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Bible Commentaries
Numbers 2

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.And the Lord spake unto Moses, and unto Aaron This distribution into separate bands must have served to prevent contention; for, had not God thus assigned to each their proper position, so natural is ambition to man, that they would have quarrelled for the place of honor. It would have been grievous to the family of Reuben, the first-born, to resign his dignity; and, even if they had patiently submitted to the punishment inflicted upon them, they would have been made to take the lowest place, as being condemned to ignominy. Disputes would also have arisen respecting the children of the concubines, for they would not have thought it consistent that; those who sprang from Leah and Rachel should yield them the superior place. Besides, in proportion as they severally had the advantage in numbers, they would have thought themselves injured unless they preceded others.

Thus the children of Simeon would never have suffered themselves to be ranged under the standard of Reuben. Again, dispute would also have arisen between the children of Ephraim and Manasseh. God, therefore, at once put a stop to all these disturbances by so arranging their ranks that each one knew his own band. Consequently, Judah, although the fourth son of Leah, received the first standard as an honorable distinction, that he might thus in a manner begin to fulfill the prophecy of Jacob by anticipation; and two tribes were united with him which would willingly submit to his rule, Issachar and Zebuhm; because they derived their origin from the children of the (421) handmaid whom Leah had substituted in her own place.

Although Reuben had been deprived of his primogeniture, still, that some consolation might remain for his posterity, he was set over the second standard; two tribes were associated with him, which on account of their connection would not be aggrieved at fighting under his command, the tribe of Simeon his uterine brother, and the tribe of Gad, which also sprang from the handmaid of Leah.

It was necessary that God should interpose His authorify, in order that two tribes should be formed of a single head, Joseph; otherwise the fact would have led to contention, because the inequality was odious in itself, and that family might appear to be elevated not without disgrace to the others. Besides, the children of Manasseh, who were superior by the law of nature, would never have been induced to obey, unless a divine decree had interposed. But thtat division could not have been better formed than of the sons of Rachel, because their consanguinity was closer; for a sharp contest might also have arisen for the leadership of the fourth band, because it was unjust that the son of a handmaid should have been placed at its head, and thus preferred to a legitimate son of Leah, and to the other son of Rachel, especially when Benjamin was so singularly beloved by Jacob, the common father of them all. (422) The sole will of God, indeed, was sufficient, and more than sufficient to prevent all quarrels; but, inasmuch as He chose rather to rule over them generously and paternally, than in a despotic manner, He rather conformed Himself to their wishes than drove them by compulsion. Still, however, because their contentions could not be prevented by mere human decisions, it is again said at the end of the chapter that Moses did nothing except by God’s command. At the same time the obedience of the people is noticed in that they peaceably obeyed Moses, since thus they ratified their acknowledgment of Moses as a true and faithful minister of God; for this submissiveness is the inseparable companion of sincere piety towards God, that whatever is proposed by His approved ministers the people should reverently accept.

(421) This is a singular oversight of C. , which is also copied in the French; “Pource qu’elles estoyent descendues de la chambriere de Lea;” because they were descended from the handmaid of Leah. It is perhaps still more strange that Attersoll in his Commentary on the Book of Numbers should have adopted it, evidently following C. ; “He (Judah) was the fourth son of Jacob by Leah, with whom he associateth such two tribes as were in reason most likely to submit themselves to him, inasmuch as Zebulun and Issachar were the sons of Zilpah, Leah’s maid, whom she gave to her husband, and set in her own place.” I need scarcely remind my readers that Gad and Asher were the sons of Zilpah, and Zebulun and Issachar of Leah herself.

(422) Attersoll seems to have correctly, though somewhat quaintly, interpreted here the meaning of C. , which else perhaps may not be quite clear; “from hence might hurly-burlies and heart-burnings arise, which are all pacified and compounded by the express commandment of God, who joineth to Dan, Naphtali his mother’s son, (for both of them were the sons of Bilhah, Rachel’s maid,) and Asher, the son of Zilpah, Leah’s maid.” — Commentary on numbers in loco.

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 2". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/numbers-2.html. 1840-57.
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