Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 3: Harmony of the Law, Part I, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
17. And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:
17. Factum est autem quum emitteret Pharao populum, ut non duceret eos Deus per viam terrae Philistim, quia propinqua erat. Nam dixit Deus, Ne forte poeniteat populum quum viderint praelium et revertantur in AEgyptum.
18. But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea. And the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.
19. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.
18. Circunduxit ergo Deus populum per viam deserti, per Mare Rubrum: et dispositi ascenderunt filii Israel e terra AEgypti.
19. Et tulit Moses ossa Joseph secum. Adjurando enim adjuraverat filios Israel, dicendo, Visitando visitabit vos Deus, et tolletis ossa mea hinc vobiscum.
20. And they took their journey from Succoth, and encamped in Etham, in the edge of the wilderness.
20. Itaque profecti sunt e Suchoth, et castrametati sunt in Ethan, in extremitate deserti.
21. And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light, to go by day and night.
21. Jehova autem praecedebat eos interdiu in columna nubis, ut deduceret eos per viam; noctu vero in columna ignis, ut luceret eis, ut ambularent die et noctu.
22. He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.
22. Non abstulit columnam nubis interdiu, neque columnam ignis noctu a facie populi.
17. And it came to pass when Pharaoh. Moses here assigns the reason why God did not immediately lead His people by the more direct way into the land of Canaan, which would have been just as easy to Him, but preferred to bring them round through the desert, by a long and difficult and dangerous journey; viz., lest, if perhaps they had met with enemies to contend against, a ready means of return would have encouraged them to go back into Egypt. We know how great was the supineness and cowardice of this people, as soon as any difficulty presented itself; and how quick they were to revolt from the divine government, as often as a heavier burden than they liked was imposed upon them. We know how often they repented of having followed God as their leader, and thus were prepared to throw away by their ingratitude the grace offered to them. When, therefore, they were powerless in the use of arms, and were altogether without experience of military tactics, with what courage would they have engaged with an enemy, if any should have advanced against them within a few days of their coming out? Assuredly they would not have borne up against a single assault, but would have been willing rather to submit themselves to the Egyptians, with humble supplications for forgiveness. Lest, then, any desire of return should steal over their hearts, God was willing to set up a barrier behind them in the difficulty of the journey. Besides, if in their departure from Egypt they had immediately encountered the inhabitants of the land of Canaan in war, greater troubles would have awaited them; for the Egyptians would by no means let them alone, but., being aided by the subsidies and forces of so many peoples, would have endeavored to avenge themselves, and, having entered into alliances on every side, would have hemmed in the unhappy Israelites. Wherefore, God provided excellently for them, by leading them through inaccessible paths, and by their very weariness shutting the door against their ever desiring to return into Egypt; while afterwards He gradually restored their’ confidence, before they came to fight, and had to sustain the attacks of their enemies. I admit, indeed, that God might have otherwise obviated all these evils; but since He is often wont to deal with His people on human principles, He chose to adopt the method which was most suited to their infirmity. Moses now commends this His admirable design, in order that we may know that nothing was omitted by Him which was for the safety and advantage of His people. For this “God said,” which he mentions, refers to His providence; as much as to say, that the easier and more ordinary passage was not undesignedly rejected, but that because God knew it to be more expedient, He thus advisedly obviated the temptation.
18. The children of Israel went up harnessed. The word חמשים, 148 chemishim, is derived from “Five,” from whence some have explained it, that they were furnished with five kinds of arms, but this is too absurd. The Hebrews, because they could conjecture nothing better or more probable, almost with one consent would understand it, that they were armed under the fifth rib. But whence were there so many military corselets ready for the Israelites? But I reject so forced and improbable a meaning, and doubt not that the word is one of number; as though Moses had said, that they went out in ranks of five; because, if each individual in so great a multitude had tried to advance, they would have been in each other’s way. I have therefore thought fit to translate it “dispositi,” (in ranks.) The idea of the Greeks about “the fifth generation,” is very foreign to the present narrative. But in the sense I have given it, there is nothing obscure or doubtful; for it readily appears that God’s favor is celebrated also in this particular, because He led forth His people in order. For, although they came out confusedly and hastily, still He restrained there, as it were, under His banner, and in companies, lest any disturbance should occur.
19. And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. Hence it appears, that even in their adversity the memory of their promised deliverance had never departed from the people, for had not the adjuration of Joseph been currently spoken of in common conversation, Moses would never have been able to imagine it; but he expressly states that he acted in obedience to the holy patriarch in carrying away his bones. It is, therefore, probable that they were so deposited, that the hope of the people might be kept alive by seeing daily the urn or coffer which contained them, as if the holy man even after death uplifted from his tomb a sign of their deliverance; for although by this symbolical act he cherished his own faith, when he desired that, though dead, he might enter on the possession of the promised land, yet there is no doubt that he had more regard to his brethren and the whole posterity of the holy race. 149 For, having known by experience their apathy and the weakness of their faith, he naturally feared lest in a longer lapse of time they should grow more and more indifferent, and at length should despise the proraise, and give themselves up altogether to listlessness about it. And certainly it must have been this mistrust of them which urged him not to be contented with a simple injunction, but to bind their minds more strongly by an oath. In Ac 7:16, Stephen seems to assert that the other eleven sons of Jacob were also buried in Sichem; and it may be probably conjectured, that they were led piously to emulate the example of their brother Joseph. Assuredly the faith of the departed Joseph, even in his dry bones, preached loudly to his descendants of the promised deliverance, lest they should grow careless from the long delay; and when at length the Israelites were led forth, the bones or ashes of the twelve Patriarchs were like so many standard-bearers, going before the several tribes to encourage their confidence. Wherefore the cowardice of the people was still more detestable, so often basely turning their backs upon their journey, when they had in sight so eminent a ground for confidence. The words of Joseph, which Moses reports, “God will surely visit you,” etc., confirm the expression of the Apostle, (Heb 11:22,) that “by faith — he gave commandment concerning his bones,” because he thus takes upon himself the character and office of their surety, to exhort his nation to embrace the promise. How far the silly superstition of the Papists in worshipping the relics of saints differs from this object we may gather from hence without difficulty, viz., that they studiously catch at every means whereby they may be withdrawn further from the word of God.
21. And the Lord went before them. Moses here proclaims another of God’s mercies, that, having redeemed His people, He was their constant leader and guide; as the Prophet also in the Psalms distinctly makes reference to both. (Ps 77:15; and Ps 78:14.) It was indeed a marvelous act of loving-kindness that, accommodating Himself to their ignorance, he familiarly presented Himself before their eyes. He might, indeed, have protected them in some other way from the heat of the sun, and directed them in the darkness of the night; but, in order that His power might be more manifest, He chose to add also His visible presence, to remove all room for doubt. But, although the words of Moses seem in some measure to include the Lord in the cloud, we must observe the sacramental mode of speaking, wherein God transfers His name to visible figures; not to affix to them His essence, or to circumscribe His infinity, but only to show that He does not deceitfully expose the signs of His presence to men’s eyes, but that the exhibition of the thing signified is at the same time truly conjoined with them. Therefore, although Moses states that God was in the cloud and in the pillar of fire, yet does he not wish to draw Him down from heaven, nor to subject His infinite glory to visible signs, with which His truth may consist without His local presence. 150 But execrable is the mad notion of Servetus, who pretended that this cloud was uncreated, as though it were the Deity of Christ, for he substituted this One Person for the Three, as if there had then been a corporeal Deity, which he calls the “figurative Son,” who was afterwards made flesh; not that He put on flesh, but because He appeared as man, compounded of three uncreated elements, and of the seed of David. But, soon after, Moses calls this same being an Angel, to which he now assigns the name of the eternal God. And with good reason, because our heavenly Father then led the Israelites only by the hand of His only-begotten Son. Now, since He is the eternal guardian of His Church, Christ is not less truly present with us now by His power than he was formerly manifest to the fathers. When, therefore, Isaiah prophesies His coming, he recounts amongst others this divine blessing, that “the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night,” — that there might be
“a tabernacle for a shadow in the day-time from the heat, and for a place of refuge and for a covert from storm and from rain,”
(Isa. 4:5, 6;)
as if he had said, that He would really and substantially fulfill what then was seen under a figurative symbol. And surely that promise, —
“The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night,” (Ps 121:6,)
refers not to a single day, but to all ages. The statement of Moses, then, that “He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night,” is a blessing which God extends to us, as well as to them, except only the visible symbol, which was temporary, on account of the infirmity of the people. As to his saying’ that God always appeared to them, that they might march by night as well as by day, he does not mean that they went on continually without any rest, since he had just before mentioned that their first station was in Succoth, from whence they encamped in Etham, but merely informs us that the flow of God’s grace was continual, since the token of His favor and protection shone forth no less amidst the darkness of the night than at midday itself.
חמשים. Fives. The Rabbinical notions here mentioned are thus briefly stated in S M , “Exponitur a Kimchi sic, Et accincti armis in quinta costa. Alii autem sic exponunt, Et accincti quinque armorum generibus.” In speaking of what the Greeks had imagined, C. alludes to the LXX., who entirely depart from the Hebrew, by rendering this clause, πέμπτὟ δὲ γενεᾷ, κ. τ. λ.. “And in the fifth generation, the children of Israel went up,” etc. — W.
D’Abraham. — Fr.
“Sans qu’il y soit requis une presence de lieu;” without a local presence being required. — Fr.