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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 31



Verse 2

2.See, I have called by name Bezaleel. In the remainder of this work we shall follow the course of the history to the end of Deuteronomy, where the death of Moses himself is recorded.

Although God had omitted nothing which related to the form of the tabernacle, but had accurately prescribed every thing that was to be done, still the actual difficulty of the work might have overwhelmed both Moses and the whole people with despair; for this was no ordinary work, or one on which the most skillful artificers might exercise their ingenuity, but a marvelous structure, the pattern of which had been shewn on the Mount, so that it might seem incredible that any mortals should be able by their art to compass what God had commanded. Besides, they had been entirely engaged in servile tasks in Egypt, such as would extinguish all intellectual vigor, and prevent them from aspiring to any liberal arts. Hence we gather that all, who obediently follow God’s voice, are never destitute of His aid. In all our difficulties, then, let this prayer encourage us to proceed: (290) “Give what Thou commandest: and command what Thou wilt.”

To “call by name,” is equivalent to rendering eminent, so that Moses signifies that Bezaleel should be something extraordinary, as being endowed with a peculiar gift. Thus Cyrus is said in Isaiah 45:4, to be called by his name, because in the purpose of God he had been destined in a remarkable manner to execute such great things. Still, although the call of Bezaleel was special, because, as I have just said, God entrusted to him an unusual and by no means ordinary work, we gather that no one excels even in the most despised and humble handicraft, except in so far as God’s Spirit works in him. For, although “there are diversities of gifts,” still it is the same Spirit from whom they all flow, (1 Corinthians 12:4;) and also as God has seen fit to distribute and measure them out to every man. Nor is this only the case with respect to the spiritual gifts which follow regeneration, but in all the branches of knowledge which come into use in common life. It is, therefore, a false division, when ungodly men ascribe all the means of our support partly to nature and God’s blessing, and partly to the industry of man, since man’s industry itself is a blessing from God. The poets are more correct who acknowledge that all which is suggested by nature comes from God; that all the arts emanate from Him, and therefore ought to be accounted divine inventions. The utility of this doctrine is two-fold; first, that all things which have reference to the support and defense of life, whenever we meet with them, should excite our gratitude, and that whatever seems to be derived from man’s ingenuity, should be regarded as proofs of God’s paternal solicitude for us; and, secondly, that we should honor God as the Author of so many good things, since He sanctifies them for our use. Moses applies many epithets to the Spirit, because he is speaking of so remarkable a work; yet we must conclude, float whatever ability is possessed by any emanates from one only source, and is conferred by God. This is the only difference, that Bezaleel was endued with consummate excellence, whilst God makes distribution to others according to His pleasure.

Verse 6

6.And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab. It is no matter of surprise that the principal workman should be chosen from the tribe of Judah; (291) why a companion should be given him from the tribe of Dan can hardly be accounted for, unless its obscurity more highly illustrated the grace of God.

A kind of contradiction at first sight appears, when it is added immediately afterwards that God had put wisdom in the hearts of all that were wise-hearted; for, if they already excelled in intelligence, what was the object of this new inspiration? Hence it has been commonly supposed, that the special grace of God was only given in aid of that ability which we naturally possess. But rather are we taught by this passage that, when anything grows in us, and our endowments manifest themselves more conspicuously, our progress is only derived from the continued operation of the Spirit. God had already conferred acuteness and intelligence on the artificers in question; yet their dexterity was only, as it were, the seed; and He now promises that He will give them more than had previously appeared. I know that the words may be thus explained, — Whosoever shall be fit and proper for the work, have therefore been endowed with intelligence, because God has inspired it by His secret influence; but the other exposition is more simple. What follows as to the various parts of the tabernacle has been already treated of elsewhere.

Verse 13

13.Speak thou also unto the children of Israel. He inculcates the same things as before, with the addition of a few words, such as “for it is holiness unto you;” (337) by which expression he exhorts them to observe this rite as most sacred and inviolable, since by its neglect religion would fall (338) And therefore he denounces capital punishment against any who should work on that day. Hence, again, we gather the dignity and excellency of the mystery, when God deemed an apparently light transgression of it worthy of death. Still this was an act of by no means excusable contempt, to overthrow professedly, as it were, what God would have to be a mark of distinction between His people and heathen nations. The passages which follow have the same tendency, which it would have been superfluous to repeat, unless because the people were thus reminded that it was a matter of the utmost importance. By prohibiting them from lighting a fire, He anticipates all the glosses which they would have been ready enough to invent; for they would have alleged that if the pot had been put on the fire the day before, the Sabbath would not have been violated by lighting the fire. What, then, would have been more allowable than anything else God excludes, viz., that they should not employ themselves in the preparation of their food, or undertake any other earthly work, however venial. When He calls it a “perpetual” or eternal “covenant,” the Jews rest on it as a ground of their obstinacy, and wantonly rave against Christ as a covenant-breaker, because He abrogated the Sabbath. I will not contend with them as to the word גולם, gnolam, which sometimes means a long time, and not perpetuity: I will simply insist on the thing itself. Whatever was spoken of under the Law as eternal, I maintain to have had reference to the new state of things which came to pass at the coming of Christ; and thus the eternity of the Law must not be extended beyond the fullness of time, when the truth of its shadows was manifested, and God’s covenant assumed a different form. If the Jews cry out that what is perpetual, and what is temporary, are contraries to each other, we must deny it in various respects, since assuredly what was peculiar to the Law could not continue to exist beyond the day of Jesus Christ. Besides, the Sabbath, although its external observation is not now in use, still remains eternal in its reality, like circumcision. Thus the stability of both was best confirmed by their abrogation; since, if God now required the same of Christians, it would be putting a veil over the death and resurrection of His Son; and hence the more carefully the Jews persevere in the keeping the festival, the more do they derogate from its sanctity. But they calumniate us falsely, as if we disregarded the Sabbath; because there is nothing which more completely confirms its reality and substance than the abolition of its external use. To this point also may my readers apply what I have written on Genesis 17:0, (339) lest I should weary them in vain by my prolixity; and again, in treating of the sacrifices, I have adverted to some things which relate to the same doctrine. When, in Exodus 34:0, God especially commands them to rest “in earing-time and harvest,” (340) it is not as if He would let loose the rein for the rest of the year; but He rather draws it tighter, since no necessity must interrupt this sacred observance. Else it might have seemed a just pretext, if, on account of continued rains, or other ungenial weather, ploughing should be difficult, husbandmen were to be released from the obligation of the law, lest their resting should have produced sterility. The same opinion might have prevailed as to the ingathering of the harvest, lest it should have been spoilt on the ground. God, however, allows of no dispensation; but the Sabbath is to be observed, though at the risk of general loss.

Verse 18

18And he gave unto Moses. It must be observed, that, after the voice of God had been heard from the midst of the fire, and He had delivered the Ten Commandments, and the form of the tabernacle had been described, and the work had been already finished by the artificers, though its dedication had not yet taken place, Moses was again withdrawn from the sight and intercourse of men, that he might be taught apart by himself to be a faithful interpreter of the Law. For although God had briefly comprised in the Ten Commandments the sum of His doctrine, which might suffice for the rule of a pious and righteous life, still a clearer exposition was needed, such as Moses afterwards added. With this object he was taken up into the sanctuary (adytum) of heaven, as it were, in order that he might familiarly learn all things that concerned the full and complete understanding of the Ten Commandments, since he could never have attained their genuine meaning if God had not been his Master and Teacher. Hence we gather that he wrote his five books not only under the guidance of the Spirit of God, but as God Himself had suggested them, speaking to him out of His own mouth. Wherefore he observed silence for forty days, that he might afterwards freely speak by the authority of God. Thus ought all true pastors of the Church to be disciples, so as to teach nothing but what they have received. But although God might in a moment have fully perfected His servant, yet, in order more surely to evince that he advanced nothing which did not proceed from the school of heaven, he was separated for forty days from the human race, so that the Israelites might henceforth look up to him as to an angel sent from heaven; for there could be no savour of earth about him who had thus lived with God, without meat and drink, or any other means of nourishment, and divested of all infirmity of the flesh.

Finally, the Ten Commandments were written on two tables, so that they might never be lost. I have elsewhere stated why they were divided into two tables, viz., because they consist of two parts, the first of which is the rule of piety, whilst the second prescribes how we must live righteously, innocently, and chastely with men. Thus the worship of God comes first in order, and then the duties of charity follow. The tables were of stone, inasmuch as it is usual for enduring monuments to be engraven on brass, or stones. That they were “written with the finger of God,” we must understand to mean that the characters were formed without the hand or skill of men, by the secret virtue of God; nor is it a matter of wonder that a writing should have suddenly been brought into existence at the same will (nutu) of God, whereby the waste and shapeless materials of the world, which they call chaos, were changed so as to be resplendent with astonishing elegance and beauty. This expression, however, is metaphorical, whereby what is only applicable to men is figuratively spoken of God; for God is not corporeal so as to write with His finger; and for Him to act is only to command; as it is said in the Psalms,

“He spake, and all things were made; he commanded, and they were created.” (Psalms 33:9.)

Many approve of the allegory, that the Law was written by the Spirit of God on stones, because the hardness of our heart does not receive it without the grace of regeneration; but we must rather hold to the antithesis of Paul, wherein he shews that the Gospel differs from the Law in this respect, because it is written on fleshy hearts, subdued unto obedience, (2 Corinthians 3:3;) and indeed it is by no means fitting that we should trifle in such conceits as this, when the simple intention of God is abundantly manifest, viz., that the Law was registered upon stones, in order that the perpetuity of its doctrine should be maintained in all ages.


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Bibliography Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 31:4". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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