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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Joshua 15

Verse 1

1. I have already premised, that I would not be very exact in delineating the site of places, and in discussing names, partly because I admit that I am not well acquainted with topographical or chorographic science, and partly because great labor would produce little fruit to the reader; (144) nay, perhaps the greater part of readers would toil and perplex themselves without receiving any benefit. With regard to the subject in hand, it is to be observed, that the lot of the tribe of Judah not only falls on elevated ground, the very elevation of the territory, indicating the dignity of the future kingdom, but a similar presage is given by its being the first lot that turns up. What had already been obtained by arms, they begin to divide. The names of the ten tribes are cast into the urn. Judah is preferred to all the others. Who does not see that it is raised to the highest rank, in order that the prophecy of Jacob may be fulfilled? Then within the limits here laid down, it is well known that there were rich pastures, and vineyards celebrated for their productiveness and the excellence of their wines. In this way, while the lot corresponds with the prophecy of Jacob, it is perfectly clear that it did not so happen by chance; the holy patriarch had only uttered what was dictated by the Spirit.

If any are better skilled in places, a more minute investigation will be pleasant and useful to them. But lest those who are less informed feel it irksome to read unknown names, let them consider that they have obtained knowledge of no small value, provided they bear in mind the facts to which I have briefly and summarily adverted — that the tribe of Judah was placed on elevated ground, that it might be more conspicuous than the others, until the scepter should arise from it — and that a region of fruitful vineyards and rich pastures was assigned to his posterity — and, finally, all this was done, in order that the whole people might recognize that there was nothing of the nature of chance in the turning up of a lot, which had been foretold three centuries before. Besides, it is easy for the unlearned to infer from the long circuit described, that the territory thus allocated to one tribe was of great extent. (145) For although some diminution afterwards took place, its dominions always continued to be the largest.

It is necessary, however, to bear in mind what I formerly observed, that nothing else was determined by the lot than that the boundary of the children of Judah was to be contiguous to the land of Edom and the children of Sin, and that their boundary, in another direction, was to be the river of Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea — that those who had been selected to divide the country proceeded according to the best of their judgment, in proportioning the quantity of territory allotted to the number of their people, without extending their boundaries any farther — and that they followed the same method in other cases, as vicinity or other circumstances demanded.

Any error into which they fell, did not at all affect the general validity of their decision. For as they were not ashamed partly to recall any partition that might have been made without sufficient consideration, so the people in their turn, while they acknowledged that they had acted in the matter with the strictest good faith and honesty, submitted the more willingly to whatever they determined. Thus, notwithstanding any particular error, their general arrangements received full effect.

It will be worth while to make one remark on the city Jebus, whose name was afterwards Jerusalem. Although it had been already chosen, by the secret counsel of God, for his sanctuary, and the seat of the future kingdom, it however continued in the possession of the enemy down to the time of David. In this long exclusion from the place on which the sanctity, excellence, and glory of the rest of the land were founded, there was a clear manifestation of the divine curse inflicted to punish the people for their sluggishness: since it was virtually the same as if the land had been deprived of its principal dignity and ornament. But on the other hand, the wonderful goodness of God was conspicuous in this, that the Jebusites who, from the long respite which had been given them, seemed to have struck their roots most deeply, were at length torn up, and driven forth from their secure position.

(144) French, “ Jai desia par ci devant adverti que je ne seroye point curieux a desrire ou peindre la situation des lieux, et a espulcher tous les noms, en partie parce que je confesse franchement que je ne suis pas bien exerce a faire descriptions de lieux ou de regions; en partie d’autant que d’un grand travail qu’il faudroit prendre, il n’en reviendroit que bien peu de fruict aux lecteurs;” “I have already before this intimated that I would not be curious in describing or painting the situation of places, and in expiscating all the names, partly because, I frankly confess, that I am not much experienced in making descriptions of places or countries, partly because from the great labor which it would be necessary to take, very little benefit would redound to the reader.” It may be added that these descriptions of boundaries, how minutely soever they may be detailed, must, from their very nature, leave a very vague impression on the mind of the most careful reader, and are much less adapted for the ear than for the eye, which, by a single glance at a map, furnishes information much more vivid, distinct, and accurate than can be obtained from pages of description. At the same time it ought to be remembered, that accurate and detailed descriptions of the boundaries of the different tribes were absolutely indispensable to the Israelites themselves, to whom they formed a kind of title-deeds, vindicating their right of possession, and securing them against encroachment. — Ed.

(145) As originally laid out, it contained nearly a third of the whole Israelitish territory west of the Jordan. — Ed.

Verse 13

13. And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh, etc Were we to judge from the actual state of matters, it would seem ridiculous repeatedly to celebrate an imaginary grant from which Caleb received no benefit while Joshua was alive. But herein due praise is given both to the truth of God, and to the faith of his saint in resting on his promise. Therefore, although sneering men, and the inhabitants of the place itself, if the rumor had reached them, might have derided the vain solicitude of Caleb, and the empty liberality of Joshua, the contempt thus expressed would only have proved them to be presumptuous scoffers. God at length evinced the firmness of his decree by the result, and Caleb, though he saw himself unable to obtain access to the mountain, testified that he was contented with the mere promise of God, the true exercise of faith, consisting in a willingness to remain without the fruition of things which have been promised till the period actually arrive. Moreover, this passage, and others similar to it, teach us that the giants who are usually called Enakim, were so named after their original progenitor, Enac, and that the word is hence of Gentile origin. The time when Caleb routed the sons of Enac we shall see in a short time. This passage also shows us that Caleb, when he brought forward the name of Moses, did not make a mere pretence, or utter anything that was not strictly true; for it is now plainly declared, that Moses had so appointed, in conformity with the command of God.

Verse 14

Here we have a narrative of what plainly appears from the book of Joshua to have taken place subsequent to the death of Joshua; but lest a question might have been raised by the novelty of the procedure, in giving a fertile and well watered field as the patrimony of a woman, the writer of the book thought proper to insert a history of that which afterwards happened, in order that no ambiguity might remain in regard to the lot of the tribe of Judah. First, Caleb is said, after he had taken the city of Hebron, to have attacked Debir or Ciriath-sepher, and to have declared, that the person who should be the first to enter it, would be his son-in-law. And it appears, that when he held out this rare prize to his fellow-soldiers for taking the city, no small achievement was required. This confirms what formerly seemed to be the case, that it was a dangerous and difficult task which had been assigned him, when he obtained his conditional grant. Accordingly, with the view of urging the bravest to exert themselves, he promises his daughter in marriage as a reward to the valor of the man who should first scale the wall.

It is afterwards added that Othniel who was his nephew by a brother, gained the prize by his valor. I know not how it has crept into the common translation that he was a younger brother of Caleb; for nothing in the least degree plausible can be said in defense of the blunder. Hence some expositors perplex themselves very unnecessarily in endeavoring to explain how Othniel could have married his niece, since such marriage was forbidden by the law. It is easy to see that he was not the uncle, but the cousin of his wife.

But here another question arises, How did Caleb presume to bargain concerning his daughter until he was made acquainted with her inclinations? (146) Although it is the office of parents to settle their daughters in life, they are not permitted to exercise tyrannical power and assign them to whatever husbands they think fit without consulting them. For while all contracts ought to be voluntary, freedom ought to prevail especially in marriage that no one may pledge his faith against his will. But Caleb was probably influenced by the belief that his daughter would willingly give her consent, as she could not modestly reject such honorable terms; (147) for the husband to be given her was no common man, but one who should excel all others in warlike prowess. It is quite possible, however, that Caleb in the heat of battle inconsiderately promised what it was not in his power to perform. It seems to me, however, that according to common law, the agreement implied the daughter’s consent, and was only to take effect if it was obtained. (148) God certainly heard the prayer of Caleb, when he gave him a son-in-law exactly to his mind. For had the free choice been given him, there was none whom he would have preferred.

(146) If we are to indulge in conjectures on the subject, this question might be answered by another, How do we know that Caleb had not consulted her inclinations, and instead of resting satisfied with the vague imaginings here ascribed to him, actually obtained her consent to the proposal which he was about to make? It may not have been, as Calvin supposes, a sudden thought which struck him in the heat of battle, but a calm resolve formed before he set out on his expedition against Debir, and intended to reward the most valiant of those who had assisted him in his war against the giants. And it is even not impossible that both he and his daughter, to whom Othniel, from his near relationship, must have been well known, had no doubt from the prowess he had previously exhibited, that he would outstrip all his competitors and carry off the prize. These, of course, are mere conjectures, but they are at least as plausible as those indulged in by other expositors, who, after raising the question, appear to have given themselves much unnecessary trouble in attempting to solve it. — Ed.

(147) French, “ Pource qu’un tel partie et condition si honorable ne pouvoit estre refusee honnestement et sans impudence;” “Because such a party and so honorable a condition could not be refused honestly (honorably) and without impudence.” — Ed.

(148) In other words, Caleb promises his daughter not absolutely to the man who should take the city, but to the man who, in addition to the prowess exerted in taking it, should also have the address to gain the daughter’s consent. It is difficult to believe that the promise made was either so meant by Caleb, or so interpreted by his followers. He very probably and, as the event showed, justly judged that his influence as a parent would either win or command his daughter’s consent. — Ed.

Verse 18

18. And it came to pass as she came unto him, etc Although we may conjecture that the damsel Acsa was of excellent morals and well brought up, as marriage with her had been held forth as the special reward (149) of victory, yet perverse cupidity on her part is here disclosed. She knew that by the divine law women were specially excluded from hereditary lands, but she nevertheless covets the possession of them, and stimulates her husband by unjust expostulation. In this way ambitious and covetous wives cease not to molest their husbands until they force them to forget shame, modesty, and equity. For although the avarice of men also is insatiable, yet women are apt to be much more precipitate. The more carefully ought husbands to be on their guard against being set as it were on flame by the blast of such importunate counsels. (150)

But a greater degree of intemperance is displayed when she acquires additional boldness from the facility of her husband and the indulgence of her father. Not contented with the field given to her, she demands for herself a well-watered district. And thus it is when a person has once overleaped the bounds of rectitude and honesty, the fault is forthwith followed up by impudence. Moreover, her father in refusing her nothing gives proof of his singular affection for her. But it does not therefore follow that the wicked thirst of gain which blinds the mind and perverts right judgment is the less hateful. In regard to Acsa’s dismounting from the ass, some interpreters ascribe it to dissimulation and craft, as if she were pretending inability to retain her seat from grief. In this way her dismounting or falling off is made an indication of criminality and defective character. It is more simple, however, to suppose that she placed herself at her father’s feet with the view of accosting him as a suppliant. Be this as it may, by her craft and flattery she gained his consent, and in so far diminished the portion of her brothers. (151)

(149) French, “ Pour un salaire exquis et precieux;” “As an exquisite and precious recompense.” — Ed.

(150) Latin, “ Foeminae tamen magis praecipites feruntur.” French, “ Les femmes sont beaucoup plus bouillantes, et se laissent transporter plus aisement. Et d’autant plus sogneusement les maris se doyvent donner garde, de peur que par leurs conseils importuns, qui sont comme des soufflets, ils ne soyent embrasez;” “Women are much more fervid, and allow themselves to be more easily carried away. And so much the more carefully should husbands be on their guard, lest by their importunate counsels, which are like bellows, they be blown into flame.” — Ed.

(151) French, “ Quoy qu’il en soit, cette femme attira a soy par astuce et flatteries le droit d’autruy, et par ce moyen, la part et portion de ses freres en fut d’autant amoindrie;” “Be this as it may, this woman attracted to herself by craft and flattery the right of another, and by this means the part and portion of her brothers was so far lessened.” The censure here passed upon Achsah is rather more severe than the circumstances seem to warrant. It ought to be remembered, that in cases of succession the preference given to males is only conventional, and that by natural law her brothers’ title was not a whit better than her own. — Ed.

Verse 20

20. This is the inheritance, etc He had formerly, indeed, traced out the boundaries of the children of Judah; but it is now shown for a different reason how large and fertile the territory was which the Lord in his great liberality had bestowed upon them. One hundred and thirteen cities with their towns and villages are enumerated. The number attests not only the populousness, but also the fertility of the country. And there cannot be a doubt that by the divine blessing a new degree of fertility was imparted to it. The goodness of God was, however, manifested in the very nature of the land selected for his people, a land abounding in all kinds of advantages. If we attend to the number of souls in the tribe, we shall find that one half of the country would have been amply sufficient for their habitation. For when eight hundred were allocated in each of the cities, the remainder had the towns and the villages. It is no doubt true that a portion was afterwards withdrawn and given to the tribe of Simeon. For in this was accomplished the dispersion of which Jacob had prophesied,

I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” (Genesis 49:7)

They were accordingly admitted by the children of Judah as a kind of guests.

Verse 63

63. As for the Jebusites, etc This furnishes no excuse for the people, nor is it set down with that view; for had they exerted themselves to the full measure of their strength, and failed of success, the dishonor would have fallen on God himself, who had promised that he would continue with them as their leader until he should give them full and free possession of the land, and that he would send hornets to drive out the inhabitants. Therefore, it was owing entirely to their own sluggishness that they did not make themselves masters of the city of Jerusalem. This they were not able to do; but their own torpor, their neglect of the divine command from a love of ease, were the real obstacles.

This passage is deserving of notice: we ought to learn from it to make vigorous trial of our strength in attempting to accomplish the commands of God, and not to omit any opportunity, lest while we are idly resting the door may be shut. A moderate delay might have been free from blame; but a long period of effeminate ease in a manner rejected the blessing which God was ready to bestow. (152)

(152) Some of the Jewish expositors, unwilling to admit the cowardice and sluggishness of their countrymen, fable that the Jebusites were permitted to remain in possession because they were descendants of Abimelech, and in consequence of the covenant made between him and Abraham, (Genesis 21:22,) could not be lawfully expelled. — Ed.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Joshua 15". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/joshua-15.html. 1840-57.