us look to our hearts, that our repentance may be real, and take care that the law of God regulates our conduct.
Verse 18. - When they out the calf in twain, etc. This clause should be translated differently, and placed, for clearness, in a parenthesis (the calf which they cut in twain, and between the parts of which they passed). The division of the calf might, in fact, be called in Hebrew either "the covenant" or "the token of the covenant" (comp. Genesis 17:10, 11). It was a solemn assurance that he who should transgress God's Law should share the same fate as the victim. The same idea seems to have dictated the Hebrew phrase, "to cut a covenant," and the Greek and Latin equivalents (ὅρκια τέμνειν: foedus icere); comp. the parallel narrative in Genesis 15:10.
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant,.... The covenant the king, princes, and all the people made, to let their servants go free, is called the Lord's covenant, because made in his name, in his presence, and before him as a witness; and very probably the calf that was cut in pieces on this occasion, after mentioned, was sacrificed to him, which made him a party concerned; unless this is to be understood of the covenant of God in general made with Israel on Mount Sinai; and so is distinct from the other covenant, which may be more especially designed in the next clause:
which have not performed the words of the covenant made before me; did not perform what they promised to do in the presence of the Lord, as in Jeremiah 34:15;
when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof; which was a rite or custom used in making and confirming covenants; a calf, or some other creature, were cut in pieces, and the parts laid in order, and the covenantees passed between these parts; signifying thereby, that if they did not fulfil the engagements they entered into, they imprecated to be cut to pieces as that creature was. Some footsteps of this practice are to be seen as early as the times of Abraham, Genesis 15:9; upon which place Jarchi observes, that it was the way of making a covenant to divide a beast, and pass between the parts of it; and this custom obtained among the Chaldeans, Greeks, and Romans; or what was very similar to it. Cyril (u) says this custom was by the Chaldeans, who might take it from Abraham. A people called Molotti had something of this kind among them: for they confirmed the covenants they swore to by cutting oxen into little pieces (w); and Homer seems to have a respect to such a practice when he says that the priest, after he had prayed to Apollo, slew the sacrifice, and flayed it, and cut it in pieces, making duplicates (x), alike to one another. Cicero (y) is thought to have the same custom in view; and likewise Virgil (z), when he speaks of the covenant made between Romulus and Tatius king of the Sabines, whom he represents as standing armed before the altar of Jupiter, holding caps, and joining in covenant by killing a swine, and cutting it in pieces; in like manner Livy (a) describes the covenant made between the Romans and Albanians, when the herald at arms, reciting the conditions, called aloud
""hear, O Jupiter", &c.''
if the Roman people first fail in observing these,
"strike them as I now strike this hog; and so much the more, as thou art more able and mighty;''
which being said, he struck it with a flint stone; hence the phrase, "ferire foedus", to strike or make a covenant; and, in allusion to the above custom, making a covenant is commonly called, in the Old Testament, "cutting a covenant". Some versions, as the Syriac interpreter, render it, "I will make the men as the calf they cut in twain", &c. they shall be cut in pieces as that is; see Matthew 24:51.
(u) Contra Julian, l. 10. apud Grotium in Genesis 15.17. (w) Zenobius apud 10. (x) ' ------ , ' ' . Iliad 1. v. 461, 462. (y) De Inventione, l. 2. sect. 20. (z) "Armati Jovis ante aram, paterasque tenentes Stabant, et caesa jungebant foedera porea". Aeneid. l. 8. (a) Hist. l. 1. p. 14.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
18. passed between the parts thereof—The contracting parties in the "covenant" (not here the law in general, but their covenant made before God in His house to emancipate their slaves, Jer 34:8, 9) passed through the parts of the animal cut in two, implying that they prayed so to be cut in sunder (Mt 24:51; Greek, "cut in two") if they should break the covenant (Ge 15:10, 17).
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