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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 40

Verse 2

Exodus 40:2

. On the first day of the first month I cannot at all approve of the opinion of those commentators who think that the tabernacle was only now set up. That it was already complete in all its parts before Moses went the second time into the Mount, we infer from the fact that the ark was then prepared in which the tables were deposited, as we shall see from the context. Besides, it has elsewhere (394) been shewn by sound arguments, as I think, that it was pitched without the camp in token of divorce, from the time that the people had made the calf. What, then, is the meaning of the setting-up which is now spoken of? I reply, that it is said to have been set up, when (395) it was brought back from its strange to its proper place. For then it was both anointed and honored by sacred oblations, whilst Aaron and his sons were consecrated to the performance of the priestly office. Since, therefore, it had not yet been duly placed in the middle of the camp, nay, rather had been removed from the people lest they should enjoy that pledge of God’s presence, its solemn dcdication is justly celebrated after the renewal of the covenant. This passage also confirms what I have said elsewhere, (396) that this was the tabernacle which Moses pitched at a distance from the camp; for, by the addition of its title, he speaks as of something well known, “Thou shalt set up (He says) the tabernacle, viz., the tabernacle of convention.” Now Moses himself had already stated that this name had been given it by the mouth of God. He repeats, however, the same injunctions, not that He distrusted the memory of His servant, but that it might be more fully apparent that He was Himself the sole Author of the whole work, and also that it nlight obtain more reverence, since He had so often deigned to give initructions as concerning things of very great importance.

(394) See ante.

(395) “Lors qu’il a este assis en son droit lieu, et legitime, assavoir au milieu du peuple duquel il avoit este comme estranger;” when it was fixed in its right and legitimate place, that is to say, in the midst of the people, to whom it had been, as it were, a stranger. — Fr.

(396) See ante.

Verse 9

9. And thou shalt take the anointing oil There was by no means any virtue or efficacy for sanctification in the oil, except in so far as it was a type of the Spirit, from whom as its only source all holiness emanates. Assuredly the oil, as being a corruptible fluid, neither penetrates into the soul, nor would by itself at all avail unto spiritual service. It appears, however, from many pnssages of Scripture, that it was a symbol of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This figure, therefore, clearly shews that nothing pleases God, that nothing is pure or holy in His sight, except what has been purged, and duly consecrated by the influence and grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, God would have all the vessels of the sanctuary set apart by this sacred anointing from common use, in order that the Israelites might distinguish between things sacred and profane, and thus that God’s service might receive its due reverence, so that none should intrude the pollutions of the flesh into that place, the purity of which had been signalized by that sacred symbol. A question, however, here arises why he dignifies the altar of burnt-offering with a more exalted title; for, after having called the tabernacle itself with its vessels simply holy, He calls the altar “holy of holies,” which I have rendered sacrosanctum. I doubt not but that it acquired this name from the sacrifices, which are also so called on account of the expiation made by them, (397) as we have seen elsewhere. The children of Israel, therefore, were instructed that God is truly reconciled by holocausts and burnt-offerings, since “the holiness of holinesses” resided on the altar itself.

(397) See on Leviticus 6:25, ante, vol. 2, p. 366.

Verse 12

12. And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons I have already expounded all that might seem to be profitable with respect to the garments and the mode of anointing; only let; my readers remember that the priest, (398) who had been before appointed, is now at length inaugurated, in order that he may begin the discharge of his office. At the same time, let them also bear in mind that this oil was consecrated by God. Hence it appears how foolishly the Popish bishops, as it were, ape Moses, when, in imitation of him, they sprinkle their priests and altars and other rubbish with stinking oil, since it is abundantly clear that this ceremony of anointing, belonging as it did to the ancient shadows of the Law, ceased at the coming of Christ. What Augustine (399) reminds us of is also worthy of observation, that Moses, who is commissioned to anoint the others, was never consecrated himself by any visible symbol, in order that we may understand that outward signs are not to be estimated by the dignity of the minister, but only by the ordinance of God; and again, that invisible grace has profited some without visible sacraments, whilst visible sanctification may be imparted, but cannot profit, without invisible.

(398) “Aaron, ayant este cree auparavant Sacrificateur.” — Fr.

(399) Quaest. in Leviticus 84:0. Edit. Bened. tom. 3, p. 524.

Verse 17

17. And it came to pass in the first month In all the arrangements, which are here described, it must be especially noted, that Moses obeyed God in such a manner as not to vary in the most trifling point from the form prescribed to him. He therefore so frequently enforces the fact, that he did as God had commanded him; and not without reason, for there is nothing to which men are more prone than to mix up their inventions with God’s commands, as if they would be wiser than He is. In order then that the people might know that there was nothing of human invention in all the legal service, Moses so carefully insists on this point, and so often testifes to his obedience. But if so great the Prophet dared to attempt nothing of himself in trifling matters, how great is the audacity and arrogance of those men who arbitrarily invent innumerable figments, whereby God may be worshipped! Let us, however, learn from this passage to embrace with reverence whatever has proceeded from God, whilst we reject whatever men advance of themselves.

Verse 34

34. Then a cloud covered the tent The holiness of the tabernacle was proved by this signal or pledge, for the people assuredly knew that it had not been set up in vain, but that the promise given before was actually fulfilled, and that it was chosen to be the dwelling-place of God, who would be the Leader and Keeper of His people. For it was not a natural thing that the cloud should settle over the sanctuary in which the Ark of the Covenant was deposited; and much less so that by day a cloud should be seen and a fire by night, especially when this did not occur once only, but when they succeeded each other in perpetual alternation. It is fitly said, that when the tabernacle was covered by the cloud, it was at, the same time filled with the glory of God; for this was a magnificent distinction, that an earthly edifice should be rendered illustrious by a more than heavenly ornament, as if God’s majesty were visibly presented to them.

Whereas before Moses had been concealed and separated from the people by the cloud, its density is now said to have prevented even him from entering; thus, then, ought their reverence and admiration of the place to have been increased, when the greatness of its glory was a hinderance to their holy Prophet. It is probable that by his example not only the rest of the multitude, but all the Levites also, were admonished that they should not endeavor to penetrate further than they were allowed. For, after the possession of the priesthood was transmitted to his brother, he, as well as his descendants, was excluded from that sacred dignity.

Verse 38

38. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle. Moses more distinctly explains what he had said generally respecting the cloud, viz., that by night a fiery column appeared, because the cloud would not have been visible amidst the darkness. A second explanation is also added, that this did not happen once or twice only, but “in all their journeys;” so that they were never without a sight of the cloud, which might be a witness of God’s presence, whether, being settled on the tabernacle, it commanded them to rest, or, by its ascension, gave them the sign for removing the camp. Now, the equability of this proceeding, in all the variety of times and marches, did not a little conduce to certainty; for, if the cloud had daily accomplished the same course, this very regularity would have obscured the power’ of God; but when for a whole year it did not move, and then frequently proceeded to a new place, and now by its. guidance pointed out a longer journey, now a shorter one, by this very diversity the paternal care of God, who was never unmindful of His people, more conspicuously manifested itself.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 40". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.