1.Now Moses kept the flock. We have already said that he was occupied as a shepherd for a long time (viz., about forty years) before this vision appeared to him. The patience, then, of the holy man is commended by his continuance in this work; not that Moses had any intention of boastfully celebrating his own virtues, but that the Holy Spirit dictated what would be useful to us, and, as it were, suggested it to his mouth, that what he did and suffered might be an example for ever. For he must have had much mental struggle at this tedious delay, when old age, which weakens the body, came on, since even in those days few retained their activity after their eightieth year; and although he might have lived frugally, yet temperance could not protect even the most robust body against so many hardships, because it is given to very few persons to be able thus to live in the open air, and to bear heat, and cold, and hunger, constant fatigue, the care of cattle, and other troubles. God, indeed, miraculously supported the holy man in the performance of his arduous duties; but still the internal conflict must have gone on, — why does God so long delay and suspend what he so long ago determined? It was, then, no ordinary virtue which overcame these distracting assaults, which were constantly renewing his anxiety; whilst, in the mean time, he was living poorly, in huts and sheds, as well as often wandering over rough and desert places, though from childhood to mature manhood he had been accustomed to luxury; as he here relates, that, having led his flock across the Desert, he came to Horeb, which certainly could not have been effected without his experiencing the cold as he lay on the ground by night, and burning heat by day. The title of “the mountain of God” refers (35) by anticipation to a future period, when the place was consecrated by the promulgation of the Law there. It is well known that Horeb is the same mountain which is also called Sinai, except that a different name is given to its opposite sides, and, properly speaking, its eastern side is called Sinai, its western, Horeb. (36) Since, then, God appeared there and gave so many manifest signs of his heavenly glory, when he renewed his covenant with his people, and furnished them with a rule of perfect holiness, the place became invested with peculiar dignity.
2.And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him. It was necessary that he should assume a visible form, that he might be seen by Moses, not as he was in his essence, but as the infirmity of the human mind could comprehend him. For thus we must believe that God, as often as he appeared of old to the holy patriarchs, descended in some way from his majesty, that he might reveal himself as far as was useful, and as far as their comprehension would admit. The same, too, is to be said of angels, who, although they are invisible spirits, yet when it seemed good to the Almighty, assumed some form in which they might be seen. But let us inquire who this Angel was? since soon afterwards he not only calls himself Jehovah, but claims the glory of the eternal and only God. Now, although this is an allowable manner of speaking, because the angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him; and although it is plain from many passages, and (37) especially from the first chapter of Zechariah, that there is one head and chief of the angels who commands the others, the ancient teachers of the Church have rightly understood that the Eternal Son of God is so called in respect to his office as Mediator, which he figuratively bore from the beginning, although he really took it upon him only at his Incarnation. And Paul sufficiently expounds this mystery to us, when he plainly asserts that Christ was the leader of his people in the Desert. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) Therefore, although at that time, properly speaking, he was not yet the messenger of his Father, still his predestinated appointment to the office even then had this effect, that he manifested himself to the patriarchs, and was known in this character. Nor, indeed, had the saints ever any communication with God except through the promised Mediator. It is not then to be wondered at, if the Eternal Word of God, of one Godhead and essence with the Father, assumed the name of “the Angel” on the ground of his future mission. There is a great variety of opinions as to the vision. It is too forced an allegory to make, as some do, the body of Christ of the bush, because his heavenly majesty consumed it not when he chose to inhabit it. It is also improperly wrested by those who refer it to the stubborn spirit of the nation, because the Israelites were like thorns, which yield not to the flames. But when the natural sense is set forth, it will not be necessary to refute those which are improbable. This vision is very similar to that former one which Abraham saw. (Genesis 15:17.) He saw a burning lamp in the midst of a smoking furnace; and the reason assigned is, that God will not permit his people to be extinguished in darkness. The same similitude answers to the bush retaining its entireness in the midst of the flame. The bush is likened to the humble and despised people; their tyrannical oppression is not unlike the fire which would have consumed them, had not God miraculously interposed. Thus, by the presence of God, the bush escaped safely from the fire; as it is said in Psalms 46:1, that though the waves of trouble beat against the Church and threaten her destruction, yet “shall she not be moved,” for “God is in the midst of her.” Thus was the cruelly afflicted people aptly represented, who, though surrounded by flames, and feeling their heat, yet remained unconsumed, because they were guarded by the present help of God.
3.And Moses said, I will now turn aside. It is certain that his mind was disposed to reverence from no rashness, but by divine inspiration. Although not yet accustomed to visions, he still perceives that, this is no unmeaning spectacle, but that some mystery was contained in it, which he must by no means neglect, and to the knowledge of which he was divinely called. In this, too, we must observe his tractableness, in turning aside to learn. For it often happens that God presents himself to us in vain, because we presumptuously reject such great mercy. Let us learn, then, by the example of Moses, as often as God invites us to himself by any sign, to give diligent heed, lest the proffered light be quenched by our own apathy. But from his calling it a “great sight,” we gather that he was taught by secret inspiration the depth of the mystery, though it was as yet unknown. In this way God prepared his mind to reverence, (38) that he might the sooner profit by it.
4.God called unto him out of the midst of the bush. In the first place, my readers will observe that, as is the case in almost all visions, it was not a voiceless spectacle to alarm the holy man, but that instruction accompanied it by which his mind might obtain encouragement. For there would be no use in visions, if the senses of those who see them were kept in alarm. But although God was unwilling to terrify his servant, yet, in two ways, he claims authority and reverence for his intended address; first, by calling Moses twice by name, he makes his way into the depths of his heart, that, as if cited before the tribunal of God, he may be more attentive in listening; and, again, by commanding him to put off his shoes, he prepares him to humility, by admiration and fear. There is much discussion with respect to the latter clause amongst many, who delight in allegory. (39) I will not recite their various opinions, because a simple exposition of the true meaning will dispose of the whole of their subtle triflings. Moses is commanded to put off his shoes, that by the very bareness of his feet his mind might be disposed to reverential feelings; and on this account, too, he is reminded of the holiness of the ground, because, in our prayers, the bending of the knees, and the uncovering of the head, are helps and excitements to the worship of God. And this, I think, is made sufficiently clear by the reason which is immediately added, that the place on which Moses stood was “holy ground,” and, therefore, not rashly, or in a profane manner to be trodden on. Whence we gather, that he was instructed by the outward sign of adoration to enter into the presence of God as a trembling suppliant. He had, indeed, said, “Here am I,” (which was a testimony that his mind was teachable, and prepared to obey,) yet it was good that he should be more actively aroused, in order that he might come before God with greater fear. But if this most noble Prophet of God had need of such a preparation, no wonder that God stirs up our unwilling hearts, by many aids, in order that we may worship him in truth. And although the same command is not given to all which was given to Moses, still let us learn, that this is the object of all ceremonies, that the majesty of God, being duly and seriously perceived in our minds, may obtain its rightful honor, and that he may be regarded in accordance with his dignity. If any prefer the deeper meaning (anagoge,) that God cannot be heard until we have put off our earthly thoughts, I object not to it; only let the natural sense stand first, that Moses was commanded to put off his shoes, as a preparation to listen with greater reverence to God. If the question be now raised as to the holiness of the place, the reply is easy, that it received this honorable title on account of the vision. Mount Sinai did not, therefore, naturally possess any peculiar sanctity; but because God, who sanctifies all things, deigned to give there the sign of his presence. Thus Bethel was dignified by Jacob with high and honorable titles. (Genesis 28:17.)
“How dreadful is this place! this is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven;”
because it had been consecrated by a special revelation. For, wherever we see any sign of the glory of God, piety awakens this feeling of admiration in our hearts. In the meantime, however, since we are too prone to superstition, these two errors must be avoided; lest, in our gross imaginations, we should, as it were, draw down God from heaven, and affix him to places on earth; and, also, lest we should account that sanctity perpetual which is only temporary. The remedy of the first evil is to reflect on the nature of God; of the second, to observe his design, how far, and for what use he sanctifies places. For since the nature of God is spiritual, it is not allowable to imagine respecting him anything earthly or gross; nor does his immensity permit of his being confined to place. Again, the sanctity of a place must be restricted to the object of the manifestation. Thus Mount Horeb was made holy in reference to the promulgation of the law, which prescribes the true worship of God. If the descendants of Jacob had considered this, they would never have set up Bethel as a holy place in opposition to Sion; because, although God once appeared there to the patriarch, He had never chosen that place; therefore they were wrong in proceeding from a particular instance to a general conclusion.
6.I am the God of thy father. He does not merely proclaim himself as some heavenly power, nor claim for himself only the general name of God, but recalling to memory his covenant formerly made with the patriarchs, he casts down all idols and false gods, and confirms Moses in the true faith. For hence he knew surely, that he had not set his hopes in vain in the God whom Abraham and the other patriarchs had worshipped, and who, by the privilege of adoption, had separated their race from all other nations. And lest, through the long lapse of time, Moses might think that what had been handed down concerning Abraham was obsolete, He expressly asserts that His faithfulness still held good, by calling Himself “the God of his father.” But since, in setting forth the hope of redemption, He renews the memory of His covenant, we gather that it was not obliterated from the heart of Moses; because it would have been absurd so to speak of a thing unknown; nor would it have been of any use to make mention of promises of which no recollection existed in the heart of Moses. Since, therefore, the hope of the redemption of the chosen people depended on the covenant which God had formerly made with the patriarchs, He shews that He had not been trusted to in vain, because His engagement would not be ineffectual. It was not so much a sign of reverence as of terror that Moses covered his face; yet must we take both feelings into account, that he felt sudden alarm at the sight of God, and voluntarily adored his majesty. It was necessary that his mind should be affected, and impressed with reverential feelings, that he might be more ready to obey. We read in Isaiah, (Isaiah 6:2,) that even the angels veil their faces, because they cannot bear the infinite glory of God; no wonder then that a mortal man dared not to look upon him. The name of God is appropriated to the visible appearance in which his majesty was concealed.
7.And the Lord said. Before he delegates to Moses the office of delivering his people, God encourages him in a somewhat lengthened address to the hope of victory and success; for we know how doubts enfeeble and hold back the mind with anxiety and care; Moses then could not engage in or set about his work earnestly until furnished with the confidence of divine assistance. Therefore God promises to be his guide, that in reliance upon such aid he may gird himself boldly to the warfare. From hence we may gather this general doctrine — that, however slow and unwilling we may naturally be to obey God, we must not turn away from any command when he assures us of success, because no stimulus can be stronger than the promise that his hand shall be always ready to help us when we follow whither he calls us. With this object God thus speaks before he makes mention of the vocation of Moses, that he may more cheerfully enter upon his work, in the assurance of a successful issue. Moreover, when God has founded the redemption of his people upon his gratuitous covenant, and therefore on his own free bounty, he adds another argument derived from his justice, namely, that it is impossible for the judge of the world not to help the oppressed and afflicted when they are undeservedly mistreated, and especially when they implore his assistance. This is true generally, that God will be the avenger of all unjust cruelty; but his special aid may be expected by believers whom he has taken into his friendship and protection. Accordingly, when he has declared that he has been moved by his adoption of this people not to desert it in its extreme necessity, he adds, in confirmation, that he has come to restrain their oppressors’ tyranny, since he has heard the cry of the afflicted. This was said at that particular time to encourage Moses; but it ought to afford no common consolation in the troubles of us all when we are groaning under any unjust burden; for God, whose sight was then so clear, is not now so blind as not to see all injustice, and to pity them that call upon him. Although the expression here used in the original, “seeing I have seen,” is a Hebraism, still it signifies that, while God delays and suspends punishment, his winking at men’s evil deeds is no proof that he does not behold them from heaven, and will in due time appear as their judge, for the words denote a continued observation — as much as to say, that even then he was beholding them, when by his quiescence he might have seemed to neglect the tribulation of his people. By adding that he had heard their cry, he indirectly rebukes their lukewarmness, since we do not read that they cried until compelled by their extremity and despair. Therefore there is no cause for wonder that they almost wasted away under their misfortunes before succor came, because their prayers were scarcely offered (41) after a long time. And not even then is it probable (as I said before) that they prayed earnestly; but God had more respect to his mercy and faithfulness than to their right and well-grounded preparedness. In these words the Spirit exhorts us to call upon God, and not to be stunned and stupified by our cares and sorrows, but to learn to fly straightway to this sacred anchor; as the Psalmist also says, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry,” (Psalms 34:15,) and as he testifies in another place, (Psalms 65:2,) that he is a God that heareth prayer; thus does he anxiously invite us to this remedy whenever we are hard pressed. When he speaks of them as his “people which are in Egypt,” the apparent inconsistency does not a little tend to confirmation, implying that the promise which he made to Abraham with regard to inheriting the land of Canaan would not be without effect; for it would not accord with the truth of God that a people to whom an inheritance elsewhere was given should sojourn in Egypt, unless it was to be freed in the appointed season. It might also be understood adversatively — although a people dwelling in Egypt be far from the land of Canaan, and so might seem in a manner to be put away from me, still have I heard their cry. But the probable meaning is, that because it was not fit that a people which was to inherit the Holy Land should always remain sojourning elsewhere, therefore God would shortly deliver them. In the end of the verse the repetition in other words, “I know their sorrows,” is also an amplification of what came before.
8.And I am come down to deliver them. He now more clearly announces his intention not only to relieve their present calamity, but to fulfill the promise given to Abraham as to the possession of Canaan. He therefore marks the end of their deliverance, that they might enjoy the rest and inheritance promised to them. It is a common manner of speaking to say, God descends to us, when he actually puts forth his power and shews that he is near us; as much as to say, that the Israelites would experience plainly that his help was at hand. The “large” land seems to be brought in comparison with the straits in which they now were; for although the land of Goshen was fertile and convenient, still it scarcely afforded room enough for their increasing multitude; besides, there they were kept shut in like slaves in a house of bondage. Finally, he again assures them that he would deal graciously with them, because he had heard their cry, and was not ignorant of their sorrows, although he might have long delayed to avenge them.
10.Come now therefore. After God had furnished his servant with promises to engage him more cheerfully in his work, he now adds commands, and calls him to undertake the office to which he is designed. And this is the best encouragement to duty, when God renders those, who would be otherwise slow through doubt, sure of good success; for although we must obey God’s plain commands without delay or hesitation, still he is willing to provide against our sluggishness by promising that our endeavors shall not be vain or useless. And certainly it is a feeling naturally implanted in us all, that we are excited into action by a confidence of good success; therefore although God sometimes, for the purpose of trying the obedience of his servants, deprives them of hope, and commands them peremptorily to do this or that, still he more often cuts off hesitation by promising a successful issue. Thus, then, he now aroused Moses to perform his commands by setting the hope of the deliverance before him. The copula must be resolved into the illative particle, because the command and vocation undoubtedly depend upon the promise.
11.Who am I? He cannot yet be accused of disobedience, because, conscious of his own weakness, he answers that he is not sufficient for it, and therefore refuses the commission. His comparison of himself with Pharaoh was an additional pretext for declining it. This, then, seems to be the excuse of modesty and humility; and as such, I conceive it not only to be free from blame, but worthy of praise. It is no contradiction to this that he knew God to be the proposer of this very arduous task, for he wonders that some one else was not rather chosen, since God has so many thousands of beings at command. But another question arises, why he, who forty years ago had been so forward in killing the Egyptian, and, relying on the vocation of God, had dared to perform so perilous a deed, should now timidly deny his sufficiency for the deliverance of the people? It does not seem probable that his rigor had decreased from age; though youth is naturally ardent, and age induces coldness and supineness: but it appears that his fault was of another kind, viz., that he advanced hastily at first, not having sufficiently considered his own powers, nor weighed the greatness of his undertaking. For although such precipitation may be praiseworthy, still it often fails in the middle of its course; just as precocious fruits either never arrive at maturity, or soon perish. Therefore, although Moses afforded an example of a noble disposition, when he so hastily devoted himself to God’s work; yet was he not then provided with that firmness which would support him to the end, because the faith, which prevailed in his heart, had not yet struck its roots deeply enough, nor had he thoroughly examined his own capability. Therefore does he tremble when he is brought to the point, though he had been more confident when its difficulty was as yet unconsidered. So daily do we, who appear to ourselves of good courage (42) when out of the reach of darts, begin to quake as the battle comes near us; because we perceive the dangers which did not affect us at a distance. No wonder, then, if Moses, who had been ready to obey forty years ago, and who had perseveringly cherished in himself this holy feeling, is filled with new alarm, when he is commanded to enter on the field of battle.
12.And he said, Certainly I will be with thee. It is remarkable that God sets his ready help alone against all to overcome every fear, and to take away every scruple; as much as to say, It matters not who Moses is, or what may be his strength, so that God be his leader. In these words we are taught, that he is never regarded by us with due honor, unless when, contented with his assistance alone, we seek for no ground of confidence apart from him; and, although our own weakness may alarm us, think it enough that he is on our side. Hence these celebrated confessions of his saints:
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” (Psalms 23:4.)
“In God have I put my trust;
I will not fear what flesh can do unto me.” (Psalms 56:4.)
“I will not be afraid of ten thousands of the people.”
“If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31.)
Therefore, in proportion to our advancement in the faith, when we are exposed to the greatest dangers, do we magnify the power of God, and, exalting ourselves in that, advance boldly against all the world; and this is the ground of firm and unwearied obedience, when the thought that God is with us is deeply rooted in our hearts. But, after Moses is commanded to turn away his reflections from himself, and to fix all his regards upon the promised help of God, he is confirmed by a sign, that the Israelites should sacrifice on Mount Horeb three days after their departure from Egypt. Still this promise appears neither very apt nor opportune, since it would not exist in effect till the thing was done. I pass over the forced interpretations, which some, to avoid this absurdity, have adduced; since others wisely and prudently observe, that the confirmation which we receive from posterior tokens, is neither useless nor vain, and that there are examples of it elsewhere in Scripture. Samuel, by anointing David, promises that he shall be king of the people; and pronounces that this shall be the sign that the anointing is from God. (1 Samuel 16:13.) David had long to battle with misfortunes before he could enjoy this token, yet will it not be thought superfluous, since in its season it confirmed the favor of God. Isaiah, prophesying of the raising of the siege of the city, adds a sign,
“Ye shall eat this year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same; and in the third year sow ye and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.”
It was said to John the Baptist,
“Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.” (John 1:33.)
Yet, before he beheld that sign, he already knew that Christ was the Son of God; for the prophecies of both his parents were well known to him. But there is nothing absurd in the faith, which is founded on the word, being increased by the addition of a sign. In fine, God magnifies his mercy by the new mercy which supervenes, thus, as it were, heaping up the measure; and, in truth, the vocation of Moses was ratified by a remarkable proof, when, in the very place on which he then stood, the people, brought forth by his instrumentality, offered a solemn sacrifice. In the meantime God kept his servant in suspense, as though he had said, Let me perform what I have decreed; in due time you will know that your were not sent by me in vain, when you have brought the people safely to this spot.
13.Behold, when I come to the children of Israel. If we believe that Moses spoke his own sentiments here, he would say, that he could not be the messenger of an unknown God; which seems highly improbable. For who can think that the faith of the holy Prophet was so obliterated, that he was forgetful of the true God, whom he had devoutly served? Whereas, in the name of his elder son, he had borne witness to his solemn recollection of Him, when he voluntarily professed himself a stranger in the land of Midian. Nor does it appear at all more suitable to the children of Israel, in whose mouths the covenant made with their fathers constantly was. It will not, however, be far from the truth, if we suppose that the faith both of Moses and the Israelites had grown somewhat faint and rusty. He himself, with his father-in-law, was altogether without the instruction which would retain him in that peculiar worship, and in that knowledge, which he had imbibed in Egypt; and the whole people had departed far away from the course of their fathers; for although the brightness of the true and ancient religion was not entirely gone, still it only shone in small sparks. But whilst Moses tacitly confesses his ignorance, because he was not sufficiently familiar with the doctrine handed down from the holy patriarchs, yet because he was about to present himself to the people as a stranger, he infers that he shall be rejected, unless he brings with him some watchword which will be acknowledged. “I will declare that which thou commandest, (he seems to say,) that I am sent by the God of our fathers; but they will deride and despise my mission, unless I shall present some surer token, from whence they may learn that I have not falsely made use of thy name.” He therefore seeks for a name which may be a distinguishing mark; since it is not a mere word or syllable which is here in question, but a testimony, by which he may persuade the Israelites that they are heard on the score of the covenant with their fathers.
14.I am that I am. The verb in the Hebrew is in the future tense, “I will be what I will be;” but it is of the same force as the present, except that it designates the perpetual duration of time. This is very plain, that God attributes to himself alone divine glory, because he is self-existent and therefore eternal; and thus gives being and existence to every creature. Nor does he predicate of himself anything common, or shared by others; but he claims for himself eternity as peculiar to God alone, in order that he may be honored according to his dignity. Therefore, immediately afterwards, contrary to grammatical usage, he used the same verb in the first person as a substantive, annexing it to a verb in the third person; that our minds may be filled with admiration as often as his incomprehensible essence is mentioned. But although philosophers discourse in grand terms of this eternity, and Plato constantly affirms that God is peculiarly τὸ ὄν (the Being); yet they do not wisely and properly apply this title, viz., that this one and only Being of God absorbs all imaginable essences; and that, thence, at the same time, the chief power and government of all things belong to him. For from whence come the multitude of false gods, but from impiously tearing the divided Deity into pieces by foolish imaginations? Wherefore, in order rightly to apprehend the one God, we must first know, that all things in heaven and earth derive (43) at His will their essence, or subsistence from One, who only truly is. From this Being all power is derived; because, if God sustains all things by his excellency, he governs them also at his will. And how would it have profited Moses to gaze upon the secret essence of God, as if it were shut up in heaven, unless, being assured of his omnipotence, he had obtained from thence the buckler of his confidence? Therefore God teaches him that He alone is worthy of the most holy name, which is profaned when improperly transferred to others; and then sets forth his inestimable excellency, that Moses may have no doubt of overcoming all things under his guidance. We will consider in the sixth chapter the name of Jehovah, of which this is the root.
15.And God said moreover. God again assumes his name taken from the covenant which he had made with Abraham and his posterity, that the Israelites may know that they do not deceive themselves in an uncertain God, provided they depart not from the religion of their fathers; for as soldiers assemble round their standard to maintain the order of their ranks, so does he command them to look back upon the special grace of their adoption, and to know that they are a people elected of God, because they are Abraham’s sons. He confines them within these limits, that they may not wander about in search of God. For we know that whatever opinions were held by the Gentiles as to the Deity, were not only entangled with many errors, but were also ambiguous, so that they were always wavering with respect to them. God demands another kind of religion from his people, on the certainty of which their hearts may depend. Besides, their long sojourn in the land of Egypt, although it had not destroyed the knowledge of the true God, had yet much obscured that light of revelation which their fathers possessed. And again, the promise might seem to be obsolete, when they had received no assistance, whilst overwhelmed in such an abyss of misery; and on this ground the faith received from their fathers had undoubtedly grown cold. Wherefore, that they may learn to repose upon it, he calls himself the God of their fathers, and declares, that by this title he will be celebrated for ever; for I cannot consent to refer this to the previous expression, “I am that I am,” since the context does not admit of it. Hence might be inferred the incomparable love of God towards his chosen people, because he had passed over all the nations of the earth, and had attached himself to them alone. But we must remember, that although it was honorable to Abraham and the patriarchs for God to take his name from them, yet that the main object of this was to confirm the truth of his promise. There may be an apparent incongruity in saying, “this is my memorial unto all generations,” because a much more excellent memorial succeeded in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ; but my reply is, that since, in the coming of Christ, the truth of the covenant made with Abraham was shewn forth, and was thus demonstrated to be firm and infallible, its memory was rather renewed than destroyed; and that thus it still survives and flourishes in the Gospel, since Abraham even now ceases not to be the father of the faithful, under the one Head. We conclude that God would not be spoken of on earth, without the effects of his gratuitous adoption appearing, by which he may be proved to be faithful and true.
16.Go and gather. Because it was not easy either to gather the whole people into one place, or for his commission to be heard by so great a multitude, Moses is commanded to begin with the elders, and to speak to them concerning their coming deliverance, that they may thus by their authority arouse the body of the people to a good hope. For their dismissal must be sought for from the king in the name of all, and all their minds prepared for departure; since, unless they had timely notice of it, there would have been no general consent to embrace the mercy of God. It was then of great importance that the vocation of Moses should be well known, that they might boldly follow him as the leader set over them by God. He does not express without a purpose, that the God who had been seen by him, was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for the vision, which would have been otherwise hardly credited by the people, depended on the ancient covenant which was deposited with them. Therefore, in order to obtain belief for his words, Moses reminds them that the deliverance, of which he was now about to treat, and of which he is appointed by God as the leader, was formerly promised in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Lastly, because we usually receive with difficulty what is new and strange, Moses therefore lays his foundation on the old revelations, which were beyond the reach of doubt. But he repeats what he had before related to be said to himself, thus setting before the others what he had privately heard to assure him of his vocation. We know that when God does not immediately succour us in our adversities, our minds are worn down with grief, and sink into despair; because we think that God has no care for us. Lest, therefore, the minds of the Israelites should despond, Moses is commanded to tell them that it is God’s time for remembering them; and, although he might seem not to behold for a while, yet that he would not for ever forget his own people. What follows, that the injuries done to them by the Egyptians had come into account, is added in confirmation; for, since he is judge of the world, he cannot but rise as an avenger after long endurance of injustice and tyranny. Let us, too, learn from this passage, when God seems to turn away his face from us, by delaying to help us, to wait patiently until he looks upon us in due season; since his forgetfulness is only temporary, when he gives us over to the will of our enemies. I have shewn elsewhere how these phrases are to be understood, viz., that according to the estimate of our own senses, things are attributed to God which do not properly belong to him.
17.And I have said. By this expression God reminds us that he in his secret counsel determines what he will do, and therefore that we must put a restraint on our desires, which otherwise press forward too fast, and let him freely and voluntarily appoint what he knows to be best to be done; not because he has need of taking time to deliberate, but that we may learn to depend on his providence. By this decree the children of Israel were assured that the end of their woes was near, because there is nothing which can prevent God from performing his work. But he speaks briefly, as of a thing well known; because what had been handed down through the patriarchs, as to their future deliverance, was not entirely forgotten. He enumerates several nations whose lands He would give them, that he might thus the more attract them to come forth. With the same object he affirms that the whole country flows “with milk and honey,” lest its barrenness should alarm them, because famine had driven their fathers out from thence. But although the land of Canaan was naturally fertile, there is no doubt but that its fruitfulness chiefly arose from the blessing of God. The conclusion is, that a spacious dwelling-place is prepared for them, since for their sake God will drive out many nations, that they may possess the habitations of them all; and that, finally, they need not fear want, because God will abundantly supply them with food, as if the whole of that land were filled with rivers of milk and honey.
18.And they shall hearken to thy voice. (44) The literal translation is, “They shall hearken to thy voice,” which many take to be a promise from God that they should be obedient; but the sense given in the Latin, “after they shall have heard thy voice,” seems more consonant, that first of all He should command them by the mouth of Moses, and that then they should accompany him in bearing the message to Pharaoh. For, before so difficult an undertaking was enjoined to them, it was desirable that the authority of God should be propounded to them, so that they might go about it with unwavering hearts. The sum of the message is, that they should seek permission from Pharaoh to go and sacrifice; but lest they might be thought to do so from mere unfounded impulse, they are desired to premise that God had met with them and had given them the command. For the word which expresses his meeting with them, means that he presented himself voluntarily. They had indeed cried out before, and often appealed to the faithfulness and mercy of God; yet still this was a voluntary meeting with them, when, contrary to the hope of them all, he avowed that he would be their deliverer, for, as we have already said, they cried out more from the urgency of their affliction than from confidence in prayer. A pretext is suggested to them, by which suspicion and anger may be turned away from themselves; for a free permission to depart altogether, by which grievous loss would have arisen to the tyrant, never would have been accorded. Besides, by refusing so equitable a demand, he despoiled himself of his royal right and power, since he thus withheld His due honour from the King of kings; for although the Israelites were under his dominion, yet did not his rule extend so far as to defraud God of his rightful worship. It was expedient, too, that the people should depart without the king’s permission only for very good reasons, lest hereafter license of rebellion should be given to other subjects. Pharaoh indeed suspected differently, that the sacrifice was a mere false pretense; but since this mistrust proceeded from his tyranny, his ingratitude was sufficiently proclaimed by it, because through his own evil conscience he forbade that God should be served. Whatever, again, might be his feelings, still the miracles by which the command was followed must needs have taught him that their mission proceeded from God. If the Israelites had merely spoken, and no confirmation of their words had been given, he might perhaps have naturally guarded himself against deception; but when God openly shewed that he was the originator of this departure, and that he commanded the sacrifice beyond the bounds of Egypt, all grounds of excuse are taken away; and thus the departure of the people is placed out of the reach of calumny. If any object that it is alien from the nature of God to countenance any craft or pretense, the reply is easy, — that he was bound by no necessity to lay open his whole counsel to the tyrant. They mistake who suppose that there is a kind of falsehood implied in these words; for God had no desire that his people should use any deceit, he only concealed from the tyrant (as He had a perfect right to do) what He was about ultimately to effect; and in this way He detected and brought to light his obstinacy. In a word, God entered the lists for the Israelites, not in an earthly controversy, but for religion, to which all the rights of kings must give way. But Jehovah calls himself the God of the Hebrews, that Pharaoh may know him to be the peculiar God of that nation, and that their form of worship was different from the customs of Egypt, and, in fact, that he is the only true God, and all others are fictitious.
19.And I am sure that the king of Egypt. God forearms his people, lest, suffering a repulse at their first onset, they should retire, and abandon in despair the work enjoined to them. It was, indeed, a hard thing to hear that their expedition would be vain; and that they might as well address themselves to the trunk of a tree, since there was no hope of reaching the obstinate heart of Pharaoh; but they would have been much more discouraged by this trial, if his stubbornness had been discovered unexpectedly. Therefore God foretells that their words would avail nothing; but at the same time he announces that he should succeed by his own wondrous power. If any think it absurd for these unhappy men to be wearied by their useless labor, and to be repulsed with ridicule and insult, I answer, that this was for the sake of example, and that it was advantageous for setting forth God’s glory, that the king, having been civilly applied to, should betray his impious perversity, since nothing could be more just than that what he had unjustly refused, should be extorted from him against his will. But interpreters differ as to the meaning of the words. For some translate it literally from the Hebrew, “no, not by a mighty hand;” as though God said that the pride of the king would be unconquerable, and not to be subdued by any power or force; but the context requires a different sense, because the remedy is afterwards opposed to it, “and I will stretch out my hand;” and the result is added, that Pharaoh, overcome at length by the plagues, would let the people go. And this view is grammatically correct; for the Hebrews use the word ולא, (45) velo, for “except.” Therefore God commands his people to be firm and confident, although Pharaoh may not immediately obey; because he would evidence his power (46) in a remarkable manner for their deliverance. In the meantime he arouses them to hope by the promise of a successful issue; since he will forcibly compel Pharaoh to yield.
21.And I will give this people favor. By this extreme exercise of His bounty He encourages the Israelites to contend and strive more heartily; since otherwise it would be hard for them to struggle with the great cruelty of the king. Therefore He promises them not only liberty, but also abundance of rich and precious things. But, inasmuch as this was hard to believe, that the Egyptians their bitterest enemies would become so kind and liberal as to exert such beneficence towards them, God reminds them that it is in His power to turn the hearts of men whithersoever He will. He proclaims, then, that He will cause these wolves of Egypt to become like lambs, and that they who used to bite and devour should now supply them with the very wool from their backs. This passage contains rich and extensive doctrine; that whenever men cruelly rage against us, it does not happen contrary to the design of God, because He can in a moment quiet them; and that He grants this license to their cruelty, because it is expedient thus to humble and chasten us. Again, we gather from hence, that we have no enemies so fierce and barbarous, as that it is not easy for Him readily to tame them. If we were surely persuaded of this, that men’s hearts are controlled, and guided by the secret inspiration of God, we should not so greatly dread their hatred, and threatenings, and terrors, nor should we be so easily turned from the path of duty through fear of them. This alarm is the just reward of our unbelief, when we repose not on God’s providence; and although we ought to take pains to conciliate the kindness of all by courtesy, yet should we remember that our efforts will not gain their favor, unless God should so incline their hearts.
22.But every woman shall borrow. (47) Those who consider these means of enriching the people to be but little in accordance with the justice of God, themselves reflect but little how widely that justice of which they speak extends. I acknowledge that it is His attribute to defend every one’s rights, to prohibit theft, to condemn deceit and rapine; but let us see what every one’s property is. Who will boast that he has anything, except what is given him by God? And all is given on this condition, that each one should possess according to His will whatever God pleases, who is free to take away at any moment whatsoever He has given. The Hebrews spoiled the Egyptians; and should the latter complain that an injury is done them, they would argue against God that He had transferred His own free gifts from them to others. Would this complaint be listened to, that God, in whose hands are the ends of the earth, who by His power appoints the bounds of nations, and reduces their kings to poverty, had deprived certain persons of their furniture and jewels? Another defense is set up by some, that the Hebrews took nothing which was not their own, but only the wages which were due to them; because they were iniquitously driven to servile labors, and had subsisted meanly upon what belonged to themselves. And certainly it would have been just that their labor should have been recompensed in some way. But there is no need of weighing the judgment of God by ordinary rules, since we have already seen that all the possessions of the world are His, to distribute them according to His pleasure. Nevertheless I do not thus suppose Him to be without law; for although His power is above all laws, still, because His will is the most certain rule of perfect equity, whatever He does must be perfectly right; and therefore He is free from laws, because He is a law to Himself, and to all. Neither would I simply say with Augustin, (48) that this was a command of God which should not be canvassed but obeyed, because He knows that He commands justly, and that his servants must obediently perform whatever He commands. This indeed is truly said, and yet we must hold fast that higher principle, that, since whatever people call their own they possess only by God’s bounty, there is no juster title to possession than His gift. We will not therefore say that the Hebrew women purloined that which God ordered them to take, and which He chose to bestow upon them; neither will God be accounted unjust in bestowing nothing but what was His own. (49) The word which I have translated “hospitem, ” or “hostess,” some understand as a “fellow- sojourner;” and this is not very important, because we gather from the other word, that the Egyptians were mixed among the Hebrews. In the end of the verse, because the original expresses, “ye shall put them upon your sons, and upon your daughters,” almost all interpreters expound it to mean that they should ornament them; but it seems to me that it only refers to the abundance of the spoil; as much as to say, you shall not only obtain as much as you can carry yourselves, but shall also load your sons and daughters.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 3". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Easter