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the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 14

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And all the congregation lifted up their voice. Here we see how easily, by means of a few incentives, sedition is excited in a great multitude; for the people, unless governed by the counsel of others, is like the sea, exposed to many tempests; and the corruption of human nature produces this amongst innumerable other evils, that lies and impostures prevail over truth. There was, indeed, some pretext for the error of the people, in that they saw ten most choice leaders of their tribes dissuading them from entering the land, and only two advising them to proceed. But that credulity, to which they were too much inclined, is without excuse, because it arose from incredulity; for, if the dignity and reputation of ten men availed so much with them, that they were thus easy of belief, ought they not much rather to have given credit to the word of God, who had promised them the land four hundred years before? For when they cried out beneath the oppressive tyranny of the Egyptians, the memory of the promise given to their fathers was not effaced, since the holy Jacob had carefully provided for its transmission. They had recently heard and embraced its confirmation, and in this confidence had come forth from Egypt. We see, then, that they had already been induced by their own supineness and depravity to recoil from entering the land, because they had thrown aside their confidence in God, so that they might seem to have deliberately laid hold of the opportunity. Still the evil counselors gave an impulse to them, when they were falling of their accord, and east them down headlong.

They begin with weeping, which at length bursts out into rage. The cause of their weeping is the fear of death, because they think that they are being carried away to slaughter; and whence does this arise, except because the promised aid of God is of no account with them? Thus it appears how greatly opposed to faith is cowardice, when, on the occurrence of danger, we look only to ourselves. But:. whilst the beginning of infidelity is to be withheld by fear from obedience to God, so another worse evil presently follows, when men obstinately resist God, and, because they are unwilling to submit themselves to His word, enter into altercation with Him. This was the case with the Israelites, who, being overwhelmed with grief, at length are stirred up by its impetuosity against Moses and Aaron. And this is wont too often to occur, that impatience bursts forth from the anguish into which our unbelief has brought us. The desire for death, which they conceive, arises from ingratitude and contempt of God’s blessing. They wished that they had died either in Egypt or in the wilderness; why, then, had they just before humbly beseeched Moses to propitiate God?

With regard to the words, the old interpreter, (53) taking the particle לו, which is optative, for the negative (לא, lo,) improperly translates the passage, as if their death in the desert would have been more bitter than in Egypt; whereas they only deplore that they would be exposed to death if they should enter the land of Canaan, as follows in the next verse.

(53) By the old interpreter, C. does not here mean, as he generally does, the V., which accords with his own view, “in hac vasta solitudine utinam pereamus;” on these words Corn. a Lapide says; “Ita haec legunt et conjungunt, Hebr., Chald., Septuaginta, et Latina Romana. Tollenda ergo est negatio non, et distinctio quam habent Biblia Plantiniana.”

Verse 3

3.And wherefore has the Lord brought us into this land? The pride, and even the madness of their impiety here more fully betrays itself, when they accuse God of deception and cruelty, as if tie were betraying them to the Canaanitish nations, and leading them forth to slaughter; for they conclude that they ought not to obey His command, because He would destroy them, and not only so, but that He would at the same time give their wives and children to be a prey. We see how mad is unbelief, when it gives way to itself, since these wretched people do not hesitate to prefer charges against God, and to repay His kindnesses by calling Him their betrayer. But what was the cause of this blasphemous audacity, (54) except that they hear they would have to do with powerful enemies? as if they had not experienced the might of God to be such, that nothing which they might encounter was to be feared whilst He was on their side! At the same time, they also accuse God of weakness, as if He were less powerful than the nations of Canaan. At length their monstrous blindness and senselessness comes to its climax, when they consult as to their return, and, rejecting Moses, set themselves about choosing a leader, who may again deliver them up to Pharaoh. Were they so quickly forgetful how wretched their condition there had been? It was for no fault of theirs, but whilst they were peaceful and harmless guests, that the Egyptians had so cruelly afflicted them, since they were hated by Pharaoh on no other account but because he could not endure their multitude; what, then, was he likely to do, when, for their sakes, he had undergone so many calamities; what humanity, again, was to be expected from that nation which had conspired for their destruction already, when it had suffered no injury from them? Surely there was no house among them which would not long to avenge its first-born! Yet they desire to give themselves up to the will of a most bitter enemy, who, without any cause for ill-will, had proceeded to all sorts of extremities against them. Hence we plainly see that unbelievers are not only blinded by the just vengeance of God, but carried away by a spirit of infatuation, so as to inflict upon themselves the greatest evils.

(54) “D’une audace tant diabolique;” of such diabolical audacity. — Fr.

Verse 5

5.Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces. It is doubtful whether they so humbled themselves towards the people, as to he prostrate before them, or whether it was in prayer that they fell with their faces on the earth; the latter, however, seems more likely to me, as if, by thus turning themselves to God, they reproved the stupidity of the people,. And, in fact, in such a case of obduracy, nothing remained except to call upon God, yet in such sort that the prayer should be made in the sight of all, in order to influence their minds. Otherwise they might have sought some place of retirement; but by this pitiful spectacle they endeavored to recall the people to their right senses. This, indeed, is beyond dispute, that they sought for nothing on their own account, but were only anxious for the welfare of the people; since, if the people had gone back, they would have been at liberty to sojourn in the land of Canaan, or elsewhere. Yet still they were not merely concerned with regard to the people, but the interruption of God’s grace troubled them most, with which the Covenant made with Abraham would also have been buried. In a word, this was justly felt by them to be the same as if they had seen both the glory of God and the salvation of the human race altogether brought to naught. Wherefore they must needs have been more than senseless who were unmoved by this sad sight, especially when Moses, whom God had exalted by so many privileges above all other mortals, was lying prostrate on the earth for their sake.

Verse 6

6.And Joshua, the son of Nun, and Caleb. The magnanimity of Joshua is here specified, whereas, before, only Caleb had been praised. But Moses says that they both rent their clothes in token of their excessive sorrow, and even of their abhorrence. For, as is well known, this, amongst the Orientals, was a solemn ceremony in extreme grief, or when they would express their abomination of some crime. Hypocrites have improperly imitated this custom, either when they made a pretence of sorrow, or desired to deceive the simple. But it is plain that Caleb and Joshua were moved to rend their garments by solemn feelings, nay, by the fervor of their indignation; whilst, at the same time, they seek to reclaim the people from their madness. And, first, they commend the fertility of the land; and then base their hope of obtaining it on the favor or good pleasure of God. Some take the conditional particle אם, im, for the causal particle, and translate it, “For because God loves us, therefore He will bring us in;” but this I do not approve of, and it is manifestly foreign to the true meaning; for, since the Israelites had in a manner rejected so great a benefit, they were surely unworthy through unbelief of being still pursued by His favor. The condition is, therefore, introduced as if doubtingly, not in order to diminish their hopes, as though it were a mark of uncertainty, but simply that the people should be convinced of their impiety, and repent; as if they had said, If only we afford room for the continuance of God’s favor towards us, be ye of good courage. And this they state more clearly soon afterwards, in reproving the stubbornness of the people, where they say, “Only (or but) rebel not ye;” in which words they admonish them that they shut up all the ways whereby God might still pursue the course of His work; (55) and that there is no other obstacle to these wretched people except their own unbelief, which does not permit them to obey God. In this way, then, they assert that God’s power is sufficient to perform what He had promised; and then exhort the people to conciliate His favor, from whence they had fallen through their own fault. The particle אך, ac, is used emphatically, as though Joshua and Caleb had said that there was no fear of danger, except because the people’s minds were set on bringing evil upon themselves. Finally, in their reliance upon God’s aid, they exult like conquerors; “They will be bread for us,” they say, i.e., we shall devour them without any trouble. And the reason is subjoined, because, if God stands by the Israelites, their enemies will be destitute of all defense. Justly, then, and for the best of reasons they conclude, that although our enemies would otherwise be formidable, they are not to be feared, if only God, apart from whom there is no strength, be favorable unto us.

(55) Addition in Fr., “Quand on ne se soumet point a luy;” when they do not submit themselves to Him.

Verse 10

10.But all the congregation bade stone them. When these wicked men began by murmuring against God, and openly casting censure upon Him, no wonder that they should also rage against His servants; for, when we endeavor to subdue pride, it generally begets cruelty; and so also, when iniquity is reproved, it always ends at last in fury. Caleb and Joshua did not constrain them by force of arms, neither did they menace them; but only persuaded them to trust in God’s promise, and not to hesitate to advance into the land of Canaan; yet, because in their obstinacy the people had determined not to believe God, they champ the bit, as it were, upon being chastised, and desire to stone their reprovers. How great was the impetuosity of their wrath is manifest from this, that God does not attempt to appease their fury, nor to restrain them by threats, or by His authority, but openly displays His power from heaven, and miraculously protects His servants by the manifestation of His glory, as if He were rescuing them from wild beasts. There is, indeed, no express mention made of the cloud, but we may infer that the sign to which they were accustomed, was given not merely to terrify them, but also to cast them prostrate, so that they might be deprived of their power to inflict injury, and might desist even against their wills. For the majesty of God, although it truly humbles believers only, yet sometimes subdues the reprobate and the lost, or renders them astounded in all their ferocity.

Verse 11

11.And the Lord said unto Moses. God remonstrates with respect to their indomitable obstinacy, because they had just now hesitated not petulantly to despise and reject Him with the most atrocious insults, and notwithstanding all the clearest manifestations of His power. For I know not whether the sense which some give be suitable, when they translate the verb נאף, naatz, “to provoke.” (57) Jerome comes nearer to the genuine sense, How long will they detract me? But let us be contented with the genuine intention of God, which He confirms by the succeeding antithesis, where He complains that He is disparaged, because they do not take into consideration the many miracles whereby He had abundantly testified His power and loving-kindness; and thus He proves their contempt, because they deliberately refuse credit to the many signs of which the accumulation at least ought to have subdued or corrected their stubbornness.

The denunciation of their final punishment follows, together with a statement of the atrocity of their crime; for the particle “How long” indicates its long continuance, as well as the enduring patience of God. He had, indeed, punished others severely, but only for example’s sake, in order that the name of their race should remain undestroyed, whereas he now declares that He will deal with them as. with persons in a desperate condition, who cease not to make a mock of His patience. Hence we are taught, that, although God is placable in His nature, still the hope of pardon is deservedly cut off from unbelievers, who are so obdurate as that tie produces no effect upon them by His hand, or by His countenance, or His word. he then briefly adverts to the use of the signs, viz., that their object was, that the knowledge or experience of them should awaken hopes of success.

If the apparent contradiction offends any one, that God should declare the people to be cast off, when it was already decreed that tie would pardon them, a reply may be sought from elsewhere in three words; for God does not here speak of His secret and incomprehensible counsel, but only of the actual circumstances, showing what the people had deserved, and how horrible was the vengeance which impended, (58) in respect to their wicked and detestable revolt, since it was not His design to keep Moses back from earnest prayer, but to put the sincerity of his piety and the fervency of his zeal to the proof. And, in fact, he does not contravene the prohibition, except upon the previous exhibition of some spark of faith. See Exodus 32:0

(57) A.V., “How long will this people provoke, me?” V. “Usquequo detrahet mihi populus iste?” Ainsworth says, “provoke me, or despite, blaspheme, contemptuously provoke me. So the Apostle expoundeth this word blaspheme, in Romans 2:24, from Isaiah 52:5; and it implieth also a contempt or despising, Proverbs 1:30; Isaiah 5:24.”

(58) “Et quelle punition luy seroit apprestee, si Dieu se vouloit venger d’une revolte si detestable;” and what punishment would be prepared for them, if God chose to take vengeance on so detestable a revolt. — Fr.

Verse 13

13.Then the Egyptians shall hear it. Moses here, according to his custom, stands “in the breach” of the wall, as it is said in Psalms 106:23, to sustain and avert the anger of God, which else would burst forth, since through his intercession it came to pass that the fire was speedily extinguished, and the people were not consumed. In order to support his request., he only objects that God’s holy namo would be the sport of the wicked, if the people should perish altogether I have endeavored to reduce to their proper meaning the words which translators variously render. First, he says, “The Egyptians shall hear, whereas it is a thing sufficiently notorious, and testified by miracles, that this people was rescued from among them by thy might. The same report will also obtain currency among; the nations of Canaan, who have already heard that thou: art the protector of this people, and have undertaken the charge of governing them. If, therefore, they should altogether perish, all the nations which have heard of thy fame will east the blame on thee, and will think that thy power is broken down in the midst of its course, so that thou could not carry through to the end the work thou hadst undertaken.” The substance amounts to this, that because God had manifested by clear and evident signs that He was the deliverer of this people, He would be exposed to the reproach of the wicked, unless He should preserve in safety those whom He had once redeemed. For nothing else would occur to the minds of the heathen nations, except that God was unable to maintain His blessing, however desirous He might be to do so. And assuredly this is no ordinary effect of God’s goodness, so to connect the glory of His name with our salvation, that whatever is adverse to us brings with it reproach upon Him, because the mouth of the wicked will be open to blaspheme. And this will in fact turn to our advantage, if on our part, without dissimulation, and in zealous sincerity, we beseech God to uphold His own glory in saving us; for many boldly plead the name of God in their own behalf, although they are unaffected by any real care or love for it. Moreover, because the more illustrious God’s exercise of His power has been, the more insolently are the ungodly disposed to blaspheme, if it has appeared to fail; we must always entreat of Him that He should not desert the work of His hands which He has begun in us. To this effect are the words, “They have heard that thou art seen face to face;” for, if the people’s safety were not maintained, the failure would have been imputed to none but God, who had put. forth the power of His hand to preserve them. In fine, since their astonishing exodus had been a testimony of God’s favor, so, if he had suffered the people to perish in the desert, all would have considered it a sign of His weakness, inasmuch as it was not probable that He should not accomplish what tie desired, unless He were unable to do so.

Verse 17

17.And now, I beseech thee, let the power of my Lord be great. He derives another ground of confidence from the vision, in which God had more clearly manifested His nature, from whence it appears how much he had profited by it, and what earnest and anxious attention he had paid to it. Hence, however, we derive a general piece of instruction, that there is nothing more efficacious in our prayers than to set His own word before God, and then to found our supplications upon His promises, as if He dictated to us out of His own mouth what we were to ask. Since, then, God had manifested Himself to Moses in that memorable declaration, which we have already considered, he was able to derive from thence a sure directory for prayer; for nothing can be more sure than His own word, on which if our prayers are based, there is no reason to fear that they will be ineffectual, or that their results should disappoint us, since He who has spoken will prove Himself to be true. And, in fact, this is the reason why He speaks, viz., to afford us the grounds for addressing Him, for else we must needs be dumb.

Verse 18

Since I have expounded the 18th verse elsewhere, (59) let my readers refer to that place.

(59) See Exodus 34:6. Vol. 3, pp. 386-388.

Verse 19

19.Pardon, I beseech thee, the iniquity of this people. In order to encourage his hope of pardon, he first sets before himself the greatness of God’s mercy, and then the past instances by which it had been proved that God was inclined to forgiveness. And, indeed, the mercy of God continually invites us to seek reconciliation whenever we have sinned; and, though iniquities heaped upon iniquities, and the very enormity of our sins, might justly make us afraid, still the abundance of His grace, of which mention is here made, must needs occur to us, so as to swallow up all dread of His wrath. David, also, betaking himself to this refuge, affords us an example how all alarm is to be overcome. (Psalms 51:1) But, since the bare and abstract recognition of God’s goodness is often insufficient for us, Moses applies another stay in the shape of experience: Pardon, (he says,) as thou hast so often done before. For, since the goodness of God is unwearied and inexhaustible, the oftener we have experienced it, the more ought we to be encouraged to implore it; not that we may sink into the licentious indulgence of sin, but lest despair should overwhelm us, when we are lying under the condemnation of God, and our own conscience smites and torments us. In a word, let us regard this as a most effective mode of importunity, when we beseech God by the benefits which we have already experienced, that He will never cease to be gracious.

Verse 20

20.And the Lord said, I have pardoned, according to thy word. God signifies that tie pardons for His servant Moses’ sake, and makes, as it were, a present to him of those whom He had already devoted to destruction. Hence we gather how much the entreaties of the pious avail with God: as He is said, in Psalms 145:19, to “fulfil the desire of them that fear him.” He would, indeed, have done of His own accord what He granted to Moses; but, in order that we may be more earnest in prayer, the use and advantage of prayers is commended, when God declares that He will not only comply with our requests, but even obey them.

But how is it consistent for Him to declare that He had spared those, upon whom He had determined to inflict the most extreme punishment, and whom He deprived of their promised inheritance? I reply that the pardon in question was not granted to the individuals, but to their race and name. For the opinion of some is unnatural, who think that they were released from the penalty of eternal death, and thence that God was propitiated towards them, because He was contented with their temporal punishment. I do not doubt, then, but that Moses was so far heard, as that the seed of Abraham should not be destroyed, and the covenant of God should not fail For He so dispensed the pardon as to preserve their posterity uninjured, whilst He inflicted on the unbelievers themselves the reward of their rebellion. Thus the conditions of the pardon were of no advantage to the impious rebels, though they opened a way for the faithful fulfillment of His promise.

Verse 21

21.But as truly as I live, all the earth. It is, indeed, plain that God here swears by His life and glory: the meaning is only ambiguous in this respect, that some translate it in the past tense, that the earth had been filled with His glory, which had already been displayed in so many miracles. And this seems to accord well with what follows, “Those, who have seen my glory — shall not see the land;” still the future tense suits the context better, viz., that God should call to witness His glory, which He will hereafter assert. Moses feared lest the destruction of the people should be turned into a reproach and contumely against God; God now declares with an oath that He would so vindicate His glory, as that those, who were guilty of so great a crime, should not escape punishment. He proclaims that those should not see the land, who had shut their eyes against the miracles, of which they had been spectators and eye-witnesses, and in their blindness had endeavored to set them at naught. For, inasmuch as they had not been taught to fear God by so many signs, they were worse than unworthy of beholding the land, the possession of which ought to have been assured to them by those very signs, if God’s truth had not been utterly rejected by their ingratitude.

God complains that He had been “tempted” by them “ten times;” because they had not ceased constantly to provoke Him by their frowardness; for it is no fixed or definite number, which is intended, but God would merely indicate that they had done so without measure or end. We have elsewhere (60) shown what it is to tempt God, viz., to subject His power to the narrow rule of our own senses, and to prescribe to Him the mode in which He is to act, according to our own desires: so as to defer to Him no further than our carnal reason dictates. The source and cause of this tempting of God is subjoined, i.e., when men refuse to listen to His voice; since nothing but obedience, which is the mistress of humility, can restrain our insolence.

(60) See ante, vol. 1, p. 421, on Deuteronomy 6:16.

Verse 24

24.But my servant Caleb. By synecdoche Caleb alone is now excepted, although Joshua was a partaker of the same grace, as he had been also a sharer in his courageous conduct; but Caleb is especially distinguished, because he had, as it were, uplifted the banner, and had stood forth first to encourage Joshua, The sum of his praise is that he “fulfilled (61) to go after God.” The word “will,” which some understand, is superfluous, since the expression is complete without any addition. God, therefore, commends Caleb’s perseverance in obeying; because he not only promptly exhorted the others, but also proceeded boldly and unhesitatingly, without being deterred by any obstacles. God, however, magnifies his perseverance, because he looked to Him alone in his noble conflict with so great a multitude. For it is an extraordinary case for a person to stand firm, and to hold a straight course in the midst of violent and tempestuous disturbances, when all the world is, as it were, convulsed. Although the word רוח, ruach, (62) is sometimes used for the disposition of the mind, yet I have no doubt but that Moses signifies, by metonymy, that Caleb was thus influenced by divine inspiration.

(61) A.V., “Followed me fully.” “Hebr., he fulfilled after me: so in Deuteronomy 1:36, and Joshua 14:8.” — Ainsworth. “Implevit, subaudi, verbum meum, vel voluntatem meam.” — S.M.

(62) “This other spirit was the spirit of faith, which the Law cannot give, (Galatians 3:2) — the spirit of adoption of sons, not of bondage to fear again, Romans 8:14. By the guidance of this spirit, Caleb constantly followed the Lord, and obtained the promised inheritance.” — Ainsworth.

Verse 25

25.Now the Amalekites and the Canaanites. Some thus resolve these words; “Although the Amalekites dwell in the valley;” and others thus: “Since the Amalekites abide in the valleys to lay ambuscades.” Others think that their object is to inspire terror, lest the Israelites should remain too long in the enemy’s country, since they would be daily exposed to fresh attacks. I am, however, rather of opinion that they are spoken in reproach. For they had already arrived at the borders of the inhabited land, so that their enemies might be put to the rout at once: whereas God commands them to retire, and thus expels them from the land, which they had actually reached. Still I do not deny that He sets before them the necessity of the case, and thus enforces their obedience; as if He had said, that nothing now remained but to retreat, and again to throw themselves into the desert.

Verse 26

26.And the Lord spoke unto Moses. (63) I have translated the copula by the word itaque (therefore,) to indicate the connection with what precedes: for Moses does not here recount anything new, but, by way of explanation, repeats a point of great importance, viz., that they, who had refused to enter the land, would be deprived of its possession. He begins with the passionate interrogation: (64) “How long shall this troublesome dregs of a people be borne with, who never cease to murmur against me?” And God says that He “had heard” their turbulent cries; in order that they might more certainly perceive that their pride was intolerable, since God Himself was weary of it, although He is long-suffering and slow to anger. It is in bitter irony that He says He will deal with them in accordance with their own resolution and desire. Nothing, indeed, was further from their intention than to wander in the wilderness, but, since they had held back from entering the land, God says that He will gratify them in a very different sense, viz., that they shall never enjoy the sight of that land, which they had despised. By His oath, He expresses His extreme wrath, as also it is said in Psalms 95:11,

“Unto whom I swore in my wrath, that they
shall not enter into my rest.” (65)

It was necessary that their stolidity should be thus aroused, lest, when God was so greatly provoked, they should still continue self-satisfied, according to their went. He aggravates their punishment by another circumstance, i.e., that, they were to be deprived of the inheritance which He had sworn to give to Abraham; for the lifting up of the hand (66) (as I have said elsewhere) was a form of oath; just as if God were called down from heaven by the outstretched hand to be witness and judge: and, although this does not indeed literally apply to God, still we know that He commonly transfers to Himself the things that belong to men. Moreover, this was a most severe reproof, that they by their wickedness and self-will should nullify a promise, which God had ratified by an oath, in so far, at least, as its fulfillment affected themselves: for He points out immediately afterwards that, although they had rejected the proffered blessing, he would still be true; and would bestow on their little ones that which they had refused for themselves. It is thus that God tempers His judgments against those hypocrites, who falsely profess to honor His name, so as to preserve a seed for the propagation of His Church: nor is He ever so severe towards the reprobate, as to fail in sustaining His mercy towards His elect. Nay, He here declares that Hie will be gracious towards their children, as a means of inflicting punishment on the fathers. It was an indirect accusation of God, when they lamented over their children, as if they were to be carried away as “a prey;” whereas, God promises that they shall be the possessors of the land, in order to reprove this wicked blasphemy.

(63) “The Lord spoke therefore to Moses,” etc.Lat.

(64) “Pathetica interrogatio.” —Lat. “Or, Dieu use d’un proeme vehement a la facon d’un homme passione;” now, God uses a vehement exordium, after the fashion of an angry man. — Fr.

(65) “Si introibunt in requiem meam.” —Lat. See Margin A.V., and Hebrews 4:3.

(66) See Numbers 14:30, Margin A.V.Item, vol. 1, p. 131, on Exodus 6:8.

Verse 33

33.And your children shall wander in the wilderness. (67) He here pronounces that their children shall be in some measure partakers of their punishment, inasmuch as they shall wander in the desert until the time prescribed: for by the word shepherds, He means sojourners, (68) who have no certain or settled residence. To this effect is the similitude in the song of Hezekiah:

“My lodging is departed as a shepherd’s tent.” (69)
(Isaiah 38:12.)

In short, He declares that they shall be wandering and unsettled, and lead a life, like shepherds conducting their flocks from place to place.

He calls the wicked rebellions, whereby they had corrupted themselves, metaphorically “whoredoms;” for, from the time that God had espoused them to Himself, their true chastity would have been to embrace His grace in sincere faith, and at the same time to devote themselves to His service; but by rejecting tits pure worship, they had broken their sacred marriage-vow like gadding harlots.

This example teaches us how God visits the iniquities of the fathers on their children, and yet chastises no one undeservedly; since the descendants here referred to, (70) although atoning for the fault of others, were still by no means innocent themselves. But in the judgments of God there is always a deep abyss, into which if you fear to be plunged, adore that which it is not lawful to question. Nevertheless, there is no doubt but that thus also God provided for the welfare of those, towards whom He appeared to show some marks of severity. For He waited not only until they had grown up, but also, as was advantageous to themselves, until they had attained the strength of manhood, and until a new generation had sprung up. He assigns a second reason why He postponed the fulfillment of His promise for forty years, viz., that tie might repay the ill-spent days by as many years. Having, then, spoken of their children, He again returns to the actual criminals themselves, who were to be consumed in all that long period of time, as if by a lingering disease. The noun תנואת, tenuoth, which I have rendered vanity, (71) is derived from the verb נוא, nu, which signifies to render ineffectual. Translators, however, extract from it various meanings. Some thus construe it: Ye shall know whether I am false, or whether my word shall be vain. Others, rendering it prohibition, depart more widely from the sense. But, in my judgment, it is an ironical concession, whereby God reproves their detestable pride, which had no other object than to accuse God of falsehood, and to charge Him calumniously with failing to fulfil His words. Unless, (72) perhaps, it should be preferred to take it passively; because the people had endeavored to annihilate, as it were, God himself. But still I rather adopt this sense, that they should perceive by certain and experimental proof, whether God’s promises were frivolous or vain. Moreover, we must bear in mind the admonition of the Prophet, to which I have referred, (Psalms 95:11,) and which the Apostle adapts to our present use, (Hebrews 4:6,) viz., that a better rest is now offered to us, from which we are to fear lest our unbelief should withhold us. For it is not sufficient for us that God’s hand should once have been extended to us, unless we allow ourselves to be directed by it, until our earthly wanderings are concluded, and it conducts us into our heavenly rest.

(67) Lat., “shall be shepherds.” Margin A.V., “or feed. ”

(68) “Il entend qu’ils seront errans comme estrangers, ayant tousiours un pied leve, et nul arrest;” he means that they shall wander as strangers, having one foot always lifted, and without any stay. — Fr.

(69) A.V., “Mine age is departed, etc.” A. Barnes’s translation pretty nearly agrees with that of C. , which he defends in the following note: “The word דורי, which is here used, means properly the revolving period, or circle of human life. The parallelism seems to demand, however, that it should be used in the sense of dwelling, or habitation, so as to correspond with the “shepherd’s tent.” Accordingly, Lowth and Noyes render it habitation. So also do Gesenius and Rosenmuller. The Arabic word has this signification; and the Hebrew verb דור, also means to dwell, to remain, as in Chaldee.” C.’s Latin is here hospitium; in his Commentary on Isaiah, habitatio.

(70) “Ayant porte la paste au four (comme on dit) pour le peche de leurs peres;” having carried the dough to the oven (as they say) for the sin of their fathers. — Fr.

(71) A.V., “My breach of promise. Margin, Or, altering of my purpose.” Fr., “Mensonge.”

(72) “Sinon qu’on aimast mieux prendre ce mot en temps passif, Vous cognoistrez men aneantissement: pource que le peuple s’estoit efforce d’abolir Dieu;” unless it be preferred to take this word in a passive sense, You shall know my annihilation; because the people had striven to annihilate God. — Fr.

Verse 36

36.And the men, which Moses sent to search the land. I do not at all approve of the view which some take, that this is recorded by anticipation; for there is no question but that Moses recounts the special punishment which was inflicted by God upon the perfidious spies. He had previously treated of the general punishment of the whole people; when he now relates that the ten men were smitten by the plague, he intimates that God would begin with them, so as to manifest by this conspicuous and notable example how grossly He was offended by their very disgraceful contempt of His grace. Their sudden and unnatural death was, therefore, a kind of presage to all the others of the punishment which awaited them. For in the first place, the expression, “the plague,” is emphatic, as much as to say that they should not die in the ordinary course of nature. Again, by “the sight of God,” (73) he means something else than as if he had said, “before God;” for God was not merely a beholder of their destruction, but in a strange and unusual manner He executed His awful judgment, as if He had publicly ascended the tribunal. And this appeared more clearly by His prolonging the life of Caleb and Joshua, who were the only survivors of that generation until the end of the time prescribed. It is true, indeed, that the verbs (74) are in the past tense; but, since there is an evident πρόληψις, I have not hesitated to change the tense, which is a sufficiently common idiom of the language; and thus the connection of the address is better preserved.

(73) It will be seen that C.’s own translation is, “coram Deo;” but the V. renders the words, “in conspectu Domini.”

(74) A.V. concludes the denunciation of the Almighty at Numbers 14:35. C. continues it to the end of Numbers 14:38; and hence arose the necessity for changing the tenses. Vatablus and the Geneva version agree with C.; Dathe with A.V.

Verse 39

39.And Moses told all these sayings. It was, indeed, a just cause for mourning, when they heard that God, whose longsuffering they had so wantonly abused, would hereafter be inexorable. Yet here we have set before our eyes that “sorrow of the world which worketh death,” as Paul says, (2 Corinthians 7:10,) when the wicked, as they weep and complain, cease not to murmur against God; nay, when they gnaw the bit with greater obstinacy, and thus, like savage and untamable beasts, rush forward to their destruction in blind desperation. The temporal punishment could not, indeed, be redeemed by any tears; but, if there had been the disposition to repent, their only remedy would have been voluntarily to submit themselves, and calmly to undergo whatever chastisement God might be pleased to inflict. First of all, however, they proudly struggle to shake off the punishment awarded to them, and whilst they pretended penitence, increasingly kick against God. There is no doubt but that it was under the pretence of submission that they prepared themselves on the morrow to advance; but wherefore was this, except that they may overturn God’s inviolable decree! Nevertheless, they sought, as if against His. will, to make a way for themselves, though He forbade. “Behold us, (they said,) we are ready;” but it was too late; for the opportunity had fled. For, as the Prophet exhorts us to “seek the Lord while he may be found,” (Isaiah 4:6,) so also we ought to follow Him when He calls us. But of what avail was this unseasonable alacrity of the people? When God wishes them to retire into the desert, they affect a desire to obey Him by advancing further; and still would have their confession of sin accepted as a sufficient satisfaction.

Verse 41

41.And Moses said, Wherefore do ye now transgress? He rejects this feigned penitence, whereby the sinner tries all sorts of shifts, (78) so as not to submit himself to God. “If thou wilt return, O Israel, return unto me,” saith the Lord by Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 4:1.) The first thing, therefore, which we must consider is, what God requires of us; so that it may plainly appear that we truly submit ourselves to His power.

In order to restrain their temerity, Moses reminds them that they will seek in vain for success, when they depart from God’s command. And this is a very useful piece of instruction, that His grace will never be wanting to us, if we simply obey His word; but when, in contempt and neglect of His precepts, we are carried away by our own feelings, the event will never be prosperous. If any should object that the wretched people had no other remedy, I have already stated, that they ought to have been contented with this consolation, viz., that banishment from the land of Canaan was not disinheritance from the hope of eternal life. Nay, if they had humbled themselves before God, they might expect that their punishment would have been a profitable help to them. By their misdirected activity they double the evil. After having pointed out their danger, Moses again impresses upon them that God is not with them, because they had deserted Him: and that His blessing was withheld, because they had refused to follow Him at the proper time.

(78) “En laquelle les pecheurs tournent a l’entour du pot;” whereby sinners twist round the pot. —Fr.

Verse 44

44.But they presumed to go up unto the hill-top. It was not, indeed, their intention deliberately to array themselves against God, but rather did they endeavor to appease Him by this means of propitiation. Nor was their self-deceit devoid of a colorable pretext, inasmuch as they were ready cheerfully to welcome death, so as to offer their lives in sacrifice, and thus to compensate for their previous hesitation and inertness. It is thus that the zeal of the wicked is fervent, when it ought to be still; whereas, when God commands, coldness and apathy possess their minds, so that they are no more aroused by His voice, than as if they were stones. In a word, when it ought to be quiet, unbelief is always active, prompt, and bold; but when God would have it advance, it is timid, slow, and dead.

In conclusion, Moses adds, that their foolish enterprise was punished; for they were not merely routed and put to flight by their enemies, but utterly destroyed. (79) Hence we gather, that their audacity failed them in the trial, and was deficient in true courage. At the same time he recounts another sign of their senselessness, in that they left behind the ark of God, as well as Moses, and rushed forward, like doomed persons, to be slaughtered. Hence it appears that unbelievers, when carried away by the blind impulse of their zeal, are as much destitute of reason and discretion as if they deliberately conspired for their own destruction.

(79) “Sed etiam contriti.” — Lat. “Discomfited them.” — A.V. The Geneva version renders the word “consumed.” — Hebr. ויכתום, from כחת, which Taylor renders, “contundere, conterere. To beat, to crush, to knock, and mash all to pieces.”

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 14". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/numbers-14.html. 1840-57.
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