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Saturday, July 20th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 15

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake. He partly here adverts to those precepts of which he had treated more distinctly and fully in Leviticus, and partly gathers into one place what he had before spoken of in various places and more obscurely. For as yet he had delivered no certain regulations as to the accessories to the meat-offering of oil and wine; but what he had before appropriated to particular cases he now commands to be observed generally, and what he had treated of more accurately he now lightly passes over; for he does not enter into full particulars, but only forbids that sacrifices should be offered without flour, a libation of wine, and oil. We have seen elsewhere that in the sacrifices and oblations, wherein God consulted the rude condition of the people, He took as it were the character of a man, as if He feasted there familiarly with them. In this sense He elsewhere calls the sacrifices His meat, (291) not because He, who is the life in Himself and inspires the life of all, requires the supports of life, but because, unless He descends to men, He cannot lift up their minds to things above. Still, inasmuch as there was danger on the other side lest the people should introduce many inane and superfluous pomps, as we see that in their sacred feasts the Gentiles were foolishly and immoderately luxurious, as if their delicacies gave pleasure to God, the measure of each particular thing is prescribed, that they may not dare to invent anything arbitrarily. The conjecture is probable that what had been before delivered with sufficient clearness is here again recalled to their memory. But since this reason is not expressly given, it will be enough to hold fast what has been frequently stated, that although the ceremonies might be of trifling importance, still it was necessary that the lawful should be carefully distinguished from the unauthorized, in order that the licentiousness of men might be anticipated, who would otherwise have failed not to mingle their own leaven. The sum of this passage is, that both in the solemn sacrifices which the Law demands, as well as in the free-will-offerings, they should observe that proportion of which we have treated elsewhere.

(291)Son pain et sa viande;” his bread and meat. — Fr.

Verse 14

14.And if a stranger sojourn with you. He does not mean all strangers, but only those who, descending from heathen nations, had professedly turned to God, and thus had been received into the body of the Church; for the uncleanness of those who remained in uncircumcision excluded them from the legal service. I conceive that there were two reasons why God would have one and the same form observed;first, that the proselytes who had been lately incorporated might more cheerfully devote themselves to the exercises of piety, when they saw themselves placed in the same position as the children of Abraham; and secondly, lest if any distinction should be made, corrupt mixtures should immediately creep in. Lest, therefore, the purity of God’s worship should be gradually corrupted by absurd imitation, the gate was shut against that variety which usually draws men aside in different directions.

Verse 20

20.Ye shall offer up a cake. Here another kind of first-fruits is required, to offer up sacred cakes of the first of their dough. First-fruits were offered of their fruits and ears of corn; but the representation was more lively in the bread itself; and, consequently, God would have them present tokens of their gratitude, not only from the barn, but from the mill, and the oven, so that whilst they eat their bread also, they might have Him before their eyes.

Verse 22

22.And if ye have erred. He teaches by what kind of sacrifice the sins of the whole people or of each individual are to be expiated, although he enumerates only two of the four classes which are mentioned in Leviticus; for a special atonement is there enjoined both on the priest and the ruler. But neither is the ceremony of sacrificing here described, since Moses only wished to refresh their memories by the way as to the manner in which, either publicly or privately, they were to be reconciled to God. This word “error,” (264) as we have said, extends to incogitancy, which partakes of contempt of God, and arises from too great security, when men inconsiderately fall into the sins to which their lusts invite them; for deliberate impiety is afterwards brought into contrast with error, when men designedly rush into violations of the law. But since nothing is more easy than for men to err, this remedy was most necessary, lest they who had sinned should fall into despair. Lest, then, the people or private individuals, when they saw their guilt, should despair of pardon and throw away the pursuit of holiness, God anticipates them, and shews them by what means He is to be propitiated, so that the sins which had occurred should not interrupt His service. Since, however, Moses here only repeats what has already been explained, there is no need of dwelling largely upon it, except that in one point he seems to deliver a law different from the former one; for he there commands two bullocks to be slain for the reconciliation of the people, (265) the one as a burnt-offering, the other as a sin-offering; yet, if the second were not easily obtained, the permission was given to substitute a goat. In Leviticus, therefore, the regular and perfect rite was delivered; the permissive alteration is only added here; nor does Moses contradict himself, though, for the sake of brevity, he only refers to one of the two modes. At the end a clearer explanation is subjoined, viz., that the same law should be common to all, since it was by no means expedient to introduce any diversity.

(264)Ce mot d’inadvertence.” — Fr.

(265) “This law differs from Leviticus 4:13. Outram thinks the bullock was to be offered under that law when the whole congregation of Israel, though in other respects retaining their own rites and following the worship of the true God, yet, led away by one common error, transgressed, without knowing it, some prohibitory precept. The kid for a sin-offering, accompanied with a bullock for a burnt-offering, (see Numbers 15:24,) Outram says he apprehends to have been required when the people, neglecting their ancient rites and unmindful of the divine laws, (which often happened under wicked kings,) were seduced into strange worship. What is recorded in 2 Chronicles 28:24, Outram thinks adds much probability to his opinion. See Outram, D. 1, ch. 14, Section 2.” — Brightwell in loco.

Verse 30

30.But the soul that doeth ought. This verse is variously translated. For some read it thus (68) “The soul that doeth ought with a high hand, the same reproacheth the Lord, and, therefore, shall be cut off;” thus there would be two propositions. We have followed another opinion, reading it connectedly, “The soul, who shall have raised a high hand to the reproach of God, shall be cut off ” Literally, it is, “The soul, who shall have dealt with a high hand, whether born in the land, or a stranger, himself blaspheming God, and that soul shall be plucked up from the midst of his people.” But, since either version is probable, and makes no difference in substance, I have allowed myself freely to choose that which expressed the meaning more clearly. “To deal with a high hand” is nothing more than to attempt, or undertake proudly, what is not lawful: for our hands ought to be guided, and, as it were, restrained by God’s word, lest they should lift themselves up. But although men’s hands are used in various acts of audacity and wantonness, yet here there is especial mention of the profanation of God’s true and legitimate worship, when anything is invented inconsistent with its purity: for the punishment is not decreed against thefts, or murders, or other similar crimes, but against the perverse imaginations, which tend to the corruption of religion. The reason is afterwards added: “Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken His commandment.” For it is no light offense to transgress the bounds which God hath placed. Now, it is certain that all self-invented services betray an impious contempt of God, as if men designedly despised Him, and spurned at His commands. Whence we infer, that nothing is more opposed to perfect and sincere religion than that temerity which induces men to follow whatever course they please. The clause, “his iniquity shall be upon him, ” may be explained in two ways, either as a confirmation by Moses of the justice of this punishment, and of its merited infliction, or as an admonition, that the impiety should be corrected betimes, before it has advanced too far. There is no objection to either.

(68) Vide A.V. , and margin.

Verse 32

32.And while the children of Israel. Since we know not in what year, or in what month this happened, it appeared that nothing would be better than to follow the context of Moses. This history shows that the Israelites were not always affected by the same degree of madness, so as to be rebellious against God; since in this instance their moderation is no less manifested than the fervency of their pious zeal. But as one swallow does not make spring, so we shall form an incorrect judgment of men’s whole lives from one noble action. The transgressor of the law is brought to Moses and Aaron, whose authority retains the whole people in the path of duty. Their humility is also worthy of praise, in that they quietly wait for the decision of God; and finally, must be added, their energy in executing the punishment as soon as God has declared the sentence. You would say that in every point they were rightly conformed to the rules of piety; but, since the most trifling occasion immediately led them astray, their hypocrisy was discovered by this great levity of conduct.

This, however, is the sum of the history, that by the death of one man the obligation of the Sabbath was sanctioned, so that it might henceforth be held in greater reverence. It might indeed be the case that these men, who brought the transgressor of the Sabbath, were careless in other matters, and, as is usual with hypocrites, were excessively rigid in their assertion of the claims of an outward ceremony. From the punishment, however, we may infer that the criminal himself had not erred through inadvertence, but in gross contempt of the Law, so as to think nothing of subverting and corrupting all things sacred. Sometimes, indeed, God has severely avenged inconsideration in the pollution of holy things; but it is probable that He would not have commanded this man to be stoned, unless he had been convicted of willful crime. Moreover, by this severity God testified how much stress He laid upon the observance of the Sabbath. The reason of this has been elsewhere set forth, (84) viz., that by this mark and symbol He had separated His chosen people from heathen nations. Whence also arose the main reproach against the Jews, when they were called Sabbatarians. (85)

But it must be borne in mind that the worship of God was not to consist in mere idleness and festivity; and therefore that what God enjoined respecting the seventh day had another object: not only that they should then employ themselves in meditating upon His works, but that, renouncing themselves and their own works, they should live unto God.

Furthermore, this case shows us in general that the magistracy is appointed no less for the maintenance of the First Table, than the Second; so that, if they inflict punishment upon murder, adultery, and theft, they should also vindicate the worship of God: for it is to be observed that the man was not stoned by a mere unreflecting impulse, but by the direct command of God. They knew, indeed, what he had deserved before God’s tribunal; but, since no political law had been given on this head, Moses was unwilling to come to any decision except by the authority of God.

(84) Vol. 2, p 434.

(85) Martial, lib. 4, epigr. 4, speaks of “jejunia Sabbatariorum,” in a connection which makes it highly probable that it was a kind of nickname for the Jews.

Verse 38

38Speak unto the children of Israel. A little farther on I will explain the object of this precept more fully: although it is plain from the next verse that God had no other object but to exercise the Jews in constant meditation upon the Law. For there was no religion contained in the fringes themselves, nor had that material texture any value in itself; but since men are lazy and forgetful in the cultivation of piety, God would by this aid make a provision for their infirmity. For when He says that they should “look upon it and remember,” He hints that they have need of these coarse rudiments, which may strike even their outward senses; and again, that, unless their memory was kept awake, nothing was more likely than that forgetfulness should steal upon them. But he presently adds, that God has no satisfaction in mere empty knowledge, but that He demands serious affections and practical performance. In the latter part of the verse he points out another requirement, viz., not only that their sluggishness should be stimulated, but also their wantonness restrained; for when he says “that ye seek not after your own heart,” he intimates that, unless God should restrain their wandering senses, they would be too much inclined to all kinds of superstitions and errors. And, first of all, by contrasting “the hearts and eyes” of men with His Law, he shews that He would have His people contented with that one rule which He prescribes, without the admixture of any of their own imaginations; and again, He denounces the vanity of whatever men invent for themselves, and however pleasing any human scheme may appear to them, He still repudiates and condemns it. And this is still more clearly expressed in the last word, when he says that men “go a whoring” whenever they are governed by their own counsels. This declaration is deserving of our especial observation, for whilst they have much self-satisfaction who worship God according to their own will, and whilst they account their zeal to be very good and very right, they do nothing else but pollute themselves by spiritual adultery. For what by the world is considered to be the holiest devotion, God with his own mouth pronounces to be fornication. By the word “eyes” he unquestionably means man’s power of discernment.

Verse 41

41I am the Lord your God. Having at the end of the last verse commanded them to be holy unto their God, he now confirms this command by a reason, viz., that it was for this end that God redeemed them, that he might be their God, i.e., that He might be solemnly honored. He asserts God’s right, then, as founded upon the blessing of their deliverance, which would have been misplaced unless they devoted themselves to His service. The repetition at the conclusion is intended for confirmation.

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