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Bible Commentaries

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Numbers 34

Verse 1

1. And the Lord spake unto Moses. God here undertakes the office of a prudent and careful father of a family, in fixing the boundaries of the land on every side, lest their right to posses it should ever be called in question. He begins on the southern side, where it must be observed that the district of Bashan is included in it, and all that the Israelites had acquired before their passage of the Jordan, so that this addition was approved of by God. He extends this part as far as the wilderness of Sin, and the borders of Edom, and brings it round from Kadesh-barnea to Addar, and the passage of Azmon, and, finally, to the stream which washes (228) the city of Rhinocorura, in the immediate vicinity of Egypt; for by “the river of Egypt” the Nile is by no means to be understood, the course of which was not at all in that direction. The southern boundary, therefore, was from the Mediterranean Sea towards Arabia. On the western side the land was washed by the Mediterranean Sea, which is here called “the Great Sea,” in comparison with the Lake of Gennesareth, and the Salt Sea, by which name the Lacus Asphaltires is here meant. The beginning of the northern boundary was the promontory of Hor, for it would not accord to suppose that the mountain is here referred to in which Aaron died, and which was far away, and situated on the opposite side of the land. It extended from hence to Epiphania in Syria, which is called Hamath; for I agree with Jerome in thinking that there were two cities of this name, and it is undoubtedly probable that Antioch is called “Hamath the great” by the Prophet Amos (Amos 6:2,) in comparison with the lesser city here mentioned, the name of which was given it by that wicked and cruel tyrant (Antiochus) Epiphanes; whether, however, the greater Antioch was formerly called Hamath and Riblab, as Jerome states, I leave undecided. It then passed on to Zedad and Ziphron, and its extremity was the village of Enan. The eastern boundary passed from thence through Shephan, Riblah, and Ain, until it reached the Lake of Gennesareth, a lake sufficiently well known, and here called the Sea of Chinnereth. Thus the eastern boundary pointed from Arabia in the direction of Persia, and Babylon was situated to the north-east of it.

(228) There has been much discussion amongst the commentators on this point. The conclusion to which Dr. Kitto comes, after due examination of the opposite theory, is, that “the river of Egypt,” when mentioned as a boundary, cannot mean the Nile. “The present ‘river of Egypt’ (he adds) probably denotes a stream which formed the extreme boundary of the country eastward of the Nile, which Egypt, even in these early times, professed to claim, and which derived its name from that circumstance. It was probably not far from El-Arish, to which, under the name of Rhinocorura, it is expressly referred by the Septuagint. That it was a stream somewhere between the southern frontier of Palestine and the Nile we are deeply convinced.” — Illustr. Com., in loco.

Verse 13

13. And Moses commanded the children of Israel. Though this is a repetition, yet it is not a superfluous one; for he contrasts the new allotment of the nine tribes and a half with the former grant; (229) for the exception, which is immediately added, as to the lands beyond Jordan, given to the Reubenites, and Gadites, and half tribe of Manasseh, does not exclude them from their part of the promised inheritance was if they were disinherited, and therefore banished beyond the boundaries prescribed by God — but only from being subject to the casting of lots, because they had by special privilege obtained from their brethren what would else have been included in the common inheritance. Not that this had been revealed from the beginning, but because God in His indulgence had complied with their request, whereby they enlarged the boundaries of the land. And assuredly it would have been absurd that no place should be given them among their brethren in the promised land, as if they were cast off from the family of Abraham. We have lately seen that this part, which seemed to be separated from the others, was included in the limits laid down by God. Moses, therefore, merely wished to declare that what remained was to be divided by lot.

(229) “La donation qui avoit este desia faite de la region de Basan;” the grant which had been already made of the district of Bashan. — Fr.

Verse 16

16 And the Lord spake unto Moses. The question here arises, if the Israelites were to divide the land among themselves by lot, wherefore was the authority of the judges required, as if there was anything for them to decide? But if we consider what has been lately shown, that reference was to be had, in the distribution of the land, to the numbers in every tribe, it was requisite for two purposes, — first, that God might show by His decree the districts respectively assigned to them; and, secondly, that their dimensions might be proportionate to the number of their occupants. For the casting of lots was still necessary, because many would have been averse to the sea-coast, or would have preferred the center of the land to its extremities, or would have been unwilling to be banished to the mountains; in short, they would have contended with each other beyond measure in murmurings and strife. On this account the lots were cast, by the decision of which God placed the several tribes in whatever position He pleased, although the judges, together with the High Priest and Joshua, had before divided the land into ten portions. But after it was declared in what district the several tribes were to dwell, as if God had there designated their abodes, the determination of men was again necessarily had recourse to, as to how far, and in what direction, the boundaries of the greater tribes were to extend; otherwise the lesser tribes would have refused to be cooped up in a less convenient position. And although the supreme authority was justly vested in Eleazar and Joshua, lest God should expose them to calumny and ill-will, He associated with them a council, in which also there was a prudent precaution against rivalry, for each of the twelve tribes contributed its judge to preside over the distribution, so that none might complain of being aggrieved. Moreover, inasmuch as it was of great importance that the possession, once established, should be secured to posterity, first of all the names of the princes are recorded, in order to give certainty to the history; and, secondly, as had been stated at the beginning of the chapter, so also it is repeated at the end that they were chosen by God, from whence the Israelites learnt that the boundaries then fixed could not be altered without overthrowing the authority of God Himself.

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Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Numbers 34". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.