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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Deuteronomy 2

 

 

Verse 1

1.Then we turned and took our journey. The time in which they struck their camp is not stated in the book of Numbers. This verse, therefore, will aptly connect the history, since otherwise there would be an abruptness in what immediately follows, he then briefly indicates what was the nature of their journeying until the time appointed; viz., that, by wearying themselves in vain in circuitous wanderings, they might, at length, learn to follow God directly, and not to decline from the way which He points out.


Verse 4

4.And they shall be afraid of you. This temptation was the more provoking, when they heard not only that the embassy would be vain, but that although Edom should receive them with injustice and hostility, they were still to abstain from violence and arms. For there might be some reason in this, that when they presented their request in a friendly manner, they would have a legitimate cause of war, if Edom should reject their demands. But this further condition might appear altogether intolerable that they were to do nothing against those who refused to let them pass quietly through their land. Hence, however, it more fully appears how the Israelites were gradually, and by various kinds of chastisement, subdued to obedience, whereas they would otherwise have fiercely and petulantly exclaimed that they had been dealt with unkindly by God; since thus their condition would be worse than the universal law of nations allowed. In this matter, then, their wanderings, for eight and thirty years, had much efficacy in bringing them back to the right way.


Verse 7

Deuteronomy 2:7For the Lord thy God hath blessed thee. This reason is added, lest the people should be grieved at spending their money, of which they had not much, in buying meat and drink. There are, however, two clauses; first, that they were so enriched by God’s bounty, that they were fully supplied with the means of buying food; and, secondly, that they must not doubt but that He would relieve their necessity, if it were required, since He had thus far provided for them, and had not suffered them to want anything. He, therefore, encourages them to hope, in consideration of their past experience; because God would take care of them, as tie had before been accustomed to do.

The question, however, arises, how God could say, that He had blessed the work of their hands, when they had had no commerce with other nations, so as to make the smallest gains whatever. But I thus understand it, viz., that although they were gratuitously sustained in the wilderness, and had not expended a single penny in buying even shoelatchets, still their cattle had increased, and, besides, they had made some profits by their daily labor; not by receiving, indeed, daily wages, but by providing for themselves furniture and other necessaries.


Verse 9

9.And the Lord said unto me, Distress not the Moabites. He had previously forbidden them to enter the land of Edom, unless consent were obtained. A similar prohibition is now added with respect to the Moabites, because God had allotted to them the territory which they inhabited. As I have said, this was painful and burdensome, that they should cherish kindness and fraternal good-will towards those who treated them with hostility; but God desired in this respect also to prove the obedience of His people. He did not, then, take into consideration what this nation had dcserved; but, inasmuch as they were the descendants of Lot, and consequently of the race of Abraham, He desired to treat them with special favor. For the division of the whole world appertains to Him, so as to distribute to its various peoples whatever part He chooses, and to fix the bounds wherein they should confine themselves. If any object that the people of Canaan had also their limits assigned to them, and ought not, therefore, to have been expelled from the lands in which their forefathers had for many ages inhabited, the reply is easy, viz., that God is always free to take away what He has given, and to readjust the boundaries imposed by His will, when the sins of men deserve that this should be done. When, therefore, He declares that He had given their land to the Moabites, it is not according to the ordinary force of the expression, but by a fixed decree that their habitation should remain sure and undisturbed.


Verse 10

10.The Emims dwelt therein in times past. This is a confirmation of the foregoing declaration, which is, however, inserted by way of parenthesis by Moses himself; for the ninth verse, which I have just expounded, is followed regularly by the thirteenth, “Now rise up,” etc. For, after God had turned away the people from the borders of Moab, He shews them in what direction they must pass over; but Moses, interrupting the address of God, explains how the Moabites had obtained that territow, though they were strangers, and had no land of their own on which they might set their foot;. For Lot was no less an alien than Abraham; Moses, therefore, states how by special privilege the posterity of Lot became masters of that land which giants had previously possessed. For it was not by human means that, having driven out the giants, who were formidable to all men, they had obtained the peaceful occupation, and even the dominion of that land, which might have seemed to be invincible, from the valor and strength of its inhabitants. He says, therefore, that the giants dwelt there, as also in Mount Seir; and that both were overcome and destroyed, not so much by the hand and arms of men as by the power of God, so that their land might be cleared for possession as well for the children of Esau as for those of Lot. Now, since God elsewhere declares that He had given Mount Seir to Esau as an inheritance, according as He had promised to his father Isaac, it follows that the Moabites had obtained their land also by the same Divine authority. The comparison which is made between Edom and the Israelites does not hold good in all respects; for, although Esau was sustained by this consolation, that his inheritance should be of “the fatness of the earth,” (Genesis 27:39,) it might still be the case that with regard to himself and his posterity, their possession should not be legitimate; whereas God so promised the land of Canaan to the race of Abraham, that the Israelites received the dominion over it, as if from His own hand, as it is said in Psalms 136:21. In this respect, too, there was a difference, because the land of Canaan was chosen as that in which God should gather His Church, in which He should be purely worshipped, and which should be an earnest, to the faithful of the heavenly and eternal rest. But, as elsewhere, the distinction between the sons of Esau and Jacob is marked, so now Moses (126) magnifies God’s special blessing towards them both.


Verse 13

13.Now rise up. He now proceeds with what he had begun in verse 9, viz, that God had commanded them to pass by the land of Seir, and to advance to the brook Zered; as much as to say, that after they had been subdued by their misfortunes, they were prohibited from further progress, until God should open the way before them, and thus they should follow Him as their leader, and not make a passage for themselves at their own discretion.

He afterwards specifies the period of delay which they had been compelled by God to pass in the desert, after they had once reached the borders of the promised land. He says, then, that after thirty-eight years they had at length returned to the land from whence they had been obliged to retire; and briefly reminds them how long the course of their deliverance had been interrupted through their own fault, since they had gone forth to enjoy the promised land. He calls those “warlike men,” or, in the Hebrew, “men of war,” whose age entitled them to bear arms, i.e., who had exceeded their twentieth year.

When mention is elsewhere made of forty years, the two years are then included which were spent both in Mount Sinai and in other places; and with good reason, because, during that time also, their sins prevented them from passing to the enjoyment of their inheritance immediately after the promulgation of the law.


Verse 19

19.And when thou comest nigh over against the children ofAmmon. God now makes provision as to the Ammonites, since their condition was the same as that of the Moabites, inasmuch as they were descended from the two daughters of Lot. It might, indeed, seem wonderful that, since the memory of their origin was detestable, these two nations should have been so dear to God. Ammon and Moab had been born of an incestuous connection. It was, therefore, more reasonable that this tragical circumstance should have been buried by their destruction, than that they should have been distinguished by God’s favor from the common lot of other nations, as if their nobility rendered them superior to others. But let us learn from hence, that since God’s judgments, like a deep abyss, are beyond our apprehension, they should be regarded with reverence. Lot’s distinguished piety is expressly declared. The disgraceful crime, which he committed when drunk, it pleased God so to mark with perpetual infamy, as still to impress upon it some signs of His mercy, although this was done especially for the sake of Abraham himself. It is unquestionable, however, that God recommends the posterity of Lot to the Israelites on this ground, that they may more willingly exercise kindness towards them, and abstain from all injury, when they had to do with two nations whom they see to be cared for by God Himself, for the sake of their common relationship to Abraham.

Furthermore, by the same argument whereby he had before proved that both Edomites and Moabites, relying on God’s help, had occupied the lands over which they had dominion, he now establishes that the land which the Ammonites possessed had been granted them by God, viz., because in their conquest and overthrow of the giants they had surpassed the limits of human bravery, and thus God had given a proof of His special and unusual favor towards them. For neither by the ordinary course of nature could two men increase to so great a multitude.

Now, although the Hebrew call the Cappadocians Caphthorim, (127) we do not know whether the giants, whose country was taken possession of by the Ammonites, sprung from them. But, if this be admitted, they had a long journey, attended by many dangers, after they left their country; and again, since they must have passed through rich and fertile regions, it is strange that they should have penetrated to those mountains. It might, however, be the case, that, making forays as robbers, they nowhere found a quiet resting-place until a less cultivated region presented itself.


Verse 24

Deuteronomy 2:24.Rise ye up, take your journey. I have lately said that the order is here inverted, for what soon after follows, “And I sent messengers out of the wilderness,” etc., Deuteronomy 2:26, Moses, in my opinion, has inserted by way of parenthesis: it will, therefore, be suitably rendered in the pluperfect tense, “But I had sent,” etc. Thus there will be no ambiguity in the sense that, when the messengers had returned without effecting their purpose, God sustained the weariness of the people by this consolation, as though he had said, Sihon has not, with impunity, repudiated the peace offered to him, since it will now be permitted you to assail him in lawful war. And assuredly this signal for the expedition to advance depends on the declaration which is subjoined in Deuteronomy 2:30, as we may readily gather from the context; for Moses there repeats what we here read respecting their passage in somewhat different words; and again does God testify that He has given Sihon into the hands of the people, and exhorts Moses to go down boldly to the battle. Moreover, the cause is there specified why (Sihon) had been so arrogant and contemptuous in his rejection of the embassy, viz., because God had “hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate.” From whence again it appears how poor is the sophistry of those who imagine that God idly regards from heaven what men are about to do. (128) They dare not, indeed, despoil Him of foreknowledge; but what can be more absurd than that He foreknows nothing except what men please? But Scripture, as we see, has not placed God in a watch-tower, from which He may behold at a distance what things are about to be; but teaches that He is the director (moderatorem) of all things; and that He subjects to His will, not only the events of things, but the designs and affections of men also. As, therefore, we have before seen how the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, so now Moses ascribes to God the obstinacy of king Sihon. How base a subterfuge is the exception which some make as to His permission, sufficiently appears from the end which Moses points out. (129) For why did God harden the heart of Sihon? thalt “He might deliver him into the hand” of His people to be slain; because He willed that he should perish, and had destined his land for the Israelites. If God only permitted Sihon to grow hardened, this decree was either nought, or mutable, and evanescent, since it depended on the changeable will of man. Putting aside, then, all childish trifling, we must conclude that God by His secret inspiration moves, forms, governs, and draws men’s hearts, so that even by the wicked He executes whatever He has decreed. At the same time it is to be observed that the wicked are not impelled to hardness of heart by extrinsic force, but that they voluntarily harden themselves; so that in this same hardness of heart God may be seen to be a just judge, however incomprehensible His counsel may be, and however the impiety of men may betray itself, who are their own instigators, and the authors of their own sin. Emphatically does Moses inculcate the same thing twice over, viz., that the spirt of Sihon was hardened by God, and his heart made obstinate, in order that God’s paternal favor towards His chosen people might be more conspicuous; because from the obstinacy of the blinded king He afforded them a just cause for war, and an opportunity for victory.

 


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 2:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/cal/deuteronomy-2.html. 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 6th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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