Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 6: Harmony of the Law, Part IV, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
A Repetition of the same History
2. And the Lord spoke unto me, saying,
2. Postea loquutus est ad me Jehova, dicendo:
3. Ye have compassed this mountain long enough: turn you northward.
3. Sufficit vobis circuisse montem istum: convertite vos ad aquilonem.
4. And command thou the people, saying, Ye are to pass through the coast of your brethren the children of Esau, which dwell in Self, and they shall be afraid of you: take ye good heed unto yourselves therefore.
4. Populo autem praecipe dicendo, Vos nunc transituri estis per terminum fratrum vestrorum filiorum Esau qui habitabant in Seir: timebunt autem a vobis, cavete diligenter:
5. Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their laud, no, not so much as a foot-breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.
5. Ne irritetis eos, non enim daturus sum vobis de terra eorum usque ad calcationem plantae pedis: quia in haereditatem ipsi Esau dedi montem Seir.
6. Ye shall buy meat of them for money, that ye may eat; and ye shall also buy water of them for money, that ye may drink.
6. Cibum emetis ab eis argento, et comedetis: et etiam aquam emetis ab eis argento, et bibetis.
7. For the Lord thy God hath blessed thee in all the works of thy hand: he knoweth thy walking through this great wilderness: these forty years the Lord thy God hath been with thee; thou hast lacked nothing.
7. Siquidem Jehova Deus tuus benedixit tibi in onmi opere manus tuae, et novit quod ambules per desertum magnum istud: jam quadraginta annis Jehova Deus tuus fuit tecum, neque indiguisti aliquo.
8. And when we passed by from our brethren the children of Esau, which dwelt in Seir, through the way of the plain from Elath, and from Ezion-gaber, we turned and passed by the way of the wilderness of Moab.
8. Et transivimus a fratribus nostris filiis Esau, qui habitabant in Seir, per viam solitudinis ab Elath et ab Esion-gaber: conversi autem transivimus ad viam deserti Moab.
4. And they shall be afraid of you. This temptation was the more provoking, when they heard not only that the embassy would be vain, but that although Edom should receive them with injustice and hostility, they were still to abstain from violence and arms. For there might be some reason in this, that when they presented their request in a friendly manner, they would have a legitimate cause of war, if Edom should reject their demands. But this further condition might appear altogether intolerable that they were to do nothing against those who refused to let them pass quietly through their land. Hence, however, it more fully appears how the Israelites were gradually, and by various kinds of chastisement, subdued to obedience, whereas they would otherwise have fiercely and petulantly exclaimed that they had been dealt with unkindly by God; since thus their condition would be worse than the universal law of nations allowed. In this matter, then, their wanderings, for eight and thirty years, had much efficacy in bringing them back to the right way.
Numbers 20:14. Thou knowest all the travel that hath befallen us. This preface was well calculated to conciliate favor, when the sons of Jacob, descended from the same blood, familiarly approached the Edomites: for their connection ought to have rendered them hospitable. But there are two principal points whereby Moses endeavored to influence the mind of the king of Edom, so that he should grant them a passage through his dominions. The first is derived from the ordinary feelings of humanity; for nature dictates that aid should be extended to the wretched, who are unjustly oppressed. In this view, he says, that the afflictions which they had endured were notorious; viz., that as sojourners in Egypt they had been tyrannically harassed and oppressed. In saying that “the Egyptians vexed us and our fathers,” although they were not, at that time, endowed with capacity for estimating the injuries inflicted upon them 114 yet it is not without reason that they complain that these injuries had been inflicted on themselves, which affected their whole body and name, especially since the final act of cruelty directly concerned them, when Pharaoh commanded all the male infants to be destroyed. The second argument is more effective: since nothing can be less in accordance with propriety than to deny our assistance to those whoso welfare God recommends to us by His own example. In order, then, that they may obtain help from their brethren, they make mention of the grace of God, which at that time might have been everywhere celebrated. When, therefore, this message is given to their ambassadors, We cried unto the Lord, who hath heard us, their design was to exhort the Edomites to be imitators of God, who had been merciful in delivering His people. If any should object that the cry of the people had not been praiseworthy, as not having arisen from a true and sincere faith, nor from a serious feeling of the heart, the reply is easy. that the Israelites were not here boasting of any merit of their own, as if they had prayed duly and perfectly, but that they were simply professing their innocence, since they could not have had recourse to God, unless they had been unjustly oppressed. The fact, then, that God had heard them, had the effect of commending their cause. They prove, however, from the result, that God was their deliverer: because their exodus had been incredible; although this point is but lightly touched upon.
Their notion is a poor one, who understand Moses by “the angel:” since by this name they unquestionably magnify the miracles which God had wrought. 115 Now, although the angels encamp around the servants of God — and it is certain that many angels had been the ministers of the people’s safety — still they especially designate, as the angel, Him who had been often before called Jehovah, and in whom the, majesty of God perfectly shone forth. Paul, however, teaches that he was Christ. (1Co 10:4.)
19. And the children of Israel said unto him. It is doubtful whether or not the ambassadors were sent a second time, in order to remove all unjust suspicions, and to appease the ferocity (of the Edomites.) It is probable, however, that we have the relation of what was done in one and the same expedition. The sum is, that the Israelites tried every means, in order that a free and unmolested passage might be accorded them by the Edomites: whence their repulse might appear the more harsh and intolerable. But God, by this test, would prove the obedience of His people. As regards the Edomites, although by rashly taking up arms they would have drawn upon themselves just destruction, still God spared them for a time; not by freely pardoning them, but by deferring their punishment, as He is wont to do, until its due season.
Deuteronomy 2:7 For the Lord thy God hath blessed thee. This reason is added, lest the people should be grieved at spending their money, of which they had not much, in buying meat and drink. There are, however, two clauses; first, that they were so enriched by God’s bounty, that they were fully supplied with the means of buying food; and, secondly, that they must not doubt but that He would relieve their necessity, if it were required, since He had thus far provided for them, and had not suffered them to want anything. He, therefore, encourages them to hope, in consideration of their past experience; because God would take care of them, as tie had before been accustomed to do.
The question, however, arises, how God could say, that He had blessed the work of their hands, when they had had no commerce with other nations, so as to make the smallest gains whatever. But I thus understand it, viz., that although they were gratuitously sustained in the wilderness, and had not expended a single penny in buying even shoelatchets, still their cattle had increased, and, besides, they had made some profits by their daily labor; not by receiving, indeed, daily wages, but by providing for themselves furniture and other necessaries.
“Ils prennent sur eux les injures qui avoyent este faites devant qu’ils les peussents sentir, n’estans point encore nez, ou estans petits enfans;” they take upon themselves the injuries which had been done before they could feel them, not being yet born, or being but little children. — Fr.
C. found in S’.M. that Rabbi Salomon interpreted the ambiguous word מלאך, messenger, here, instead of angel; and said that the messenger was Moses. — W.