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1 And when the people saw that Moses. In this narrative we perceive the detestable impiety of the people, their worse than base ingratitude, and their monstrous madness, mixed with stupidity. For their sakes Moses had been carried up above the state of terrestrial life, that he might receive the injunctions of his mission, and that his authority might be beyond the reach of controversy. They perversely declare that they know not what has become of him, nay, they speak contemptuously of him as of a person unknown to them. It is for this that Stephen severely blames them, (324) This is that Moses (he says) whom your fathers rejected, though he was the minister of their salvation. (Acts 7:35.) They confess that he had been their deliverer, yet they cannot tolerate his absence for a little time, nor are they affected with any reverence towards him, unless they have him before their eyes. Moreover, (325) although God offered Himself as if present with them by day and by night in the pillar of fire, and in the cloud, they still despised so illustrious and lively an image of His glory and power, and desire to have Him represented to them in the shape of a dead idol. For what could they mean by saying, “make us gods which shall go before us?” Could they not see the pillar of fire and the cloud? Was not God’s paternal solicitude abundantly conspicuous every day in the manna? Was he not near them in ways innumerable
Yet, accounting as nothing all these true, and sure, and manifest tokens of God’s presence, they desire to have a figure which may satisfy their vanity. And this was the original source of idolatry, that men supposed that they could not otherwise possess God, unless by subjecting Him to their own imagination. Nothing, however, can be more preposterous; for since the minds of men and all their senses sink far below the loftiness of God, when they try to bring Him down to the measure of their own weak capacity, they travesty Him. In a word, whatever man’s reason conceives of Him is mere falsehood; and nevertheless, this depraved longing can hardly be repressed, so fiercely does it burst out. They are also influenced by pride and presumption, when they do not hesitate to drag down His glory as it were from heaven, and to subject it to earthly elements. We now understand what motive chiefly impelled the Israelites to this madness in demanding that a figure of God should be set before them, viz., because they measured Him by their own senses. Wonderful indeed was their stupidity, to desire that a God should be made by mortal men, as if he could be a god, or could deserve to be accounted such who obtains his divinity at the caprice of men. Still, it is not probable that they were so absurd as to desire a new god to be created for them; but they call “gods” by metonymy those outward images, by looking at which the superstitious imagine that God is near them. And this is evident from the fact, that not only the noun but the verb also is in the plural number; for although they were satisfied with one God, still they in a manner cut Him to pieces by their various representations of Him. Nevertheless, however they may deceive themselves under this or that pretext, they still desire to be creators of God.
Those who suppose that confusion is implied by the word “delayed,” are, in my opinion, mistaken; for, although the word בשש, boshesh, with its third radical doubled, is derived from בוש, bush, which means to be ashamed, still it is clear from Jude 5:28, that it is used simply for to delay, where it is said, in the address of the mother of Sisera, “Why (326) does his chariot delay (or defer) to come?”
Hence we may understand that hypocrites so fear God as that religion vanishes from their hearts, unless there be some task-master ( exactor) standing by them to keep them in the path of duty. They duly obeyed Moses and reverenced his person; but, because they were only influenced by his presence, as soon as they were deprived of it they ceased to fear God. Thus, whilst Joshua was alive, and the other holy Judges, they seemed to be faithful in the exercise of piety, but when they were dead, they straightway relapsed into disobedience.
(324) It will be seen that C. does not give the actual words, but the sense of Stephen.
(325) “Mais qui pis est;” but what is worse. — Fr.
(326) “Why is his chariot so long in coming?” — A. V.
2. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden ear-rings. I doubt not but that Aaron, being overcome by the importunate clamor of the people, endeavored to escape by means of a subterfuge; still, this is no valid excuse for him, since he ought to have heartily opposed them in a direct reply, and sharply to have inveighed against their wicked renunciation of God. By commanding them to give him gold, he might have quieted their intemperate demands through dread of the expense; but it was a remedy more likely to be successful, to snatch from them those ornaments and trinkets of which women do not willingly allow themselves to be deprived. He therefore purposely requires of them a hateful, or at any rate a by no means pleasant thing, that he might thus impede their sinful design; but without success, for the power of superstition to carry people away is not less than that of lust. Perhaps also he had the tabernacle in view, lest they should sacrilegiously proceed to lay hands on the sacred vessels; and there was a probability that, if it remained uninjured, the sight of it might at length recall them to a better mind. Besides, the recollection of their recent profuse liberality might have extinguished or cooled their ardor, from the fear of being utterly drained. He says emphatically, “Break (327) off the ear-rings from your wives and children,” that they may desist from the purpose out of dread of giving offense, since women are slow to part with such objects of gratification. But it is added immediately afterwards, that they were so blinded by the fervor of their foolish zeal, that they undervalued everything in comparison with their perverse desire, and thus the ornaments were taken from their ears. The readiness with which this was done was wonderful; and not by one person, or by a few, but by the whole people, as if in rivalry of each other. Even in these days ear-rings are worn by the (328) Orientals, though it is not so common among us. Now, if unbelievers are so prodigal in their absurdities as to throw away thus carelessly and rashly whatever is precious to them, how shall their tenacity be excusable who are so niggardly in providing for the service of God? Hence let us learn to beware of foolishly squandering our possessions in unnecessary expenditure, and to be liberal where we ought; especially to be ready to spend ourselves, and what we have, when we know that our offerings are pleasing and acceptable to God.
(327) Auferte. — Lat.
(328) “The ear-rings now worn in the East are various in form and size. They are generally thick, sometimes fitting close to the ear, and in other instances very large, perhaps three or four inches in diameter, and so heavy as greatly to distend the lobe of the ear, at the same time enlarging in a very disagreeable manner the orifice made for the inserting of the ring.” — Illustrated Commentary in loco.
For the ear-rings worn by the Egyptian Ladies, see Sir G. Wilkinson, “Popular Account of the Ancient Egyptians,” vol. 1, p. 145, where he figures a group of them from Thebes evidently talking about their ear-rings; and vol. 2, p. 335, etc.
4. And he received them at their hand. He briefly narrates this base and shameful deed; yet sufficiently shows, that whilst Aaron yielded to their madness, he still desired to cure it, though, at the same time, he was weak and frightened, so as to pretend to give his assent, because he feared the consequences of the tumult as regarded himself. For why does he not command the ear-rings to be thrown into some chest, lest he should pollute himself by the contagion of the sacrilege? Since, therefore, he received them into his own hands, it was a sign of a servile and effeminate mind; and thus he is said to have been the founder, or sculptor of the calf, when it is nevertheless probable that workmen were employed upon it. But the infamy of the crime is justly brought upon him, inasmuch as he was its main author, and by his guilt betrayed the religion and honor of God.
The Hebrew word (329) חרט, cheret, some translate a stylus or graving-tool, some a mould; the former think that the rough mass was formed by sculpture into the shape of a calf; the latter, that the calf was cast or founded; as we say, jetter en mousle, to cast in a mould. Ridiculous, however, is the fable, that when the gold was thrown into a furnace, it came forth like a calf without human workmanship; but thus licentiously do the Jews trifle with their fond inventions. The more probable conjecture is, that Aaron designedly sought a remedy for the people’s folly.
It was a disgraceful thing to prostrate themselves before a calf, in which there was no connection or affinity with the glory of God; and with this the Prophet expressly reproaches them, that “they changed their glory ( i. e. , God, in whom alone they should have gloried) into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass.” (Psalms 106:20.) For, if it be insulting to God to force Him into the likeness of men, with how much greater and more inexcusable ignominy is His majesty defiled, when He is compared to brute animals? Still it had no effect towards bringing them to repentance; and this is expressed with much force immediately afterwards, when they said to each other, “These be thy gods, O Israel.” Surely the hideousness of the spectacle should have struck them with horror, so as to induce them voluntarily to condemn their own madness; but, on the contrary, they mutually exhort one another to obstinacy; for there is no doubt but that Moses indicates that they were like fans to each other, and thus that their frenzy was reciprocally excited. For, as Isaiah and Micah exhort believers, that each of them should stretch out his hand to his brother, and that they should say to each other,“
Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord;” (Isaiah 2:3; Micah 4:2;)
thus does perverse rivalry provoke unbelievers mutually to excite each other to progress in sin. Still they neither speak ironically nor in mockery of God, nor have any intention of falling away from Him; but they cover their sin against Him under a deceitful pretext, as if they denied that by their new and unwonted mode of worship, they desired to detract from the honor of their Redeemer; but rather that it was thus magnified because they worshipped Himself under a visible image. Thus now-a-days do the Papists boldly obtrude their fictitious rites upon God; and boast that they do more for Him by their additions and inventions than as if they merely continued within the bounds prescribed by Himself. But let us learn from this passage, that whatever colouring superstition may give to its idols, and by whatever titles it may dignify them, they remain idols still; for, however those who corrupt the pure worship of God by their inventions, may pride themselves on their good intentions, they still deny the true God, and substitute devils in His place.
Their conjecture is probable who suppose that, Aaron devised the calf in accordance with Egyptian superstition; for it is well known with what senseless worship that nation honored its god (330) Anubis. It is true that they kept (331) a live bull to be consulted as the supreme god; but, inasmuch as the people were accustomed to this fictitious deity, Aaron seems in obedience to their madness to have followed that old custom, from whence they had contracted the error, which was so deeply rooted in their hearts. Thus from bad examples does contagion easily creep into the hearts of those who were else untainted; nor is it without good reason that David protests that idols should be held in such abomination by him, that he would not even “take up their names into his lips,” (Psalms 16:4;) for, unless we seriously abhor the ungodly, and withdraw ourselves as far as possible from their superstitions, they straightway infect us by their pestilential influence.
(329) Professor Robinson says a graving tool; but more properly to be rendered a bag here. C. alludes to what S. M. tells us, that the Rabbins, wishing to excuse their forefathers, said that there came forth a calf, not wrought by any workmen, but produced by the magical arts, which some of the Egyptians, mixed with the people, now employed to introduce idolatry. — W. Lightfoot has a characteristic note on this: “Expositors cannot tell what to say of their intent, for they cannot think they were such calves, (as to turn the glory of God into a calf,) and yet what else can we say? Jonathan saith, ‘The devil got into the metal, and fashioned it into a calf.’ The devil, indeed, was too much there; but it was in their fancies more than in the metal.” Explan. of divers difficult passages of Scripture. Decad, 1. 4. He elsewhere also refers to the probability, stated below by C. , that the idol was made after an Egyptian pattern: “Israel cannot be so long without Moses, as Moses can be without meat. The fire still burneth on the top of Mount Sinai, out of which they had so lately received the Law; and yet so suddenly do they break the greatest commandment of that Law to extremity; — of Egyptian jewels they make an Egyptian idol, because, thinking Moses had been lost, they intended to return for Egypt.” — A handful of gleanings out of Exod., sect. 32.
(330) This appears to have been either a slip of the pen, or of the memory. It was not Anubis, but Osiris, “who was worshipped under the form of Apis, the Sacred Bull of Memphis, or as a human figure with a bull’s head, accompanied by the name Apis. Osiris.” — See Sir Gardner Wilkinson’s “Ancient Egyptians,” vol. 4, p. 347; 3d edition.
(331) It is a strange notion of R. Salomon Jarchi, that the molten calf was alive; because it is said in Psalms 106:20, that it was the “similitude of an ox that eateth grass.” See also Breithaupt’s note in loco.
5. And, when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. When he sees the people so infuriated, that he despairs of being able to resist their conspiracy, in perfidious cowardice he gives way to compliance. And this end awaits all those who do not dare ingenuously and firmly to maintain what is right, but who bargain, as it were, and descend to compromises; for, after they have vacillated for a while, (332) they at length succumb altogether, so as to shrink from nothing, however unworthy and disgraceful. He seems, indeed, by his proclamation to uplift their minds to the worship of the true God; but, when he is violating the law just given, it is a wretched quibble to shield their offensive and degenerate worship under God’s sacred name.
(332) Addition in Fr. , “Et nage entre deux eaux;” and swam between two waters.
6. And they rose up early on the morrow. The earnestness of the people in the prosecution of their error is again set forth; for there is no doubt but that it was at their demand that Aaron proclaimed the solemn sacrifice; and now it is not only added that they were ready for it in time, but their extraordinary diligence is declared in that they appeared at the very dawn of day. Now, if, at the instigation of the devil, unbelievers are thus driven headlong to their destruction, alas for our inertness, if at least an equal alacrity does not manifest itself in our zeal! Thus it is said in the Psalm, (Psalms 110:3,)“
Thy (333) people (shall come) with voluntary offerings in the day (of the assembling) of thy army.”
What follows as to the people sitting down “to eat and to drink,” many (334) ignorantly wrest to mean intemperance; as also they wrongly expound their “rising up to play,” as meaning lasciviousness; whereas thus Moses rather designates the sacred banquet and sports engaged in, in honor of the idols; for, as we have seen elsewhere, the faithful feasted before God at their sacrifices, and so also heathen nations celebrated sacred feasts, whilst they worshipped their idols in games. Of this point Paul is the surest interpreter, who quotes this passage in condemnation of the idolatry of the ancient people, and ably accommodates it to the purpose he had in hand; for the Corinthians had not gone to such an excess as to bow their knees to idols, but were boon-companions of unbelievers in their polluted sacrifices. (1 Corinthians 10:20.)
(333) C. here quotes his own translation, see Calvin Soc. edit., vol. 4. 301, with the Editor’s note. It will be seen that it nearly agrees with the Prayer-book version of the Church of England.
(334) Willet, in loco, attributes the opinion rejected by C. as to their intemperance to Ambrose, and, after him, to Simler. The latter notion, with respect to the word play, seems to be a very common one with the Commentators. Bushe says it implies “not only such sports as singing, dancing, and merry-making in general, but in some cases also a species of conduct which the epithet wanton as correctly defines as any term which we deem it proper to employ. Compare the use of the same original word rendered mock, Genesis 39:14. Compare also Numbers 25:1.” Corn. A Lapide quotes a striking parallel as to the abuse of sacrifices among the heathen, from Epicharmus, ap Athenoeum, lib. 2, — “Ex sacrificio epulum, ex epulo facta est potatio, ex potatione comus, ex como ludus, ex ludo judicium, ex judicio condemnatio, ex condemnatione compedes, sphacelus, et mulctatio;” and adds, that “drunken-bouts were called μέθας, because they were indulged in μετὰ τὸ θύειν, i e. , after sacrifices.” Dathe appears precisely to represent C. ’ s view: “Postridie igitur mane holocausta et eucharistica sacrificant, atque commessationibus et compotationibus peractis, ad saltationes solennes sese convertunt.”
7. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go, get thee down. This was a violent temptation to shake the faith of Moses. He thought that his own and the people’s happiness was absolutely complete, when God’s covenant was engraven on the tables to secure its perpetuity; whereas now he hears that this covenant was violated, and almost annihilated by the perfidy and rebellion of the people, whilst its abolition involved the loss of salvation and all other blessings. Moreover, that God might more sorely wound the mind of the holy man, He addresses him exactly as if part of the ignominy fell upon himself; for there is an indirect reproach implied in the words, “thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt.” Yet Moses had only taken this charge upon him by God’s command, and, indeed, unwillingly; how, then, is this deliverance thrown in his teeth, wherein he had only obeyed God? and why is his devotedness spoken of in mockery, as if he had bestowed his labor amiss, when no part of the blame attaches to him? I have already said that God sometimes thus pierces the hearts of the godly to the quick, in order to prove their patience, as if their well-directed zeal had been the cause of the evils which occur. Some (335) give too subtle an exposition to this, viz., that they are called the people of Moses, because they had ceased to be the people of God; and suppose that there is an antithesis here, as if it were said, — your people, and not mine; but I fear this is not well founded; for, since they had broken the covenant, they were not more alienated from God than from Moses the minister of the Law. I do not deny that it is an implied renunciation of them; but we must bear in mind that design of God, to which I have already adverted, that Moses was in a manner implicated in their crime, in order that his patience might be tried, and also that he might be more grieved at its enormity. Meanwhile, it is obvious that God refers to His recent grace, because it was a monstrous and incredible thing that those who had been lately delivered by this amazing power, and with whom He had just renewed His covenant, should be so suddenly drawn away into rebellion. He adds also, in aggravation of their crime, that they had immediately turned aside from the way which was pointed out to them. Forty days had not yet elapsed since Moses left them, when they were impelled by their depravity to such madness as this. A little time ago they had manifested a wonderful zeal for God’s service, by abundantly contributing what was required; the glory of the tabernacle was presented to their eyes to restrain them; and yet they burst through all these barriers, and rush impetuously after their own lust, when scarcely six months had passed since the promulgation of the Law. The verb שחת shicheth, being in the Pihel conjugation, is active; and yet is employed without being intensive; I have, therefore, rendered it, corrupted themselves, though it might be appropriately taken passively, viz., that the people had been corrupted.
(335) This seems to be a very general opinion of the Commentators, from Jerome downwards. “Though Calvin mislikes this sense, yet it is warranted by that place, Deuteronomy 32:5. They have corrupted themselves, not being his children.” — Junius in Willet.
8. They have turned aside quickly out of the way. So speedy a transgression, as I have said, aggravates their crime. God then states the nature of their corruption, that they have worshipped a molten calf, that is to say, the work of their own hands. But it is to be observed, that what they had put forward as a colouring for their ungodliness is alleged last, as the climax of their sin; for, when they said that these were their gods which had brought them up, their object was to advance a legitimate excuse, as if they were not falling away from the worship of the true God, and their Deliverer, but that rather it was an evidence of their more fervent zeal, that they should fall down as worshippers before the calf in honor of Him. But God retorts this upon them, and complains of the gross indignity which was put upon Him, when the dead image of a calf was substituted in the place of His glory.
9. I have seen this people, and behold. This was, indeed, the sharpest and sorest trial of the faith of Moses; when God seemed to contradict Himself and to depart from His covenant. If ever, after having been long oppressed by excessive calamities, we are not only wearied by the delay, but also agitated with various doubts, which at length tempt us to despair, as if God had disappointed us by deceptive promises, the contest is severe and terrible; but when God seems at first sight to throw discredit upon His own words, we have need of unusual fortitude and firmness to sustain this assault. For, since faith is founded on the Word, when that Word appears to be at issue with itself, how in such conflicting circumstances could pious minds be sustained unless they were supported by the incomparable power of the Spirit? Still in the mind of Abraham there was such strength of faith, that he came forth as a conqueror from this kind of temptation. He had heard from God’s own mouth, “In Isaac shall thy seed be called;” he is afterwards commanded to slay him, and reduce his body to ashes; yet, because he is persuaded that God was able to raise him up seed even from the dead, he obeys the command. (Hebrews 11:17.) The same thing is here recorded of Moses, before whom God sets a kind of contradiction in His Word, when He declares that He has the intention of destroying that people, to which He had promised the land of Canaan. Nevertheless, we see how successfully he strove, since, trusting in the eternal and inviolable covenant of God, he did not cease to cherish a good hope. If any still should ask whether it was right for him to despise or count for nothing what was said to him in the second place as to the utter destruction of the people, I reply, that the victory of his faith did not consist in subtle disquisitions, but that having embraced God’s covenant with both arms, as they say, he was so fortified by his confidence that he had room for no objections; and, in point, of fact, pious minds which rest on firm assurance, although unable to free themselves from every perplexity which occurs, still do not waver, but keep a tight grasp on what the Spirit of God has once sealed to them; and, if sometimes it happens that they begin to doubt or vacillate, nevertheless they come back to their foundation and break through every obstacle, so as never to desist from calling upon God. Meanwhile, it is certain that, whilst God is trying the faith of Moses, He quickens his mind to be more earnest in prayer, even as Moses himself was led in that direction by the secret influence of the Spirit. Nor is there any reason why slanderous tongues should here impugn God, as if He pretended before men what He had not decreed in Himself; for it is no proof that He is variable or deceitful if, when speaking of men’s sins, and pointing out what they deserve, He does not lay open His incomprehensible counsel. He here presents Himself in the character of Judge; He pronounces sentence of condemnation against the criminals; he postpones their pardon to a fitting season. Hence we gather that his secret judgments are a great deep; whilst, at the same time, His will is declared to us in His word as far as suffices for our edification in faith and piety. And this is more clearly expressed by the context; for He asks of Moses to let Him alone. Now, what does this mean? Is it not that, unless he should obtain a truce from a human being, He will not be able freely to execute His vengeance? — adopting, that is to say, by this mode of expression, the character of another, He declares his high estimation of His servant, to whose prayers He pays such deference as to say that they are a hinderance to him. Thus it is said in Psalms 106:23, that Moses “stood in the breach, to turn away the wrath” of God. Hence do we plainly perceive the wonderful goodness of God, who not only hears the prayers of His people when they humbly call upon Him, but suffers them to be in a manner intercessors with Him.
He assigns as the reason why He should be implacable, that He well knew the desperate and incurable wickedness of the people; for by “stiff-necked,” indomitable obstinacy is metaphorically expressed; and the similitude is taken from stubborn oxen who cannot be brought to submit to the yoke. Now, where such hardness and obstinacy exists, there is no room for pardon. It is indeed an expression which must not be taken literally, that God had learnt by experience that they were a stiff-necked people; but we know that God often assumes human feelings; for unless He should thus come down to us, our minds could never attain to His loftiness. The sum is, that the character of the people was desperate, inasmuch as they had already manifested their inflexible perverseness by many proofs. Still, lest Moses should grieve at the loss of his noble chieftainship, a compensation is promised him; by which trial it appeared that he did not regard his own private interests or advantages.
11. And Moses besought the Lord his God It is clear that this prayer sprang from faith, though in it he seems to fight against the very word of God; for God had said, Get thee down to thy people; but his answer is, Nay, it is thine. But, as I have lately stated, inasmuch as he firmly grasped the principle, that it was impossible for God’s covenant to be made ineffective, he breaks through or surmounts all obstacles with closed eyes as it were. He proves them to be God’s people by the benefit they had so recently received; yet he mainly relies on the covenant; nay, he mentions their deliverance as a result of it; for he proceeds afterwards to say, “Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.” We see, therefore, that the first ground of his confidence is the promise, although Moses refers first of all to the fact that the people had been delivered by the hand of God. He so expressly particularizes His “mighty hand,” and “great power,” to signify that the more conspicuous God’s miracles had been, the more was His glory exposed to the calumnies of the ungodly; and this he immediately afterwards explains, “Wherefore should the Egyptians speak,” etc.
The particle, ברעה, beragnah, which the old interpreter (336) renders craftily, and others maliciously, I prefer simply to translate unto evil, (ad malum,) as denoting an unprosperous and unhappy issue. The exposition which others give, “under an unlucky star,” seems to me to be too far-fetched. (337) I have no doubt, therefore, but that Moses signifies that this would be a consolation to the Egyptians in their misfortunes if the people should be destroyed, as if God had thus avenged them against their enemies; besides, by this misapprehension, the memory of God’s grace, as well as of His judgment, would have been destroyed; for the Egyptians would have hardened themselves, and would have been untouched by any sense of guilt, deeming that God would shew no mercy to His elect people.
What follows, “repent of this evil,” is spoken in accordance with common parlance, for the saints often stammer in their prayers, and, whilst unburdening their cares into the bosom of God, address him in their infirmity as by no means befits His nature; as, for instance, when they ask Him, How long wilt thou sleep? or be forgetful? or shut thine eyes? or hide thy face? But with God repentance is nothing but a change of dealing, wherein He seems to retrace His course, as if He had conceived some fresh design. When, therefore, it is said a little further on that “the Lord repented of the evil,” it is tantamount to saying, that He was appeased; not because He retracts in Himself what He has once decreed, but because He does not execute the sentence He had pronounced. If my readers (338) desire more on this point, let them consult my Comments on Genesis and the Prophets.
(336) “For mischief.” — A.V. By the old interpreter ( C. means the V. which renders the word “callide,” craftily. The version of LXX. is μετὰ πονηρίας, with maliciousness. “Some thus, (says Poole,) malo sidere, under an evil star; because the Egyptians attributed all things to the stars. Fagius, Vatablus.”
(337) Addition in Fr. , “et profane.”
(338) See on Genesis 6:6, (Calvin Soc. Edit., vol. 1, pp. 248, 249,) the latter part of which passage is quoted by Hengstenberg on the Pentat., vol. 2, p. 373, “On the repentance of God,” with the following remark: “These last words show how very deeply Calvin had gained the right point of view in reference to Anthropomorphisms. In his esteem they formed a glorious ornament of holy writ. How totally different the apologists since the times of Deism! One remarks, on all occasions, how gladly they would dispense with Anthropomorphisms. They try to be satisfied only with that which they cannot alter.” See also C. on Minor Prophets, vol. 1, p. 402; 2, p. 61; 3, pp. 115, 126, 408; and Institutes, Book 1, ch. 17. Section 13, vol. 1, p. 263. (Calvin Soc. editions.)
13. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants He does not bring thern forward as patrons, by the assistance of whose voice he might obtain what He seeks; but because the promise was lodged with them, which they transmitted as an inheritance to their descendants. We must observe, then, the quality or character with which God had invested the Patriarchs. For which reason it is said in Psalms 132:1, “Lord, remember David, and all his afflictions.” And hence the ignorance and folly of the Papists are easily refuted, who imagine from these testimonies that the dead are ordained to be intercessors.
He also purposely refers to God’s oath, whereby He had more solemnly bound Himself, so that His promise might be more sure and authoritative. The Apostle, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, 6:13, tells us why God swears by Himself; viz., “because he could swear by no greater;” though sometimes to the same effect He swears by His throne in heaven, or His sanctuary.
In fine, it is uncertain whether there is a ὕστερον πρότερον or not in this prayer, for we shall see as we proceed that when Moses returned a second time, he prayed for the preservation of the people, and was heard. Nor was this done in a moment; but he again occupied forty days in reconciling the people with God. To myself it seems probable that Moses, amazed at the horrible denunciation, immediately offered his prwer; and without receiving a reply promising pardon, came down in suspense to apply a remedy to the evil; for it was by no means likely that, after having heard so severe and weighty a threat, he would have interposed no supplications, when he was so deeply anxious for the safety of the people.
15. And Moses turned, and went down, from the mount Moses comes down by God’s command to be a spectator of this wicked revolt, that the enormity of the act might the more arouse him both to disgust and detestation of the crime, and to the endeavor to find a remedy for it. Although, however, God had pronounced sentence of rejection against the people, He still leaves the tables that testified of the covenant untouched in the hands of Moses, not that He wished them to remain whole, as we shall soon see, but that first the sight of them, and then the breaking of them, might inspire the apostates with greater horror, whose madness had otherwise stupified them.
Why the Law was divided into two tables has been elsewhere seen, viz., because it first sets forth piety and the worship of God; and, secondly, prescribes the rule of righteous living between man and man, and instructs us in the mutual offices of charity. It was doubtless in testimony of the perfection of their doctrine that they were written on both sides. A fuller revelation was indeed afterwards added; but God would have it clearly understood that He had thus embraced all in ten commandments, so that it was not lawful to add anything; and, (339) therefore, lest men should annex anything of their own inventions, God filled both sides, so that nothing remained unwritten upon. Moreover, the tables are called “the work of God,” because he had prepared them for the purpose of being written on. Thus they are distinguished from those that came afterwards, on which, although God inscribed His Law, yet He willed that the stones should be chiselled and fashioned by the hand and workmanship of men. The sum is, that not only were the ten commandments written by God on the first tables, but there was nothing human in the fashioning of the stones; and if it be inquired how the stones were engraved and the letters formed upon them, Moses indeed replies by a similitude, that it was done by the finger of God, meaning thereby His secret power; for He who created the world out of nothing by his more volition (nutu,) can by the same word convert all creatures to His own use in whatever way He pleases.
(339) This sentence is omitted in Fr.
17. And when Joshua heard the noise of the people This is introduced to inform us how intemperately the people raged in their insane worship of the calf, since their shouting was heard from afar. It is thus that the devil bewitches poor miserable men, so that dissolute licentiousness with them is pious ardor. So there is nothing too disgraceful or abominable to please the Gentiles, in order that they may prove that they omit nothing which may appease their false gods. Nor can it be doubted but that, under the pretense of holy zeal, superstitious men give way to the indulgences of the flesh; and Satan baits his fictitious modes of worship with such attractions, that they are willingly and eagerly caught hold of and obstinately retained. It arises from Joshua’s solicitude for the people that he deems it to be the cry of battle; whilst Moses, (340) having been informed by God, conjectures that it is not the voice of men fighting, since they utter no cry to correspond with the exhortations of the conquerors, nor is there any sound like the wailing of the conquered.
(340) Exodus 32:18, ענות. In the first clause A. V. renders this word shout, in the second cry, in the third sing. S.M. renders it resound in the two first, and in the last singers; but observes that it is literally to answer, and C. follows his rendering. — W
19. And it came to pass, as soon as he came nigh unto the camp He who had before humbly pleaded for the safety of the people, now, when he sees the calf, bursts forth into rage, and the hideousness of the crime awakens him to different feelings. Now, since anger is here mentioned with praise, the stoics must abandon their paradox, that all the passions (motus animi) are vicious. I allow, indeed, that whilst men are led by nature, they are never angry without vice; because they always exceed due bounds, and often also do not aim at a proper object. But it must be observed that this occurs from the corruption of nature; and, consequently, anger is not in itself or absolutely to be condemned. For the principle which the Stoics assume, that all the passions are perturbations and like diseases, is false, and has its origin in ignorance; for either to grieve, or to fear, or to rejoice, or to hope, is by no means repugnant to reason, nor does it interfere with tranquillity and moderation of mind; it is only excess or intemperance which corrupts what would else be pure. And surely grief, anger, desire, hope, fear, are affections of our unfallen (341) (integrce) nature, implanted in us by God, and such as we may not find fault with, without insulting God Himself. Moreover, the anger which is here ascribed to Moses is, in Deuteronomy 9:0, attributed to the person of God Himself. Whence we infer, that, since it emanated from the impulse of the Spirit, it was a virtue worthy of praise.
In breaking the tables, however, he seems to have forgotten himself; for what sort of vengeance was this, to deface the work of God? Howsoever detestable the crime of the people was, still the holy covenant of God ought to have been spared. Therefore certain Rabbins, (342) to excuse him, invent one of their customary fables, that, when the tables were brought into the polluted place, the writing became effaced. Others think that he was carried away by his wrath, and did not sufficiently consider what he was about, as he would have done had his mind been composed. I have no doubt, however, but that he broke the tables in reference to his office, as if to annul the covenant of God for a time; for we know that God commits both charges to the ministers of His word, to be the proclaimers of His vengeance, as well as the witnesses of His grace. Thus, whatever they bind on earth is bound also in heaven, and they retain sins unto condemnation, and are armed with vengeance against the unbelieving and rebellious. (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23; 2 Corinthians 13:10. (343)) Therefore God rejected the people by the hand of Moses, renouncing the covenant which He had recently established in a solemn ceremony; and this severity was more useful as an example than as if He had sent Moses back empty-handed; for else it would never have suggested itself to the Israelites of how incomparable a treasure they had been deprived. It was then necessary that the tables should be produced, as if God so presented Himself to their sight and shewed His paternal countenance; but when, on the other hand, the monstrous abomination of the calf was encountered, it behoved that these same tables should be broken, as if God turned His back upon them and retired. Meanwhile, it must be borne in mind, that the covenant of God was not altogether annulled, but only as it were interrupted, until the people had heartily repented. Still this temporary rupture, if I may so call it, did not prevent the covenant itself from remaining inviolable. In the same manner also afterwards God put away His people, as if He had utterly renounced. them, yet His grace and truth never failed; so that He at least had some hidden roots from whence the Church sprang up anew; as it is said in Psalms 102:18, “The people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.”
(341) “Mises en nous en l’integrite, qui estoit en notre pere Adam;” implanted in us in the integrity which was in our father Adam. — Fr.
(342) C. found in S. M.’s notes the Rabbinical fancies about the vanishing of the letters, etc. — W.
(343) The reference here in the original, and in the French translation, (which always copies such errors, and, alas! they are multitudinous,) is to 2 Corinthians 11:15. I have substituted one, which appears to me more probable, and which the reader may compare with its parallel passages; but I am not so certain of my correction here, as I generally am.
20. And he took the calf which they had made It might seem to be a cruel and inhuman punishment that Moses should in a manner infect the bowels of the people with the corruption of the crime. They had already polluted both their bodies and souls more than enough, without the contagion entering any deeper. Besides, he was thus likely to drive them to despair, when they bore within them the ground of their condemnation, as a woman nourishes her offspring in the womb. Nevertheless, such was the remedy to be applied to their senselessness; for, however they might have been terrified for a moment, the recollection of their crime and their fear of punishment would have immediately vanished had not this brand of their defilement been thoroughly impressed upon them. This, then, was a kind of tautcry, whereby they might feel that the disgrace of such foul idolatry not only cleaved to their skin, but was fixed deep in their very bowels. For thus also was their shame enforced upon them when they admitted the substance of their god into their belly, to be soon afterwards ejected with their excrements. Therefore were they compelled to drink and to void a part of their god, in order that their superstition might be the more offensive to them. Besides, if the ashes had been scattered on the ground, there was danger lest some of the more obstinate might collect the relics; and this evil was prevented when the gold, of which the false god was molten, was mixed with ordure. Finally, Moses is said to have made them drink of the accursed water, not because he himself held out the cup to each of them, but because the dust was cast into the stream of which they all drank; as is stated in Deuteronomy 9:21
21. What did this people unto thee? He casts the blame on Aaron, inasmuch as he, who is possessed of power, seems to permit the evil which he does not prevent. We have previously seen that when Moses went up into the mount he resigned his charge to Aaron; it was therefore his duty so to preside over them as, in right of his power, to restrain the people, however perverse they might be. Consequently he is deservedly reproved with this severity, as if he had been the author of the sin which he had suffered to be committed. Hence we gather how weighty a burden is borne by all (344) who are appointed to be governors; for if any sin is committed through their negligence, or timidity, or indolence, they must themselves give account for it, as if they had given the signal for licentiousness. The reproof here is very emphatic, viz., that he was as bitter an enemy to the public welfare as if he had desired to avenge himself on his mortal enemies. Not that vengeance would be lawful, although he might have had any colorable ground for it, but Moses means that if Aaron had desired to ruin any persons, and had therefore purposely endeavored to do the worst thing he could against them, he could not have injured them more. Hence He deserves the greater reprehension for having taken such bad care of this poor people, the charge of whom he had undertaken; nay, for having, as far as in him lay, brought final destruction upon them. This, too, is worthy of observation, that when God’s service is in question, Moses no more spares his own and his only brother than he would an utter stranger. If he had consulted flesh and blood, it would have been easy to invent some pretext for being more lenient towards his brother, since he had been compelled by necessity and violence to make the calf; but, inasmuch as he knew how strenuously we should contend for God’s glory, he assails his brother as if he were entirely unconnected with him. This is a rare virtue; but, unless we strive to attain it, we shall often betray God’s cause by our treacherous indulgence towards our relatives.
(344) “Tous juges, et chefs du people;” all judges and rulers of the people. — Fr.
22. And Aaron said, Let not the anger of my Lord wax hot Aaron extenuates his crime as much as He can. The sum, however is, that the people, whom Moses himself knew to be depraved and perverse, had tumultuously assailed him, and compelled him against his will. Now, although the commencement of his address has an appearance of modesty, still the excuse is frivolous. Rightly, indeed, does Aaron, though the elder, submit himself with reverence to his brother; since he acknowledges him as God’s minister, and trembles at his reproof; but it would have been better ingenuously to confess his guilt, than to escape the ignominy of condemnation by subterfuge; for it was the business of the chief to guide the whole body, and to quiet the tumult by authority and firmness; and, if their extravagance had even advanced to madness, rather to die ten times over than to yield such base and servile compliance. But from the close it appears that, whilst in our anxiety for our reputation, we take pains to conceal or excuse our faults, our hypocrisy will at length appear ridiculous. It is obvious that when Aaron says he cast the gold into the fire, and the calf came out, he endeavors, at any rate, to cover the fault, which he cannot altogether efface, by this poor and flimsy tale; but by this childish trifling he only betrays his impudence, so that such stupid confidence does but complete his condemnation. This is the just reward of our ambition, when we take refuge in disguises, and set our hypocrisy against God’s judgment.
25. And when Moses saw that the people were naked The vengeance is here recorded which Moses employed to expiate the sin; not that this punishment was satisfactory, as they call it, before God; but because it was useful to efface the memory of their guilt; or at any rate was profitable, as an example. For by the slaughter of three thousand of them, they were reminded that they all had deserved the same. Nor can it be doubted but that he cleansed the camp of the chief authors of the evil, in order that God might be more inclined to pardon. First, therefore, the cause is set forth, whereby he was inflamed to such severity, viz., because he saw the people in such a state of nakedness, as to be even exposed as a laughing-stock to their enemies. The exposition (345) which some give of their nakedness, i.e., that they were stripped of their ornaments, is by no means consistent; for it is immediately added, that it was “to their shame among their enemies;” and it will be seen in the next chapter that they were still splendidly ornamented; nay, that they wore the outward tokens of profane rejoicing. There is no doubt, then, but that he signifies that they were rejected of God, who was to them, as it were, their sole ornamental garment, and under whose protection they were secure. The enormity of the evil is, therefore, set forth in these words, because they were not only deprived of God’s assistance, who is culled “the dwelling-place” of his people, (Psalms 90:1,) but also abandoned to ignominy, whilst they were surrounded on all sides by enemies. Hence the holy indignation of Moses, in inflicting punishment on the leaders of the rebellion. And again, it is to be noted, that Aaron is charged with the chief part of the crime, because he had not resisted the people’s folly with sufficient firmness.
Herein the astonishing power of God was manifested, that when Moses had summoned the Levites, and had commanded them openly in the gate to gird themselves with their swords, the other tribes did not all of them mutiny; for it was probable that they were thus to be armed, in order to execute punishment on the criminals. How, then, came it to pass that those, who were conscious of guilt, were quiet, except because the power of God’s Spirit restrained their courage and fury?
The form of the command is also worthy of observation, “Whoso is the Lord’s, let him betake himself to me:” from whence we learn, that if we love religion as it deserves, we must not halt between two sides; but that an ingenuous confession is required of us, so as to range ourselves every one under the banner of God; for, by calling all God’s servants to him, he condemns the cowardice, nay, the treachery, of all who shall stand in indecision.
The question, however, arises, whether the Levites were not implicated in the crime, since they step forward at once to execute his command, like sincere upholders of God’s glory. I answer, that though they were not free from guilt, yet, inasmuch as they yielded to the people under the influence of fear, their sin was lighter than as if they had approved by their consent of the detestable idolatry. But here we perceive the wonderful indulgence of God, who not only pardoned them, but deigned to assert His glory by their instrumentality, and appointed them his ministers for the punishment of a crime, in the toleration of which they had been guilty of base effeminacy and cowardice. Again, it may be asked, how it occurred that of the rest of the multitude not one stirred a foot at the command of Moses? My opinion is, that they were kept back not by contempt or obstinacy, but only by shame; and that they were all inspired with so much alarm, that they waited in astonishment to see what Moseswas about, and how far he would proceed. It is, however, probable that the Levites were called out by name, and this we gather from the result; because they all immediately came forwards, and not one of any other tribe.
(345) The glossa ordinaria gives the three usual opinions as to this statement, viz., either that they were stripped of the ornaments, whereof the idol was made; or that they had manifested their corrupt will, which was previously concealed; or that they had lost the help and protection of God. De Lyra adopts the first. Dathe calls it a very difficult passage; but inclines to the rendering of the LXX., διασκέδασται, were scattered, or dissipated. “The people were in a dissolute, disorderly state; and therefore in a condition to be attacked with advantage.” — Geddes.
27. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel He commands the Levites to gird themselves with their swords, to commit slaughter throughout the whole camp; and this may at first sight seem to be cruel and inhuman, when they are forbidden to spare their brothers, their friends, and neighbors; but it was by no means excessive, if we reflect how much more grievous it is to profane the sacred worship of God, than to inflict injury on man. Nor does he desire that all should be slain promiscuously; but only bids the Levites proceed courageously; so that, if they should chance to meet with any one worthy of death, neither relationship, nor friendship, nor familiarity, should hinder or delay the just course of severity. Nay, since it soon after follows that the Levites did as they were commanded, we gather that he was content with a moderation more akin to leniency than to rigor. If any sedition has arisen in an army, which has proceeded to violence and slaughter, the general is wont, as an ordinary rule, to decimate the offenders; how much milder here is the rate of punishment, when only three thousand perish out of six hundred millions! Although he may have, therefore, dealt harshly with a few, yet the chastisement must appear lenient which permits so many to escape, though guilty of the same crime. It is, however, asked, whether they made any, and what distinction? for it would have been an act of blind and headlong impetuosity to kill every one they might happen to meet. In order to evade this absurdity, some of the (346) Jews take refuge, as usual, in a silly fable, that the bellies of those who were polluted by the sin, swelled after drinking the water. If this is accepted, the swelling must have affected them all. But, rejecting all such inventions, it is probable that the Levites were by no means ignorant who were the chief leaders of the evil counsel, by whose instigation the rest were drawn into rebellion. (347) Judicially, therefore, and discriminately they executed vengeance on three thousand; and hence it came to pass that the severity was endurable, and that the whole people quietly submitted, when they saw that their own welfare was consulted by the removal from amongst them of these pestilent persons. But, although Mosesrestrains himself, it must be remarked that he requires of the Levites inflexible firmness, lest any regard to intimacy should soften their hearts, because there is nothing more opposed to a sound judgment than προσωποληψία (respect of persons.) Now, it is not without reason that the Levites are praised for obeying his command; for it demanded no common magnanimity to attack the whole twelve tribes, to whom they were not equal even by a twelfth part. We gellerally see that when many persons are concerned in a crime, the judges are alarmed by a fear of sedition, and in the end have not the courage to perform their duty. (348) It was, then, all extraordinary instance of zeal in the Levites, that setting aside all consideration of danger, they dared intrepidly to provoke so great a multitude against them. And this holy indignation was the fruit of their repentance, since they did not hesitate to attack with drawn swords those whose threatening countenances they had previously quailed at. Surely it would have been a lighter cause of offense to have prevented the idolatry of the people by bold rebuke, than to execute capital punishment on the transgressors. Their piety and fear of God, therefore, aroused their hearts to new vigor when they dreaded no peril of death.
(346) “Quelques Rabins des Juifs;” some Jewish Rabbins. — Fr. So Aben-Ezra, and R. Salomon.
(347) “Qui avoyent mene la danse pour desbaucher les autres, et ausquels le mal devoit estre impute;” who had led the dance to corrupt the others, and to whom the evil must be imputed. — Fr.
(348) “Les juges sont en grand souci, par quel bout its commencerout, et qu’ils tremblent jusques a defaillir en le fin de leur office;” the judges are in great anxiety as to what end they shall begin at, and that they are so much alarmed as at length to fail in their duty. — Fr.
29. For Moses had said, consecrate yourselves today It is obvious that this verse was added exegetically, to give the reason why this unintimidated ardor impelled the Levites manfully to fulfill their charge, viz., because the exhortation of Moses carried them over every obstacle. The verb, “had said,” must be therefore construed in the pluperfect tense. The translation of some, (349) “ye have consecrated your hands,” in the perfect tense, is very unsuitable, since the promise is immediately added as a means of stimulating them to greater alacrity; whence it appears that the command of Moses, which has been mentioned, is now repeated in different words. They are, however, increased in forcibleness, since he declares that it will be a sacrifice sweet and acceptable to God, if, in forgetfulness of flesh and blood, they avenge the polluted worship of God. The causal particle, (350) ci, is introduced, which I have rendered nempe, (namely,) as being here an intensitive, as if he had said, such submission to God must here be shewn, that they should not even restrain their hand if necessary from their very sons and brothers. What, therefore, was lately spoken as to their relatives generally, and here of their sons, must be taken as if in the potential mood; for, if all the Levites had joined themselves with Moses, what need was there of bidding them execute punishment on their brothers or sons? So that Moses only wished to condemn that absurd regard to humanity whereby judges are often blinded, and, to the detriment of religion, are cruelly merciful in tolerating and encouraging impiety. First, therefore, let us learn from this passage, that when judges overlook crimes, their hands are defiled by their very remissness, because impunity increases licentiousness in sin. Thus Solomon teaches that,“
He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15.)
Let us also learn that nothing is less consistent than to punish heavily the crimes whereby mortals are injured, whilst we connive at the impious errors or sacrilegious (351) modes of worship whereby the majesty of God is violated.
(349) Amongst others, of the Vulgate. Boothroyd thus defends it: “This verb may either be the second person plural of the imperative, or the third of the preterite, of both the active and passive voices. The Masorets have pointed it in the former, and are followed by our version. By this rendering, the order of the narrative is perverted; for after that command given to the Levites is stated to have been executed, and the number of the slain specified, then we have another command. Render in the preterite, and all is clear and consistent, Ye have consecrated, etc.”
(350) A.V., “Even,” which, though different from the ordinary meanings of this particle, is sanctioned by several other texts cited in Noldii Conc. Part., whilst C.’s rendering has no such sanction, nor is it supported by S. M. — W. “Le mot, que j’ay translate voire, signifie en Hebrieu car: mais il est ici entralasse pour plus grande vehemence;” the word, which I have translated namely, signifies in Hebrew for, but is here introduced for the sake of greater vehemence. — Fr.
(351) “Superstitions.” — Fr.
30. And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said Inasmuch as this judgment of God was terrible, lest the Israelites should altogether fall into despair, Moses addresses a consolation to them to calm their sorrow, promising that he will make entreaty to God in their behalf. Meanwhile, in order that they might betake themselves as humble suppliants to God’s mercy, he reminds them of the enormity of their sin. The Hebrew words literally mean, (352) ye have sinned a great sin; there is, however, no ambiguity in the sense; for he would humble them by setting the greatness of their crime before them, in order that they may earnestly give themselves to repentance. To the same effect is (353) the particle אולי , auli, which is often used to express uncertainty, but here, as in many other places, only denotes difficulty; lest, as is frequently the case, they should think of asking pardon unconcernedly and carelessly, and not with anxious earnestness. Thus, when Peter addresses Simon Magus, he bids him pray, “if perhaps” his iniquity may be forgiven him, ( Acts 8:22;) not that he should vacillate or waver in his mind like those who are in suspense or doubt, but that terrified by the fear of God’s wrath, he should anxiously seek after the remedy.
(352) So A.V. It will be seen that C. renders the nouns in the ablative case, Ye have sinued by a great sin.
(353) See C. on Amos 5:15. — Minor Prophets, Cal. Soc. edit., vol. 2 p. 277.
31. And Moses returned unto the Lord This relation does not stand in its proper place, since, as we have already said, Moses does not exactly preserve the order of time. For we shall see in the next chapter that God refuses with respect to His angel what he here accords; since it is (354) a mere quibble to say that a mere ordinary angel is here promised, in whom God will not so manifest His presence as He has done before. Therefore now Moses briefly records what he will afterwards more fully set forth, i.e., how God was appeased and received the people back into favor, which was not the case until he was commanded to hew out or polish the new tables. And we know that it was a figure of speech in common use with the Hebrews to touch upon the chief points of a matter, and then to fill up, in the progress of the history, what had been omitted.
His prayer commences with confession; for in such a case of wicked ingratitude nothing remained but freely to acknowledge their guilt, so as to look nowhere else for safety in their state of ruin and despair but to the mercy of God; for hypocrites only inflame His wrath the more by extenuating their offenses. The particle אנא, ana, which we have followed others in translating “I beseech,” (obsecro,) is sometimes expressive of exhortation, and used like Agedum, (come on;) here it only signifies what the Latins express by amabo (355) After having anticipated God’s judgment by the confession of their guilt, he nevertheless implores for pardon; and this with extreme earnestness, which is the reason why his address is suddenly broken off, for the sentence is imperfect, as is often the case in pathetic appeals, “if thou wilt forgive their sin.” I have no objection to make if any should construe the particle (356) אם, im, “I would,” (utinam,) still in the vehemence of his feelings he seems to burst forth into an exclamation, “Oh, if thou wilt forgive;” though it may be but a modest petition, “Wilt thou forgive?” for, though the prayers of the saints flow from their confidence, still they have to struggle with doubts and questionings within themselves, whether God is willing to listen to them. Hence it arises that their prayers begin hesitatingly, until faith prevails.
What follows may in many respects appear to be absurd; for Moses both imperiously lays down the law to God, and in his eager impetuosity seeks to overthrow, as far as he can, His eternal counsel, and inconsiderately robs him of His justice. Surely all must condemn the pride of this address, Unless thou sparest the offenders, count me not as one of thy servants; nor can there seem to be less of folly in his attempt to bring to nought God’s eternal predestination. Besides, when he desires that he himself should be involved in the same punishment, what is this but to destroy all distinction, that God should rashly condemn the innocent with the transgressors? Nor would I indeed deny that Moses was carried away by such vehemence, that he speaks like one possessed. Still it must be observed, that when believers unburden their cares into God’s bosom, they do not always deal discreetly, nor with well-ordered language, but sometimes stammer, sometimes pour forth “groans which cannot be uttered,” sometimes pass by everything else, and lay hold of and press some particular petition. Assuredly there was nothing less present to the mind of Moses than to dictate to God; nor, if he had been asked, would he have said that what God had decreed respecting His elect before the creation of the world could be overthrown. Again, he knew that nothing was more foreign to the Judge of all the world than to destroy the innocent together with the reprobate. But since his care for the people, whose welfare he knew to be consigned to him by God, had absorbed, as it were, all his senses, nothing else occupies his mind but that they may be saved, whilst he does not entertain a single thought which interferes with this his great solicitude. Hence it is, that arrogating far too much to himself, he throws himself forward as the people’s surety, and forgets that he is predestined to salvation by God’s immutable counsel; and, finally, does not sufficiently consider what would be becoming in God. Nor is Moses the only one who has been thus carried away; but Paul has gone even further, expressing himself thus in writing after full premeditation, “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren.” (Romans 9:3.) The fact is, that intent on the welfare of the elect people, they neither of them examine critically into particulars, and therefore devote themselves in behalf of the whole Church; inasmuch as this general principle was deeply rooted in their minds, that if the welfare of the whole body were secured, it would be well with the individual members. Hence (357) the question arises whether it is a pious feeling to prefer the salvation of others to our own? Some being afraid lest the example of Moses and Paul should be prejudicial, have said that they were only influenced by their zeal for God’s glory, when they devoted themselves to eternal destruction; and that they did not prefer the people’s salvation to their own. Even, however, though this should be accepted, still their words would have been hyperbolical; for, although God’s glory may well be preferred to a hundred worlds, yet He so far accommodates Himself to our ignorance, that He will not have the eternal salvation of believers brought into opposition with His glory; but has rather bound them inseparably together, as cause and effect. Moreover, it is abundantly clear that Moses and Paul did devote themselves to destruction out of regard to the general salvation. Let, therefore, that solution which I have advanced hold good, that their petition was so confused, that in the vehemence of their ardor they did not see the contradiction, like men beside themselves. Nor is it matter of surprise that they should have been in such perplexity, since they supposed that by the destruction of the elect people God’s faithfulness was abandoned, and He Himself in a manner brought to nought, if the eternal adoption wherewith He had honored the children of Abraham should fail.
By “the book,” in which God is said to have written His elect, must be understood, metaphorically, His decree. But the expression which Moses uses, asking to be blotted out of the number of the pious, is an incorrect one, since it cannot be that one who has been once elected should be ever reprobated; and those lunatics who, on this ground, overturn, as far as they can, that prime article of our faiith concerning God’s eternal predestination, thereby demonstrate their malice no less than their ignorance. David uses two expressions in the same sense, “blotted out,” and “not written:”“
Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous.” (Psalms 69:28.)
We cannot hence infer any change in the counsel of God; but this phrase is merely equivalent to saying, that God will at length make it manifest that the reprobate, who for a season are counted amongst the number of the elect, in no respect belong to the body of the Church. Thus the secret catalogue, in which the elect are written, is contrasted by Ezekiel 13:9 with that external profession, which is often deceitful. Justly, therefore, does Christ bid His disciples rejoice, “because their names are written in heaven,” (Luke 10:20;) for, albeit the counsel of God, whereby we are predestinated to salvation, is incomprehensible to us,“
nevertheless (as Paul testifies) this seal standeth sure, The Lord knoweth them that are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19.)
(354) “R. Menacheus on this place saith, “This angel is not the Angel of the Covenant, of whom He spake in the time of favorable acceptance, My presence shall go; for now the holy blessed God had taken away His divine presence from amongst them, and would have led them by the hand of another angel. And Moses’ speech in Exodus 33:12, seemeth to imply so much.” — Ainsworth in loco.
(355) “Formula (says Facciolati) obsecrantis, vel obtestantis: di grazia, deh, per cortesia.” Elsewhere, it would appear, our translators have always rendered אנא, “I pray thee; or I, or we, beseech thee,” except at Psalms 116:16, where it is translated as here, “oh.” — Taylor’s Concordance. “The Scriptures deal but sparingly in such interjectional phrases as the present, and, wherever they occur, they indicate the most profound emotion in the speaker.” — Prof. Bush.
(356) A. V., “If.” Noldius, obsecro; equivalent to the rendering towards which C. inclines. — W. “Vray est que le sens est tel, O que tu leur pardonnes: mais cependant il ne parle qu’a demie bouche, comme un homme angoisse, et s’escrie que si Dieu leur pardonne, il a tout gagne;” it is true that this is the sense, O that thou wouldest pardon them! but still he speaks but half his meaning, like a man in anguish, and cries out, that if God would pardon them, he has gained all he wants. — Fr.
(357) See this difficult subject somewhat more fully discussed by C. himself on Romans 9:3, (Calvin Soc. edit., pp. 335-337,) together with Mr. Owen’s note. If, however, the opinion of many, as stated by Prof. Bush, as to this passage be adopted, and it surely has much show of reason, it is far more easily comprehended than the expression of St. Paul: “There is no intimation in these words of any secret book of the Divine decrees, or of anything involving the question of Moses’ final salvation or perdition. He simply expressed the wish rather to die than to witness the destruction of his people. The phraseology is in allusion, probably, to the custom of having the names of a community enrolled in a register, and, whenever one died, of erasing his name from the number.”
33. Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out In these words God adapts Himself to the comprehension of the human mind, when He says, “him will I blot out;” for hypocrites make such false profession of His name, that they are not accounted aliens, until God openly renounces them: and hence their manifest rejection is called erasure. Moreover, God reproves the preposterous request of Moses, inasmuch as it does not consist with His justice to reject the innocent; whence it follows, that Moses had prayed inconsiderately. The sum is, that God, whenever He punishes the ungodly and iniquitous, pays them the wages which they have earned; whereas He never punishes the just. Yet it is to be observed, that when God declares that he will be the avenger of sins, His mercy is not excluded, whereby He buries the transgressions of His people, so that they come not into mind. Thus, when Paul says, “Neither fornicators, nor adulterers, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor murderers, nor revilers, shall possess the kingdom of God,” (358) (1 Corinthians 6:9;) it would be incorrect to conclude that they were all shut out from the hope of salvation; since he only speaks of the reprobate, who never repent, so that being converted they may obtain grace.
(358) It will be seen that C. here, as is often the case, quotes from memory.
34. Therefore now go, lead the people In these words God shews that He is appeased, for it was a sure sign of His reconciliation that His angel is appointed to guide them during the rest of their way. The exposition which some give, that an angel is now promised to take care of them, such as Daniel testifies to have been sometimes assigned even to heathen nations, and an instance of which we shall see in the next chapter, is but a poor conjecture; besides, God declares that though the people have departed from the faith, still He stood firm to His agreement as to their enjoyment of the promised inheritance.
His postponement of their punishment is an indirect reproof of the people’s wickedness, as though He had said that they were of so perverse a nature that they would hereafter give many fresh occasions for it. If any object that, whenever God afterwards punished other sins, He did not then take into account this act of idolatry, I reply that it is no new thing with God, when men contract again fresh guilt, to accumulate their punishments, and also to call to judgment many sins together under one general punishment. Besides, we know that God casts the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation. Lastly, there is nothing to prevent Him from visiting at another time with temporal punishments the iniquity which He has once pardoned; for wherefore did He then forgive them? Was it not lest the truth of His covenant, should perish? Those, then, whom He thus was unwilling to destroy, He might at His own time call up again for punishment, provided the chastisement were but moderate. Hence let us learn not to flatter ourselves, if ever God suspends His judgment, (359) nor to abuse His long-suffering, as if we had escaped with impunity.
(359) “L’execution de son jugement;” the execution of His judgment. — Fr.
35. And the Lord plagued the people Moses here briefly attributes to God what he had before related as to the slaughter of the three thousand, lest any should think that he had smitten them with immoderate severity Therefore Paul bids us consider in this history, as in a mirror, how greatly displeasing to God idolatry is; lest we should imitate those who were smitten by His hand. (1 Corinthians 10:7.) The indignation of Moses is consequently connected with the command of God. Meanwhile he commends the mercy of God in having spared Aaron, whilst he speaks of the calf as his work, as well as of the whole of the people; in a different way indeed, for Aaron formed the calf at their request; still the criminality was common to them.
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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 32". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent